Of Music, Lyrics, and Songs: My Perspective

As a first real post, I thought this article might stir things up a bit. And it seems to be still relevent today. I hope it will give you something to think about. 

By Jarod Hinton (edited from a blog posted on http://www.xanga.com/preacherboy80)

OK, at long last, I am going to write about music. A few weeks ago I shared a conversation I had with a young woman on the phone in which I told her that we encourage the young people (and all people really) at our church notto listen to CCM. (Contemporary Christian Music) I received a request to explain myself further on that issue, and why exactly we hold that standard. The following is my perspective on the music issue, especially as it relates to Christians and how they should select music.

First, defining terms. We will define music as: notes and sounds that do not have words attached to them. Music is made up of Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony, and arranged in a multitude of ways to make an extremely wide variety of pleasing or distasteful sounds. Lyrics are: the words usually connected with music to make a song.
Music + Lyrics = A Song. Does that make sense?

CCM is not just music that is written within the last ten or twenty years. It is a category of music that has a distinct sound to it. Most Christians understand what CCM is, and that it does not simply mean music that is written contemporarily. It refers to a certain type of Christian music that includes Pop, R&B, and Rock sounds as well as other styles. (Incidentally, I do not have a problem with songs written recently if they adhere to biblical standards.)

Let’s define “Rock” music. My definition will be a little more broad than most, and is intended to include more than just sounds like the Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen. I will define it as any music that has a strong, dominant “off-beat”. An “off-beat” is when the strong beats of the measure fall on the second and fourth beats of the measure in 4/4 time. I’m sure I just lost a lot of you. Think of it this way. If you listen to a song, and you think the beat is strong, or dominant, then it is probably an “off-beat” or a rock beat. If a band leader says “Give me a rock beat”, most people can probably figure out what he wants, even with a very minor understanding of or exposure to music. If he says “Let’s make this party happen!” you know he’s probably getting ready to play a rock beat, a dominant beat. This definition usually includes genres like R&B, Hip-Hop, most Country, Pop, Rap, Rock & Roll, and various other genres which incorporate this particular style and rhythm. CCM music uses a rock beat, of various degrees, almost all the time.

With that ground work, when I discuss this issue with my friends the question always comes up, “Does the Bible say what kind of music I can and cannot listen to?” The answer to that question is both yes and no. Does the Bible have a specific verse that says “Thou shalt not listen to ________”? Or “Thou must listen to ________ at least five times a day”? No, there is no such verse. People can try to stretch certain passages to say certain things, but there is no verse that says certain types of music are wrong. Nor is there a verse that says certain types of music are better than others, or that there are some styles that are extra godly. This means that both sides of this debate cannot be proud or “holier than thou” toward the other. (A great tragedy is that much good music is forced out of some churches because it is “old” or “boring”, and other fine songs are rejected because they are not “hymns”.)

However, the Bible also does not have a verse that says “Thou shalt not take drugs.” No where does it say “You, as Christians, should not say the following words….” That is why we must apply Biblical PRINCIPLESto these situations. (Including Music.) So in that sense, yes, the Bible does tell us what kind of music we are to listen to. So let’s apply Biblical principles to this discussion. (Some of you that might be anti-IBLP might have a problem with the word “principles”, but they are in Scripture and that cannot be denied. We’re not going to use “the Seven”, but we will use principles that are pretty clear in the Bible. So just get over it.)

Before we do that though, we must understand a very foundational truth about music in general. Music is NOT amoral. Amoral means without moral influence or quality. Some people believe that it doesn’t matter what the music is, as long as the words are good. They believe that music is amoral, and is therefore neutral. All music then becomes a matter of preference, because the music will not affect us or influence us in a moral direction, either good or bad. It is only words that do such things, and therefore all songs are evaluated based on their words alone. This is a fallacy, and it is unfortunate that so many Christians have believed this lie.

