CCM: It’s New! It’s Christian? It’s Music?

Contemporary Christian Music, much debated by Christians everywhere, by definition shouldn’t be a problem, right? Old = sacred? I don’t see that in Scripture…

I always chuckled at the music rule at my almamater–a self-proclaimed bastion for fundamentalism–that stated if a soundtrack was less than nine years old, it was illegal, even if it was purely orchestral. Sorry John Williams, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Not to mention the dilemma they faced in that I could write music on my computer without a MIDI keyboard. How do you handle music creation that exists completely within the digital world! Ahh!

But I digress. On to the discussion at hand.

Music In The Public Worship Service

The basic question seems to be finding the distinction between the sacred and the secular. It’s a question as old as the tabernacle. Certain elements were set aside as sacred even though they appeared elsewhere in life. Goat skins, lamps and gold were not inherently sacred, though they became that when sanctified or set apart for the greater purpose of the Lord’s use.

So there were some base elements that could be used for both good and evil (gold used in idols and to cover the mercy seat). It would be foolish to curse the gold of an idol when it was the use of it for idolatry that was the sin. When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the people around the golden calf, Moses did not curse the gold or the craft of goldsmithing, he confronted Aaron who had done the deed and the people who had called for it.

And the real problem came when God’s people took common items and used them in the same way as the pagans did. For instance, setting up groves for worshipping, etc. God doesn’t hate trees or statues, he hates the worship of other gods which these things represented.

We’re going on and on talking about music as if it were the thing itself, when in reality it’s the use and intention that matters. Don’t curse the drums or the organ, don’t curse the saxaphone, the electric guitar or the turntable. It’s very easy to do that, because we have images in our mind of long-haired, face-painted, crotch-grabbing ‘artists’ grinding against electric guitars to a throbbing, drugged-up crowd. But those people are not wrong for playing an electric guitar just as much as they are not wrong for using their voice. You might as well fault them for using microphones or convening in an auditorium.

There is a problem that goes much deeper than what instrument is being played; but the electric guitar or drums are often vilified because they take center stage. But taking away the electric guitar from the rocker is like taking a gun away from a killer. He’ll find another way, a knife, a rope, a letter opener, a box cutter.

And now it gets personal. I play the drums. I play the piano. I play the electric guitar. I’ve operated a turntable and tried my hand at scratching (not very good). I enjoy writing purely electronic music where there are no instruments to play, only textures to be controlled–simply an oscillator with filters and effects. And lest you think that all electronic music is driven by a throbbing bass (which ironically isn’t that 2/4 off-beat so often preached about, it’s ususally every beat that’s emphasized), much of my music is ambient, which simply means it doesn’t have a bassline, it simply morphs and changes shapes and tones, etc.

Believe it or not, I much prefer hymns to praise and worship, though I do like both. And generally what I do is rewrite hymns with different music, because if you know anything about music, you know that hymns are very predictable. And if you know anything about songleading, predictable music is very easy to follow. And if you know anything about people, you’ll agree that familiarity breeds contempt. More people than we’d like to admit find hymns dull and boring. Don’t get me wrong! The message is vital, and the lyrics to most great hymns of the faith are confessionals themselves. But the music is so predictable, its easy to check your emotions at the door, attach a spring to your jaw and let your mind wander around a Sunday morning.

As a very important aside, I will say that there is a familiarity that should not be forsaken with hymns. Many people I know have held tightly to hymns that have helped them through hard times. God bless them and let us not forsake all hymns! But let us use the same sensibility we do with preaching, Sunday school teaching and youth meetings; let us keep people’s attention and hit them where they’re at while still remaining true to God’s Word.

The more I think about it, the more the example of preaching becomes pertinent. Preachers study about the best methods to reach the congregation. Some preachers use object lessons. Some preachers use Powerpoint. Some preachers move around. Each preacher tries different methods of communicating with the congregation, but all (hopefully) with the same goal–getting God’s Word into the hearts, minds and lives of their flock.

And so worship ought take that same approach. The instruments are simply vehicles by which worship is raised to God. Some older folks don’t ‘get’ newer instruments and so worship with those vehicles is awkward at best, hindered at worst. Some younger folks are used to expressing their hearts with newer forms of music, and feel like their worship is stifled without them. The difficult balance for any worship leader or pastor is how to effectively reach all ages; but then, this is not a new task. Pastors have been wrestling with that for ages in their sermons. Your sermon to farmers would probably be a bit different than your sermon to businessmen; but the core of your message would be unchanged. God is the great equalizer, no doubt. But not everyone speaks the same language.

Let me share a personal example. I attend a highly conservative church with a piano and an organ. During our Lord’s supper while the elements were being distributed, the organist played a few hymns. The throbbing 8′ flute was drilling into my brain and it was everything I could do to concentrate on the sacrafice of Christ on the cross. The organ is a vehicle of worship that means something to some people, but to me, the organ is reminiscent of funeral homes. I certainly would have been more at ease with a classical nylon guitar rendition of Great Is Thy Faithfulness. But the relative incongruity was not worth making a fuss over, because I knew it was meaningful for someone else. I wouldn’t have even mentioned it if weren’t relevant to the issue at hand.

The goal, then, is to find music that provides a vehicle of worship for the broadest possible audience. After all, God doesn’t need anything at all, so worship music is really a way in which we are both preparing our hearts and directing our attention to Him; so the best worship music will do just that. For you, it may be the piano and organ. For me, a cello, acoustic guitar and synth pad will do the trick. For some, drums and electric piano work well.

Music Everywhere Else

Of course, this just just a discussion of the worship service. I’ve not even attempted to discuss modern music in our everday life. Should God be featured in every song we sing? Was that ever a question debated in our family! It seems to also cause contention on any Christian forum, but let me just quickly say this. Many of you talk about sports. Where is God in that? Many of you talk about cars. Where is God in that? Many of you talk about the Internet. Where is God in that? Many of you talk about art. Where is God in that?

Glorifying God is more than just saying the word ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ in a song. It can be as subtle as promoting the goodness of the world He created and as explicit as “God want’s to save you today.” Something to think about next time you criticize a CCM band for not being able to tell it was ‘Christian’ music in 5 minutes. If I listened to you while you expounded on the Seattle Seahawks for 5-10 minutes, would I be able to tell that you were a Christian? If I read the book of Song of Solomon for 5-10 minutes, would I be able to tell it was God-breathed? Context is a might powerful thing.

May borrow a quote from Lewis?

“I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects–with their Christianity latent.

Replace the word ‘books’ with ‘songs’ and you’ve got my thoughts on non-worship service music in a nutshell.