What to Do About Music?
From Volume 3 Issue 1 of Unless the Lord ... Magazine
WHAT sorts of music are acceptable in your family? Will you have any family standards in this area? If your children are still very young, you may not have given music much thought. But for most of us, as our children get older, a time comes when we must make some decisions in this area.
Music can be a very controversial topic. Christians differ widely in their views. Some attach little importance to music standards while others are very concerned. Some parents of grown children will say that they had no standards and saw no negative impact on their children. Others will tell horror stories of where their children went astray and the role music played.
The Bible teaches little about music. Music is mentioned many times in the Old Testament, a few times in gospels and letters and a few times in the book of Revelation. Most of these references are historical, recording an instance in which a song was sung, or instruments were played, or song leaders and musicians were appointed.
Instruments are mentioned such as harps, lyres, timbrel or tambourines, flutes or pipes, trumpets or coronets, and cymbals. Many of the Biblical references relate to a time of rejoicing before God. There are some references to music used in times of grief or to soothe troubled hearts. What the Scriptures do not do, is define what styles and types of music are pleasing to God or those that are not. The Lord apparently chose not to use His Word for musical criticism.
Based on this, should we conclude that all music is equally pleasing to God and that music should never be a concern for Christians? Some might argue this. However, I rather doubt that God is pleased with everything created by sinful man in any area of endeavor. We know with certainty that all words spoken do not please God. At least we should agree that some lyrics do not please God (i.e. those that blaspheme God, that praise sin, that encourage others towards evil).
We face a very different situation with music today than what was ever faced prior to the twentieth century. Recorded music of all sorts is available for our listening most anytime and anyplace. We no longer need to play an instrument or sing or go to a concert to hear music. We can listen to potentially thousands of different musicians performing a vast selection of music, right in our homes and cars.
The ability to record both speech and music has been a great blessing, but has also brought the potential for new problems. The huge market for recorded music has resulted in music to appeal to every population segment and every whim. With the ability to listen to music nearly everywhere, comes the potential for doing so to excess. Many modern teens isolate themselves in their bedrooms for many hours at a time, passively soaking in music.
Some have spoken and written extensively about what sorts of music Christians should and should not listen to. This is NOT my purpose. Pros and Cons of various musical styles can be argued endlessly with little resolution. There are too many styles, too much music that mixes styles, too many exceptions for every rule, and too little scriptural support for the assertions made. I may agree with many points based on my own subjective experience and judgment, while others may reach entirely opposite conclusions from their own subjective viewpoints.
My purpose here is bring forth some of the issues that we can all "chew on", without becoming experts in the history and many styles of modern music. I will introduce issues, but as always, you must do your own thinking and praying about this.
1. Worldliness. We have Scriptures exhorting us, while being "in" the world, to not be "of" the world (Jn 17:14-16; 1 Jn 2:15-17). We are urged to not be "conformed to this world but to be transformed" (Rom 12:2). We are told that part of simple and undefiled religion is keeping oneself "unstained by the world" (Ja 1:27). We are told that whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (Ja 4:4).
Do we listen to music that influences us towards worldliness? Do our children? Are we being tempted to conform to this world rather than being transformed? Do any of our music choices encourage us towards worldly values and regularly expose us to godless philosophies?
We should look first and foremost at the lyrics, but we must also remember that there is more to the influence of music than just lyrics.
Music speaks to the emotions. There is an emotional impact of music that is beyond the cognitive. This is why music can be so effective in expressing either joy or sorrow (as we frequently see it used in Scripture). This is also why music is used to set the mood for romance or for a scene in a movie. The right background music can make a huge difference. However, not all people are equally affected. Some temperaments seem to have much less sensitivity to the emotional content of music while others (such as mine) are greatly affected.
2. Encouragement of a Generation
Gap. Some music styles are used to help establish a youth sub-culture. This occurs with both secular and Christian music. The music of certain performers is specifically targeted to a youthful age group. Both the music and the performers are heavily promoted to that target group. Performers also often model clothes and hairstyles designed to set them apart from most adults and to appeal to young peoples desires to be different.
The greater the cultural difference that develops (as encouraged by music, media, peer groupings, etc.), the more likely your children are to adopt some of the values of their peers or the sub-culture leaders (often the performing musicians).
Consider whether a given performer's music and personal example is encouraging a youth sub-culture. Do you want your children to adopt your values and model themselves after you and similar mature adults? If so, are the performers good examples of what you wish your children to become? Are the performers promoted in a way that encourages teen or pre-teen infatuations? These factors may seem insignificant, yet when added to many similar influences, they may have a serious impact. Some children will be little impacted, others, more significantly so.
