MUSIC AND THE CHRISTIAN
Notes of an Address given to Young People by Dr. P. Rowell at Tamworth Road Chapel, Croydon, on 8th June, 1984.
This subject has caused a great deal of distress and confusion in people’s minds for many years, and never more so than today. In speaking about the general subject of music and the Christian, I shall have special reference to make to modern forms of musical entertainment.
Today, almost wherever we go we are bombarded with the sound of music; in shops, offices and factories. I remember being on a train talking to a person who worked in an
electronics factory and he was saying that the girls who were assembling electronic valves in those days were listening to music all the time. On one occasion the music was switched off and the girls all went out on strike. The reason was that they were doing such very monotonous and delicate work that they had to have some distraction, and I suppose the music which was played all day long was a kind of distraction. But that has been taken a further step, it seems to me, when even in country places like Crowborough young boys walk along the road with earphones, blocking their ears to all the natural sounds about them and listen to their favourite music. We need then, to examine most carefully the kind of music which attracts us, in the light of what the Bible has to say.
Music and Man
One of the characteristics that distinguish men and women from animals and birds, is the fact that God has given us the ability to recognize and admire beauty, whether it be by the eye or by the ear. You would not expect to see a chimpanzee walking round an art gallery, would you? You would not expect a canary to be listening intently to a symphony! There is, in men and women and boys and girls, a God-given ability to admire beauty, whether it be beauty seen or beauty heard. One of the amazing facts about the normal hearing ear is that it can distinguish very delicate changes in the tone, and frequency of music. This, combined with the aesthetic ability to appreciate melody and harmony, is never condemned in the Bible because it is part of what God created in man.
Music in the Old Testament
As we look first at the Old Testament, it is quite clear that music and singing became a very important part of the worship of God. Many of the Psalms are addressed to the Chief Musician. The Chief Musician was the man who led that part of the worship of God which comprised the singing of these songs. Their form of music was different from ours – their culture was different from ours in that respect, but they sang. There was a form of music associated with those Psalms and some of the mysterious titles to the Psalms are thought to be either the names of the tunes to which the Psalms were sung or the names of instruments which were played when the Psalms were sung. Now that proper use of music in the worship of God is a very important feature of the Old Testament.
Music in the New Testament
When we come to the New Testament, there are differences. the emphasis here is upon the spirituality of worship, and there is very little emphasis upon the actual form which that worship takes. In the Old Testament there are very detailed instructions as to the precise form in which the public worship of God was to take place. There was a great deal of ceremonial in the Old Testament and a great deal that was visual. In the New Testament very little is said about that aspect of worship. The emphasis is on the spirituality of true Christian worship. But the New Testament never makes a general condemnation of music.
I want to look at some references in the New Testament and we refer first to Matthew 11.16-19, “But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows. And saying. We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and we have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say. He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say,. Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.” Jesus sees this behaviour of the children as quite natural. What He is condemning in those verses is the unbelief of adults; He is not condemning the way in which children express a natural feeling for music.
We go on to Luke 15.23-26, the parable of the prodigal son. when he returned home, his father said “.,. Bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.” That occurs very naturally in the record and in no way does the Lord condemn that expression of joy in the household of the prodigal son.
If we go on to Revelation 5.9, we should have to say that surely there will be perfect music in heaven. Also in Revelation 14.3; “And they sung as it were a new song before the throne..”; and in chapter 15.3: “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works. Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.”
In the chapter which describes the doom and condemnation of Babylon (Revelation 18.22). we read “And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers and trumpeters, shall be
heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of the millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee.” The doom of that city is characterized by the cessation of music. It is therefore an expression of divine judgment when there is no longer any sound of music.
It seems that the most important and the most relevant New Testament reference to singing, especially singing by believers, is found in Matthew 26.30, at the end of the record of the institution of The Lord’s Supper. We read “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” Clearly there we have the example of Jesus and His disciples in that they sang an hymn on that very sacred occasion.
