This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Contemporary Christian Music

The subject I want to address today is not an easy one, as it may tend to possibly offend some people, but it has to be addressed because it has become an issue in today's Christian circles.   Music and worship are the center of a major debate in the Church, both Catholic and Protestant, and therefore it has become something that some churches have even split over.  I am going to attempt to be as sensitive as possible with this subject, as I do have dear friends who may differ with me on this, but it doesn't make them any less Christian because of it.  However, I feel some strong convictions about this subject, as I see it as having some influence that it shouldn't have, and that is why it is important.

I want to state up-front that unlike some may accuse those of us who don't agree with CCM's use in the Church, we are not fighting this based on style.  I base that on two points.  First, there are some people who are Christians - more traditionalist than I am actually! - who do listen to secular rock music, but they also realize that the same music is not appropriate in a church setting either.  Second, my personal preferences in music, especially religious music, are actually quite diverse - I have in my own Christian music collection everything from ancient Syriac Orthodox liturgical chant to modern Southern Gospel, but despite the fact these styles are diverse, they are still part of the heritage of Christianity and my own collection reflects music that is both theologically sound and spiritually edifying, which is important.   A third observation I wish to make is this - I never listened to rock music, even as a non-Christian before I was born again, so I find it odd that in recent years "rock and roll church" is almost imposed as a new "tradition of men" upon people in churches; if I had nothing to do with it before I was a Christian, why would I have anything to do with it as a Christian??  These points being made, I also want to point out that what I am about to say here is meant with no disrespect towards some of my friends who may listen to CCM, and I hope they understand the spirit in which I say what I need to say here.  Believe it or not, I do know that listening to CCM will not cause someone to automatically become apostate, but at the same time as Christians mature, they also should be more discerning as to what they nurture their spirits with.  Now that we have established the groundwork, let us now begin to tackle the issue.

CCM is a relatively new innovation within the Christian community, only dating back to maybe the early 1970's when some younger people who were involved in other lifestyles before their conversions to Christ (mainly hippies and others) began to bring their old music into the Church with them.  As a result, there was the advent of "Christian rock" among the "Jesus People" movement, as well as the so-called "folk Masses' in Catholic parishes which were along the same lines.  At first, it was actually not too pervasive - some of the early Maranatha Praise music, as a matter of fact, is actually quite uplifting and edifying - as many Evangelical and conservative Catholic parishes still maintained doctrinal integrity.  That was largely true up until maybe the late 1980's when some things began to happen that radically changed the religious music industry for the worse. For one thing, many religious record companies were acquired by secular mega-corporations, and at that point it seemed like Christian music became an industry rather than a ministry.  More and more "Christian music" began to focus more on image and sales rather than the spiritual lives of its listeners, and that eventually led to some moral compromises among some CCM artists.  Another issue was within the Christian churches themselves, when a variety of new trends began to slowly infect them like bad diseases, and this too caused some problems - the "seeker-friendly" ideology of people like Bill Hybels, the rise of Rick Warren's "purpose-driven" philosophy in the mid-1990's, and this new trend in recent years called the "Emerging Church' all capitalized on the use of contemporary cultural trends to cater to the "seekers" at the expense of the Church's integrity.  A new emphasis in churches on marketing strategies (many borrowed from large corporations, which in itself was a problem) and increasing numbers left a spiritual void in American Christianity as many pastors who jumped on those bandwagons began to "dumb-down" their messages and capitalize on rock music as "worship" while heaping scorn upon those who had the discernment to see that this was a bad move.  It began to cause splits in churches, and it caused a lot of spiritual anguish for sincere people who only wanted to worship God in spirit and truth yet were denied that because the pastors of these churches wanted to make a good show rather than disciple their people.   Now, in 2010, we are seeing the fruit of that - many self-proclaimed conservative churches are now even questioning cardinal doctrines that at one time were not even up for debate because they are fundamental Christian beliefs.  Sin, repentance, hell, etc., are all subjects which have been blacklisted in fear of offending "seekers" who actually need to hear those messages.  And, it appears as if things are getting worse - here in Pinellas County, FL, for instance there are very few churches that actually teach the Gospel as it should be taught, because many of them are ashamed to do so.  Yet, they have dark sanctuaries, loud and scantily-dressed rock bands leading "worship," and numerics rather than discipleship is now the name of the game.  People like Rick Warren are multi-millionaires now as a result of this stuff, but at what cost??  Although I have gotten off-subject somewhat here, my point is that there is a connection between what I call "rock-and-roll worship" and these movements like the Emergent Church and "Purpose-Driven" philosophies, but those are not the subject of this lesson, although they are intimately tied into it.  What I wish to talk about today is about CCM, so let us begin. 

