WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN CHRISTIAN MUSIC?
"It seems most Christian artists are not students of the Word of God. They are students of how to have hit records, how to get the best publishing deal, but they are not also students of the Word of God, which has got to be central to all that." - a producer/agent in What About Christian Rock?
Taste will always vary in musical expressions.
And with that thought in mind, no one should ever attempt to project his or her tastes as uniquely pleasing to God. For instance, I shouldnt automatically assume my preference is the only suitable type for the whole spectrum of Christianity.
Yet I have been accused of that very thing. In fact, Newsweek magazine quoted a musician who said: "He [Swaggart] is saying, 'Burn all your other albums and buy mine.'"
Nothing could be further from the truth!
However, I believe there must be a standard - defined by the Holy Spirit - as to what is correct and proper musical expression within the gospel realm.
Personally, I feel that every singer, performer, artist and musician who names the name of Jesus Christ must ask himself repeatedly, "Is this the direction the Lord wants for me? Is this the type of music the Lord wants played? Can the Holy Spirit bless this music? Can He anoint it?"
This approach is not something that can be done once and set aside. It involves a continuing porcess. Why? Because it is very easy to cross over from that which is pleasing to God into an area which is not pleasing to Him.
Many times in playing a song, I have sensed the Holy Spirit leading me to change the type "fills" I might be using. Perhaps they were not compatible with His way. Even though it might have excited the crowd, I sensed it was not what he wanted.
Countless times I have changed an arrangement that our band had put together for the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast - simply because I felt it did not minister as it was designed to do. Thus, it had to be changed.
Scripture exhorts us to fill our minds with:
"...whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report" (Phil 4:8)
With all of this in mind, I offer the following five suggestions, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in considering your musical listening interests. The material was adapted from a series of messages preached by Glen Berteau, Youth Pastor at Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge.
(1) Do you listen to records where the music outweighs the message?
If that happens, the Holy Spirit is grieved. A good message can make it without good music. In fact, a good message does not even need ANY music.
A crossover message must have the high-tech sound in order to make it appealing. Why? Because such music dilutes its power to have an impact on people's lives and thus technology has to be employed to make up the difference.
A good percentage of the new religious rock desires to use fewer references to Jesus and focus more on issues. Changed lives aren't produced by such music.
Changed lives are produced through the sining of the Word. "That he might sactify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26)
The Word actually has a cleansing effect on our lives. Music as such cannot produce that. If you remove the cleansing agent from the song, then you remove any cleaning which can be accomplished.
If a person is physically dirty, he needs a softening agent applied. Thats the purpose of water in cleaning. Its difficult - almost imposssibe - to get physically clean without water. The same is true in the spiritual sense: a person needs the Word to get cleaned up. Its Gods cleansing agent.
The more this cleansing agent is removed from religious songs, the less effect will be experienced by those hearing the music. Thats an obvious conclusion.
Many religious rock concerts could be called "mud-and-water events". Its a mixture of a little Scripture about Jesus (the Word) but a lot of the world (the mud). A person cant get clean in such a mixture. People may leave the concert partially clean but still spotted by the grime.
Thats not Gods highest and best for His people. A pure, unadulterated message on the Lord Jesus Christ must be declared.
(2) Do you listen to groups whose methods (or stage productions) outweigh thier message?
When attending a concert, a person needs to ask some questions: Does a performer's manner of dress and appearance have more of an impact than his music or message? How about the trappings around the stage - the lights, the smoke devices, the strobe lights, the sound machines - Do they make more impact than the message?
The secular rockers all have a gimmick. It might be a new digital sound system, a tremenous light show, a special effects smoke machine, or a host of other considerations. Yet each relies on a gimmick.
The ruse could be the onstage antics of W.A.S.P., of Ozzy Osbourne tossing pieces of raw animal flesh to the howling crowd. Or it could be the outrageous costumes and makeup of Motley Crue. The group KISS wore heavy back and white facial makeup for years and then scored a "publicity coup" when the band unmasked from the paint to reveal their faces to an adoring public.
Its always a stunt!
The world will always use methods or gimmicks because thats the characteristic nature of the devil. He always tries to outdo himself. The more atrocious the stunt becomes, usually the more impressed people are - especially naive young people.
Larry Tomczak suggested in an article on "Todays Music" in Destiny magazine:
""Lets face it squarely: Worldly performance tactics have absolutely no place in Christian music! While our Lord wants us to enjoy life and music to the fullest (John 10:10) - at times even "leaping for joy" (Luke 6:23) and "crying out" from our innermost being as He Himself did (John 7:37) - there are some areas we need to avoid. By no means exhaustive, these are some areas that should be obvious to all:
>Deliberately sensual, breathy voice and erotic movements designed to arouse an audience.
>Provocative and/or revealing clothes that are not in line with biblical modesty.
>Unedifying speech: put-downs, suggestive jokes, stories with double meaning (the second being immoral), sexual overtones, sarcasm, and satire that cross the boundaries of decency and grace.
>Blaring, thunderous decibel levels that consistently and totally drown out lyrics - "If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?" (1 Cor. 14:8,9)
>Flirtatious come-ons designed to titillate and sexually tease onlookers.