Then we go on to 1 Corinthians 14. In this epistle Paul has to correct many mistakes and abuses at Corinth. In verse 15 we read, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” There Paul is emphasising that the essential thing in singing is not just to sing with feeling or with the spirit but with the understanding also. Not that music just makes us feel good but music when it is used in connection with the worship of God must be a vehicle to express truth. We sing with the spirit and with the understanding and this is repeated in the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians where there are two very similar verses. In Eph. 5.19, the Apostle exhorts us to be filled with the Spirit “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” I was rather struck on reading through the old church book at Forest Fold, Crowborough, to find a statement that I had never noticed in any other church book. It states that, “we also believe that singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is an ordinance of the Gospel designed of God for the comfort and edification of His chosen”, and we still do what our forefathers said they believed in doing.
In Col. 3.16 the Apostle says “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” So the effect of the presence in the heart of the Holy Spirit is to encourage singing which is spiritual, singing which is from the heart, singing which is meaningful, and which has spiritual content.
So I would summarize this section by saying that this New Testament emphasis upon music in public worship is that it should be spiritual, that it should have meaning, that it involves the heart and the understanding; and its motive is
that we desire to worship God, and its result is that we are admonished or encouraged in things that are right and good.
Consider now the vexed problem of modern music. Does the Bible have anything to say about music in this more general sense? How do we react to the present situation around us, in which music is so common, where music has become very big business! Enormous fortunes are being made through music and there is a tremendous craze and craving for music today. Historically, it would be true to say that there never has been such a situation when music was so widespread, so available and so continuous as it is now. Does the Bible guide us in our attitude to music generally, to modern music, or, to use the generally accepted phrase, ‘pop music’?
Consider some general principles first. The Bible leads us to the conclusion that young people and children will have attitudes to music which differ from those of their parents and people who are older. Let me tell you a little story from my own life. Some of you knew my grandfather. E. G. Rowell. He was not a man who was sombre and miserable. He was a very happy man and in a right sense a very jovial man, friendly and open. As children we loved him. He came to our home, and it was a happy day when he visited us. I remember we had just got a new record player. I had a new record and I was very proud of this and wanted Grand-dad to hear it. I put the record on and asked if he would like to listen to this music, and he said, “Yes”. I turned it on and he said, “Well that’s a bit loud, can you turn it down?” so I turned it down. He said “Well it is still a bit loud” so I turned it down a bit further, and he went on like that until in the end I said, “Well I can’t hear it.” And he said “No neither can I, and that’s about right.” I learned in that simple way that people who were older than I was did not always have the same taste in music as I had. If we go back to Matthew 11.17, we see that the amusements of a child were piping, dancing, mourning and expecting other children to imitate what they were doing. It was a natural thing; children did play in the market place like that. But it would be foolish and grotesque to expect older people to do the same. You don’t expect 80-year-olds to be playing in that way, so there is obviously a difference in taste or aptitude.
In this general view of the matter there is something to be said from I Corinthians 13.11, where the apostle Paul says ‘When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” It is right for us to expect that there will be
development in every respect as we grow up. Children are lively, and you would expect them to have a liking for music which is far more lively and stimulating, whereas older people would have a liking for music which was more calm and relaxing. It would be quite wrong for us to impose adult behaviour upon children, just as it would be equally wrong to try and impose childish behaviour upon adults. We simply have to recognize that as we grow up there are great changes in our attitudes, our feelings, and our preferences. If a child becomes a Christian believer we must not expect that he will immediately behave like an adult, and immediately like everything that adults like. He or she is still a child, and that is true with regard to music, with regard to children’s hymn singing and so on. I feel that it is very important in this connection also that we should, as parents, try to avoid alienating our young people unnecessarily. This is one of the things that has very sadly happened in our day. I blame the modern media to a great extent for this, but I do not think that we as parents come out completely unscathed. In Ephesians 6.4, Paul says “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Now ‘nurture and admonition’ means to nurse, to care for, to encourage, to teach, to encourage development, and you cannot do that overnight. This is a process, and as parents we have to seek to encourage our own children in the right direction, but we are not to be so harsh and so oppressive that we force our children to the extent that they become alienated and angry. Now that is not easy. In those few sentences I have expressed many hours of anguish and sorrow which I have experienced as a father. On the other hand I would urge children and young people to learn respect for, and to regard the preferences of those who are older. When you are living together as a family in a house there has to be some recognition of the difference between the preferences of parents and the preferences of children.
