November 13, 2014.
I read an article the other day regarding someone’s thoughts on contemporary Christian music in comparison to the older hymns and why he had a higher affinity to hymns. Many of you who know me know that I tend to shy away from contemporary Christian music as well. Other than the fact that I am a little biased musically (I was trained in classical music theory for my composition minor) due to the semblance of pop music that has little variation and simplistic theory, there are some deeper reasons why I don’t often like contemporary Christian music as a genre. Today I would like to explain my reasoning, not as a “I’m right, you’re wrong,” type of thing, but as just something to think about. To make things clear at the beginning of this post, I am not condemning contemporary Christian music or anyone who likes the genre. I am simply giving my observations and some things to consider biblically regarding the subject.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some exceptions to this rule, as there are exceptions to every point that I am about to make. It’s not the genre itself that I don’t like, but the implications that come from it and where I think the industry is abused (after all, we are human). I think there are som principles to consider when we approach the Christian music industry, and consider whether or not it is actually doing what it was originally intended to do. I have four reasons why I don’t particularly care for the genre.
1. The Christian life is hard. Christians are portrayed in an overly naive way by the media and society. Don’t encourage this portrayal.
This point is probably my strongest aversion to contemporary Christian music. This point is derived from the meaning and implications of most of the popular Christian songs on the radio. Whenever I flip through the stations, it seems I can always tell when it is a Christian station by the sound and message that is being played. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. You can do the same with rock music, rap music or any kind of music really. But the thing I hear when I flip to a Christian station is usually all the same message. “Just love God and everything will be great.” I can hear the soft, smooth soothing voices, see the closed eyes and heightened emotional state that is evident simply though the tone of the song. Whereas this can be very uplifting and is meant for encouragement, the problem is… well, it’s simply a false statement. There is no passage in the New Testament that in any way promises a good life. There is no passage that says “As long as you love God, everything is just going to be good.” It’s false advertisement. The Christian life is hard. There are going to be a lot of struggles. Times are going to get rough, and you are going to have to lean on your God heavily throughout your walk. Jesus said this Himself.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
As I have said so many times before, Jesus didn’t promise an easy life. He promised a worthwhile life. Now, you might object “haven’t you read Romans 8:28? All things are going to work together for good for them that love the Lord.” Yes, that’s true, and hallelujah be to God for that. But read the context of Romans 8. Paul is actually describing the opposite of a “good” life. He describes hardships, struggles, pains, oppression and persecution. He list a set up people who went through terrible times on this earth all because they served the Almighty. To say that he was advocating a prosperity gospel is to not read the context. All things will work together for good, but we are not given a timeline on this, nor does it mean we are going to have a “good” life.
But that’s what is sounds like to me when I hear contemporary Christian music. I hear a naive standpoint where people are simply being led by blind faith. I do not think faith is blind. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, not the blind hope that they are (ref. Heb. 11:1). What’s more is that the media picks up on this naive stance and uses it to ridicule Christians. Watch any movie directed by someone who has a negative bias against Christians, and you will see them portrayed as these happy-go-lucky, nothing-can-get-me-down, you-can’t-reason-with-me-because-I-simply-have-faith group of people. I hate that portrayal, because it is not what true Christianity is at all. Yes, we do have the blessed hope and promise of salvation that others do not, and yes this should be a driving force in our lives, but the Christian life is anything but easy. This is a shallow gospel that is being preached that will not produce deep rooted Christians, because they don’t know what they are getting into. It is false advertisement, in my opinion.
Christianity is not just something you decide to do one day. It is a way of life, a new world view. You come repenting, dying to your old life of sin and raising anew to walk in the Spirit of Christ. We should not “trick” people into Christianity. Jesus said that you must know what you’re getting into:
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
I am convinced that the media sees the way we portray Christianity, exaggerates it and then uses it to ridicule Christians and show lost souls why it would be unintelligent to become a Christian. We do not need to encourage this.
Again, not all contemporary Christian music does this portrayal. I admit openly that I have listened to some very good Christian songs with very good, biblically sound messages. I am not saying that it is impossible to do so. It is just not what I typically hear, and I think that is a problem.
