The Wrong Change
By Dr. Rick Flanders, Evangelist
“Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? Thou also shalt be ashamed of Egypt, as thou was ashamed of Assyria. Yea, thou shalt go forth from him, and thine hands upon thine head: for the LORD hath rejected thy confidences, and thou shalt not prosper in them.”
Whenever a pastor these days announces to the blogosphere that the music of his church is going change from conservative and traditional to progressive and contemporary, he receives both supportive and critical responses from his readers. The blogs that support his decision to change the music lend public credibility to that decision. The comments that criticize his decision give him the opportunity to defend it. This very scenario is happening more and more often. However, such a change in policy really is the wrong kind of change to make in the light of scripture. Many who defend the trend to modify the music at church say that the arguments against it involve matters of “preference” rather than applications of Bible principles. They say that critics of the change are against it really because they don’t like the music, and the discussion is ultimately about what kind of church music one prefers. The fact is, however, that there are several Bible principles that militate against switching to the new music style in church. Serious mistakes are being made as I write by pastors who are not considering certain Bible truths in their decision-making process.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke boldly against the trends among God’s people in his day to conform to the pagan ways of the nations around them. They looked to Egypt for solutions to their problems, and were influenced by the ways of their old taskmasters. They also sought the favor of Assyria, and were drawn into their religious and cultural practices. God asked them through the prophet, “Why gladdest thou about so much to change thy way?” (Jeremiah 2:36-37) They would come to “be ashamed” of the wrong changes they were making, and would “not prosper in them” because God “rejected thy confidences” and would not bless the changes.
When a pastor changes the church music to the popular “contemporary” style he should consider the seriousness of the decision he is making and ponder in the light of scriptural principle if he is making a mistake. The error in such a change may be found in at least four missteps he is taking.
1. He is making a subtle but serious change in his philosophy of ministry.
There are reasons that churches are adopting the “contemporary” music style today, and many of them have to do with philosophy of ministry. A change in the church’s approach to church and ministry is behind the change in music standards. First, they are accepting a false definition of worship. The worship of God in the Bible fundamentally requires that the focus of the activity be on God Himself. Condemning wrong worship, First Corinthians 10:7 calls the kind of worship in which the Israelites were sinfully engaged around the golden calf idolatry, even though it does not even mention the idol! It was idolatry because of how they worshipped and not only because of what they worshipped. Exodus 32:6 describes the scene this way:
“And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.”
Referring to this description in Exodus, First Corinthians 10:7 says,
“Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”
They were idolaters not only because they offered sacrifice to a statue but also because what the people were doing in the name of worship was not genuine adoration of deity; it was “play.” They were feasting to satisfy their own desires, and they were singing and dancing to amuse themselves (Exodus 32:17-19). It was not really worship; it was entertainment. When churches switch to the “contemporary” music styles on the platform, are they not also switching to the entertainment model of religious services?
The meetings of the early Christian churches had the congregation involved in “doctrine [teaching] and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). There was also singing (First Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:18-19, Colossians 3:16), but it appears to have been mostly congregational singing and not performances by talented people up front. The fact is that the churches of those early days did not have services that were dedicated to what we call worship. Worship was a matter of the heart, practiced by Christians in their daily life, and not an activity practiced by going to a place of worship or a church service (Read carefully what Jesus said in John 4:19-24). Believers did indeed worship God in the church meetings (See First Corinthians 14:23-25), but the meetings were not dedicated to worship, or designated “worship services,” and the worship that happened was not defined in terms of music. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) gave the disciples of Jesus plenty to do when they gathered together to disciple and teach the believers. The activity of church meetings was not centered on the singing and “worship,” and it was not led by a “worship team.” The focus of the meeting was Bible teaching and praying. Worship was happening, but worship was not defined as going to a certain place and enjoying the music.
Churches that change to contemporary music soon change their meetings into entertainment-based services not at all like the meetings prescribed by the New Testament. They are called “contemporary churches” because it is not only the music standards that change; it is the purpose of church that changes, too. This is proven by the fact that after the people become used to the new music, they cannot bear to go back to the traditional-service style of the past. If you remove the new music, the whole thing collapses. The purpose of church becomes entertainment, and the “contemporary” music is the entertainment the people want.
The philosophy of evangelism also changes with the music change. The book of Galatians opens with a rebuke of teachers who pervert the true and original Gospel. In arguing the point, the apostle Paul (by the Spirit) makes an astonishing statement about how to approach evangelism.
