Music in the Bible and the Contemporary Music Styles Debate (Part 4)

Gregg Strawbridge continues his series about contemporary music styles in the church.

Christianity, Culture and Music

The larger issue in the entire discussion of CM is Christ and culture. How are we to see the basic relationship between the people of God and cultures in the world? To put it in Biblical terms, what are the full implications of being “in the world but not of the world” (Joh 17) and doing all things to the glory of God (1Co 10:31). Moreover, where do the Biblical principles of accommodation function - “And to the Jews I became as a Jew … I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” (1Co 9:20-22)?

For my own commitments here, I believe that Christ will largely transform culture. The Biblical support for this Calvinistic view may even be drawn in several distinct categories:

Missiologically

We have both the imperative and prophetic forms of world discipleship which implies that Christ will transform culture to some extent (Mat 28:19-20 (11) & Psa 22:27).

Eschatologically

Christ’s second advent is sequenced by reigning at the right hand of God “until He has put all His enemies under His feet,” the last of which is death which is demonstrably overcome at the resurrection (1Co 15:25, 54-55). Hence those of His enemies which have cultural manifestations shall be affected in the present progressive reign of Christ.

Culturally

The music of the redeemed shall flow from all ethne, loosely stated, from all cultures. For example, Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord saying, “Sing to the Lord a new song, sing His praise from the end of the earth! (Isa 40:10). “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth” (Psa 96:1). Notice that “new songs” are being commanded from other nations.

The New Testament indicates that worship from other nations is a climactic hope in the drama of redemption. God desires for “the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, ‘Therefore I will give praise to thee among the gentiles, and I will sing to Thy name’ and again he says… ‘praise the Lord all you gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him’ ” (Rom 15:9-11). “And they sang a new song …Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’ ” (Rev 5:9-10). Therefore, we are as much as told that the nations will use their music to glorify God.

Developmentally

Scripture itself recognizes change in cultural mediums of communication and allows for cultural differences and changes within time. Proof of this might be developed from observing the linguistic references throughout Scripture. “And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Neh 7:8, see also Mat 1:23, Mar 15:34).

Cultural diversity and change is factually depicted and assumed throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. Moreover, the revelation of the Messiah is brought through the medium of the Greco-Roman language and culture with Judaistic roots rather than the language Abraham, Moses, or David eras - remembering their were vast differences lingustically/culturally between even these patriarchs.

When this is coupled with the “sing a new song” prescriptions, linked to ethnic groups (Psa 96:1-2; Isa 42:10-11) and that redemption is intended for “every tribe and language and people and nation,” the ethnomusical implications are strong. The cultures of the world will and do in fact use their languages and musical expressions for praise! Hallelujah! - this is a universal word of praise.

Culture and the Heart-Language

If music changes interactively with culture, whatever the musical heart-language of people is, is the best for expression of heart-truth. As Chenowith and Bee say, “When a people develops its own hymns with both vernacular words and music, it is good evidence that Christianity has truly taken root” (p. 212). Like it or not, a country bumpkin, harmonically impoverished with the sounds of Nashville, will not sing “I love you” to his fiance in the style of John Dowland’s renaissance Lute songs (a sixteenth century court musician of Queen Elizabeth).

Adequate reflection on the issues here will prevent us from adding to Scripture our pseudo-absolutes. We will not be as quick to condemn the musical mediums of other cultures and subcultures by imposing an ethnocentric standard. Our North American culture certainly is not an authoritative standard by which we can judge other cultures. We have no more right to impose a North American or Western European style of music on other cultures than we do to make them have their services in Latin. (And we’d be probably be better off to impose Latin rather than our current cultural norms.)

As Protestants we all believe “the holy scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages” (Larger Catechism 156) and prayer is to be “if vocal, in a known tongue” (Westminster Confession 21:3). But people also need the “vulgate,” of music in their common tongue, do they not? Some level of intelligibility is required (1Co 14:7-9, observe Paul’s very illustration). The irrelevance and ineffectiveness of the church is often fostered by an unreflective stance against the new. On all sides our shared concern should be for the communication of meaning and truth. Our music styles must comport with this. Calvin Johansson, though no friend of CM, has acknowledged the need for cultural and subcultural relevance in his stimulating book, Music and Ministry: A Biblical Counterpoint (1984).