3. Idolized Musicians. The music performers can sometimes have a significant influence on your children - for bad or good. It is easy for children to idolize a performer. What starts as admiration for musical ability, easily expands to idolize the performer’s looks, lifestyle and fame, or to an infatuation with a performer of the opposite gender.
Recording companies encourage these infatuations by promoting the performer as much as his music. Infatuations sell lots of recordings and concert tickets! As stated earlier, many of these musicians choose to dress and groom themselves in ways to stand apart from most adults. Immodest clothing, excessive jewelry, and unusual and extreme hair styles are common, even with some Christian performers.
Their examples are often not ones of maturity, godliness and wisdom that we want our children to aspire to. Some Christian performers have even fallen prey to elements of the "music lifestyle" among secular performers (i.e. fornication or adultery, divorce, addictions).
4. Similarity of Music Styles. There is some secular music which, simply by its lyrics and the lifestyles of its best known performers, is viewed by most Christians as ungodly. What then are we to think of Christian music which strongly imitates such music in all but the lyrics? Is this a good thing? Do the Christian lyrics sanctify the sort of instrumental music that has been used for ungodliness? Is this a matter of reclaiming a form of music for God? Or is it that the Christian music that purposefully imitates the ungodly music, becomes corrupted by its association with the ungodly music?
This is a hard issue which results in much debate. There are many old hymns which borrowed their melodies from secular music and then added Christian words. There is something to be said for “reclaiming” music for Christ.
Another point of view sees evangelistic benefits in having Christian music patterned after all the popular forms of secular music - no matter how ungodly. Perhaps unbelievers will be more comfortable visiting a church that plays their kind of music. They don’t have to make much of a change in their listening habits if they become believers.
Others express the viewpoint, "Why should Satan have all the good music?", meaning that Christians are missing out on some good music if they don't imitate the various secular styles. I think we would all agree that the earth is the Lord's and all that it contains. So why shouldn’t Christians appropriate for themselves and for God whatever is good?
But is ALL music good? A godless person wishing to promote sinful and godless ideas would ideally seek out music most effective for communicating the same. What musical elements would most effectively and persuasively carry his message? Would the same musical elements equally well carry a Christian message? Or might they do so weakly or with a conflicted message between music and lyrics?
Music can be an emotional issue, making it a hard issue to evaluate objectively. Even when we agree on certain principles, we often disagree on the application. For our family, we tend to stay away from Christian music that strongly imitates styles well known today for their ungodliness. Of course this requires a lot of subjective judgments that will differ from person to person (how strong is "too strongly"? how "well known for ungodliness"?, etc.).
5. Misuse of Music. Even the best of music can be misused. Our culture is "hooked" on entertainment. Work and accomplishment are undervalued, while recreation and entertainment are overvalued. Many are drawn to passively watching TV or videos or listening to music for many hours. Passive listening to music is very different from actively making music with your voice or instruments. When music listening absorbs time that really is needed for Bible study, prayer, thinking, thoughtful discussion and interaction with others, then it is being misused. Even listening to music while doing other tasks can sometimes become a problem. It can sometimes distract and hinder your efforts (note that I said "sometimes", sometimes it may also be a help). Consider the proper balance in your own life and with your children. Teens seem particularly susceptible to going overboard with music listening to the detriment of other things (maybe because they have too much discretionary time).
6. Quality of Music. Some of the teachings about what Christ-ians should listen to, seem to focus on judging the "quality" of music. We are asked to judge the quality of the lyrics, in terms of doctrinal correctness, proper balance of doctrines, how well the lyrics fit the tune, and whether they are meaningful or needlessly repetitious. Then we are to consider whether musical elements, such as melody, harmony, and rhythm are out of balance and whether there are other flaws in the style of performance.
There is nothing wrong with learning to be a connoisseur of good music. All else being equal, we might prefer the highest quality of music for worshipping the Lord. However, we must realize there is a large subjective element in determining "quality". Also, the quality of a piece of music may not be a good gauge of how pleasing the music is to God. It is easy to establish standards so high that little Christian music would pass the test - even many well known hymns.
7. Impact on Your Mind & Spirit. Many have testified that certain music has been a hindrance for them spiritually. I have had a similar experience of finding even some Christian music to not be the best for my spiritual health. When listening to it with much frequency, feelings are aroused which seem to hinder my daily communion with God and seem to cause more distraction in prayer. There is also some music that tends to grab hold of my mind, replaying itself over and over, distracting me and reducing my concentration.