Some time back, I listened to a conservative Mennonite preacher by the name of Mose Stolzfus of Ephrata, PA, give a message about how CCM has made inroads into the Church.  I don't totally agree with many of his statements, as this same man also goes as far as to say only a-capella music is Scriptural (the Psalms don't agree with him, although there is nothing wrong with a-capella music in the Church), but he did make some excellent points in what he said.  One of the Scripture passages he used that stuck out for me was Isaiah 3:4-5, which is a verse dealing with children oppressing the people, being insolent toward the elders, and exalting what is base above what is honorable.  The first part of the verse is interesting also, in that it says God gave these insolent child dictators the reigns because of the infidelity of his people (some of these people who follow such a person didn't bother to read I Timothy 5:1, did they?).  Later on, in verses 16 and 17, it talks about the "daughters of Zion" being haughty and loose.  In this context, I believe this is talking about a time in the Church when the faith of our fathers is rejected by a younger generation in favor of a more worldly, lewd, and dumbed-down "worship" that leaves the people starving for spiritual nourishment (Hosea 4:6).  And, this is also a sign of the last-days Church too - see II Thessalonians 2:3-4, 11-12; I Timothy 4:1-2; II Timothy 3:1-10; 4:3; and the description of the Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-17, among others.   It is interesting that music has become a focal point of this also, and that definitely has significance. 

Many proponents of CCM, especially those involved in the movements of Rick Warren or Bill Hybels, preach the "cultural relevency" angle when confronted with its problems, stating how kids "relate" to CCM today.  However, Jeff Godwin, in his 1990 book What's Wrong With Christian Rock? (Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1990) on page 235 blows that argument out of the water when he writes that the problem with the "relating" hoax is that it cultivates friendship with sin rather than deliverance from sin.   Also, people who make that "relevency" argument underestimate the intelligence of youth - kids are not stupid, and to many "Christian rock" is actually a big joke.  As a more encouraging sign additionally, there are actually many Christian youth who want traditional worship over contemporary "worship," as they desire to have roots and structure, something that CCM and the Rick Warren books deny them - I can attest to this personally, as I have seen many young people turning to Catholic and Orthodox liturgies and really having a radical transformation in their spiritual walks as a result of these ancient Christian liturgies.  For the "seeker church" proponents and the CCMers to make such an assumption about today's youth is both absurd and insulting, and in the long run it is going to make these people a laughing stock once they see they have failed miserably.   Others use the "success" angle, and to counter that, and Kinberly Smith, in her book Oh Be Careful Little Ears (Mulkilteo, WA: WinePress Publishing, 1997) on pages 86-87 says the following:

Christians yearn  for a deeper relationship with Christ.  We want to experience Him.  This "yearning" is artificially "satisfied" through carnal music because, as discussed in chapter 5, we can "experience" the music with our bodies.  However, this "satisfaction" is short-lived, resulting in a constant need for further exposure to carnal music in order to remain "satisfied."  Because we are carnally satisfied, we are hindered from experiencing a deeper walk with the Lord.

Carnal Christian music is successful because, just like secular rock music, it satisfies our carnal nature - our "flesh."  It's an instant gratification that doesn't require active participation in prayer and Bible study.

In other words, CCM is a drug, and the more people are addicted to it, the more money those who produce it rake in - aha!!  Problem there is this - just because something sells well doesn't mean it is quality.  Also, it doesn't mean it is good for you either.   That being said, I hasten to say that those who push the CCM agenda will have much to answer for, as the blood of many lost souls will be on their hands one day.  Is making a quick buck or getting a few butts in the seats worth all that??  And, lest you think there is no fallout from CCM and its influence, I cite Dan Lucarini, a former contemporary worship leader who saw the error of his ways and wrote a very informative book on CCM that interweaves his own experience with valuable information entitled Why I Left The Contemporary Christian Music Movement (Webster, NY:  Evangelcal Press, 2002).  In Chapter 18 of the book, entitled "How Then Shall We Worship Together?" he describes in straight-forward language the spiritual consequence of CCM addiction when he talks about how hard it was for him and others to wean themselves of it.  He notes that it does create a spiritual stronghold in the heart and will be a spiritual battle to release, just like a crack addict has withdrawal from his vice. In other words, it takes the grace of God to deliver us from this bondage.  He also notes on page 125 a number of benefits if the church would remove CCM's worldly influence from its services:

1.  There would be fewer divisions and church splits
2.  There would be less temptation for immorality
3.  There would be fewer tensions between members
4.  There would be less insensitivity between the brethren
5.  There would be less compromise of our principles
6.  God will be pleased with all the above