Relevancy in church music is neither a matter of popularity nor of intrinsic worth, but a matter of identification with music. That is to say, the music must have something about it which is recognizable and ordinary, both in the configuration of the various musical elements and in its total impact…One must also pay attention to the peculiar musical culture of the congregation. (p. 39)

Music is a manifestation of culture, like language, which changes. Though we must not fail to distinguish Biblical absolutes from cultural relatives, this is not ethical relativism. The one individual who made the term “absolutes” part of the current Christian vocabulary, Francis Schaeffer (Art and the Bible, 1973) said, “Let me say firmly that there is no such thing as a godly style or an ungodly style” (p. 51). “And as a Christian adopts and adapts various contemporary techniques, he must wrestle with the whole question, looking to the Holy Spirit for help to know when to invent, when to adopt, when to adapt and to not use a specific style at all. This is something each artist wrestles with for a life time, not something he settles once and for all” (p. 55).

Music makers make sounds with the particular instrument-technology available. Further refinements culturally and technologically necessitate different musical sounds. Before the technology to make valves for brass instruments or hinged keys for woodwind instruments was available, wind instruments had a different sound with limitations in range and technique.

It may surprise people who are fond of the “tyranny of the organ” to realize that no Biblical-times music in any recognizable way resembled the sounds they call “sacred.” These sorts of technological changes alone account for vast transformations, much less the profound philosophical, religious, and linguistic changes affecting musical-stylistical developments.

My twentieth century harmony professor, composer Luigi Zaninelli, used to take exception to the idea that music has “progressed.” He would say it has simply “evolved” (i.e., no value judgment). Given the Biblical view of history, though, I would assert that music has progressed in the sense that it is intertwined with the unfolding plan of redemption and the advance of Christ’s kingdom. Moreover, music has become more complex and intricate, being the occupation of the intelligence, feeling, ambition, and purposes of more and more people made in the image of God.

When new sounds are made and development takes place the result is change in some aspect of that music. Eventually such changes make the music different enough to warrant the description that it has become a new style. For a distinctly Christian artist, new musical styles should be molded for the glory of God. As Schaeffer (1973) has said, “To demand the art forms of yesterday in either word systems or art is a bourgeois failure” (p. 49).

This series continues next week.

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KD Merrill's picture

At the risk of indulging the intended troll purpose of this entire series, I'll engage on some of the content.

During Installment 2, the author introduced a criticism of CCM - that being that there is no such thing as amoral music.  He then neglected to answer the argument, dancing around other ancillary topics.  I'm curious to know if the author believes that any form of human communication lacks moral quality.

During this post, the author introduced something called the "accommodation function."  He appears to believe that 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 justifies this approach because Paul "became all things to all men."  This is a common exegetical error embraced by proponents of CCM, desperate to find Biblical support.

Paul, in no way is espousing accommodation - he is proclaiming almost the complete opposite - the principle of restricting liberty as a means of reaching the lost.  I find it interesting that the Bible Gateway version of the ESV titles the chapter "Paul Surrenders His Rights."  That description is accurate. 

Of course the writer rips these 3 verses out of context.  He must.  They are his principal passage to justify his pragmatic approach.

He then goes on to say, "We have both the imperative and prophetic forms of world discipleship which implies that Christ will transform culture to some extent (Mat 28:19-20 (11) & Psa 22:27)."  This is nothing more than eisegesis.

He commits further eisegesis when he uses Revelation 5:9-10 to pontificate: "Therefore, we are as much as told that the nations will use their music to glorify God."  Uh, no.  It doesn't say that.  It says we'll be singing a "new song."

