One Reason for Standards in Music

We don’t have an “anything goes” music standard in our church.  Music in the church should be about the Lord, and what pleases Him, not what is popular in society today.  It isn’t about being cool, or faddish.  It isn’t about what makes me feel good.

There are other reasons besides that illustrated in the following for being careful about music.  But the article which niddriepastor links is illustrative of one of the dangers of pursuing “cool”.  I don’t know Mez McConnell or anything about him, so I can’t tell you how sound his teaching and ministry is, but I do know he is absolutely right on this point.  First, his comment:

A post for all you saddos who were into ‘cool’ (not) Christian music groups with a salutary warning that the gospel of Christ will always outlast the latest fads. Read it here. I was in prison at the time and was probably better off in solitary than listening to half the stuff that Christian musicians and bands were trying to do at the time.

The tragic conclusion of the article to which he linked:

Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.

We’re often told that we need to have music that “appeals to kids”, because it works.  (It’s usually adults that tell us this, by the way.)  Pragmatism is a flawed basis on which to make ministry decisions, anyway.  But this gives at least one example of why the modern Christian music industry and approach doesn’t always work so well, either.

“Authenticity” (the author’s word) just means “Truth”.  If we have it, we don’t need to be “cool” — the power of God will work.  If we aren’t proclaiming the truth, it doesn’t matter how “cool” we are.  And if we try to mix “cool” and truth, to use “cool” as a way to get people to listen to truth, we’re diluting our message (and is that really honest, anyway?).  If people walk away thinking “cool”, they are thinking about the wrong thing, no matter how true our words were.  We’ve shifted the focus from truth, if “cool” comes into it.

II Corinthians 4:2-6:

2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. 5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

We don’t have to try to get people to like our message.  They aren’t going to “like” the truth, anyway.  Their eyes have been blinded.  Their only hope is for the light of the knowledge of the glory of God to shine in their hearts.  “Cool” doesn’t come into it.


About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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7 Responses to One Reason for Standards in Music

  1. Tim Senter says:

    Jon, – great comments. Thanks. The one thing that always gets me about music is that we are supposed to be changed and not conform to this world. If we still like the things of the world, an alarm should go off – we’re not changed. As we grow to like godly music more (music not coincident with this world and its fads or coolness), we have continued assurance of our salvation.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Tim. Thanks for the comment. Yes, you are absolutely right — if my “likes” match up with the fads of the world, it should trigger some soul-searching. If the world likes what we are doing, we shouldn’t assume it is pleasing to God. There’s a pretty good chance it isn’t.

  2. mezmcconnell says:

    I know mez quite well and he is well sound! 🙂

  3. Xander says:

    Hi Pastor Jon,
    I almost agree with most of what you are saying. Its interesting that you should associate cool and music together when discussing “Christian music” – whatever that may be. I could make no such comparisons personally. But thats another blog in itself.

    Firstly I utterly agree that music should firstly and foremost be about what pleases God. But its right there that a conundrum appears to lay.
    Who exactly is deciding on what kind of music is pleasing to God or not?
    If we are suggesting that this kind of music is anything that resembles what the world has to offer as a musical palette; then we are in trouble.

    So lets separate the worldly music from the true Christian alternative.

    Hiphop- gone, pop – gone, jazz – gone, soul – gone, blues – gone, rock – gone, folk – gone, alternative – one. This just about covers almost all styles of music in general and especially what one might determine as ‘worldly’.

    Now what is the alternative?

    Well there is Christian worship, Classical, Opera and perhaps even movie soundtracks if were feeling liberal enough.

    Now can you see the inconsistency with these alternatives?

    Lets go right in for the kill.
    Christian worship. Whats the problem with that type of sound then? Surely, there is no mistaking it for anything other than hymn music. This must be true Christian music.
    Well unfortunately, there is a problem with it. Alot of the old hymns etc, were based on a particular style that was popular, not only to the church, but to the western world in general. Be it what ever century you want to investigate. Its a fact that a lot of the old song styles were played in the public houses of the day as much as in the church. Now draw the comparison?

