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Does Music Matter?

Does music matter to God? Should it matter to us?
We are living in a day when people — even Christians — see music as unimportant. Enjoyable, yes; but necessary or important? No.
We see this kind of thinking all around us. Music education is now considered extracurricular in schools. It’s extra. It’s not important. Support for the arts is waning in communities. Whereas families once viewed music as the highlight of the home, most families today have no interest.
This kind of thinking has, of course, influenced the church as well. What we believe theologically is important. How we live is important. But music? It’s just something extra God has given us merely for enjoyment. This certainly has ramifications for worship, then. If music is merely for enjoyment and is unimportant, then it really doesn’t matter what kind of music we use in worship? God just doesn’t really care.
Or does he?
I would like to demonstrate Scripturally, theologically, spiritually, and historically that music does indeed matter. It matters to God, and it should matter to us.
Music Matters Scripturally
If we want to discern whether music matters to God, we must first examine the Scriptures. What does the Bible have to say about music?
The Bible refers explicitly to music around 1200 times (ESV). Now that in and of itself is not necessarily significant. The Bible refers to plants around 1000 times as well. But when we consider the kinds of things that are linked with music in the Bible, or the contexts in which we find music in the Bible, it is clear that music matters.
First, in the Bible music is highlighted as an important part of worship, both Old Testament Temple worship and New Testament Church worship.
In the Old Testament we find record of much of what went on in Jewish society. Israel was a theocracy, so their religious, civil, and social activities were all intertwined. Much of what went on in their society was related to their relationship with Yahweh, but wasn’t necessarily set apart specifically for corporate worship. This is certainly true of some of the music we have recorded for us in the Old Testament. Music is used for all sorts of purposes in the Bible: there are work songs (Num. 21.17-18; Isa. 16.10; 27.2; Jer. 25.30; 48.33; Hos. 2.17; Zech. 4.7), war songs (Num. 21.27-30; Ps. 68; 2 Chron. 20.21; Num. 10.35-6; Exod. 15.20; Judg. 5.1; 1 Sam. 21.12; Ps. 24.7-10), love songs (Ps. 45; Song of Sol. 2.12; Ezek. 33.32; Isa. 5.1; Gen. 31.27; Jer. 25.10; 33.11; Isa. 23.15-16), songs for entertainment (Job 21.12; Isa. 24.9; 2 Sam. 19.35; Lam. 5.14; dan. 6.18; Amos 6.5), and songs of derision, mourning, and lamentation (Job 30.9; Lam. 3.14, 63; Isa. 14.4; 2 Sam. 1.18-27; 1 Kings 13.30; 2 Chron. 35.25; Ps. 69.12; Job 30.31; Eccles. 12.5; Jer. 9.16-17; 22.18; Ezek. 27.30-2). Since religion and society were intertwined in Jewish culture, the Old Testament relates many common uses of music in everyday life.
But some things were set apart specifically for corporate worship in the Temple. Before David’s death, God allowed him to organized the Temple worship that would come to fulfillment under Solomon. We find this organization in 1 Chronicles 22 and following. Only the Levites were permitted to do work in the Temple, and at that time there were 38,000 men 30 years old and up. David divided these men for specific tasks: 24,000 were to be in charge of the work in the Temple, 6,000 were to be officers and judges, 4,000 were to be gatekeepers, and 4,000 were to praise the Lord with the musical instruments that he had made for that purpose (1 Chronicles 22.1-5). We find two things of interest in this. First, that only Levites were allowed to perform music in the Temple, and second that God specifically says that He had designed music for His praise.
He then gives these groups of men specific instructions about how they are to go about leading worship in the Temple, and in chapter 25, he specifically addresses the musicians.
1 Chronicles 25:1-7  David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals. The list of those who did the work and of their duties was:  2 Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah, sons of Asaph, under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied under the direction of the king.  3 Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the LORD.  4 Of Heman, the sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel and Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, and Romamti-ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, Mahazioth.  5 All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer, according to the promise of God to exalt him, for God had given Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.  6 They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king.  7 The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the LORD, all who were skillful, was 288.
It is quite significant that David took so much time, under direction from the Lord, to set apart these Levites for the purpose of making music in the Temple. Furthermore, it is interesting to note how connected this music is with prophesy — direct revelation from God. So in the organization of the Temple worship in the Old Testament, God ordained that there be priests and leaders and gatekeepers and musicians, and these musicians were specifically involved in leading the corporately gathered people in praise of God. God set apart music as one of the things he deemed important for His worship. He didn’t set apart farmers or shepherds or builders; he did set apart musicians. We see this clearly in the instructions for Temple worship and in the Psalms as well.
This is reflected also, then, in New Testament Church worship:
Ephesians 5:19 Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.
Here, in the epistle most directly focused on the Church, we find a command to include music in our church worship. The parallel passage in Colossians 3.16-17 makes this congregational emphasis even more clear with its discussions in this context of the church as one body. The terms used here signify both vocal and instrumental music — “singing” being a translation of a term to signify vocal singing, and “making melody” a translation of a term meaning to play on a stringed instrument.
So both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, music (both vocal and instrumental) is directly connected and even commanded for corporate worship along with preaching, praying, giving, etc. We’ll look more later at why God set apart music for congregational worship, but for now it’s at least instructive that He did.
This in itself should signify the importance and significance of music.
Second, in the Bible music is highlighted as an important vehicle to communicate God’s truth.
The parallel passage to Ephesians 5.19 addresses a second Scriptural purpose for music that is found throughout the pages of the Bible.
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Music is often highlighted as an important vehicle for the communication of God’s truth. Here the Church at Colossi is commanded to let the Word of Christ dwell in them, music being an important accompanying vehicle. I’ll mention in a moment that I don’t believe that teaching propositional truth is all that is in view in this verse, but that is certainly part of the power of music — it can accompany and enhance God’s truth.