There's more that could be addressed.  I'll finish with this.  He blunders into numerous fallacies, including the appeal to authority when he cites Shaeffer (the one who re-introduced the concept of absolutes into the Christian vernacular) saying, "“Let me say firmly that there is no such thing as a godly style or an ungodly style."  Do we really believe that?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Despite my one sarcastic comment in the first installment, this five-part series is not intended to be a "trolling" exercise. It's a substantive work that the author presented at ETS some years ago.

Agree or disagree with the content as you wish.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

GregH's picture

TylerR wrote:

Despite my one sarcastic comment in the first installment, this five-part series is not intended to be a "trolling" exercise. It's a substantive work that the author presented at ETS some years ago.

Agree or disagree with the content as you wish.

I am also in awe that someone thinks this is a "troll" series. It actually is maybe the best writing I have seen on the subject in a long time. Certainly is light years better than the other church music stuff we have seen here over the past year.

KD Merrill's picture

A somewhat less than careful reading of Tyler's intentions - and the others who piled on after him may help reduce the shock and awe:

TylerR - I did this for you, Rajesh! But, where art thou?

Kevin Miller - He's likely waiting for the second and third installment, if he's even been on the internet yet today.

Mark_Smith - You are seeking a 27 page thread on the meaning of "is" in 1 Cor 11:23? 

I'm sure that was all stated in love, though.

 

Kevin Miller's picture

KD Merrill wrote:

A somewhat less than careful reading of Tyler's intentions - and the others who piled on after him may help reduce the shock and awe:

TylerR - I did this for you, Rajesh! But, where art thou?

Kevin Miller - He's likely waiting for the second and third installment, if he's even been on the internet yet today.

Mark_Smith - You are seeking a 27 page thread on the meaning of "is" in 1 Cor 11:23? 

I'm sure that was all stated in love, though.

 

Excuse me. Why am I included in a "piling on" accusation? Tyler did say something snarky, but my comment was acknowledging that Rajesh likely would have some disagreement with future segments, just as you have expressed disagreement. Since Rajesh has shown an interest in discussing music, I honestly thought he might chime in. How is that "piling on"?

KD Merrill's picture

I apologize, Kevin.  Given Tyler's snark, I assumed your response was in kind.  My bad.

Bert Perry's picture

KD, it would seem that it's incumbent upon you to propose a rationale for music of certain eras, and not of others, that does not rely on guilt by association fallacies.  I've read a bit of Garlock and Gothard, and have yet to see that.  If you've got that, I'm game to read it.  

My take is that since Scripture never describes music as an inherently moral art, that we ought to keep the question of whether there is moral and immoral music as "adiaphora" (not specified in Scripture), and address the question as whether the music succeeds in a Biblical purpose for music.  For that purpose, I'd propose that music in the church ought to serve as a way to convey God's Word (including theology) to God's people in lyric form, and to enable the praise of God's people.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

KD Merrill wrote:
He commits further eisegesis when he uses Revelation 5:9-10 to pontificate: "Therefore, we are as much as told that the nations will use their music to glorify God."  Uh, no.  It doesn't say that.  It says we'll be singing a "new song."

It would be the most natural thing for them to use their music. If they didn’t, what Scripture would lay out for them the details of a style that God prefers? Or even that God has a preferred style? 

Bert Perry's picture

I am quite frankly puzzled, KD, why you suggest that 1. Cor. 9:20-22 would "constrict" liberty.  I've always read the passage as saying that the former devout Jew Paul is becoming like the Gentiles in order to reach them--and in doing so, he would be jettisoning some of his former Jewish scruples, starting with an antipathy to Gentiles.  (the old prayer: "thank you God that I am not a dog, a woman, or a Gentile"....and all)   I've always seen that as a broadening of Paul's horizons, especially in light of the fact that verse 21 does not refer specifically to Greeks or Gentiles, but to those "not having the law".  If we apply this to music and other artifacts of culture, we would infer that genre from around the entire world would be acceptable.  

Paul certainly isn't willfully sinning by doing this, but at the same time, per "take, Peter, kill and eat", Paul is most certainly being released from a number of Torah regulations by the Gospel.  

