December 12, 2017

Guidance from FrontLine for those Confused about Music

FrontLine 20th Anniversary Issue

Will the music debate ever be resolved? No. There will be no final word from man on music, which is precisely why we have to keep teaching and reteaching the principles that guide us into Biblical decisions about it. In an attempt to connect with the struggle that some have when they are immature in these principles it is easy to say things that come back to bite us. The Bible is sufficient for “all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” That includes music.

Over the last twenty years, godly men grounded in the sufficiency of Scripture and well trained as musicians and pastors have addressed the subject of music many times, dedicating entire issues to the subject and writing articles about music for issues not specifically dedicated to that topic. In fact the very first issue of FrontLine included an article by pastor and musician Danny Sweatt, whose teaching on the subject has impacted countless Fundamentalists, especially young people. Read his comments and those of others who have written on this always timely topic.

“What Has Happened to Church Music?” by Danny Sweatt, Sep/Oct 1991

Reasoning with the pastor was futile. His direction was set; to turn back now would be to admit lack of judgment.

To put it into perspective, if the music that is now standard fare in many of our churches had been attempted just twenty years ago, the pastor as well as the performers would have been run out of town. Who could have imagined that the things I have described would not only be tolerated but also be encouraged by Fundamental Baptists? What forces have driven us so far off the course of propriety?

As society has drifted farther and farther from a Biblical standard, the pressure has increased for the church to become more accommodating. The gap between what is acceptable to the world and what is acceptable to the church has narrowed considerably.

The face of Christian music has certainly changed in recent years, but so has the face of Fundamentalism. The distinctiveness, characterized by wholesomeness and loving confrontation, that has made Christianity so credible to a sin-sick world is rapidly being replaced by accommodation and “backdoor evangelism.”

“Is Music Really Neutral?” by Danny Sweatt, Nov/Dec 1991

Let it be clearly understood that the only people on the face of the earth, in this generation or any other, who have tried to promote the “neutrality of music” are Christians living after 1965.

What happened in the mid-sixties that was significant enough to cause many Fundamental Christians to ignore what was then and is now common knowledge among musicians? I believe the roots are sociological rather than musical. Those of us who lived during that tumultuous time remember well the social climate. All that was traditional was suspect. The young rejected anything even vaguely associated with “the establishment.” Perhaps the most traditional of all institutions was the church, and perhaps the most traditional of all aspects of the church was the music. The cry became “Give us something new!”

Simultaneously in the secular world a new form of musical expression had captured the minds as well as the imaginations of this restless generation. This music they could feel! It gave voice to their rebellion and to their passion.

“Music in Worship” by Dean Kurtz, Sep/Oct 1998

Evangelistic zeal has caused some who call themselves Fundamentalists to become pragmatic and compromise in the area of music.

“Is Music Neutral? An Interview with Robert Shaw” by Kurt Woetzel, Sep/Oct 1998

I resolved to make an attempt to speak with Mr. Shaw and ask him the question which I have posed to several well-known secular music personalities. The answer to this watershed question divides much of the Christian community and greatly influences the character of the music that may be heard in a particular church. To be absolutely clear, the question must he stated several ways. Is music neutral? Is sound capable of moral influence? Does music alone, with or without text, carry and communicate moral value? Is music amoral?

After some additional small talk I asked the question: “Mr. Shaw, do you consider music to be moral or amoral? Does music itself have and communicate moral value?” The answer came immediately and without hesitation. It was obvious that he had spent time contemplating this issue. The clarity of his answer showed that he was not only aware of the debate in Christian circles but had perhaps even lectured on the topic.

He began with a categorical statement: “I believe all the arts are moral. I can’t see how any of the arts can be neutral.”

“What impact do you believe rock music has had on society?” I asked. From our conversation he knew that my work was in sacred music and thus understood what motivated my question.

“I am aware of the controversy in Christian music… . The church of Bach’s day understood the music in their congregations. I don’t know if the church today understands the music brought into the church. The people don’t understand the music.” He then gave a brief description of rock music and offered a rather graphic analogy of what the music portrays.

Somewhat startled by his candid remarks, I commented, “So you think the music is very sensual.”