Music tested by the Bible
Now let us come to some very practical points. I believe it is essential to apply Biblical tests to everything that we hear and everything we do, especially the things that we listen to frequently from choice. The things we choose to listen to very frequently must surely be put to some very severe tests because of their influence on us. You will find the basis of the tests which I shall apply in Philippians 4.8, where Paul, writing to Christian believers, says “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever
things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” The tests are very simple.
1. Is it true? Now that word in the Greek has the sense of being ‘open, unconcealed, manifest, true to fact’. Apply that test to modern songs, modern pop songs and so on. You will find in many of the modern songs there are hidden innuendos, there are suggestions, and suggestive phrases. This is very common and those suggestive phrases are often evil and immoral, but they are expressed often in a roundabout way, a new kind of language has developed to express things which are really utterly shameful. Now you have to be on your guard about matters like that in modern music. Be very careful about the hidden innuendos. This word “true” also means that you are to avoid things which are tricks, which are deceptive. Now let me read from a book which was published fairly recently, containing a devastating exposure of the modern craze for what is called ‘pop gospel’. It deals with popular modern music generally and I quote from this book.* “In addition to all this there is the controversial subject of subliminal messages inserted into recordings at slow speed, super speed or by backward masking, a device by which the material is inserted in such a way that it only becomes intelligible when played backwards. The concept is frightening particularly as there are scientists who claim that the subliminal messages including those inserted by backward masking can be received, stored and unscrambled and impressed on the mind without the knowledge of the listener.” It has been said (perhaps some of you will not understand this reference but others will) that the Beatles spent 400 hours recording their smash hit pop album ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, of which 200 hours were given to inserting subliminal material. Now that word ‘subliminal’ means beneath consciousness. It is something which is injected without us knowing. It is thoroughly evil and thoroughly dishonest. It is the exact opposite of what this verse is expressing in Philippians 4.8. It is not true, it is trickery. A little later in the book I have already quoted, it says that a certain group had a song called “When Electricity came to Arkansas”, during which the lead singer Jim Dandy makes an apparently pointless statement, but played backwards, the voice says “Satan, Satan, Satan he is God, he is God.” You may know that, at Corinth, Paul had a
was sick and tired of hearing about “a yellow submarine.” It was just mindless nonsense which was being sung. Words which we sing then must have intrinsic worth. They must be worth singing. So the music to which they are sung will be suitable to the intrinsic worth of the words. The words must be consistent with Biblical standards of truth and morality. Is it honest? Is it venerable, or august, or nobly serious?
3. Is it just? That is the next test. The meaning of that word ‘just’ is ‘justifiable or according to rule’, or is it ‘right’, is it ‘observant of custom’. Now what do you find about the spirit of much modern music and those associated with it? You find a violent destruction of accepted standards in art and music generally. I am not so bigoted as to think that nothing must ever change in regard to art and music. That cannot be so. There must be no stifling of change if that change is in a Biblical direction, if it genuinely seeks to express real beauty, but the violent rejection of standards today is so obvious. I brought this book in here partially hidden because I did not want you to see what was on the cover. On the cover there are pictures of people who I believe violently destroy certain standards of natural appearance. You must have seen them in the street, with red, white and blue hair! Now God did not give us red, white and blue hair, did He? He gave us hair of many different shades but not red, white and blue. It is this kind of thing, the outrageous, the clashing, violent expression of things which is so utterly wrong and unbiblical. You will find, sadly very often, the most popular people in the world of popular music today are those who are the most outrageous. They vie with each other to be more outrageous than another group in their appearance, in their expressions and in their music. I feel that that comes under the condemnation of this test. Is it ‘justifiable’, ‘according to rule’, is it ‘right’? No, it is not.