The other thought I've got, per Dan's comment, is that certain musical genre work better with certain languages, and with certain cultures.  It takes more work, for example, to create opera in German or French than in Italian.  Klezmer works great in Yiddish and Hebrew, but is tougher in English.  So if we're going to truncate our liberty in terms of music, we need a serious Biblical argument that I don't think exists.   The general categories of instrumentation of the ancient world--string, percussive, wind--are the same categories as exist today, and Scripture doesn't tell us that certain other features of music--key signatures, meter, measure length, etc..--are either prescribed or proscribed.  

We're left, as far as I can tell, with what kinds of music achieve God's purposes for music in the church (and music among Christians, more broadly), which is again a quite pragmatic argument.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

KD Merrill's picture

KD, it would seem that it's incumbent upon you to propose a rationale for music of certain eras, and not of others, that does not rely on guilt by association fallacies.  

1. I certainly haven't said anything about music of any era.  That's a red herring.  I did address musical style, which is not the same.

2. My argument does not rely on guilt by association.   This is a straw man.   My argument is that music itself is a form of communication.  This is not only a generally accepted fact, it has a Biblical basis (1 Samuel 16:23, Exodus 32:17-18).  As a form of communication, it must comport with Biblical principles regarding such.  Consequently, the questions, "What does the music communicate?" and "Does what the music is communicating please God?" must be asked.  

Would anyone argue that tone of voice, facial expression and body language are not forms of communication?  Can we make moral judgments about them? 

Music is a form of art.  Art is a form of communication.  Hence, music is a form of communication and must be evaluated using Biblical principles regarding communication.

3. I argued that many of Strawbridge's conclusions are based on a twisting of the Scriptures.  Biblically, it is not incumbent on me or anyone else to prove that a certain style of music is wrong.  The Biblical pattern shows that the onus is on the believer to prove what is acceptable to God.

For that purpose, I'd propose that music in the church ought to serve as a way to convey God's Word (including theology) to God's people in lyric form, and to enable the praise of God's people.  

No argument from me there.

KD Merrill's picture

I was wrong about the singers in Revelation 5:9-10.  So is Strawbridge.  I assumed it was talking about the nations based on he wrote.  Lesson learned.  It isn't.  The song is sung by the four living creatures and the elders.  

All creation doesn't join the song until verse 13.  Does it make sense for them to be singing the same song in different styles that identify with their culture?   You're making quite the stretch to make the scripture say that.

Could it be that the New Song is new just in words?  Or could it address the style as well?

KD Merrill's picture

I view 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 as part of a larger context (1 Corinthians 9:15-27) in which Paul's emphasis is on giving up his rights, exercising discipline, self-control and becoming servant to all, all of which indicate a limitation of Paul's behavior.  Inserting a thought on broadening one's horizons doesn't appear to fit with the logical flow of the rest of the passage.

Don Johnson's picture

KD Merrill wrote:

...

Bert Perry wrote:
For that purpose, I'd propose that music in the church ought to serve as a way to convey God's Word (including theology) to God's people in lyric form, and to enable the praise of God's people. 

No argument from me there.

A minor (perhaps) quibble: lyrics aren't music, they are literature. I would suggest the purpose of the music is not exactly the same as the purpose of the lyrics.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

KD, what you've done so far is to, in your view, point out the flaws in other peoples' arguments, which is to say that yes, I don't "know" that your argument is guilt by association because you simply haven't made it yet.  So if your argument is different in character from those of Gothard, Garlock, Rajesh, and others who've made the case, please step up to the plate.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

KD, what you've done so far is to, in your view, point out the flaws in other peoples' arguments, which is to say that yes, I don't "know" that your argument is guilt by association because you simply haven't made it yet.  So if your argument is different in character from those of Gothard, Garlock, Rajesh, and others who've made the case, please step up to the plate.

