Music Associations

In my past five years as the band director for our church and academy and the teacher of our practical music class for preacher boys, I have often been asked by many people, parents and students, how to choose what the right kind of music is, or how to know whether a song is good or bad. I have read many articles and listened to many sermons about this issue, and I realize that there are many who have tried to help in this area, but I must add my voice to all those who have called for purity and holiness in a Christian’s music. At Fairhaven Baptist Church we believe that each song and every “performance” or ministration of that song should be judged on its own merit. This means that it can be difficult to just come up with hard and fast rules about which songs are good and which songs are bad. If we could do that it would solve a lot of problems in churches and youth groups.

All music must be judged on its own merit. This is the only way that a Christian can truly be right and consistent with his music standards. I read recently that Christians should only listen to sacred music. The point of the lesson was furthered to explain that even classical music should not be listened to by Christians. The man who wrote the lesson said that classical music that had been set aside (sanctified) by sacred words was acceptable. It is a good thing he said that – many of our sacred hymns are sung to classical tunes. The logic of his reasoning is faulty, though. This is exactly the same argument that CCM musicians make when they claim that the message of their words make the sound of the music they use to convey it acceptable. This is just an example of the difficulty in making hard and fast rules about our music and being consistent.

There are a lot of different areas of music that can be judged, but I believe that one that is most revealing is the associations that the music has. When we discuss the idea of music’s associations we must be careful not to be unbalanced. Many of you would recognize the argument that is rightly used when we say that music is not neutral. CCM musicians try to say that the music is neutral, the message sanctifies it. We then would argue, sure the individual elements of music are neutral but when blended together by skilled musicians they assume a moral or immoral character. Just as the letters of the alphabet are neutral until blended to produce good or bad literature. The lines and colors of paint and canvass are neutral until blended to produce good or bad art. The chisel in the sculptor’s hand, and the granite he beats upon are neutral until the shape he produces comes forth. When many speak about music’s associations they make a hard and fast rule that if a song has been written or popularized by an ungodly or ecumenical, worldly person it is unacceptable to sing or use that music. This is an unbalanced, inconsistent proposition.

If we use the same argument that is rightly used to show that music is not neutral, I believe we can see this inconsistency. If a man produced a work of good literature and then later wrote something ungodly, does that mean the good literature is now unacceptable to read. There are many Christians who have studied the good parts of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but recognize that parts of those tales are grossly immoral. Many Christians would enjoy and possibly own a replica of Michaelangelo’s Last Supper. It is a masterpiece of artwork. But Michaelangelo also painted masterpieces with nudity in them. Does this mean that no Christian should own a portrait of the Last Supper? In each realm we see the absurdity of trying to say that a certain person makes the product good or bad. The same is true in music.

The association that Christians should be concerned with in their music is with what is the SOUND of the music associated. There is some music which is acceptable to listen to but is not appropriate for certain situations. Music associated with the circus is not necessarily wrong, but it should not be played in church. Marching music is not necessarily wrong, but most of the time should not be played in church. While some classical music is not right, most is written according to good music principles and is wholesome to listen to. But we do not go to church to listen to classical music.

The sounds of other music is obviously associated with the world. This music is totally unnacceptable. The question then comes to this: what makes music sound worldly? The worldly sound is produced by several elements. The most obvious is the rock beat. Many songs do not have booming drum parts, but the beat is still a worldly rhythm and should not be listened to. Another element is sliding or scooping in the melody. Studies show that this is the way that secular musicians convey the sensual feelings of their music. A Christian should not listen to sensual, fleshly music. The last element I will address is a sloppiness in performance or “ministry.” There are musicians who sing “to the glory of God,” but do it without decency or order and with confusion. The Bible says to “play skillfully with a loud noise.” Music that sounds like a few people got together just to “praise the Lord” and is not ministered with skill and propriety should not be in the Christian’s musical diet.

All Christian music should have words that honor God, and the more spiritually rich and deep the words, the better the music. None of a Christian’s music should sound worldly, whether it is sacred music or not.