2. I do not want to pay you to worship.
“And David said to Ornan, “Give me the site of the threshing floor that I may build on it an altar to the Lord—give it to me at its full price—that the plague may be averted from the people.” Then Ornan said to David, “Take it, and let my lord the king do what seems good to him. See, I give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for the wood and the wheat for a grain offering; I give it all.” But King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
(1 Chronicles 21:22-24)
As a bit more minor of a point, it simply rubs me the wrong way to think about making a living by worshiping God. The bible talks about making your living from proclaiming the gospel (ref. I Cor. 9:14) and working in the kingdom, but never from worship. In the Old Testament, the Levite priest were to eat the animals sacrificed and be compensated by the other tribes for their priestly duties, but this was not for their worship. Something doesn’t set well with me about paying to watch someone worship.
In the passage above, we enter the scene where David is going to make an offering of worship to the Lord. He comes to Ornan and asks for the threshing floor at full price so that he can build an alter, and Ornan says “Please, my lord the king, take the threshing floor. I give it to you as a gift!” But David refuses. Why? David refused to offer sacrifice to the Lord that cost him nothing. I can only imagine what David would have said if Ornan had offered to go a step further and pay to watch David worship the Lord. Should it be any different with us today? This is makes for a good segway into my third point.
3. Worship is for God, not for entertainment or show.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
What is the point of Christian concerts? Sure, you might say it is to worship God, and for many people I would say that this is probably the case in their hearts. But is that how everyone views it? Is that how the performers view it? It would be very hard for me to be a famous Christian performer and to honestly only be doing it for the worship. There would be too much temptation of pride. I believe that concerts and performances take the focus away from God and place it on the performers, at least in part. This is why I don’t like solos, choirs or anything that sets some group of people on stage while worshiping. I love congregational singing because we all are one. There is a sense of community that we are all together praising the Lord as a unified body as opposed to watching a subset of that body praise God. in the context of concerts where a Christian band is on stage with lights and the full workup, I think this praising of the performers for praising God becomes even more apparent.
And again, I don’t think that this is the way everyone in the audience sees it. I believe that there are some who are truly worshiping God as opposed to praising the performers. But I believe that this situation sets up a huge stumbling block for many Christians who do not make this distinction. Should we really be in the business of creating stumbling blocks, even if our heart is in the right place?
4. Worship is about the words and meaning.
Finally, I simply don’t like the shallow message that is given by the bulk of the most popular Christian songs today. If all you ever sing about is love, and you really don’t even define what love is, then where is the rest of the story? There is so much more to being a Christian than shallow messages. The word of God is so deep, and so fulfilling. A shallow message is just frustrating to me. Yet it encourages so many to simply stay where they are at in their shallow faith. It doesn’t really encourage growth.
Continuing in a shallow faith is not look at favorably by biblical writers. The Hebrew author has this to say:
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
We are supposed to be on a path to maturity. This path is going to be hindered if all we are fed is shallow concepts. This is why I much prefer the hymns of old to today’s contemporary message. The hymns are filled with rich, deep and thought provoking messages. They may even take a while to digest. There have been many times that I will be singing a song that I have known all my life and suddenly, for some reason or another, the true message just dawns on me. It is an amazing feeling. It is an amazing connection. It is hard to do that with shallow songs.
As a disclaimer once again, I must say that not all contemporary songs are shallow. There are some that are indeed very deep, which have a very full and rich message. There are some contemporary songs that I like very much for the message they portray. How deep the Father’s Love and In Christ Alone are just two examples of contemporary songs with very deep messages. Likewise, there are some hymns that have very shallow messages. I am speaking in general terms, not definitive.
I hope I have not offended you in any way. It was not my intent to do so. I simply wanted to reason with you and provided the basis of why I personally do not care for a lot of contemporary Christian music. I hope you will take at least the biblical points into consideration. If a point is simply my opinion, than it doesn’t really matter in the long run, nor are you bound to live by it in any way. But the bible is the word of God, thus it should be taken with much more weight over my opinion. Let all be done for the glory of God.
Food for thought.
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 5-7, Romans 8.
Praise be to God.