There is nothing wrong with pointing out error where error exists. While Strawbridge's analysis appears convincing, it actually makes him dangerous as it could indeed convince many even while containing errors that regular people would easily overlook due to the level of writing he employs. In layman's terms: just because it sounds fancy doesn't mean it's correct. I don't know KD Merrill and he doesn't know me, so I have no idea if he and I would agree on any number of issues. But most (all?) of his critical analysis is worthy of consideration and I appreciate it, and there isn't anything wrong with presenting critical argument without writing a 4 segment refutation.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

KD Merrill's picture

KD, what you've done so far is to, in your view, point out the flaws in other peoples' arguments, which is to say that yes, I don't "know" that your argument is guilt by association because you simply haven't made it yet.  So if your argument is different in character from those of Gothard, Garlock, Rajesh, and others who've made the case, please step up to the plate.

Bert, I've already made my argument.  I'll restate it.

Music is a form of communication.  As such, it is a moral entity and subject to Biblical principles of communication.   In order to evaluate whether certain music is pleasing to God, two questions need to be asked: 

  1.  What is the music communicating?
  2.  Is the musical communication pleasing to God?

How do we know what the music communicates?  That is a question that must be investigated and answered by the believer.  It is his/her Biblical responsibility to use resources and tools to figure that out in order to do the following:

  1.  Prove what is acceptable to God (Ephesians 5:10)
  2.  Use knowledge and discernment to approve things that are excellent (Philippians 1: 9-10) 
  3.  Be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10)
  4.  Become mature so that he can train his powers of discernment to distinguish between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14)

You've made the argument that you can't know if music is moral or amoral.  I've presented Biblical evidence otherwise.  Can you address that argument?

Bert Perry's picture

KD, none of what you've just commented makes any argument on the suitability, or unsuitability, of any musical technique, genre, instrument, vocal technique, or whatever.  It's generic boilerplate that can be applied to any discussion, so hence you've presented precisely zero evidence for the question of whether these things are moral, amoral, or whatever.

Again, if you've got an argument, make it.  If you don't, that's fine, but let's not spout off generic platitudes as if they were a compelling argument one way or the other. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

KD, none of what you've just commented makes any argument on the suitability, or unsuitability, of any musical technique, genre, instrument, vocal technique, or whatever.  It's generic boilerplate that can be applied to any discussion, so hence you've presented precisely zero evidence for the question of whether these things are moral, amoral, or whatever.

Again, if you've got an argument, make it.  If you don't, that's fine, but let's not spout off generic platitudes as if they were a compelling argument one way or the other. 

Did you just call the very words of God that are suitable in this discussion Generic Platitudes? Generic Boilerplate? KD is absolutely right in his references in these scriptures. How else can a Christian know how to live where God does not give us specifics in his Word? The Bible never once references music in technical terms that can tell a Christian what is right or wrong; the Bible lacks specific references to countless things a Christian must use wise discernment to choose. You can do better than this, Bert.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Dan Miller's picture

You guys are talking past one another and likely to start angering and attacking,

Bert wasn't discounting the importance of those Scriptures, J.

KD Merrill wrote:
...  It is his/her Biblical responsibility to use resources and tools to figure that out in order to do the following:

 Prove what is acceptable to God (Ephesians 5:10)

But where is the proof that X style isn't acceptable? 
KD Merrill wrote:

 Use knowledge and discernment to approve things that are excellent (Philippians 1: 9-10) 

But where is the proof that X style more excellent? 
KD Merrill wrote:

 Be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10)

But where is the proof that X style is more God-pleasing, fruit-encouraginng, etc.? 
KD Merrill wrote:

 Become mature so that he can train his powers of discernment to distinguish between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14)

But where is the proof that X style is evil? 
KD Merrill wrote:

You've made the argument that you can't know if music is moral or amoral.  I've presented Biblical evidence otherwise.  Can you address that argument?

KD, you done a great job of elaborating the terms of the argument. So while you've defined how the argument would have to be made, you haven't actually made it until you explain WHY X style is more evil, God displeasing, etc.

Bert Perry's picture

Jason, KD, I was calling KD's presentation "generic platitudes", not the Word of God, because it's generically applicable to every situation but specifically applicable to none.  It's really the starting point for any theological discussion on any topic.