“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.”
The right philosophy in winning people to God is founded on persuading God before trying to persuade men. Now Paul did seek to persuade men to turn to Christ (Second Corinthians 5:11), and on some level he also sought to please men in order to win them (First Corinthians 10:32-33). But his philosophy of evangelism was essentially vertical in its view rather than horizontal. It was not, “How can I conform my ways to the ways of the world in order not to offend the people of the world?” It was, “How can I have God’s blessing and power as I faithfully proclaim His Gospel?” In the Acts of the Apostles, mighty harvests of souls were preceded by intense prayer meetings. The secret to winning the lost is to look to God, not to conform to the world. When pastors and churches cave to the pressure to use popular-style religious music (rock, rap, country, new-age, American-Idol-type), they are buying into the philosophy that to win the world we must conform to the world, which, of course, is unscriptural (Romans 12:1-2).
2. He is pointing his people in the wrong direction.
Ephesians 5 teaches the children of light to distinguish themselves from those still in darkness. They are not to do what the unsaved do (verses 1-7). And they are not to endorse the sinful things they do.
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
Some defend the decision to use “contemporary Christian music” (CCM) in their churches by denying that singing a song written or performed by a certain artist or composer implies endorsement of the doctrines he believes or the life that he lives. However, the problem of association will indeed undermine the Christian lives of the church members when use of this music draws them into the CCM world of show-business.
CCM is show business. “Christian music” and “Gospel music” and other contemporary styles (in contrast with hymns) are classifications given to recorded performances in the “music business.” Who doesn’t know this? CCM songs are associated with their writers and performers in a way that the hymns were never associated with theirs. Did anybody ever ask, “Have you heard the latest Isaac Watts hit?” Did nineteenth-century Christians rave about how a Robert Lowry song was rising up the charts? The writers of hymns and Gospel songs over the years were never viewed as show-business personalities as CCM artists are today. The association of the new music with the creators and purveyors of the songs is very real in the minds of the listeners. And the truth is that many of the CCM stars have histories of moral failure, serious behavior inconsistencies, and doctrinal deviations that do affect the many who become their followers through their music. Their lives and beliefs are associated with their songs in the real world.
Shall a pastor point his people to the world of CCM show business? He cannot prevent doing so as long as he uses these songs in church.
3. He is forgetting the undeniable meaning of rock music.
The book of Titus (along with other sections of scripture) teaches us that there is a certain attitude and certain behavior that go along with sound doctrine.
“The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith…”
“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine…”
“…behavior as becometh holiness…that the word of God not be blasphemed.”
(Titus 2:3, 5)
The atmosphere of a doctrinally-sound church ought to be charged with virtues that go along with (“become”) the truth that is taught. Certain virtues are held forth in the book of Titus as those that are becoming to sound doctrine: sobriety, temperance (restraint), discretion, family-orientation, chastity, subjection to authority, respect, godliness, zeal for God, and rejection of worldliness. The mood and spirit of a church meeting dominated by rock music is not of this sort. It is actually destructive of the attitudes that uphold the truth of God, and that emanate from it. The church meeting ought to represent accurately what God is like. Services that suggest He is “non-judgmental” (in the current understanding of that concept), “easy-going” (in the sense of not demanding much commitment), “cool” (in the sense of enjoying the celebration of sensual pleasures), and compliant with our wishes (in contradiction of His advancing His own perfect will) misrepresent the true God.
It isn’t hard to find out what the message of rock music is. And what is euphemistically called “contemporary Christian music” is really rock music with religious lyrics. The rock ’n’ roll style came to dominate popular music in America as our culture declined morally. Robert Bork’s authoritative and ground-breaking book on the decline of American culture, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, devoted a chapter to the music of that decline. He identifies it as rock music, deteriorating into hard rock, heavy metal, punk rock, and rap. Judge Bork, of course, was no fundamentalist preacher. He was one of the great legal scholars and social scientists of our time. Among many other things, he said of rock music, that “these songs reflect a generalized rage, particularly rage against social authority.” He points out that “fixation on self first became obvious [in the decline of the culture] with rock ‘n’ roll.” He insisted that this style of music had a profound effect on the young audiences that come to hear it. Rock music arose as an expression of rebellion, selfishness, and sexuality, as everyone in the 1950s and 1960s knew, and as the creators of it admitted and boasted.