He reacted quickly with, “It’s perverse.”

Luke 16:8, “For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” Is it possible that the deceiver has caused the children of light to become so infatuated with the world’s sounds of entertainment that personal taste and preference, an avalanche of emotions, and sheer everyday familiarity with sensuality in the secular entertainment industry have resulted in a seared conscience and a lack of discernment? Should not the sensuality and perverseness be more obvious and offensive to the Christian than to those without the witness of the Holy Spirit? …

A medium so powerful as music, packed with such great emotional, spiritual, moral, and physical influence over God’s highest creation, needs to pass under the magnifying glass of Scripture rather than being dismissed indifferently as a matter of personal taste and preference.

“Why Cling to a Conservative Music Standard?” by Paul W. Downey, Sep/Oct 2000

Too many of us select our music on the basis of carnal enjoyment rather than spiritual edification. When we criticize our traditional church music as “boring,” we reveal a great deal about our spiritual condition. What we call “exciting” or “boring” usually has little or nothing to do with its spiritual content and everything to do with our physical response to the music. We reveal ourselves to be carnal Christians if we make our personal likes and dislikes the only criteria for determining what music we listen to.

Numerous studies have indicated music’s power to influence the spirit. David Merrill, a high school student in Suffolk, Virginia, experimented with the effects of music on mice. He took seventy-two mice and divided them into three groups: one to test a mouse’s response to hard rock, another to the music of Mozart, and a control group that would listen to no music. He played music ten hours each day. He put each mouse through a maze three times a week that originally had taken the mice an average of ten minutes to complete. The control mice cut their time to about half. The mice listening to Mozart cut their time by 85%, to an average of only 1.5 minutes. The group listening to rock music tripled their time to an average of thirty minutes. This was the second time Merrill had tried the experiment. The first time he had allowed all the mice in each group to stay together. “I had to cut my project short because all the hard-rock mice killed each other,” he said. “None of the classical mice did that” (Insight, Sept. 8, 1997).

Clearly, music evokes an emotional response. People insist that others have no right to tell them what music they ought to like. Of course, one’s enjoyment of tobacco does nothing to reduce its damaging effects, any more than enjoyment of alcohol makes it less dangerous. David’s sin with Bathsheba is not mitigated by the fact that she was attractive. Why then do we think that music should be evaluated only on the basis of its entertainment value? The very strength of the emotion leading to such illogical conclusions ought to warn us to be careful in our music.

We need to stop trying to convince God that He ought to accept the music we love and begin allowing God to teach us to love that music which brings Him glory. All of our music, whether it is for public performance or private enjoyment, must be evaluated in the light of these principles. We will give an account to a holy God for the choices we make and the influence we exert. May He be pleased to say of our choices, “Well done.”

“Entertainment or Worship?” by Jerry Howarth, Mar/Apr 2004

It’s easy to observe a stark difference between the Biblical pattern and many modern services. Specifically note the absence of even a hint of an entertaining spirit in this [Biblical pattern]. In contrast, the mood in many Evangelical church services in recent years has veered from sacred worship to secular entertainment.

… In many churches across America today we see a great push toward entertainment and a trend away from solemn, sacred worship.

Many of today’s “modern” churches endorse a false philosophy of soul winning that says, “We must be like the entertainment world in order to win the world.”

True, these entertainment, seeker-driven events will attract people that old-time, Biblically Fundamental, separatist Baptist churches will not; but if they are attracted to the very same thing they came from, what’s the point?

Let’s not be misled and deceived by the trend toward New Evangelical or Charismatic-style entertainment in worship church services. The result is an empty, worldly, Christian life—a life void of meaningful prayer and Holy Spirit power. Discerning believers would not want to duplicate a life like unto the Israelites’, of which Scripture says God “gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps. 106:15).

This is the kind of clarity that is needed to guide us into the proper applications of Biblical principles of music. Don’t be lulled into the incremental compromise by the argument, “As soon as they hear this kind of thing they will turn you off.” Some will, but some will turn their worldly music off and open their hearts to the Truth.


(Originally published in FrontLine • January / February 2011. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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