Dan summarizes why I pointed this out quite well.  None of the verses say anything specific about music, in or out of the church, and really, you can see this from the context of the passages KD lists.  To wit, the first verse's context is the sins of sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity and foolish talk.  The second and third passages are part of generic blessings and prayers by Paul, with details to be spelled out elsewhere.  The final verse is part of a rebuke of the church for immaturity in not attaining to becoming teachers and the like.

Really, three out of the four passages selected are part of generic greetings/rebukes to the church as a whole, zeroing in on generic Christian maturity.  The exception is in the context of sins not including "bad music".  They tell us nothing about what kind of music is acceptable or not, unless we can actually make the argument that genre A is sexually immoral, impure, greedy, obscene, etc..

And, for what it's worth, that our favored genre are NOT characterizable this way.  Batter up, KD.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

 

KD Merrill wrote:

 

...

 

Bert Perry wrote:
For that purpose, I'd propose that music in the church ought to serve as a way to convey God's Word (including theology) to God's people in lyric form, and to enable the praise of God's people. 

 

No argument from me there.

 

 

A minor (perhaps) quibble: lyrics aren't music, they are literature. I would suggest the purpose of the music is not exactly the same as the purpose of the lyrics.

We might insert that at least the law treats music, at least in its composition, about the same as literature.  So do we really have two separate categories?  We might also wonder what makes music specifically "Christian" or otherwise beyond its message, which would include the lyrics, but not necessarily be limited to them.  I can envision, for example, a Christian composer doing a Biblical theme without lyrics in the same way Beethoven had the 6th Symphony as an ode to life in the country, the Pastorale.  Can't name any such compositions, but no doubt they could exist.  Can we have, then, "Christian" music without either an explicit (lyrical) or implicit (music only) message?

That said, I'd guess that despite some very significant differences between us, Don and I could agree that the impact of a Christian song/hymn/spiritual song exists because of the union of tune and lyrics.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Really, three out of the four passages selected are part of generic greetings/rebukes to the church as a whole, zeroing in on generic Christian maturity.  The exception is in the context of sins not including "bad music".  They tell us nothing about what kind of music is acceptable or not, unless we can actually make the argument that genre A is sexually immoral, impure, greedy, obscene, etc..

Bert,

I actually agree with you more than you may think. My only point in helping KD's defense is that he, at least, is leaning directly on scripture to help inform his decisions with regards to music, where others are leaning on philosophical opinions or other human machinations in addition to drawing from scripture as best as they can. In other words, the Bible does not, indeed - it cannot tell us whether or not a particular composition and instrumentation style is sin. All God gives us are tools that we must then apply. KD named some of those tools, and I agree with him on that count. And his eisegetical arguments regarding Strawbridge are also not entirely incorrect and are worth consideration.

I also believe that the answer to the acceptability of various kinds of music will be largely based on context. Who are the listeners, what is the venue, etc. There is no more a black and white answer as to whether or not a particular composition is "sinful" than there is a particular article of clothing (assuming the article of clothing isn't transparent). Discernment is always a valid answer to these kinds of questions that God has left unanswered.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

KD Merrill's picture

Before addressing specifics, there must be agreement on the most fundamental premise - that of the morality of music.  If we can not agree on that, there is no use to continuing the conversation.  As Dan observed, we'll be talking past each other and that won't accomplish anything.  

You've postulated that Scripture never describes music as an inherently moral art.   You have no Biblical basis on which to stake that claim.   I disagree with your position and I've provided Scriptural evidence that music is the product of human behavior - specifically, a form of communication - and it thus subject to God's moral law regarding communication.  

Dan asked the question, "But where is the proof that X style isn't acceptable?"  That question assumes the wrong premise.  It's backwards.  My answer is - according to the Biblical principle of proving what is acceptable - "But where is the proof that X style is acceptable?"  That should be our starting point.   