Songs throughout the Bible are filled with God’s truth. Just survey the Jewish hymnal — the Psalms — and you will find enough theology to fill a systematic theology. God could have presented that truth in any number of ways, but he chose to do so with art — poetry set to an appropriate tune.
We can find many examples of this in the New Testament as well. There are many passages in the epistles that scholars agree were written in a distinctly poetic form and likely set to music and sung in the early church: Philippians 2.6-11, 1 Timothy 3.16, 2 Timothy 2.11-13, John 1.1-18, Ephesians 1.1-11, 2.14-16, Colossians 1.15-20, and Hebrews 1.3.
Sacred songs are important vehicles for the communication of God’s truth to His people.
Third, in the Bible music is highlighted as an important means for expressing beauty, and thus leading us to know Supreme Beauty.
The glory of God is one of those sometimes nebulous concepts that we don’t often really get our minds around. But when we look at the kind of language that is used in Scripture to describe God’s glory, it is clear that the idea that most closely connects with glory is the idea of beauty. The Bible is filled with aesthetic terminology to describe God. God’s glory is His beauty, and his beauty is magnified when His people delight in lesser forms of beauty. In the Bible, beautiful music is often used as a way to magnify and praise the beauty of God Himself.
And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness (2 Chronicles 20.21).
They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing; For the majesty of the LORD They shall cry aloud from the sea (Isaiah 24.14).
It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, The excellence of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, The excellency of our God (Isaiah 35.2).
Psalm 19.1 and Romans 1.20 both tell us how the beauty of creation displays the beauty of God and points man to Him. Music as an expression of beauty given by God can do the same.
Fourth, in the Bible music is highlighted as an important tool to sanctify our emotions.
One of the most well-known accounts of music’s affect on people in the Bible helps us see the final Scriptural benefit of music. In 1 Samuel 16.23 David uses music to sooth Saul’s uneasy emotional state. We see the same kind of thing happening in Acts 16.25 when Paul and Silas were in prison. Instead of letting fear and depression take over them, they sang hymns. James 5.13 also talks about the emotional benefit of singing — it helps us express cheer.
We’ll talk about this more in a moment, but the Bible highlights music’s ability to express and change emotion. I think this is the primary thrust of Colossians 3.16. The “teaching” that occurs through music is more than just teaching propositional truth to the mind. That can’t be the only thing in view here because (a) there are other better means to teach the mind than with music, and (b) the parallel passage, Ephesians 5.19, talks about pure instrumental music. Music by itself doesn’t teach the mind; music teaches the emotions. I’ll elaborate more on this point in a moment.
In summary, the Bible does not mention music merely as something neutral for our enjoyment or something mundane and unimportant. The way music is handled in the Scripture highlights its significance and importance.
I’d like to elaborate more on two of these points from a theological perspective. First, God’s glory and music’s beauty, and second, the way music can express and teach our emotions.
Music Matters Theologically
First, beautiful music points us to God.
As I noted earlier, God is Supreme Beauty. When the Bible talks about God’s glory, the best equivalent idea to express that glory is beauty or magnificence or splendor. Here are some additional biblical descriptions of God’s beauty:
Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, And array yourself with glory and beauty (Job 40.9-10).
O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth (Psalm 8.9)!
One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple (Psalm 27.4).
You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips; Therefore God has blessed You forever. Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, With Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; And Your right hand shall teach You awesome things (Psalm 45.2-4)!
Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty (Psalm 104.1).
All Your works shall praise You, O LORD, And Your saints shall bless You. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, And talk of Your power, To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, And the glorious majesty of His kingdom (Psalm 145.10-12).
It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, The excellence of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, The excellency of our God (Isaiah 35.2).
For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty (Zechariah 9.17; ESV)!
According to Thomas Aquinas, beauty is something that pleases when it is apprehended. It is something that has objective qualities that cause pleasure in an observer. It is possible to take pleasure in things that are not beautiful; we may take pleasure in something because of what it can do for us. But when we take pleasure in something merely for its beauty, we call that disinterested pleasure — a non-utilitarian pleasure in an object. This is the essence of aesthetic pleasure — delighting in something just because of its intrinsic worth, not because of what it can do for us.
This is why the Bible commands us to take pleasure in God. Psalm 37.4 commands us to delight in the Lord. When we delight in God, we are delighting in His beauty simply for who He is.
Since God is Supreme Beauty, it follows that all lesser forms of beauty come from Him. In other words, an earthly object is beautiful because it reflects the beauty of God. Because of this fact, lesser forms of beauty can point to the Ultimate Source of beauty:
Psalm 19:1  The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Romans 1:20  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
God’s creation, which reflects His beauty, declares and proclaims His beauty. This can be said for anything that is beauty as compared to God’s beauty, including beautiful music. Thus, as Psalm 19.1 and Romans 1.20 make clear, beauty in music can be a form of general, non-salvific revelation of God.
Second, beautiful music magnifies God’s beauty.
Furthermore, when we delight in an earthly object because it is beautiful, we are affirming the objective nature of God’s beauty. In other words, when we take delight in certain music because of its beautiful properties, we are implying that they are indeed worthy of delight. And since those properties are worthy particularly because they are part of God’s essence, we are affirming that He is ultimately worthy of our delight. This may be one of the reasons Paul commands in Philippians 4.8 to consider things that are “lovely,” “worthy of praise,” and “admirable.”
The converse of this is true as well: if we call something beautiful that does not possess the properties of God’s beauty, we fail to bring God his due glory.
Beauty is not, therefore, incidental or unimportant. We must concern ourselves with what is beautiful and what is not since it affects how we glorify God. And since music, as an art form, can either express beauty or ugliness, music matters.