    Lets break down classical. Well there cant be anything wrong with a bit of Beethoven or Orff, Mozart or Schubert surely? Well that all depends on the pieces you are choosing to listen too. Some of them are obviously written about the Lord, however many of them were far from it. Many were dedicated to pupils with whom they had inappropriate relations with. Many were also about classical fables and idols and whatever else. So with your current line of reasoning, classical too, is off limits. A side note is that most people I know love Schuberts Ave Maria, and deem it as acceptable? Its hypocritical as far as Im concerned.

    What next then – Opera? I believe I do not even need to say anything about that style of music. Many operas are so inappropriate that I will not even mention anything else on the matter.

    My point is – where do we draw the line?

    There seems to me to be no difference from one style of music to another, other than personal preference. They all carry a certain danger because they are consumed by sinners across the world. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but where is the line and who is drawing it. Because what I see with many Christians today is a glaring inconsistency between what they believe and what they practise.
    On what authority do you make the presumption that the type of music you listen too is off a greater worth than someone who does not share your musical tastes?

    I have a real issue with the dangers that can occur from that type of thinking.
    If you have a bunch of young folks, being told, well this type of music is wrong, that type of music is wrong etc. we eventually get things whittled down to a very closed minded view on what is spiritually acceptable (and its often the views of the extremely conservative, upper middle classes). This stifles creativity, individuality and true expression.

    God either invented the whole spectrum of musical pitches or he didn’t. If He did, and I know He did, then music as an art form of our worship to Him, should be individual to us and not bound be preference to taste. We were each created in His image, yet none of us look exactly the same – God did this on purpose. And it is through surrendering to His will of sanctification through the blood of Jesus that we reach our purpose in His mighty will.
    But if we are to all walk around being exactly the same as each other, we are not shining the light God has given us to shine.

    Some of us are called to be preachers, evangelists, others mothers, others cleaners and others still; musicians. And it is God who has given each of us gifts according to that calling. Not according to popular Christian opinion.

    Just some thoughts


    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Xander. Thanks for the comment. I can’t take a lot of time on this right now, maybe a little more later. Just a couple of quick points.

      First, if you check out the entire article to which I linked, you’ll see why I talked about “cool” and music. The article is about trying to market the Gospel/church through music that appeals to kids, to the world. I didn’t introduce “cool” to the conversation, the article did.

      Second, I wanted to pick out one quote:
      “God either invented the whole spectrum of musical pitches or he didn’t. If He did, and I know He did, then music as an art form of our worship to Him, should be individual to us and not bound be preference to taste.”

      Now, I want to change something:
      “God either invented the whole spectrum of sounds the human mouth can generate or he didn’t. If He did, and I know He did, then what we say as an art form of our worship to Him, should be individual to us and not bound be preference to taste.”

      The latter statement is manifestly not true. There are many things we should not say as part of our worship, because they do not please or honour God.

      As you rightly say, determining what pleases God in music is not quite so easy, always, as determining what pleases Him in verbal speech. But logically, your assertion that I’ve quoted here boils down to “anything goes”, and we certainly wouldn’t say that about verbal communication. If music communicates something, and it does, then we need to evaluate that communication, too.

      More later, Lord willing.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Some more somewhat random thoughts here, Xander, now that I have a little more time.

      1. For what it’s worth, I used to use a lot of the same arguments you use. I’m shaking my head, grinning, and saying, “Poor Xander. If he knew how much he sounds like ME, it would scare him to death.”

      2. You said, “On what authority do you make the presumption that the type of music you listen too is off a greater worth than someone who does not share your musical tastes?” I would say that if the music is based on “what I like” instead of “what you like”, it’s still an entertainment focus that is all wrong. The only difference would be who is being entertained. I’ll whisper a little secret to you here, that I hope nobody else hears. 🙂 Some of the music we use in our church is not music that I particularly “like”. So what? My “likes” are an irrelevance.

      3. I’m going to ask you to do me a favour. Go back, and read Meghan O’Gieblyn’s article again. This is not a conservative Christian who doesn’t like the sounds under discussion. She likes them, and she doesn’t even consider herself a Christian. She admits she still listens to DC Talk. She just sees it as a sellout for the church to adopt this kind of music. The point under discussion is not a matter of taste. She likes the music which she criticises as inappropriate for the church.

