Part three of “Music – The Golden Calf” can be found here and, once again, I would encourage you to read it before reading my response.
The Desert Pastor (DP) continues his argument against musical freedom in the church by attempting to show its negative connotations in the origin of the term “rock n’ roll” and its influence in the realm of CCM. Based on the observations of a local record store owner that more white teenagers were buying rhythm and blues (R&B) music – then performed almost solely by black musicians - Alan Freed became one of the first white DJs to play the music for his largely white teenage audience. It was due to the unfortunate racial prejudices at the time that Freed coined the new term “rock n roll” to make the music more acceptable to white audiences. The term may have been borrowed from a song sung by The Dominoes in 1951 and was used as slang for sex or dancing. In his historical account, DP seemingly adds his own embellishment to this by saying that it was describing “sexual relationships outside the bonds of [marriage],” which is not entirely accurate since the term was slang for sex in general in the black community. However, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Freed is quoted as saying he called the musical style rock n’ roll because “it seemed to suggest the rolling, surging beat of the music” – a definition having nothing to do with sex. Further, the phrase “rock n roll” was even being used as early as 1916 with a religious connotation. Still further, in the 1930s the term was even then being associated with music that had a good beat to it. In actuality, the usage of the term by Freed had absolutely nothing to do with “the reaction of the beat on the human body” or “the perverse sexuality that went along with the music.” It seems that DP is resorting to implementing some little-researched self-interpretation of musical history to make it fit to a preconceived notion.
There is no denying that many in society struggle with the relevance of religion or Christianity in specific. This is certainly nothing new and is even a defining struggle in Christianity. Christianity always will and indeed always should struggle with relevance. Jesus, in his prayer in John 17, states “I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Paul also points this out in his letter to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Peter also indicates this in 2 Peter 3:3-4, “Knowing this first of all that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’”
DP is indeed correct in that the church, in an effort to be more relevant, has looked to marketing gurus and strategists to fill the church instead of looking to God in continuous preaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Books, seminars, programs, and more are created in abundance to “help” pastors and elders bring people into the church. However, DP mistakenly assumes that part of making the 20th century church relevant was incorporating the “world’s” style of music. This is a false assumption because it presumes that the church’s style of music was, up to this point, in a class of its own. A study of music history will show quite plainly that this is not nor ever was the case.
The Council of Trent (1545-1563), in an effort to simplify the ever growing realm of music, demanded that the music played and sung in masses must be done so without the influence of polyphony, or the use of multiple harmonies in music as opposed to one melody. In doing so, it has been noted that this decree slowed down the process of musical development by restricting a musician’s artistic impression. In this act, in can be seen that the style of music used in the church was the same as, and indeed had a profound impact on, the music outside the church. Further, many classical musicians throughout the centuries have added their artistic abilities to the services of the church, thus being perhaps the original “cross-over artists.” Later in history, more and more hymns were being put to popular tunes that the common man would already be familiar with. At the same time, there have been those “stick-in-the-mud types” who have with ill-informed and misguided gusto opposed this supposed intrusion. For example, the House of Lords of the English Parliament in 1644 ordered the “speedy demolishing of all organs…throughout the Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales: the better to accomplish the blessed Reformation so happily begun, and to remove all offences and things illegal in the Worship of God.” Today, we would immediately associate such musical instruments almost solely with churches (and high churches, at that).
The answer to making the church more relevant was not to incorporate the “world’s” music for the simple reason that using the “world’s” music has always been done. What the church has done, however, is replaced songs that actually said something with songs designed to make the listener and singer feel better about themselves or at the very least evoke some sort of emotional response. Gone was any conviction not because the listener was comfortable with the musical style, but rather was comfortable with what he was hearing in the words of the song and the preaching (or lack of) from the pulpit. But this then brings us back to the issues of lyrics and heart attitudes. To say that the musical style accomplished this great compromise is to be immensely fooling ourselves and falling right into a trap I believe created by the devil’s own hand. If we spend our time worrying about the musical style instead of what the song actually says, we haven’t accomplished anything at all.
The remainder of DP’s third installment builds on this entirely false supposition that the compromise was found in the musical style. I would agree with the quote by Dr. Tim Fisher in stating that “When outreach is your stated purpose, you will go to any lengths to justify almost anything in attempting to reach the lost.” I would, however, change the word “outreach” to numerical growth since outreach can also be used and often is used to signify evangelical outreach of the Gospel.
The “miracle pill” that DP blames for compromise in worship – CCM – is indeed partly to blame, but not as he concludes. Once again, it is not the style of the music that is at fault, but rather the content of the music. To use DP’s conclusion, you could take a Christian young person, throw in some “worldly” music (remember, we are speaking strictly of style, not lyrics at this point) and the end result would be a young person so backward in his way of life as to call into question his Christianity. In response, I would posit that the miracle pill was indeed doctrine, expository preaching and teaching – but in the negative sense that there simply was none! It was the lack of doctrine, the lack of expository preaching and teaching and subsequent lack of revival that has revolutionized the church.
I would agree with DP’s statements that a great compromise has occurred and indeed is still occurring. There are way too many Christians wanting to be relevant in the eyes of the world and in doing so, bring down God to their own level to make Him their “buddy” or cosmic genie or jovial Grandfather type. But this is once again, an issue of the heart. When we focus on externalities such as whether or not we agree with a certain style of music, we completely skip over the most important step of dealing with the heart.
To close this part, I would sadly point out that DP’s article contained not one whit of Biblical support. As stated before, DP has yet to show from Scripture where certain musical styles are persona non grata in the church. His argument is filled with conjecture, presupposition and reading of his own preferences into an argument that he wanted to prove. By mixing in some very true statements about the condition of the church, he then jumps to absurd conclusions couched in the most spiritual garb in order to make his point. His final statement shows further this sad condition in that he condescendingly lumps every single artist, every single song and every single listener of what he would deem the “worldly” CCM music into the category of doing it entirely to please self. Even in this conclusion, he skips right past the heart of those he has absolutely no way of knowing and into externalities that don’t fit into his preconceived notions of what “godly” music should look like.
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