Music Matters Spiritually
The essence of our relationship with God is not primarily what we know or how we act. We must know God to have a relationship with Him, but plenty of people, including Satan himself, know a whole lot of doctrine about God without having a relationship with Him. If someone does have a relationship with God, he will reflect that relationship with how he lives, but plenty of people live good lives without knowing God personally.
What marks a true believer is what is in his spirit — his emotions. A true believer not only knows God and tries to obey God, but he also loves God. Christ said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all of our being (Matthew 22.37). God cares not only about what we know about Him and how we act, but also how we feel about Him.
Music is often called the language of emotion, and for good reason. Both the Bible and our common experience attest to the fact that music and emotion are closely related. William Edgar notes that “of the more than six hundred references to music in the Scriptures, the great majority connect it with some kind of emotional experience.” We have already noted some of this.
So with regard to our spirits — our affections — music has two benefits:
First, music gives us a language to express affection to God.
Mere words are often inadequate to express what we feel. Men especially know what this is like. Our wives want us to express to them how we feel about them, and we do truly have deep feelings about them, but we just don’t know how to put it into words. So we do something or buy something to express what words can’t express.
Music, because it is a metaphor of emotion, is a wonderful means for expression of emotion when words just won’t do. This is certainly true for husbands and wives, but it is also true about our affection for God.
When we consider truth about God, and we feel deeply about that truth, music gives us a language for expressing those feelings with more than just words.
Second, music teaches us what we should feel about God.
But often when we consider truth about God and his works, we’re not quite sure how we should be feeling. Or perhaps our initial feelings are immature or even wrong. The second power of music, as we have already seen from Colossians 3 and the incident with Saul and David, is that it can teach us what we should be feeling. Music can change and alter our emotions so that we feel what we should be feeling. So when we combine music with rich, doctrinal truth, the music takes that truth and helps to take it past just our intellectual understand and penetrate our hearts.
This is why music matters! It is not incidental or unimportant. It is not something neutral merely for our entertainment. Music is essential to the Christian life. Scripture makes that clear, a theological understanding of beauty and glory makes that clear, and an understanding of how music reaches the heart makes this clear. Music matters.
Still some might insist that music doesn’t matter. That it’s unimportant. Well if the biblical, theological, and spiritual proof didn’t convince you that music matters, listen to voices from church history.
Music Matters Historically
Martin Luther
“Music and notes, which are wonderful gifts and creations of God, do help gain a better understanding of the text, especially when sung by a congregation and when sung earnestly.” Luther
“We have put this music to the living and holy Word of God in order to sing, praise and honor it. We want the beautiful art of music to be properly used to serve her dear Creator and his Christians. He is thereby praised and honored and we are bade better and stronger in faith when his holy Word is impressed on our hearts by sweet music.” Luther
Paul Westermeyer, professor of church music at Luther Seminary – “Luther was not simply fond of music. Luther thought music has a theological reason for being; it is a gift of God, which comes from the ‘sphere of miraculous audible things,’ just lkke the Word of God. Music is unique in that it can carry words. Since words carry the Word of God, music and the Word of God are closely related . . . It almost seems as if Luther sees music in its own right as a parallel to preaching . . . but the weight falls on its association with the Word and words that carry the Word.”
Martin Luther’s four defenses of sacred music: “Because it can be combined with the Word; because it enters the senses pleasantly; because it moves the spirit directly; and because it aids in the memory’s retention of the text.” – Oskar Sohngen, “Music and Theology: A Systematic Approach,” in Sacred Sound: Music in Religious Thought and Practice, ed. Joyce Irwin. Journal of the American Academy of Religion Thematic Studies, vol. 50, no. 1 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983), 14.
John Calvin
“And in truth we know by experience that singing has great force and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal. Care must always be taken that the song be neither light nor frivolous; but that it have weight and majesty (as St. Augustine says), and also, there is a great difference between music which one makes to entertain men at table and in their houses, and the Psalms which are sung in the Church in the presence of God and his angels. But when anyone wishes to judge correctly of the form which is here presented, we hope that it will be found holy and pure, seeing that it is simply directed to the edification of which we have spoken. Now among the other things which are proper for recreating man and giving him pleasure, music is either the first, or one of the principal; and it is necessary for us to think that it is a gift of God deputed for that use. Moreover, because of this, we ought to be the more careful not to abuse it, for fear of soiling and contaminating it, converting it our condemnation, where it was dedicated to our profit and use. If there were no other consideration than this alone, it ought indeed to move us to moderate the use of music, to make it serve all honest things; and that it should no give occasion for our giving free rein to dissolution, or making ourselves effeminate in disordered delights, and that it should not become the instrument of lasciviousness nor of any shamelessness.” – Preface to Genevan Psalter
Jonathan Edwards
“The best, most beautiful, and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other is by music.”
Conclusion
Does music matter? Does it matter to God? Should it matter to us? In my opinion, the evidence is overwhelming. The Bible’s hundreds of references to music and its power and benefits, a theological understanding of the beauty and glory of God being reflected in beautiful music, music’s ability to give us expression for our affection to God and teach us what we should be feeling about God, and the testimony after testimony of Christian leaders throughout history all attest to the fact that music matters. Why, all of a sudden, in the 20th and 21st century do we insist that it doesn’t matter?
I’m not at this point making any points about specific music styles or cultures. All I’m arguing is that music is important, and we should take the time to make careful and informed decisions about the music we allow into our lives and worship.