      4. Put aside the whole question of what kind of music is appropriate, and think about the philosophical underpinnings she describes. Then re-read what I've said about it — because that was what I was addressing. I certainly won't make Meghan O'Gieblyn's views an arbiter for our church. I wasn't saying that because she thinks something is bad we'll get rid of it. 🙂 What I was addressing, and really the only thing I was addressing, was the pragmatic/marketing-oriented philosophy that has been driving the "Christian music" industry for 40 years or more, and has pervaded a lot of churches. The desire to be "cool", to give the lost something they want, etc. Perhaps I'll post more about what music should be, but this post was really only about one thing music shouldn't be — it shouldn't be a marketing-type attempt to be cool in the eyes of the world. And actually, I think if you re-read it, you'll agree with everything I've said in it. You and I don't agree on everything on music, that's for certain, but I'm pretty sure we're on the same page in what I've said in my original post.

      5. That said, the fact that someone like Meghan O'Gieblyn thinks a certain kind of music is inappropriate in the church is something we shouldn't just wave away as an irrelevance. It's pretty clear, from reading her article, that if she were to walk into one of our services and find the kind of music she describes, she'd walk out saying, "Phony. Inauthentic. They've bought into that same philosophy we had when I was growing up." For the Meghan O'Gieblyns of this world, certain kinds of music obscure our message. We should think long and hard about using music that would make someone think we are a phony, "marketing-oriented" church.

      6. A side note. You said, "and its often the views of the extremely conservative, upper middle classes." You need to jettison that kind of thinking, just dump it overboard, and let it sink to the bottom of the deep blue sea. First, it's factually inaccurate. We don't know Meghan O'Gieblyn's class background. Mez has a view on this, and I don't know his class background, but I don't think he's trying to push upper middle class sensibilities in Niddrie :). I had a lot of "upper middle class" friends in university who were into the music mentioned in the article. Approval and disapproval of certain musical philosophies, both ways, cuts across all classes. Second, it's dangerous. It can be read as effectively suggesting that your brothers and sisters are engaging in some kind of musical class warfare or something against their less fortunate fellow-believers. I'm NOT saying you were thinking that, but emphasising differences in wealth, class, nationality, skin colour, etc. feeds divisiveness, if not in our own hearts, then in the hearts of our hearers. It can be very detrimental to unity to talk this way. Thirdly, and the main thing, is I just never see this line of discussion in Scripture. It's just not there. It's the type of thing we see in political discourse today (rightly or wrongly, I'd say wrongly), but not in Scripture, so it is out of place in discussion between brothers and sisters in Christ. So in the spirit of "Mind Renewers", I'd encourage you to just purge that line of thinking. You don't need it to make your point, anyway — it's not as if anyone has ever found Xander lacking for words to get his message across. 🙂

      7. Another interesting (to me) side note. Yesterday, you remember we had those four young kids up near the front. One of them has been in for part of a service once before, but I don't think the other three have ever been in. So, they sat all the way through, and I'm not sure the music was exciting to them, and it certainly wasn't my most "dynamic" sermon ever. But afterwards, one of them was overheard telling one of his friends, "Church is awesome!" I don't think anyone would have said we were trying to be "cool" or "awesome" for kids that age yesterday. So what happened? I don't know. Maybe there was something more solid there than anything else in their lives. Maybe people accepted them instead of looking down on them. Maybe a wee bit of "behaviour training" was administered a couple of times in a way that wasn't nasty or demeaning, in a way that assumed they'd want to do well. Maybe it was that they had help finding their place in the hymnbook and the Bible. Maybe (hopefully) the message of God's grace grabbed them. Maybe it was just a cup of tea and a biscuit afterwards. Who knows? But you don't have to try to be "cool" to be "awesome", I guess. We need to be true, and we need to be charitable, and we need to trust God that He will open hearts to HIS awesomeness. And on that, all true followers of Christ agree.

      Finally, I want to reiterate something you know well, though others reading may not know it. I don't mind being challenged on these things. I appreciate it. Most of my posts aren't geared towards questions of controversy, except the controversy that God has with our old man, our sin nature. But when I do address things where Christians disagree, a challenge forces you, me, and everyone who is reading to think more carefully about exactly what the Scriptures say, and exactly how that should be applied. That is only a good thing. It reiterates that our authority is Scripture. It also helps to strengthen our love for one another when we can discuss differences charitably, rather than do what usually happens on the Internet.

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