Music does have a moral influence on us. Music, regardless of the lyrics, caries a message in it. I believe it was Robert Shaw, the famous choral conductor, who when asked if music was amoral said immediately “No!” Even secular, non-Christian musicians know and admit the moral influence of music upon us as humans. (Remember we are talking about music, not lyrics. Ignore the lyrics of the songs for now.) Rock bands and those involved in that culture have admitted that the music they play is all about sex, drugs, and rebellion.

One need only watch a modern movie to see how music influences us. Movie makers are geniuses at making us respond in certain ways at certain times of the movie, simply by the background music being played. There are no lyrics involved usually, and yet we are scared, or excited, or crying, or whatever. Why does it do this? Because the music is communicating something! Music does have a message, and therefore a moral influence upon us, either good or bad.

Because music is not amoral, but does have moral influence on us, we must then have a standard. Since that is the case, we as Christians must apply Biblical principles to establish the standard of evaluation for the music we enjoy. We need to determine that the music we listen to and promote is honoring to the Lord and in accordance with his Word. (As well as the lyrics we listen to.)

The Bible speaks against immorality, and stirring up sexual desires in others that cannot be righteously fulfilled. It condemns rebellion, comparing it to witchcraft. The Scriptures tell us that we should always be loving, and that things that make us hate should be shunned. God warns us of the dangers of anger and how we are to reject the “wrath of man” for it does not work “the righteousness of God.”

Therefore, music that has a message of immorality, rebellion, anger, and/or hate should never be part of a Christian’s library. Songs that stir up sexual desire in me should be fled from. Music that causes me to react or rebel against my parents is completely wrong music. Whether or not it is the lyrics or the music that communicate this stuff, I should avoid it whenever possible.

So when I look at the music world, and all the music that is available out there, I see rock music of all kinds. And I observe and believe that rock music encourages rebellion, sensuality, drug use, anger and other types of sin. Watch most any rap videos and tell me if the guys in that do not look angry. (Not to mention all the skin showing and sensual dancing.) Shoot, just look at a poster from your average rock band and tell me if they don’t look angry or sensual. You only need to listen to about 15 seconds of Brittany Spears to know that her music is sexually charged and should therefore not be listened to by one who carries the Holy Spirit inside them.

But on top of that, the reason I encourage our young people and others not to listen to CCM is because it uses a lot of those same beats and styles that the worldly musicians do. Those same styles of music that are designed to inflame the lust and rebellion of those who hear it are also used by many CCM musicians to help people worship God. They change the lyrics, but that is the only noticeable difference.
Something about this picture doesn’t seem right. Would we put Bible verses on beer bottles to reach the drunks? Would we hold a Christian nudist camp to reach out to the nudists? Then why do we use worldly, sensual, sinful music to reach worldly, sensual, sinful people? Why, when trying to disciple new believers to be pure, holy, loving, and honoring to their parents do we tell them it’s OK to listen to music that to one degree or another inflames them to lust, sensuality, anger and/or rebellion? We even play it for them at different events!

Not all CCM is like that, and some of it is worse than others. There are varying degrees to the amount of bad influence that music has on us. But what is interesting is that it usually corresponds with the amount of dominant, strong, rock beat that is in a song.

Now, I’m not trying to force my view on all Christians. I certainly think I’m right, but I also know that God deals with each of us differently, and that the Holy Spirit sometimes leads some people to different specific standards. But the most important thing is that we have a standard. We have to recognize that music has a moral influence upon us, and we therefore need a Biblical standard for evaluating that music. Now, I’ll trust the Holy Spirit to guide each believer to the right standard, but that’s His job, not mine. And the standard will be different from person to person.

When discussing this issue, as with any issue, it is very important to show love to one another. I hope I have written this article in that attitude. This is an important debate in our time, but it is not the most important thing. It is, in my view, a secondary issue. Remember to keep the main thing the main thing! Christ is that “Main Thing!” 

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