music17Does music matter to God? Should it matter to us?

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Hymns Are Musical Echoes of His Voice

We are living in a day when people — even Christians — see music as unimportant. Enjoyable, yes; but necessary or important? No.

We see this kind of thinking all around us. Music education is now considered extracurricular in schools. It’s extra. It’s not important. Support for the arts is waning in communities. Whereas families once viewed music as the highlight of the home, most families today have no interest.

This kind of thinking has, of course, influenced the church as well. What we believe theologically is important. How we live is important. But music? It’s just something extra God has given us merely for enjoyment. This certainly has ramifications for worship, then. If music is merely for enjoyment and is unimportant, then it really doesn’t matter what kind of music we use in worship. God just doesn’t really care.

Or does he?

I would like to demonstrate Scripturally, theologically, spiritually, and historically that music does indeed matter. It matters to God, and it should matter to us.

Music Matters Scripturally

If we want to discern whether music matters to God, we must first examine the Scriptures. What does the Bible have to say about music?

The Bible refers explicitly to music around 1200 times (ESV). Now that in and of itself is not necessarily significant. The Bible refers to plants around 1000 times as well. But when we consider the kinds of things that are linked with music in the Bible, or the contexts in which we find music in the Bible, it is clear that music matters.

First, in the Bible music is highlighted as an important part of worship, both Old Testament Temple worship and New Testament Church worship.