However, these are very subjective assessments. Others listening to the exact same music profess to find no problem whatsoever. So it is hard to suggest standards for others on this basis, as these may only apply to myself and a small number of others. Yet, I do consider that some of my children may take after me in this regard and experience similar problems with certain music.
1. Set your standards. Consider what course would be best for your family and what you believe would be most pleasing to God. Carefully consider what music YOU listen to. Did you, while growing up, develop a taste for some music that might not be the best influence on your children? I did, and when I occasionally hear some of these tunes playing at stores or restaurants, I still have a fondness for them. They bring back memories of an earlier time and prior life experiences. Yet, as a whole, they were not good influences on me, nor would they be on my children. So I no longer possess those old records, nor do I tune in to those radio stations.
Realize that any standards you set will be less than perfect. They will exclude some of what is good and let in some music that is bad. You might rule out certain styles (i.e. rock, rapp, etc.), but realize there will be questionable cases and some bad examples among most every style. Also, a song written and performed first as a "rock" song may sometimes be transformed by a different style of performance into something very different. You might limit listening to only "Christian" music, but do you really mean to exclude all classical music, folk songs, musical overtures, etc.? You might rule out certain specific musicians.
2. Discuss and Explain. As your children become older, you should discuss what you believe about music. Explain your standards and the reasons for them. Your children may not always understand or fully agree with your conclusions. Yet it is important that they know the "whys" behind their family's standards. They will encounter others with different standards and when they are grown, will have to decide this matter for themselves.
3. Not "Judging". By your example and by your instruction, teach your children not to condemn other believers who do not share your music standards. Respect the sincere convictions of others, even when you strongly disagree with their conclusions. Try not to let music become a cause of division with other believers.
Don't become too intolerant of even the least exposure to music you do not approve of and don't totally separate yourself from others who listen to such music. Be as flexible as you can without either seriously compromising your convictions or overexposing your children to harmful music. Try not to offend or hurt a brother because of music and be willing to narrow your music choices around others for the sake of not violating their convictions. Be fully convinced in your own mind, but without judging and condemning your brother for his standards. (Rom 14:5)
Perhaps you have come to the point of deciding that some changes in your standards are in order. Changing standards is often more difficult with older children. They are naturally more independent minded and may resist any change from what they were taught when younger. With older children, you need to carefully make your case, explaining your reasons for change. Gently help them to come along with you in the change.
In some cases you may encounter strong opposition from one of your older children. If so, proceed carefully and with much prayer. Outright rebellion may be very hard to cope with. There may be a need to separate your child from certain peers or from certain music to which he or she holds to very tenaciously. You may need to move slowly and gently, trying to be sure the result will be submission rather than rebellion.
We will not all agree about music standards. The Bible does not speak pronouncements either for or against any type of music. Two of us, equally seeking to please the Lord, may arrive at very different conclusions about where our standards should be. We can be sure that neither has it exactly right. A time will come when God will judge all our works, then it will be clear how close or how far we were from the mark!
There are some factors that might argue for differences in standards by individuals. Some are more affected by music and some experience more problems with certain music that others do not (or do not perceive). Personally, I have a real problem with much music with a heavy drum beat. It reverberates in my head and makes it hard for me to worship God with that song, however good the music may otherwise be. Yet I realize others may not even be conscious of a drumbeat that is giving me a bad headache! So perhaps there is not a "one-size fits all" answer here.
We may be tempted to just ignore questions of music altogether. I think we are better off to face the issue head-on and seek the Lord's wisdom and guidance for where we should take our stand. Consider what you listen to. Is it good for you? Is it good for your family? Consider how much passive listening takes place in your family. Are things out of balance? Is something good (music) crowding out the things that are best?
When judging music, we should remember that the same musical composition can be greatly changed by how it is performed. What may be recorded as a hard driving rock song, can sometimes also be a beautiful, sweet and relaxing melody when performed differently. Also, most music has some mix of good and bad elements. Even very uplifting Christian music may have its faults and weaknesses. The same music that plays a role in bringing one to Christ, can sometimes also play a role in leading another back to his former lifestyle of sin. It ought not to be this way, but it sometimes is.
Try to teach your children to be wise and discerning in the area of music. Explain the reasons for your standards and help them understand music's potential for both good and evil. Minimize their exposure to music not meeting your family's standards. Constant exposure will have an influence and often causes one to develop a "taste" for such music.