"With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? -- Micah 6: 6-8 (ESV)
This has been a subject I have long avoided writing about. Many well intended Christians line up on both sides and try to make points that are lucid but not necessarily biblical. Remember, it is the Bible that is our guide for truth. What is right and what is wrong. What we ought to do and what we ought to avoid. On these matters I would not argue nor would I suspect any Christian with sound discernment would. What then do we say about music? What should Christians consider when it comes to the subject of music? Let us start with something we may not realize. There is not one Bible verse that permits or prohibits the listening of music. Sorry, not one. In order to believe your side is biblically supported, one must leverage another verse that had nothing to do with music when written and that is simply not how we decide on matters of doctrine. So let us at least reason together, even if in the end we disagree in an agreeable manner.
First, let us deal with what music is. I have heard it argued by people, including pastors that there is "worldly" music and Christian music. Let's dispel that right away because it simply is untrue. Music in and of itself is neither secular nor Christian. A note played on a guitar does not have less holiness than the same note played on a harp. Neither does the professing faith or lack thereof from the musicians. In just this past year we saw alleged Christian artists such as Kirk Franklin and Jahaziel essentially walk away from Christ after decades of making their fortunes off of Him. This past month saw the fall of Israel Houghton who collected two Grammys while his marriage was falling apart (his words) due to his own infidelity. Two years ago Christian artist Natalie Grant chastised believers who stood against Halloween. The point is that just because someone says they are doing something for the Lord does not mean that what they are doing is reflexively holy as opposed to someone who does the same thing for a living without a profession of faith.
Lyrics however are a different matter. Lyrics are comprised of words and words in and of themselves can represent something good or evil. The Bible tells us to avoid foolish talk and to allow no coarse or profane words come out of us. While music may not have been the intent when those verses were written I think the point applies. So this is not in defense of all music carte blanche. I think lyrics that contain profanity should be avoided by Christians because of the Bible verses regarding profane talk. Lyrics that degrade Christ, religion, faith, or the like should also be avoided for obvious reasons. On the flip side, the assumption that everything within the genre of "Christian" music must have acceptable lyrics is equally troublesome. I would argue that a petulant song disguised as worship that demands blessings from God and leads His people into false beliefs is far more objectionable than a secular love song that makes no allusions to being righteous at all. Consider the following two sets of lyrics:
Whoa, my love
I've hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time
And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me
be lovesick, for my beloved
My beloved and my friend
Only YOU can satisfy
Try as I may to chase another Lover,
I find there is, there is no other
All the other Lovers fade away
Only YOU can satisfy
The first set is from a secular song called Unchained Melody and the second is from IHOP worship leader Misty Edwards. I would argue that the second song is far more offensive than the first. Misty Edwards claims to be representing Christ and leads people into false worship with her song. It over sexualizes and romanticizes Christ. It does so using worldly terminology and secular principles of love. Now, here is the deep theology for today. You can make that same argument regarding worldly terminology and secular principles of love with Unchained Melody except that song does not pretend to be worship. Therein lies the difference.
This brings us to the big question. What are we really talking about? I would sincerely hope that no one is actually advocating that the listening to music is somehow sinful activity. Does anyone really believe they get to heaven and Jesus will say, "I'd like to let you in but you listened to Simon and Garfunkel." We have to grow up here as Christians. No one is talking about sin. We are talking about what we should and should not do. My question for those who preach abstinence from secular music is how far do we take it? The only real argument that can be made is that secular music is of the world and we ought to not be friends with the world but that leads to the simple question. How far do we take it? I assume that same person watches no television. I assume they watch no movies. I assume they take no vacations. What about their living? If that is in the world why is that any more righteous? Is this what the Bible teaches us? Hardly. That is actually the slippery slope that leads to legalism. Don't cut your hair. Don't wear dresses above the ankles. Then we are back under the law and thus sever Christ and His grace from our lives according to Galatians. Now, that does not mean that sin abounds because we have grace but that leads us back to the earlier question. What are we really talking about? Surely it is not sin we are talking about but rather feeling as if some sacrifice we make is honoring to God.
This brings us to the key verses for today from the Prophet Micah. Keep in mind this is speaking about atoning for sin, not listening to music. Essentially Micah is saying what can I possibly bring to God as an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of my soul? What can make up for it? What shall I give to God for listening to easy listening music? Or classic rock? Or Beethoven? My firstborn? Will the Lord be pleased with ten thousand rivers of oil? I love the answer from God. You keep missing the point! He has already told you what to do! How to live your life. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly before your God. Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees in similar fashion because while they were good at keeping the letter of the law they missed the point of it. I find it very difficult to believe that if we focus our lives on doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly that listening to Jim Croce damages that.
Someone once asked me why I didn't just listen to praise music all the time. My answer remains that I never want worship to become background noise for me. Something to tap my toes to or play air guitar. I do not ever want Amazing Grace to have played and I didn't even realize it. To not even stop to consider the amazing grace of God. Worship music is not supposed to be entertainment beloved and that is a large part of the modern day problem with it. Secular music is supposed to be entertainment. That is the difference. I find many on the other side of this argument do not realize they are essentially advocating for one of two positions. Either they are arguing that seeking entertainment should only be Christian in nature or that Christians should not seek entertainment. I find neither position to be biblical nor even plausible. Beloved, I will not pretend that the Bible encourages the listening to non-worship music. It also does not prohibit it however and that is where the burden of proof remains.