Music: Why the Perpetual Hill to Die On?
This Sunday, at age 39, I attended my very first ever Christian hip-hop concert.
That statement probably shocked most of you. Some because I admitted to attending a Christian hip-hop concert. Some because it took me until almost 40 to attend a Christian rock concert. Some because I admitted my age in a public forum.
It had everything. The smoke. The lights. The dancing. The great lyrics. The energy.
I’ll admit…I was quite skeptical and somewhat judgmental. It’s emotion. It’s a show. It’s catchy. There’s a gut physical response. The clapping. The standing. The raised hands.
I both had fun, and I cried.
As I’ve reflected the past couple days, I can’t help but question many of my traditionally held views of music and contemporary Christian musicians. These men and women claim to be believers using these concerts to worship and glorify God. Though their methods, and the crowd response, is not my preference, does that make it wrong? Does its entertainment component negate any outreach or worship value?
Music prompts an emotional and physical response from humans. There have been studies on it. Elevator music soothes and makes you want to linger. Stores profit from that fact.
School fight songs and marching music energize. They produces feelings of patriotism and solidarity.
People respond to music. Even in the church. Responses run the gamut from joy to sadness to peace to anger to frustration to encouragement.
Are those responses bad?
In conservative Christianity, we often frown on music that elicits what we’d consider excessive emotion or physical response. Our ideas of what is appropriate are often ambiguous and arbitrary.
- Smiling is good.
- Closing our eyes in contemplation is certainly acceptable.
- If it’s a particularly rousing hymn, we should maybe stand.
- Clapping works for Sunday school choruses-in Sunday school, not upstairs.
- Hand raising is out…except for the really liberal Christians.
- And if someone is crying, we’d wonder what in the world is wrong with them.
We’d rather err on the side of not gratifying the flesh and its desires. We write off most physical and emotional responses to music as liberal, worldly, and carnal. We aim to be in the world, but not of it.
But, why “err” at all?
It’s a shame when we write off music because it results in a physical and emotional response. God created us with bodies and emotions. Why? He certainly didn’t have to.
We are called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Could that possibly include singing, clapping, hand raising, and dancing, as well as tears and quiet contemplation?
When I was standing at the concert, I cried. Was it because the music was sad? No. Rather, the lyrics reminded me of the path I’ve walked the past 5-6 years. It triggered feelings of triumph for having survived. It reminded me of how hard the trials were and that God has a plan for me, and my family, and He is working that out. It reminded me of God’s faithfulness.
Speaking of God’s faithfulness, and singing…there were several months back when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, that I stood or sat at church, and bawled through the singing. I couldn’t sing Great is thy Faithfulness. I knew the truth of that. But, I couldn’t choke the words out. I was broken. But, even listening through my tears for months, God used those familiar old and new hymns to soothe my soul and bring comfort to my heart.
I love many music genres. I love cranking up the catchy tunes and lyrics of The Greatest Showman while I’m cooking. It puts a spring in my step, and some fluff in my batter.
On the other hand, I was raised with very conservative Christian music. And I love the hymns. I love the history of the old hymns. I love how they’ve stood the test of time. I love the new hymns that are being written. I love their theological content. I love how they draw me to God, and make me bow in worship.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
As I listened to the lyrics at the concert, it was more than just a physical and emotional response.
There was a spiritual response. These were songs of surrender. They were songs of worship. Of acknowledgment of who God is and what He does.
The physical and emotional response to the music neither equates nor negates the spiritual response.
I listen to music. I talk about music. I sing. I teach music and music history. I attend concerts (just not CCM concerts). I write about music. I love music. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Music is important to almost all of us. It is woven into the fabric of our lives, memories, theology and philosophies. Our strong opinions are apparent in our music preferences.
Which is why we make music our hill to die on.
But, are we dying for the right reasons?
Are we dying on this hill because we are uncomfortable with the way people are responding to the music? Are we dying on this hill because the style is not ours? Or are we dying on this hill because the lyrics are not Biblical? Are we dying on this hill because we think the music is not glorifying to God?
What does God say is glorifying to Him?
- We glorify God when we bear much fruit. (John 15:8)
- We glorify God when we offer thanksgiving as our sacrifice.(Psalms 50:23)
- We glorify God when we live a holy life. (1 Peter 2:9)
- We glorify God as we are changed into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:28-30)
- We glorify God when our light shines bright and others see our works and glorify God. (Matthew 5:16)
Do I think lights, smoke, and mirrors is necessary or appropriate for church? Not really. But, they are tools-amoral- and can be neither right or wrong. They can only be used in a right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate manner.
Do I think these concert songs are appropriate for congregational singing? Not really. But, that’s the issue of singability not content or musical quality. Do I think these men and women in concert were just entertaining or putting on a show?
Or were they worshiping and leading in worship? Were they attempting to share the gospel, and their Savior through this artistic device?
Honestly, I can’t judge that
And I certainly can’t judge that by the crowd response or by the stage effects. Because I’m not God. The only ones who know if they are truly worshiping is God and the person themselves. God knows the motives, God sees the heart. And even if they have the worst motives in the world it doesn’t necessarily mean that God wasn’t worshiped or glorified in those attending.
Are there things wrong with some contemporary Christian music? Absolutely! But, are we willing to see any good in it? Are we willing to open our eyes to how God is being glorified through it? I can’t see hearts, but will I practice discernment about the fruit of their lives and music?
Is there room in our Christianity for this music and these musicians? Is there room in our worship for physical, emotional and spiritual responses?
Whether in pretense or truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice. (Philippians 1:18)