Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Problem with Associations and Christian Music

Does God care about associations? Yes, he does. The Bible repeatedly points out the need to be associated with godliness and not with evil. In the New Testament, Christians are told to avoid association with worldliness (1 Jn. 2:15-17), false teachers (Rom. 16:17-18), and unrepentant, disobedient Christians (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Thess. 3:6). By avoiding worldly associations we can maintain a close friendship with God (James 4:4). By avoiding association with false teachers, we protect others from error and keep ourselves in line with God's truth (2 Pet. 2:2). By avoiding association with disobedient brothers, we show them their need to repent (2 Tim. 2:25) and keep ourselves from being influenced by their sin (1 Cor. 5:6-7). From these Scripture passages it is clear that God cares about our associations. But how should these principles be applied to music used in the church?

I believe that most Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) is not pleasing to God because it mixes a worldly musical style with a Christian message. The world’s music is designed to promote the very things that we have been washed from — especially immorality (1 Cor. 6:9-11). So, why would any Christian want to be one with a harlot or the music associated with one (1 Cor. 6:15-17). The choice should be between God and the world, but CCM mixes the two and has done so for so long that many people don’t recognize the problem. While many conservative churches would not condone Christian rock, CCM music is nonetheless creeping into their worship services. And that is where the issue of associations comes in.

According to some, the content and style of a particular musical piece are not affected by who wrote it. If the lyrics and musical style are appropriate, there is no problem with who wrote it. That argument works best for hymns written decades ago by people who no longer have a contemporary influence on us. But for people who are still actively engaged in ministry, their influence has much more weight. Think back to the Scriptures in the first paragraph. God repeatedly indicates that associations are influential on us for good or evil. Applied to music, the association of the composer or promoter is important because of his influence on those who know him.

Take, for instance, The Power of the Cross, a song written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. The lyrics are biblical and the tune is acceptable, but the people behind the song have an association that cannot be ignored. Townend produces CCM that most conservative churches would not deem appropriate for worship. Not convinced? Take a look at his website for audio examples of his music style. Keith and Kristyn Getty are also CCM performers. Visit their website and you may be surprised at the style they personally use to present their message in song.

Is that style of music appropriate for worshiping our holy God? I don't think so because of its worldly and charismatic/emotional character. Christian music should exalt the character and accomplishments of our great God in a way that pleases him. Mixing worldly, sensual, and charismatic music styles with good lyrics does not please God because it does not match his character or his commands. Instead it promotes an erroneous view of God's character. Because of that, Christians should not associate with other Christians who promote this wrong style of worship.

Why then are conservative churches using music produced by CCM performers such as Townend and Getty? The idea is that good lyrics and a tame musical score make it acceptable for conservative worship. But what happened to the biblical idea of confronting worldliness and disobedience in other Christians? Do we simply overlook these commands because they finally got a few songs right? Or is it okay to change the rhythm and style of CCM so that it can be used in our worship services? I do not think either is appropriate. It would be better to mark and avoid those who are promoting worldly worship.

Although others have chosen to use this “tame” music, I cannot because of its association with promoters of worldly worship and because CCM in general promotes a sensual, fleshly, worldly version of Christianity. No matter how good the words are, the connection to these sinful desires is detrimental to our worship of God and our testimony to the lost. Yes, there are varying levels of trouble with their music, but they are promoters of the things I described above. They also promote a charismatic, emotional worship that is dangerous.

This is not an issue that only affects pastors and Christian leaders. It is affecting the people in our churches as well. I often see former high school and college classmates posting videos of CCM songs. I am surprised at the acceptance these performers have within conservative Christian churches. What was once considered distasteful is now good. But how is it that a woman crooning about Paul and Silas can be considered spiritually uplifting? How do you look beyond the way the message is performed? The influence of compromise is affecting people, churches, and Christian colleges. And what unifies them in this compromise is the music they choose for worship.

These are my thoughts about the associations versus involvement argument. We may not be personally involved with CCM performers, but by bringing in their "good stuff" it opens the door for people to explore their "bad stuff" (see Rom. 5:6-7). It's happening elsewhere and very rapidly. I see this as a problem and don't want it to happen to any other Christians. I don’t expect many to change their minds but hope that any who read this article will compare what I have written with the Scriptures and make informed choices.