In the Old Testament we find record of much of what went on in Jewish society. Israel was a theocracy, so their religious, civil, and social activities were all intertwined. Much of what went on in their society was related to their relationship with Yahweh, but wasn’t necessarily set apart specifically for corporate worship. This is certainly true of some of the music we have recorded for us in the Old Testament. Music is used for all sorts of purposes in the Bible: there are work songs,1 war songs,2 love songs,3 songs for entertainment,4 and songs of derision, mourning, and lamentation.5 Since religion and society were intertwined in Jewish culture, the Old Testament relates many common uses of music in everyday life.

But some things were set apart specifically for corporate worship in the Temple. Before David’s death, God allowed him to organize the Temple worship that would come to fulfillment under Solomon. We find this organization in 1 Chronicles 22 and following. Only the Levites were permitted to do work in the Temple, and at that time there were 38,000 men 30 years old and up. David divided these men for specific tasks: 24,000 were to be in charge of the work in the Temple, 6,000 were to be officers and judges, 4,000 were to be gatekeepers, and 4,000 were to praise the Lord with the musical instruments that he had made for that purpose (1 Chronicles 22:1-5). We find two things of interest in this. First, that only Levites were allowed to perform music in the Temple, and second that God specifically says that He had designed music for His praise.

He then gives these groups of men specific instructions about how they are to go about leading worship in the Temple, and in chapter 25, he specifically addresses the musicians.

1 Chronicles 25:1-7  David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals. The list of those who did the work and of their duties was:  2 Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah, sons of Asaph, under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied under the direction of the king.  3 Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the LORD.  4 Of Heman, the sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel and Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, and Romamti-ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, Mahazioth.  5 All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer, according to the promise of God to exalt him, for God had given Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.  6 They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king.  7 The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the LORD, all who were skillful, was 288.

It is quite significant that David took so much time, under direction from the Lord, to set apart these Levites for the purpose of making music in the Temple. Furthermore, it is interesting to note how connected this music is with prophesy — direct revelation from God. So in the organization of the Temple worship in the Old Testament, God ordained that there be priests and leaders and gatekeepers and musicians, and these musicians were specifically involved in leading the corporately gathered people in praise of God. God set apart music as one of the things he deemed important for His worship. He didn’t set apart farmers or shepherds or builders; he did set apart musicians. We see this clearly in the instructions for Temple worship and in the Psalms as well.

This is reflected also, then, in New Testament Church worship:

Ephesians 5:19 Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.

Here, in the epistle most directly focused on the Church, we find a command to include music in our church worship. The parallel passage in Colossians 3:16-17 makes this congregational emphasis even more clear with its discussions in this context of the church as one body. The terms used here signify both vocal and instrumental music — “singing” being a translation of a term to signify vocal singing, and “making melody” a translation of a term meaning to play on a stringed instrument.

So both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, music (both vocal and instrumental) is directly connected and even commanded for corporate worship along with preaching, praying, giving, etc. We’ll look more later at why God set apart music for congregational worship, but for now it’s at least instructive that He did.

This in itself should signify the importance and significance of music.

Second, in the Bible music is highlighted as an important vehicle to communicate God’s truth.

The parallel passage to Ephesians 5:19 addresses a second Scriptural purpose for music that is found throughout the pages of the Bible.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Music is often highlighted as an important vehicle for the communication of God’s truth. Here the Church at Colossi is commanded to let the Word of Christ dwell in them, music being an important accompanying vehicle. I’ll mention in a moment that I don’t believe that teaching propositional truth is all that is in view in this verse, but that is certainly part of the power of music — it can accompany and enhance God’s truth.

Songs throughout the Bible are filled with God’s truth. Just survey the Jewish hymnal — the Psalms — and you will find enough theology to fill a systematic theology. God could have presented that truth in any number of ways, but he chose to do so with art — poetry set to an appropriate tune.

We can find many examples of this in the New Testament as well. There are many passages in the epistles that scholars agree were written in a distinctly poetic form and likely set to music and sung in the early church: Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, 2 Timothy 2:11-13, John 1:1-18, Ephesians 1:1-11, 2:14-16, Colossians 1:15-20, and Hebrews 1:3.

Sacred songs are important vehicles for the communication of God’s truth to His people.

Third, in the Bible music is highlighted as an important means for expressing beauty, and thus leading us to know Supreme Beauty.

The glory of God is one of those sometimes nebulous concepts that we don’t often really get our minds around. But when we look at the kind of language that is used in Scripture to describe God’s glory, it is clear that the idea that most closely connects with glory is the idea of beauty. The Bible is filled with aesthetic terminology to describe God. God’s glory is His beauty, and his beauty is magnified when His people delight in lesser forms of beauty. In the Bible, beautiful music is often used as a way to magnify and praise the beauty of God Himself.

