Conflicts over music is not a present-day struggle among Christians of today. From time immemorial, the church has been divisive over the issue of choice of music. Back in high school, I had a friend who vehemently protested against the use of musical instruments in the church because he believes it is paganistic and unbiblical. You probably know of folks who are deeply acquainted with old hymns that any other form of music appears to be ‘devil-inspired’ to them. In our time, many Christians divide mostly on 2 key things with respect to music and that will be my focus:
- Should a Christian listen to “secular” music?
- Are all music styles (focus is more on Christian Rap, Pop and Rock music) acceptable for a Christian to consume or not?
Music is not inherently bad. As a matter of fact, music is one of the good and perfect gifts from God to man. It forms an essential part of our human life and that’s the more reason I even decided to talk about it. But like any other gift that is susceptible to abuse, music is no exception. If a song can comfort a broken heart, produce a therapeutic effect in a sick individual or unite people from different backgrounds then I bet the effect of music on us cannot be overemphasized. As a Christian, it is just right to evaluate the songs we listen to using biblical principles. If God indeed gave the gift of music to man, it is only right for man to go back to God if he needs more information on what has been given to him. So let’s go ahead and examine music under God’s light.
The first thing I want us to look at is the reason behind any composed song. Every artiste surely has an aim for producing a particular song. I know of musicians whose songs inform and educate society tremendously on various issues of life. There are others who delight only in entertaining their listeners. In the Bible, music was used to achieve various purposes. For example:
- Music was used to offer worship to God or idols
- Music was used to announce wars as well as celebrate war victories (2 Chronicles 20:26-28)
- Music was used during the crowning of kings (1 Kings 1:39-40)
- Music was used in soothing troubled souls (1 Samuel 16:16-23)
My point is, music composition has never been coincidental, there’s always a purpose underlying its production. But the question deepens more for us Christians: Does the purpose of the music in question agree with the entire counsel of scripture? Does the song bring glory and honor or shame to God’s name? I don’t care about the quality of the song or the depth of info it’s got to feed people with. But it makes mention of God’s name and teaches me some good values in life. Good eh? John Bevere will be extremely glad to tell you that it wasn’t the EVIL side of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that Eve was drawn to but the GOOD side. My friend, whether God’s name appears a 100 times in the song or the music encourages you to be determined in life or be content with what you have, you must desist from songs that fail to please God’s heart. The fact that something looks good, feels good or sounds good doesn’t mean it’s submitted to God.
What intrigues me most is when Christians ask if it is okay to listen to songs filled with swear words. Like how do you for a second think swear words are acceptable in God’s sight? It doesn’t matter if the song expresses godly values such as purity, honesty, integrity, forgiveness, love, etc. Dirty, silly talk doesn’t fit the Christian lifestyle. It’s not our dialect! The Bible admonishes us to be gracious in our speech so that we can bring out the best in others. I don’t even have to waste more space explaining to you why it is wrong for believers to entertain songs laced with swear words. They’ll set you off a downhill slide into more filthiness and eventually leave you pretty messed up.
Don’t listen to music for listening sake. Scrutinize the content of the message it carries across. I’ve reached a point in my life where I ask myself these questions: what is there to learn from this song I’m listening to? How does it stir my emotions? What does it make me worship? What kind of mood does it create for me as a child of God? Does it stimulate pride or humility within me? Does it make me calm or aggressive? Does it encourage me to engage in social vices? Does it make me yearn more for a closer relationship with God, friends, family and loved ones? You see, music is a strong force (positive or negative) that moves the listener to dance to its tune so it’s important to figure out what exactly the song is trying to communicate to you. I was in this group chat with a friend and he made an interesting comment concerning this ‘music issue’. He said that you may come across a very powerful, inspirational song about a guy fighting every battle to win the heart of the love of his life…and then you look at the music video and it’s the total opposite. He’s besieged by naked women dancing all around him and you’re left in your own small corner to wonder if he’s the same guy who promised another lady to be his one and only. Don’t take music for granted. Unfortunately, some believers have retrogressed to immorality because of the kind of songs they entertain in their lives. You can’t blame them. Like I said, music can shape the thought patterns of an individual, affecting how they perceive and live life. Music engages your entire faculties and that’s why it makes sense for us to saturate ourselves with songs rich in noble, reputable, authentic and gracious things.