This makes perfect sense too, as today much of the conflict in Christian circles is generated over this issue, and it is tragic to have divisions because of some worldly tare-fertilizer in the wheatfield. Churches, back when I was a kid, were places that were once sanctuaries from the world, where the sinner could find redemption and the saint could find restoration.  Sinners even respected God's house, although they may not have accepted God's message.  And, the Church had no need to cater to them - the Church was what it was, and didn't have to use bad music or cheap marketing schemes to draw people, as the Holy Spirit does that anyway (it's His job, not ours!).  However, that isn't so anymore - nowadays, you see "pastors" that don't even have good hygeine, "worship teams" that look like skanks and sluts (forgive the language, but nothing is more appropriate to describe girls "shaking their booties for Jesus" on a church platform!), and a "sanctuary" of a church that is dank, dark, and looks more like a mosh pit than it does a place of worship.   And, for these scantily-clad girls standing up there in "worship teams" (note Isaiah 3;16-17 again here), the only thing being "uplifted" in a typical setting like that is not Jesus Christ, but rather a horny young man's libido - and, it is that inappropriate dress that causes the problem, along with the unnatural rhythms of most of that rock-and-roll stuff they call "worship music."  I know that was a bit coarse, and my apologies for that to my more sensitive readership, but fact is fact; the seductive dress of many of these young people is not for the purpose of worshipping the Lord!  It is catering to carnal nature.  Lucarini addresses that in his book as well when he notes that this is a form of idolatry in that it exults the singer on stage rather than the Lord of Hosts, and in His house yet to boot!  Not only is it inappropriate, but it is also rude!  People need to get back to standards as to how they present themselves in God's house, and men need to pull up those pants and not let your drawers show, as well as tucking in those shirttails, and you young ladies need to dress more appropriately for worshipping in God's house.  Save the sloppy dress for your clubs and keep it out of the church, please!

On pages 134-136 of his book, Lucarini also offers some very practical suggestions in order to reclaim and reform churches corrupted by this stuff:

1.  Learn to live by the principles
2.  If it's got that swing, it ain't good to sing!
3.  Break up that praise band
4.  If you think the music might offend someone, it probably will; so ASK FIRST!!
5.  Hymns are usually safe and sound
6.  Contemporary songs are acceptable, as long as the emphasis is not on a syncopated backbeat, but rather on melody and harmony.
7.  Use music for congregational singing, not just words on a screen.
8.  Put the microphones back in the stands.

I want to add something to this as a sacramental/liturgical Christian, because I have noticed a similar dumbing-down in liturgical worship as well.  Modern liturgies, such as the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo Mass and the Episcopal 1979 BCP, tend to focus more on politics and what I call hippie-isms rather than on the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Real Presence we celebrate in the Eucharist.  As a former Pentecostal who became Catholic as a result of the Convergence Movement of the early 1990's, I have seen the best and worst in liturgy, and that being said my concerns are not just directed at the Protestant Evangelical "praise music/CCM" phenomenon.   These modern liturgies are just as harmful among those of us who are sacramental/liturgical Christians as Rick Warren books and CCM is among Evangelicals, and it poses many of the same problems.  Now, I am not opposed to some things - for instance, surprisingly I have been greatly blessed and edified by some unusual things such as Fr. Frank Perkovich's Polka Mass as well as Vince Guaraldi's Jazz Mass, but the difference with those is that basically they are traditional music forms that do not alter the message of the Mass itself, so I personally see no problems with those.  Also, I have no problem using Southern Gospel music in worship either, in its proper context, as it too is part of the Christian musical tradition.  However, in many cases with things such as CCM as well as the so-called "guitar Masses" in some Catholic and Episcopal churches, the theology of the Liturgy is often compromised, and therefore these are not appropriate.  That is why it is important that we exercise good discernment as spiritual leaders regarding some supposedly "Christian" music.

Also, and as a final note, let me be clear that I am also not against secular music either.  I myself have been collecting vintage big band recordings for almost 30 years now, and it is a music I love and enjoy.  And, I have a testimony about how basically I believe God gave me an affinity for that music to protect me when I was younger, because had it not been for Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk records, my life might have turned out much worse, seriously! Therefore, it would be hypocritical of me to say that it is wrong to enjoy secular music.  However, secular music has its place too, and it is not in the worship of the Church.   The Church has provided us with 2000 years of highly diverse quality musical forms that we need not pilfer from the secular world just to make our services more "interesting."  God created us with an ear for good music, although many deprive themselves of it, and there is no harm in listening to quality music of a secular nature either.  Some of my more conservative friends would disagree on that with me, but that's their conviction.  However, I want to express some personal opinions about rock music.  For one thing, it is not quality, it is unnatural in its composition, and also unlike many other secular musical styles it embodies a philosophy and mindset that is at odds with Christianity, which is another reason why I do not feel it is appropriate for adaptation to a church setting.  God created us with giftings for discerning beauty and order in our world, and gave us the creativity to express that in various artistic forms.  Therefore, to me, rock music is a waste of God-given creativity, talent, and taste.  However, that is not a sufficient reason for its exclusion necessarily from Christian circles (although a good one!) but rather its reputation is.  Again, that reiterates that this issue is not about one's tastes or preferences, but rather about spiritual edification, of which rock music and its variations fall short.

This was a lengthy and controversial teaching, and I am sure some people may not appreciate it too much, but it is a conviction that needs to be voiced.  My advice to you is to pray, discern, and let God speak to your heart himself, and "study to show thyself approved" by reading His Word and understanding more of what He is looking for as we worship Him in spirit, and in truth. God bless and be with each of you today until I visit again next time.