And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness (2 Chronicles 20:21).

They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing; For the majesty of the LORD They shall cry aloud from the sea (Isaiah 24:14).

It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, The excellence of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, The excellency of our God (Isaiah 35:2).

Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:20 both tell us how the beauty of creation displays the beauty of God and points man to Him. Music as an expression of beauty given by God can do the same.

Fourth, in the Bible music is highlighted as an important tool to sanctify our emotions.

One of the most well-known accounts of music’s affect on people in the Bible helps us see the final Scriptural benefit of music. In 1 Samuel 16:23 David uses music to sooth Saul’s uneasy emotional state. We see the same kind of thing happening in Acts 16:25 when Paul and Silas were in prison. Instead of letting fear and depression take over them, they sang hymns. James 5:13 also talks about the emotional benefit of singing — it helps us express cheer.

We’ll talk about this more in a moment, but the Bible highlights music’s ability to express and change emotion. I think this is the primary thrust of Colossians 3:16. The “teaching” that occurs through music is more than just teaching propositional truth to the mind. That can’t be the only thing in view here because (a) there are other better means to teach the mind than with music, and (b) the parallel passage, Ephesians 5:19, talks about pure instrumental music. Music by itself doesn’t teach the mind; music teaches the emotions. I’ll elaborate more on this point in a moment.

In summary, the Bible does not mention music merely as something neutral for our enjoyment or something mundane and unimportant. The way music is handled in the Scripture highlights its significance and importance.

I’d like to elaborate more on two of these points from a theological perspective. First, God’s glory and music’s beauty, and second, the way music can express and teach our emotions.

Music Matters Theologically

First, beautiful music points us to God.

As I noted earlier, God is Supreme Beauty. When the Bible talks about God’s glory, the best equivalent idea to express that glory is beauty or magnificence or splendor. Here are some additional biblical descriptions of God’s beauty:

Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, And array yourself with glory and beauty (Job 40:9-10).

O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth (Psalm 8:9)!

One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple (Psalm 27:4).

You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips; Therefore God has blessed You forever. Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, With Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; And Your right hand shall teach You awesome things (Psalm 45:2-4)!

Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty (Psalm 104:1).

All Your works shall praise You, O LORD, And Your saints shall bless You. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, And talk of Your power, To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, And the glorious majesty of His kingdom (Psalm 145:10-12).

It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, The excellence of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, The excellency of our God (Isaiah 35:2).

For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty (Zechariah 9:17; ESV)!

According to Thomas Aquinas, beauty is something that pleases when it is apprehended. It is something that has objective qualities that cause pleasure in an observer. It is possible to take pleasure in things that are not beautiful; we may take pleasure in something because of what it can do for us. But when we take pleasure in something merely for its beauty, we call that disinterested pleasure — a non-utilitarian pleasure in an object. This is the essence of aesthetic pleasure — delighting in something just because of its intrinsic worth, not because of what it can do for us.

This is why the Bible commands us to take pleasure in God. Psalm 37:4 commands us to delight in the Lord. When we delight in God, we are delighting in His beauty simply for who He is.

Since God is Supreme Beauty, it follows that all lesser forms of beauty come from Him. In other words, an earthly object is beautiful because it reflects the beauty of God. Because of this fact, lesser forms of beauty can point to the Ultimate Source of beauty:

Psalm 19:1  The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Romans 1:20  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

God’s creation, which reflects His beauty, declares and proclaims His beauty. This can be said for anything that is beauty as compared to God’s beauty, including beautiful music. Thus, as Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:20 make clear, beauty in music can be a form of general, non-salvific revelation of God.

Second, beautiful music magnifies God’s beauty.

Furthermore, when we delight in an earthly object because it is beautiful, we are affirming the objective nature of God’s beauty. In other words, when we take delight in certain music because of its beautiful properties, we are implying that it is indeed worthy of delight. And since those properties are worthy particularly because they are part of God’s essence, we are affirming that He is ultimately worthy of our delight. This may be one of the reasons Paul commands in Philippians 4:8 to consider things that are “lovely,” “worthy of praise,” and “admirable.”

The converse of this is true as well: if we call something beautiful that does not possess the properties of God’s beauty, we fail to bring God his due glory.

Beauty is not, therefore, incidental or unimportant. We must concern ourselves with what is beautiful and what is not since it affects how we glorify God. And since music, as an art form, can either express beauty or ugliness, music matters.

Music Matters Spiritually

The essence of our relationship with God is not primarily what we know or how we act. We must know God to have a relationship with Him, but plenty of people, including Satan himself, know a whole lot of doctrine about God without having a relationship with Him. If someone does have a relationship with God, he will reflect that relationship with how he lives, but plenty of people live good lives without knowing God personally.