Now, let’s turn our attention to music forms. It just so happens that some genres of music invoke an unpleasant atmosphere in certain parts of our world. But does that make that music style in question bad in a general sense? The fact that an open palm, fingers-up gesture is offensive in Greece and not in Ghana or any other country in West Africa should tell us that the gesture is never the problem – the interpretation of the gesture rather is the issue. Greeks find that particular gesture offensive because it reminds them of how people smeared the faces of criminals with faecal matter as they marched them through town. However, an open palm gesture has no such connotation in Ghana. Nobody needs you to be careful to hand-signal the number 5 to someone in Africa because you won’t be offending anyone with that gesture. All I’m trying to say is there may be nothing wrong with the song style in question, but its mere connection to an awful historical event can make it unsuitable for consumption by an individual or a group of people. I know people who eschew Gospel rap music. Their reason for not patronizing Gospel rap is that rap invokes scenes of violence and profanity. They’d rather feel comfortable listening to another music form – and that’s totally fine. I do understand them because majority of the rap music out there propagates very nasty images such as immorality, language perversion, vengeance, egotism, racism, sexism, glorification of drugs and so forth. Does it mean rap music is entirely wrong because of its past association? Not at all! You cannot accept or reject a claim by basing your facts solely on someone’s/something’s history or source and overlooking its current meaning or context. It’s illogical to presume that all who continue with the rap tradition are promoting violence just like it’s illogical for anyone to shun a VW beetle car just because Adolf Hitler was the one who ordered its development. Please understand this: A genre of a song is different from its message. A genre of a song is like a blank canvas waiting for a picture – it’s what you paint on it (your message) that matters most. The likes of Andy Mineo, Trip Lee and Lecrae equally preach the gospel and speak against negative cultural attitudes contrary to the principles of Christ using this same rap form and make great, positive impact in people’s lives. Why? The answer lies in the painting (message) they put on their canvas (rap music). As someone said, the point of music is not that you have music and you want to adorn it with words, but rather that you have a message and want to adorn it with music. A musician can decide to adorn his/her song words with any music style of his/her choice. It’s the message that counts. However, not all of us are at the same level of understanding in this. Of course, perceptions don’t change overnight so I’m not expecting anyone to embrace this truth within a space of 10mins or 24hrs. It’s a gradual process. In the meantime, don’t try to force a particular style of music in a place where it is unwelcoming just because it glorifies God. No matter how truth-honoring and God-pleasing the message of the song is, it can still create a negative environment for people who haven’t come to the realization of that truth yet and you’ll make it extremely difficult for them to express true worship to God. Be very sensitive so you don’t end up sending the masses away from God. Understand your audience, choose the suitable music style and allow yourself and everyone else to worship God in spirit and in truth. After all, your abstention or involvement in a particular genre of songs does not change God’s attitude towards you, it changes your attitude towards God (positive or negative).
Let me say something real quick here. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8 that God does care a lot when we use our freedom carelessly in a way that leads a vulnerable person to be thrown off track completely. I say this in relation to the argument we make concerning secular music. Well, I won’t deny the fact there are very good, inspirational secular songs out there. This is my major problem with listening to those songs. Most of the artistes who compose these wonderful songs also compose profane songs. Now tell me, if you heard someone listening to a profane song by one of these artistes, on what grounds will you stand to tell that person that it’s wrong to listen to that artiste or song in question? Do you get my point? It complicates everything. All things are lawful but not everything is spiritually appropriate so if I were you, I’d be willing to give up anything that creates a stumbling block for people. Don’t let your personal preference prevail over your love for your neighbour.
Never ever underestimate the power of music. It reaches your inner being, stirs your emotions up strongly and eventually molds you to become whatever it constantly feeds your senses with. AS A MAN THINKETH, SO IS HE. Let’s be very discerning when it comes to the songs we entertain in our lives. If it in no way glorifies God, please do away with it. It’s that simple! Stay away from songs that glorify what God opposes and opposes what glorifies God. A word to the wise is enough!