Even if I were to accept that premise, the proof is in asking, "What does X style communicate?" and then doing the legwork necessary to answer that question.  That takes some effort, but it's not impossible.  

To wit, the first verse's context is the sins of sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity and foolish talk.  

The exception is in the context of sins not including "bad music".  They tell us nothing about what kind of music is acceptable or not, unless we can actually make the argument that genre A is sexually immoral, impure, greedy, obscene, etc..

I find it ironic that a critical piece of my argument is that music is a form of communication and what is the immediate context of Ephesians 5?  The prior verses address - wait for it - among other things, ungodly communication.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Even more ironic is the fact that Paul goes on just a few verses after the admonition to "prove what is acceptable/pleasing to God" in verse 10 to address  a certain topic in verses 19-20.

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Add to this the theme of thanksgiving found in verses 4 and 20, which appears to tie this passage together before Paul transitions to familial relationships.  I'd argue that music is a central theme addressed in verse 10.

Bert, you state, "They tell us nothing about what kind of music is acceptable or not, unless we can actually make the argument that genre A is sexually immoral, impure, greedy, obscene, etc."  Let's see:

  • Can we make an argument that certain speech can be sexually immoral?   
  • Can we make an argument that certain other modes of communication, including facial expressions and body language can be sexually immoral? 
  • Can we make an argument that certain styles of music - aka the "universal language" can be sexually immoral?

You're looking for me to address specifics - to get in the weeds.  Maybe we'll get there.  But until we can agree that God's Word is sufficient to give us the tools to evaluate all aspects of human behavior using the discernment that Paul prayed for on our behalf - even if not specifically addressed in Scripture - there is no point of pursuing this further.   If God provided us specific instruction in the Scriptures regarding every little detail of life, what would be the purpose of having discernment?

 

Don Johnson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

We might insert that at least the law treats music, at least in its composition, about the same as literature.  So do we really have two separate categories?  We might also wonder what makes music specifically "Christian" or otherwise beyond its message, which would include the lyrics, but not necessarily be limited to them.  I can envision, for example, a Christian composer doing a Biblical theme without lyrics in the same way Beethoven had the 6th Symphony as an ode to life in the country, the Pastorale.  Can't name any such compositions, but no doubt they could exist.  Can we have, then, "Christian" music without either an explicit (lyrical) or implicit (music only) message?

That said, I'd guess that despite some very significant differences between us, Don and I could agree that the impact of a Christian song/hymn/spiritual song exists because of the union of tune and lyrics.  

I am not looking for "Christian" music, but rather music that is appropriate for Christians to use.

With literature, sculpture, painting and other visual arts, immorality is sometimes easier to spot. With music, I will grant, it is harder to discern. However, my point is that music cannot be the sole art form devoid of a moral component. It makes no sense to say that music never communicates immorality, or cannot communicate immorality. It is the product of human minds, fallen, depraved, broken, alienated from God and his will. How could music escape a moral dimension?

Therefore, I think a Christian should exercise his spiritual senses, in line with the principles KD Merrill is espousing, to develop discernment about what is approrpriate or inappropriate for Christian use.

When I was a teenager, we turned a Coca Cola jingle into a Christian song. Was that appropriate? I don't think so now.

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

My argument is that music itself is a form of communication.  This is not only a generally accepted fact, it has a Biblical basis (1 Samuel 16:23, Exodus 32:17-18).  As a form of communication, it must comport with Biblical principles regarding such.  Consequently, the questions, "What does the music communicate?" and "Does what the music is communicating please God?" must be asked.  

If this is true - and I'm not disagreeing with you so far - then I think we have to treat music as one entity, not as two disparate pieces (instrumentation and lyrics).  I don't think it makes sense to say that music can be OK lyrically but not OK instrumentally, much less defend that position biblically.  In both instances that KD referred to, the reference is to the totality of the music being used.  If a song fails the lyrics test because it contains false teaching, then the song is immediately worthless.  Is there any place in the Bible where God condemns the style of a song but not the actual message?  I don't believe there is.