>Violent destruction of property - guitars, amplifiers, and other expensive equipment. Even if this is intended to be a statement of rejecting materialism, most impressionable young people wont know this and too often tend to emulate the behavior of those they admire.
(3) Discernment of album covers.
I am not suggesting here that every Christian performer wear a glowing white suit and a gold-trimmed halo. However, I am suggesting if your favorite performer is imitating the world on his album cover, thats a reflection of a decline right there.
Have you seen the recent photographs on some album covers? These pictures of angry young men sporting punk and new wave clothing certainly seem to convey nothing about "the joy of the Lord" which is supposed to be our strength.
If yo place some of the religious rockers' albums side-by-side with secular rock artists, there is very little difference in appearance or presentation - to say nothing about the similarity in musical styles.
What About Christian Rock? quotes Prodigal's Loyd Boldman as saying:
""I think its way past the time when we ought to be imitation the world as far as how we do things...A lot of people nowadays - especially Christians - wait until some new pop thing happens and everyone jumps on it. Suddenly theres half a dozen Amy Grants or Michael McDonalds or Kenny Loggins sound-alikes. Its pretty much the same thing with looks. Take heavy metal. All of a sudden Christian bands are finding out, "Oh! Heavy metal for the Lord! Lets all go rip our shirts and wear chains!""
It seems to me if an artist is growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, that growth would also be reflected in the persons musical direction. Many albums reflect more of the world than they do Christ.
The direction of many of the religious rockers is not towards the Lord Jesus but simply to emulate successful trends, patterns, and styles of the world in dress and musical sound. At times "bizarreness masquerades as creativity" and for some reason the religious rock artists fall right in line with the world.
Dont buy a crossover album. No such music will ever be heard in heaven. There wont be anything resembling it in the Eternal City. Dont waste your time with it here on earth. It has no value in the Kingdom of God.
"Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:4)
(4) Character of the artist.
Do you sense the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon that singer or musician or the group as a whole? Does the persons ministry and life bear genuine fruit and does that fruit remain? Does that person live a life worthy of being followed?
A veteran music producer/agent has been quoted as saying:
""Other things are more important than what happens on our stages - its what happens in real life. We in the Christian music industry are so cutesy in explaining away the absolutes of the Gospel...And we think we can have a wonderful ministry. I say thats nonsense.""
When I read about the musical inspiration for many of the religious rockers and hear the public statemenst they've made, I seriously question the personal integrity of many of these artists.
Moreover, Im very concerned about this pattern of attempting to bridge the gap between Christian and pop music. I wonder about the motives of artists in making such an appeal - especially in light of the fact that there appears to be no genuine fruit of all the efforts expended.
Yet it seems that a large percentage of the religious rockers appear headed in the direction of twin careers - one in the religious arena and a second in the secular.
Retired military personnel, still on the government payroll in civil service work, are often characterized as "double-dipping" from the government treasury. Much of religious rock seems headed for twin paychecks as well. Is the motive simply money?
Are these religious rockers a viable part of a local church? By looking at many of their traveling schedules, its obvious many are on the road for weeks - and even months - at a time. What then happens to their spiritual life?
The local church, according to the Word of God, is supposed to be the vehicle for training and discipleship. It is imperative that any musician or gospel singer be established in a strong, Bible-believing, local church. This is the place where accountability is established.
Religious rockers, not committed in a New Testament church, are in reality, "spiritual Lone Rangers" headed for big-time trouble. Without that church connection, it is virtually impossible for any individual to be taught, nurtured, and even admonished in the things of the Lord.
By following the biblical pattern of church membership (1 Cor. 12:18) and laboring under proper pastoral authority (Heb 13:17) a person establishes his credibility to preach or sing about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Without such credibility, a person - in all honesty - really has no right at all to minister for it is a clear breach of Scripture.
(5) Does the music stir the flesh to "boogie" or to praise the Lord?
Another question could be asked as well: Does the music enhance the spiritual nature or the carnal nature of your life?
When several young people in Baton Rouge attended the Stryper concert, they were asked by Youth Pastor Glen Berteau, "What did that music make you want to do?"
Both of the young men in question, who were relatively new converts, agreed that the music was bad for them. One teenager said, "It gives me a flashback and makes me want to go out and do dope again."
The other agreed there was a negative inspiration to the music. "It makes me want to go home, get my electric guitar, and play the heaviest rock and roll I can," he admitted.
These teenagers' comments, as well as considerable documented material, have convinced me of the falseness of the religious rock sound. It didnt cause these young people to praise the Lord. They were only inspired in their fleshly nature.
"For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal 6:8)
That in one simple declarative sentence is what religious rock and roll is producing. Its stirring the flesh of young people and producing adherents to a musical sound - not drawing youngsters to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Salvation in Christ means you become a new person. You have a renewed mind. You function under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It means you sing a new song. Old things have passed away and everything has become new (2 Cor. 5:17).
"and be renewed in the spirit of your mind"
"and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph 4:23, 24)
Thats what genuine salvation is all about!
It doesnt "retread" the mores, methods, and music of the world and try to hang a Christian label on it. God doesnt need that. Jesus is simply all we need.