To what kind of music should a Christian spend his time listening? This could seem like a secondary question, but it has been the source of much controversy over the years. Although the “worship wars” of the 1990’s that swept through many Evangelical churches seem to have largely subsided, this is a subject that can still raise hackles.
From a missiological standpoint, it is related to a larger issue: to what extent does the Christian accommodate himself to the larger culture in order to win the culture? On one hand, we have St. Paul saying, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). On the other, he also says, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Music controversies are not new. Back in ancient Greece, Plato recognized the power of music. He wrote at length about music, pointing out that some kinds edify and stir men to the nobler and higher things, while other kinds promote more degenerate impulses. We get the term “siren song” from Greek mythology. Siren songs were sung by malevolent spirits to deceptively lure sailors into situations where they would be shipwrecked and meet their doom.
Scripture points out that music can be misused to worship false gods and demonic entities. Daniel was pressured to do that: “Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15). Daniel, thank God, did not give in to that deception.
Changes in music style have been controversial in the history of the church, too. There were those unhappy when Gregorian Chant was supplanted by the late medieval Ars Nova (New Art) style, for example. Some churches do not include any musical instruments, only the human voice. They regard musical instruments as inappropriate for spiritual worship in a church setting. Other churches have a rich tradition of music for both voice and instrument. Many of the major composers of Classical music wrote sacred music. Psalms and hymns are very much a part of the heritage of English-speaking countries, as well as that of other European countries with a long Christian heritage.
Music is frequently mentioned in Scripture. It’s an important part of worship and of Christian living. Ephesians 5:19 talks of, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” The Psalms were originally set to music. One reads much about musical instruments involved in worship in Solomon’s Temple in 1 Chronicles. King Saul suffered from spiritual oppression and would call upon David to play music, and that dispelled the oppression and brought peace. Martin Luther regarded the singing of hymns as one of the chief ways to rout the devil and bring praise to God.
The Kingdom Christian Ministries (which publishes this magazine) has a rich treasure trove of songs and hymns specifically geared toward spiritual battle and victory. Probably many of those reading these words have had the wonderful experience of having their hearts lifted toward God and their spirits set free from oppression and depression by singing hymns out of Warrior Songs. I am grateful that God has used those mighty hymns in that way in my own life.
I had the great blessing of being brought up in a musical home. My parents both trained to be professional singers. I remember them practicing and singing in church choirs and other settings. Music was very much part of our lives. The music of Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner was familiar to me before I ever heard of the Beatles or the Beach Boys. When I got a little older, I started collecting recordings on my own. My musical tastes were formed by the music to which I had been exposed as a child. Although I was exposed to rock in adolescence, Classical music remained my “native language.”
I found The Kingdom Christian Ministries’ stance against rock music refreshing. I’ll never forget the morning I was headed to a nine o’clock hour of prayer at Fair Haven Chapel in Essex, Massachusetts. As was my habit, I turned on the radio to a top 40 pop station. Suddenly, the thought came to me, “If you don’t turn off that station this instant, you’ll have to tell Pastor Murray what you’ve been listening to!” Off went that station in a hurry!
With my own musical background, it was relatively easy to leave rock music behind and focus on my “native language,” now richly supplemented by the hymns and spiritual songs that I learned in Kingdom services. A good familiarity with such godly hymns is a great weapon in time of need! A year after I moved to Colorado, I found myself in a difficult place spiritually. Once I woke up in the middle of the night feeling terribly pressured and burdened. I cried out to the Lord to help me. The spiritual pressure I felt was intense. Then I started singing hymns from Warrior Songs. I sang one after another, including verses I didn’t even realize I knew. My songbook was not open; I was just singing in the dark in the small hours of the morning. Suddenly, Jesus came into that room! It was one of the most vivid experiences of His Presence that I had ever experienced. “Oh, Lord, is that really You?” I cried out. I poured out my heart and felt His Spirit filling the room as I went “from strength to strength.” It was a transformational experience, a real turning point with me. That vivid sense of His Presence lasted for days. It had been sparked by my keen sense of need, reinforced by singing godly hymns of help.
So I leave you with this question: does the music you listen to bring you closer to God, or does it pull you away from Him? If it pulls you away, what substitute can you find? We don’t do well in vacuums. If you stop listening to one form of music and don’t replace it with something else, chances are you will eventually go back to what you already knew. If you don’t know what substitute might be out there, now is the time to start digging. There are many resources available. Your local pastor might be able to help. There are many resources online.
I can’t tell you what music you should spend your time with. Not everybody is going to listen to a sacred piece by Palestrina or a bass choir from a Russian Orthodox church (though I think both of those are wonderful). Your answer might be very different from mine. That’s OK. But if I can at least get you to seriously ask yourself whether the music you’re listening to helps you spiritually or not, then this article will have been worth it. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” ∎
—Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Seminary, former youth leader and mentor, Germanophile, and lover of classical music, Dave is retired and is enjoying the cold weather of Wyoming.