4. Is it pure? This means, is it ‘not contaminated’, is it ‘pure from defilement’, is it ‘chaste’ (to use an old-fashioned word)? You know as well as I do the way many popular singers live. You know the lives of many and you know the deaths of many! You know their lives have been thoroughly immoral; that they have no regard for moral standards according to the word of God; and you know that so many of them die as a result of an overdose of drugs or from alcoholism; and this way of life is reflected in their songs without any shadow of a doubt. You get immorality, especially sexual immorality being expressed very plainly in the songs and also being conveyed by these innuendos, these subtle injections of filthy suggestions. So that you have a way of life which is being encouraged by the
example of these idols of modern youth. Perhaps something even more disturbing is the way in which so many of these popular singers are involved in the occult, even in downright Satanism. I was very disturbed to read in this book, (Pop goes the Gospel), that a number of groups quite openly associate themselves with devilism. Do you think that the violence of that kind of music with its very strong rhythmic beat has any significance in this respect? You may say, music is music; it doesn’t matter whether it is this group of notes or that group of notes; it does not really matter whether you play it this way or that way. Do you honestly believe that? You young people, I do not know whether you do listen to anything like this, but if you do (and I do not see how you can avoid it because it is going on all around you), let me ask you, what does it stir up in your mind? What kind of feeling does it stir up within you? You should ask questions like that when you listen; and you should say to yourself, are these feelings Biblical? In other words does the Bible say that these feelings are right and good for you, or does the Bible say that these are vile and evil feelings? Do you know that the expression ‘rock and roll’ got its name from the sexual act? Perhaps you did not know that. That is the origin of that kind of music and much of this music encourages sexual violence and permissiveness. There is no doubt about that in the world around us-you can see it obviously and plainly. I am sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings by being as outspoken as this but we are in a situation where one has to be outspoken. Music can affect our feelings very, very deeply and sometimes music stirs up the most base and vile feelings. Let us go back to the Old Testament again to I Samuel 16.22-23, where we read about Saul who sent to Jesse saying, “Let David I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favour in my sight. And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” I have had occasion to visit psychiatric hospitals and people who have been treated there, and I find exactly the same thing happens. People who are disturbed mentally are encouraged to listen to a certain kind of music and that kind of music is the kind of music that has a calming influence. When David played the harp it had a calming influence on Saul. He “was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him”. So I appeal to you young people to ask yourselves what emotions are stirred by the music you listen to. Then I would say to you very affectionately, eliminate from your lives all that music which stirs up emotions which the Bible condemns and which you know in your conscience to be wrong.
5. Is it /ove/y? This is the next test in this verse in Philippians. That word means ‘pleasing’, or ‘agreeable’, or ‘beautiful’. Immediately you may say. That depends who you are; that is subjective; it depends what your particular likings are, and you will not like the same sort of thing that I like in the way of music’. Well, that is partly true because we do differ from each other. There are certain hymn tunes which I detest, but there are others which I very much like. If we went through a tune book and I told you the ones I did not like, you might say, ‘Well, I like that one’, so there is a difference of taste. But the monotonous repetition of a few notes to a strong beat is not beautiful; whatever else it may be it is not beautiful. ‘Lovely’ is to be understood in a Biblical sense. Does the music we listen to convey to us a sense of beauty by its content and by its style? If I did show you what was on the cover of this book you would say “How terrible!” If you look at the pictures that are shown of some modern popular singers, are they lovely? They are not lovely – They are vile – They are revolting.
Certainly there are differences of taste. A child’s innocent song has a certain loveliness about it, and a hymn of praise to God has a certain loveliness about it; there is a variety, but you know as well as I do deep down within you, that there are limits, and beyond those limits much modem music has certainly gone.
6./s it of good report? That means is it ‘reputable’? We live in a world which has lost a proper sense of standards, but amongst those who have high standards – let us leave aside for a moment the Christian for those who have high standards in this general sense, is the kind of music which is being played today reputable? Anybody with a sense of common decency would say that the influence of much of this modern music has been downright devastating amongst so many young people. I cannot be reputable in this general sense, and I am sure it cannot be reputable amongst those who have a regard for the word of God.
It is very sad that some religious leaders are encouraging the use of “christianised Pop”, mingling the spirit of the world with a superficial and often erroneous expression of Christianity. Certainly this is not of good report, nor reputable, so far as historic Christianity is concerned.
We have two examples to follow:-
(a) God in creation has given us harmony, form, beauty of colour, pleasantness of sound. Nothing clashed, nothing irritated, nothing stirred evil emotions in the Garden of Eden!
*Pop goes the Gospel by John Blanchard – Evangelical Press – Pages 53-54.