I’ll also make a caveat for my readers who do not attend church: the topic I’m about to start may not be relevant to you, so while I invite you to come along for the ride, I will understand if you sit this one out. At the very least, you might be interested to learn about a struggle in North America’s evangelical community that appears to be getting worse instead of better.
Take a Deep Breath
This topic is… drumroll, please: rock music in church. For those of you churchgoers who thought this issue has already been settled (in favor of letting people do their own thing), the fact that rock-n-roll has become widespread in America’s churches doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
I’ve been reading a book entitled, “Can We Rock the Gospel?”, by John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini, which I picked up in my church library. While I haven’t finished the book, I can already say there’s little in it with which I disagree. I’m also a fan of “Singing and Making Music” by Paul Jones, and “Worship – Beholding the Beauty of the Lord” by Dr. Skip Ryan. As this blog topic goes along, I’ll expand on my reasons for reading these books. At this point, suffice it to say that before rock music becomes even more entrenched in the evangelical community, I strongly believe we need to reconsider its appropriateness in churches – and our lives.
For some of you, this may be so shocking that your estimation of me has just tanked through the basement. You know I’m opinionated, stubborn, and talk too much, but now I’ve just gone too far. How dare I level such a broad accusation on something so widespread in our culture?
Well, in all honesty, that’s one reason I’m broaching this subject now, when only a few of my friends are actually reading this blog. If you really think I’m off my rocker, I invite you to tell me now - you may have a valid point I haven’t considered. However, I think you’ll at least agree with me: this issue really hasn’t gone away.
So please, for those of you willing to come along for the ride, remember that I’m not trying to change your mind. I'm just trying to stretch it a little.
Ready? Here We Go
Every Sunday at my church, Park Cities Presbyterian (PCA) in Dallas, we recite a “Profession of Faith”, either a creed or a passage of scripture. This past week, we read from Colossians 1:13-15, 16-20, which I’ll condense here:
”Our God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son… Jesus Christ is…the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church… that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things… making peace by the blood of His cross.”
You don’t need to be a theologian to notice that God not only created “all things”, but that “in Him all things hold together”, and that Christ reconciles to God “all things”. However, don’t miss the purpose of God’s creation: “that in everything He might be preeminent”.
Isn't Rock Music Part of God's Creation?
Our first discussion on the topic of rock music will be how it fits into God’s creation. And yes, it does fit into His creation; it just doesn't fit where you think it might. We cannot claim that simply because rock music is part of God’s creation, it’s suitable for His worship. Some created things incorporate their antithesis to reveal God’s glory, and are not in and of themselves holy (set apart, suitable for His service).
Before we go too much further, let's set some definitions. Since I am not a music scholar, I’ll admit that I don’t understand all there is to know about musical genres, whether it be classical or rock. Indeed, within the genres fall multiple variations as they’ve evolved. So for the sake of this discussion, I’m going to use broad definitions for classical and rock music:
- Classical music includes those music forms that incorporate the elements of music most respected by artistic scholars because of their mathematical integrity and harmonic purity, with Biblically sound texts and grammatically cohesive lyrics. Most of the acceptable classical scores range from the 1500’s to the early part of the 20th Century, although some fine pieces have been composed even in the present-day.
- Rock music includes those music forms that incorporate a variety of rhythmic elements, repetition of both score and lyrics, overly simple mathematical construction, a strong dependence on electric sound generation and amplification, and the use of stage/presentation dynamics that focus on the performers. The genre, which started after the Second World War, derived its name from an urban slang term for sex.
God Does Play Favorites
Now, to the subject of God being “preeminent” in His creation. To the extent that current worship leaders (and their approving congregations) present their rock music to the Lord with a sincere heart, I am not in a position to say that God does not somehow process out the bad and accept the good. Indeed, there are plenty of “traditional” churches that present quality classical music from dead hearts. However, what is the extent to which church rock participants honor God when plenty of evidence exists to refute their claims that since it’s all His creation, God doesn’t play favorites with musical styles?
The passage from Colossians says that God should be “preeminent”, but obviously , there are many areas in our lives where He is not. Just think about your own faith walk, as I have mine, and you’ll see what I mean. When we talk about corporate worship, hopefully we can at least agree that our worship should be the best it can be, so that God can be recognized as preeminent in it. However, does rock music affirm God’s preeminence?
In the strictest sense of the argument that God created rock-n-roll, we could also posit the following scenarios:
- God created mud, but we don’t bring handfuls of mud to church and pile it on the Communion table. Hopefully, we would consider that offensive. (Remember the time when the Israelites were moving the Ark of the Covenant? They were pushing through mud, and suddenly it appeared the Ark would fall into the mud, so one of the men stuck out their hand to steady the Ark. Immediately, God struck him dead, because God’s mud was cleaner in His eyes than the unconsecrated hand of the Israelite. You’ll notice God’s holiness runs as a constant theme through His Word and how we should apply it.)
- God created candy, but we don’t bring bags of it into the worship service and munch on Snickers during the sermon. That isn’t appropriate.
- God created cancer, but we fight cancer as we should, because it can kill us.
- God created photography, but we don’t use PhotoShop on an image and frame it, putting it on display in the sanctuary. God says not to make graven images of Himself.
See? Just because it's all part of God's creation doesn't mean it's acceptable.
Admit It: Some Music is Better Than Others
Although God has created all forms of music, they run the spectrum from abominable to excellent. Just because our society may like something doesn’t mean bad genres of that thing (by universally-recognized principles upon which the quality baseline has been set) suddenly become good. Societal standards rise and fall, but truth runs as a constant.
(I've heard the argument that music is like language, it is constantly evolving, so the standards eventually evolve, too. Okay, I'll say there is some relevance to that line of thinking, except that the basic standard of good language remains the same throughout history: the best type of communication is when Person A completely understands Person B. That fact never changes. However, while I, being a WASP, may get the gist of what an urban Asian gang member tells me in a dark alley, I wouldn't call that the best type of communication.)
How do we know rock music is abominable? From the very words of many rock musicians. Even KISS's Gene Simmons, when he was a guest judge on 2005’s American Idol, warned that rock music would conflict with a contestant’s stated faith (the story is in Blanchard’s book).
Seriously, can anyone claim that rock music is a superior art form than most classical scores? You may like rock better, you may think you understand it better, and you may consider it an appropriate “soundtrack” for your life, but you could still be wrong. And don’t play the “music is amoral” card, or “all music is equal”. Pluck out something by yourself on the piano, and compare it to anything by Bach, and see what I mean.
In the end, truth isn’t about what you think is good, or what the majority votes as their favorite. Doesn’t the very life of Christ prove that truth exists whether people like you and me recognize it or not?
Or are the correlations I’ve tried to draw here simply the bogus ramblings of a traditionalist?
At least we should agree that we’re all accountable to God for the decisions we make. Are you as confident in your stand on this topic as I am in mine?
- Why Do We Worship? Contrary to popular opinion, unsaved people should not be the focus of evangelical corporate worship services (hint: it’s all about God).
- Can’t We Redeem Rock Music? Contrary to popular opinion, God does not obligate His people to reclaim genres of perversity (for example, we can’t “redeem” pornography, but we can redeem sexual relationships).
Since I’ve no intention of re-hashing the content of all three books I mentioned (I'm not a good book reviewer), some angles of this discussion won’t be addressed in this blog, at least not right now. If you’re up for a challenge, why not get these books and read them for yourself. I’m just here to touch on some basics.
And again, if you think I'm completely off-base, please tell me why. Just be as objective as I've tried to be.