There are no absolutes.” “What works is what counts.” “The end justifies the means.” “Music is amoral.” These are not statements of fact; they are statements of philosophy. The statements above are the rules of relativism. Such philosophies should be discarded (Col. 2:8). The Christian is called to honor God in every area of his life, including his instrumental and vocal music.
While admitting “music has the power to shape character” and that “Satan is clearly using music to do that today,” men such as Rick Warren still insist that “there is no such thing as ‘Christian’ music; there are only Christian lyrics. It is the words that make the song sacred, not the tune. There are no spiritual tunes.”
The problem with this thinking is that it moves musicality out of the realm of morality. This means that no instrumental music or performance style comes short of the glory of God. Do hip-hop, classical, rap, jazz, voodoo, heavy metal, and acid rock correspond to God’s holiness, beauty, order, perfection, variety, and balance? In Warren’s words, “God likes variety and enjoys it all.” It is just this sort of teaching that leads others to say that music is neither good nor bad; it is morally neutral. Warren insists that Scripture is silent about music with the conclusion that there is no good or bad instrumental music or style. Where does all this lead? Warren boasts, “We’ve often been referred to in the press as ‘the flock that likes to rock.’” Do you see the natural progression? Since (in his thinking) there are no spiritual tunes, then, conversely, there are no sensuous tunes or styles of performance. That philosophy of music pushes aside the Lord and leaves what you like or even lust for. Sensuality is substituted for spirituality. “Cultural relevance” displaces Christ-filled reverence. Love for God starts to sound like love songs to a girlfriend.
To honor God with your music, you must recognize Biblical reality. Music is a language (1 Cor. 14:7; Eph. 5:19) that, like all arts and languages, is affected by our depravity (Rom. 5:12). The composers, performers and listeners all suffer the consequences of the curse (Rom. 8:20–23). This is why special care must be taken to honor the Father and not the flesh (1 Cor. 10:31; Gal. 5:13). Perhaps you have heard an advocate of “Christian rock” say, “it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out” (using Matthew 15). Matthew 15:10–20 compares the product of the harvest (wheat) with the product of the heart (wickedness). Musical compositions come out of the heart. Is it any surprise that Matthew 15:19 reads like the titles of today’s “top ten hit list”? The use of this language of the heart produces a response in the hearers as is readily evident. What may not be so evident is that music is a weapon of spiritual warfare. As David played (instrumental) music, the demon stopped harassing King Saul (1 Sam. 16:23), and this happened by design (see v. 16). Satan uses this weapon in his own wicked warfare. To really honor the Lord, you must look at music within the context of this spiritual warfare. Music is a medium with an inherent, intuitive message for the heart. You can prove this for yourself. Try singing the words to the hymn, “Rock of Ages” to the tune of Mozart’s “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or some other children’s nursery tune. Why doesn’t it work for you? It’s because music is a medium with a built in meaning; the musical meaning must match those majestic lyrics! Like the human vocal cords, instruments can be skillfully used to convey any human emotion. As Warren admits, “Music exerts a great influence on human emotions.” 5 To say that music is “amoral” is to say that music is dispassionate or unfeeling, which is clearly not the case. In the context of human depravity, nothing that touches the heart can be morally neutral.
To honor God with your music, you must return to musical morality. Yes, the Creator can be honored by a wide range of cultural creativity; but it is wrong to say God loves Satan’s musical perversity. God created man and music and commands that both conform to His glory. Morality in music springs from the understanding of God’s character (theology) as applied in music. God’s holiness, perfection, beauty, and order have implications for music. To insist that instrumental music is neither good nor bad is to say that there is no theology of music. There is a huge difference between saying one does not know his theology of music and insisting that there is none. Move your musicality back into the realm of Scriptural theology and morality, which is to say, reality. The fact is, the Christian is called to honor God in every area of his life, including his instrumental and vocal music.
Gordon Dickson serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio.
(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2006. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)