What marks a true believer is what is in his spirit — his emotions. A true believer not only knows God and tries to obey God, but he also loves God. Christ said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all of our being (Matthew 22:37). God cares not only about what we know about Him and how we act, but also how we feel about Him.

Music is often called the language of emotion, and for good reason. Both the Bible and our common experience attest to the fact that music and emotion are closely related. William Edgar notes that “of the more than six hundred references to music in the Scriptures, the great majority connect it with some kind of emotional experience.” We have already noted some of this.

So with regard to our spirits — our affections — music has two benefits:

First, music gives us a language to express affection to God.

Mere words are often inadequate to express what we feel. Men especially know what this is like. Our wives want us to express to them how we feel about them, and we do truly have deep feelings about them, but we just don’t know how to put it into words. So we do something or buy something to express what words can’t express.

Music, because it is a metaphor of emotion, is a wonderful means for expression of emotion when words just won’t do. This is certainly true for husbands and wives, but it is also true about our affection for God.

When we consider truth about God, and we feel deeply about that truth, music gives us a language for expressing those feelings with more than just words.

Second, music teaches us what we should feel about God.

But often when we consider truth about God and his works, we’re not quite sure how we should be feeling. Or perhaps our initial feelings are immature or even wrong. The second power of music, as we have already seen from Colossians 3 and the incident with Saul and David, is that it can teach us what we should be feeling. Music can change and alter our emotions so that we feel what we should be feeling. So when we combine music with rich, doctrinal truth, the music takes that truth and helps to take it past just our intellectual understand and penetrate our hearts.

This is why music matters! It is not incidental or unimportant. It is not something neutral merely for our entertainment. Music is essential to the Christian life. Scripture makes that clear, a theological understanding of beauty and glory makes that clear, and an understanding of how music reaches the heart makes this clear. Music matters.

Still some might insist that music doesn’t matter. That it’s unimportant. Well if the biblical, theological, and spiritual proof didn’t convince you that music matters, listen to voices from church history.

Music Matters Historically

Martin Luther

“Music and notes, which are wonderful gifts and creations of God, do help gain a better understanding of the text, especially when sung by a congregation and when sung earnestly.” Luther

“We have put this music to the living and holy Word of God in order to sing, praise and honor it. We want the beautiful art of music to be properly used to serve her dear Creator and his Christians. He is thereby praised and honored and we are bade better and stronger in faith when his holy Word is impressed on our hearts by sweet music.” Luther

Paul Westermeyer, professor of church music at Luther Seminary – “Luther was not simply fond of music. Luther thought music has a theological reason for being; it is a gift of God, which comes from the ‘sphere of miraculous audible things,’ just lkke the Word of God. Music is unique in that it can carry words. Since words carry the Word of God, music and the Word of God are closely related . . . It almost seems as if Luther sees music in its own right as a parallel to preaching . . . but the weight falls on its association with the Word and words that carry the Word.”

Martin Luther’s four defenses of sacred music: “Because it can be combined with the Word; because it enters the senses pleasantly; because it moves the spirit directly; and because it aids in the memory’s retention of the text.” – Oskar Sohngen, “Music and Theology: A Systematic Approach,” in Sacred Sound: Music in Religious Thought and Practice, ed. Joyce Irwin. Journal of the American Academy of Religion Thematic Studies, vol. 50, no. 1 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983), 14.

John Calvin

“And in truth we know by experience that singing has great force and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal. Care must always be taken that the song be neither light nor frivolous; but that it have weight and majesty (as St. Augustine says), and also, there is a great difference between music which one makes to entertain men at table and in their houses, and the Psalms which are sung in the Church in the presence of God and his angels. But when anyone wishes to judge correctly of the form which is here presented, we hope that it will be found holy and pure, seeing that it is simply directed to the edification of which we have spoken. Now among the other things which are proper for recreating man and giving him pleasure, music is either the first, or one of the principal; and it is necessary for us to think that it is a gift of God deputed for that use. Moreover, because of this, we ought to be the more careful not to abuse it, for fear of soiling and contaminating it, converting it our condemnation, where it was dedicated to our profit and use. If there were no other consideration than this alone, it ought indeed to move us to moderate the use of music, to make it serve all honest things; and that it should no give occasion for our giving free rein to dissolution, or making ourselves effeminate in disordered delights, and that it should not become the instrument of lasciviousness nor of any shamelessness.” – Preface to Genevan Psalter

Jonathan Edwards

“The best, most beautiful, and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other is by music.”