I think we get ourselves into trouble when we start laying out 'biblical' arguments for the instruments that should be used or the styles that we use and do not factor in the literature (lyrics).  I believe that one of Rajesh's bigger interpretational mistakes has been to insist that the music in Exodus 32 and 1 Corinthians was appropriated from the pagans (we have no proof either way) and therefore communicates on a supernatural level to demons.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Don Johnson's picture

Jay wrote:

My argument is that music itself is a form of communication.  This is not only a generally accepted fact, it has a Biblical basis (1 Samuel 16:23, Exodus 32:17-18).  As a form of communication, it must comport with Biblical principles regarding such.  Consequently, the questions, "What does the music communicate?" and "Does what the music is communicating please God?" must be asked.  

If this is true - and I'm not disagreeing with you so far - then I think we have to treat music as one entity, not as two disparate pieces (instrumentation and lyrics).  I don't think it makes sense to say that music can be OK lyrically but not OK instrumentally, much less defend that position biblically.  In both instances that KD referred to, the reference is to the totality of the music being used.  If a song fails the lyrics test because it contains false teaching, then the song is immediately worthless.  Is there any place in the Bible where God condemns the style of a song but not the actual message?  I don't believe there is.

I think we get ourselves into trouble when we start laying out 'biblical' arguments for the instruments that should be used or the styles that we use and do not factor in the literature (lyrics).  I believe that one of Rajesh's bigger interpretational mistakes has been to insist that the music in Exodus 32 and 1 Corinthians was appropriated from the pagans (we have no proof either way) and therefore communicates on a supernatural level to demons.

so, Jay, you seem to be saying the lyrics test trumps the instrumentation test. If a song is OK in its lyrics, it doesn't matter what style is used. 

Is that what you are saying?

if so, you are making my point -- literature is one thing and music is another. (The only difference seems to be the old saw that music is amoral. Anything goes, it seems.)

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

Don't you need to "prove" the point that music is inherently moral or otherwise, KD?  I can--using Don's separation of lyrics from tune--point at certain songs that I just won't listen to because of objectionable lyrics.  I can point to other songs, and even entire genre (easy listening, hymn medleys) that I don't like, but if one wants to claim that there is inherent moral content to music, you've got to prove that.  To put it mildly, if you're going to say you can find the context of Ephesians 5:10 in CCM (or whatever genre of Christian music), you're picking a fight, and you'd better bring the goods a sight better than guys like Garlock.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Jay wrote:

Is there any place in the Bible where God condemns the style of a song...?

Is there any place in the Bible where God condemns Daisy Dukes? Being a dishwasher at a strip club? Eating sushi?

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Dan Miller's picture

JNoël wrote:

Jay wrote:

Is there any place in the Bible where God condemns the style of a song...?

Is there any place in the Bible where God condemns Daisy Dukes? Being a dishwasher at a strip club? Eating sushi?

Daisy Dukes - not sure - but I think that's tiny pants. The Bible does condemn indecent exposure. It speaks of women who come "dressed as a prostitute." Now, it doesn't address how tiny pants have to be to be indecent. But it does teach a category of illicit dress, even if today we don't know what exaclty was illicit about it. And Jesus taught that looking with the purpose of lust is sin. 

Sushi is an interesting question. Crab and octopus are not Kosher. Eel has scales too small to be considered true scales and isn't kosher. Regardless, in the category of food, there was food that was prohibited. I don't see that ever happening in the category of music.

I see no "X style is evil." I see no "X instrument is evil." I see no "the music of X people is evil."

JNoël's picture

The sushi comment was because there are people who would never eat raw fish because it carries a level of risk that I have heard some Christians say would easily fall into the category of not caring for one's body responsibly.

Dan Miller wrote:

I see no "X style is evil." I see no "X instrument is evil." I see no "the music of X people is evil."

So I assume by your response then that you care nothing about discernment, that the only things you don't do are those things specifically spelled out in the Bible? I can't see how a Christian could possibly live in that manner. But, to each his own, I suppose, and that would be the end of the music conversation (and countless others), as KD suggested.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

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