All art has a message. The writing of the history of art always includes the meaning and message that was conveyed by the painting, the poetry, the writing, and the music of certain types and eras. Rock music reflected and generated a movement against standards, morals, authority, and religion. The message was in the style as well as in the words.
Another highly significant study of twenty-century societal deterioration was The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, a distinguished professor at the University of Chicago who examined the deterioration with higher education especially in mind. Dr. Bloom also devoted a chapter of his book to the music of our times. In it he insists that “rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire.” Then he says, “The inevitable corollary of such sexual interest is rebellion against the parental authority that represses it.” He says that rock music has “three great lyrical themes: sex, hate, and a swarmy, hypocritical version of brotherly love.” Here is another of his interesting and insightful comments:
“Rock music provides premature ecstasy and, in this respect, is like the drugs with which it is allied.”
Bloom was a highly-respected scholar, professor, thinker, and author, and was not a fundamentalist preacher. Yet he, as well as Bork, saw the insidious nature of the music of our times, and the dangerous effects it has had. The vile words corresponded to the perverse music style of rock music, which appeared on the scene both as an effect and a cause of our rapid moral and cultural decline. Strangely, many of the evangelical thinkers who advocated the introduction of rock to church audiences have read both Bork and Bloom. Many more are aware of the effect the rock music style had on the minds of its fans. It is mysterious why any Christian leader would propose an alliance with this Ahab in the battle for the Lord. Younger men who have grown up with rock music in their lives may miss the moral and mental effects it has, but it still does work against the very things pastors are seeking to accomplish through the preaching of the Word of God.
Further evidence regarding the nature of the music style is the almost inevitable decline in modesty, restraint, commitment, and holiness in churches that use it. Now is the time for the pastor to open his eyes and see that this is not a change that should be made.
4. He is neglecting the resources we have in Christ.
The pastor and many of the members of his church want to liven up the miserably dead services that they seem to have again and again. This is one of the main reasons churches decide to change the music. However, the principle of Romans 8:6 will warn us against trying to bring life to our meetings by the use of sensual, self-gratifying, entertainment-oriented, beat-driven music.
“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
The flesh always produces death (See also Galatians 6:7-8), and the Spirit produces life. The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of life” in Romans 8:2. To appeal to the flesh as the focus of a church service is to dispense death to the congregation. To give the Spirit control of a meeting is to bring life to the service. Now even death can be exciting, but it is death, because “to be carnally [fleshly] minded is death; but to be spiritually minded [led by the Holy Spirit] is life and peace.” Dead services lack the participation of God’s Spirit. They are not improved by the use of carnally-minded music. They get more exciting, but they do not get better until we forsake the flesh (see John 6:63) and are filled with the Spirit.
Our spiritual forbearers did really face the same challenges that we do in seeking to bring men to Christ. They often ran into the brick wall of the offense of the cross when they conducted evangelistic campaigns and labored to win the sinner in their towns. Sinners were never comfortable with the holy living Christianity demanded, or with the fearless denunciation of their sins that they heard from the pulpit. They never dressed as we dress, enjoyed what we enjoy, and sang the songs we love, or took an interest in the Word of God. But the old-timers did not resort to changing our ways in order supposedly to eliminate these barriers. The standard that guided them was the will of God revealed in the scriptures, regardless of whether men around them liked how they lived and preached and believed or not. The old revivalists resorted not to change when they ran into a brick wall, but rather to earnest prayer. Isn’t this how Elijah reached the people of the wicked time in which he lived? Wasn’t this the practice of the apostles? The change needed in the churches today can be defined in terms of revival. We must seek the Lord, believing that He will be found. We can have His blessing and power in spreading His Gospel if we will conform absolutely to His will and way. The answer is in the revival prayer meeting, and not in the praise band. A change is needed to bring life to our dead churches, but it is not the change that our enemy is so relentlessly suggesting to the pastors.
The concern Christian leaders have had for years about the standards and style of the music used in regular church services and in evangelistic efforts was not unfounded or unnecessary. They knew what rock music was, and they saw the travesty in bringing it into the church. Pastors today must consider the issues in this matter very carefully before dismissing the warnings of older preachers as purely the product of preference. The Bible has a lot to say about church, and much of it relates to the kind of singing we do in church. The challenges of our times call for believers in Christ to re-adopt the vertical view, and seek the blessing of God instead of adopting the approach of the world to growth and success. When churches do this, God will bless them, and will be glorified in the fruit that will be borne.
“I am the vine, and ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”