Conclusion

Does music matter? Does it matter to God? Should it matter to us? In my opinion, the evidence is overwhelming. The Bible’s hundreds of references to music and its power and benefits, a theological understanding of the beauty and glory of God being reflected in beautiful music, music’s ability to give us expression for our affection to God and teach us what we should be feeling about God, and the testimony after testimony of Christian leaders throughout history all attest to the fact that music matters. Why, all of a sudden, in the 20th and 21st century do we insist that it doesn’t matter?

I’m not at this point making any points about specific music styles or cultures. All I’m arguing is that music is important, and we should take the time to make careful and informed decisions about the music we allow into our lives and worship.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Cutlure, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and three children.



Endnotes:

  1. Num. 21:17-18; Isa. 16:10; 27:2; Jer. 25:30; 48:33; Hos. 2:17; Zech. 4:7 []
  2. Num. 21:27-30; Ps. 68; 2 Chron. 20:21; Num. 10:35-6; Exod. 15:20; Judg. 5:1; 1 Sam. 21:12; Ps. 24:7-10 []
  3. Ps. 45; Song of Sol. 2:12; Ezek. 33:32; Isa. 5:1; Gen. 31:27; Jer. 25:10; 33:11; Isa. 23:15-16 []
  4. Job 21:12; Isa. 24:9; 2 Sam. 19:35; Lam. 5:14; Dan. 6:18; Amos 6:5 []
  5. Job 30:9; Lam. 3:14, 63; Isa. 14:4; 2 Sam. 1:18-27; 1 Kings 13:30; 2 Chron. 35:25; Ps. 69:12; Job 30:31; Eccles. 12:5; Jer. 9:16-17; 22:18; Ezek. 27:30-2 []

11 Responses to Does Music Matter?

  1. Great article – I agree with you completely.

    My only suggestion is that it would have been good to include some more quotes from other historical figures about music. I'm sure there's material from Wesley and Spurgeon you could have used, for example.

  2. Is Music Neutral?
    This question can be embarrassing, can’t it? Why do you worship on Sunday? Doesn’t the Holy Bible say that the seventh day is the time God consecrated for His people? Where does the Holy Bible say that Christians should sanctify the first day of the week, rather than the seventh day?

    The answer is “NO!”

    In fact, music influences and manipulates us more than we know.

    And when we refer to music, we are referring to the score or composition and not the lyrics.

    Music affects the human body in subtle, but powerful ways.

    A well established fact is the human body and mind can be controlled and altered with music. Many scientific and medical studies have proved conclusively the tremendous effects of music upon the human physiology and anatomy. Music is used to lower blood pressure, treat mental illness, depression, mental retardation, insomnia and many others.

    Musicologist Julius Portnoy found that not only can music, “change metabolism, affect muscular energy, raise or lower blood pressure, and influence digestion,” but “It may be able to do all these things more successfully … than any other stimulants that produce those changes in our bodies.” (Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, p. 138).

    Clinical researchers at the U.C.L.A. School of Nursing in Los Angeles, and at Georgia Baptist Medical Center in Atlanta, found that premature babies gained weight faster and were able to use oxygen more efficiently when they listened to soothing music.

    At Baltimore’s St. Agnes Hospital, classical music was provided in the critical-care units. “Half an hour of music produced the same effect as ten milligrams of Valium,” says Dr. Raymond Bahr, head of the coronary-care unit.

    The great pianist and composer of the 1800’s, Frederic Chopin, at the age of ten, was often summoned to play for the Grand Duke Constantine, governor of Poland. The Duke had recurring seizures of madness which could seemingly be controlled only by Chopin’s music. When the little boy played, the seizures abated and the governor could resume his normal activities, only to send for Chopin again when the musical medicine wore off.

    How does music help? Some studies show it can lower blood pressure, basal-metabolism and respiration rates, thus lessening physiological responses to stress. Other studies suggest music may help increase production of endorphins (natural pain relievers) and S-IgA (Salivary immunoglobulin A). S-IgA speeds healing, reduces the danger of infections, and controls the heart rate. Studies indicate both hemispheres of the brain are involved in processing music. Dr. Sacks explains, “The neurological basis of musical responses is robust and may even survive damage to both hemispheres” (“Music’s Surprising Power to Heal,” 8/92 Reader’s Digest).

    “To the question, ‘Does music affect man’s physical body?’ modern research applies in the clear affirmative. There is scarcely a single function of the body which cannot be affected by musical tones. The roots of the auditory nerves are more widely distributed and possess more extensive connections than those of any other nerves in the body. Investigation has shown that music affects digestion, internal secretions, circulation, nutrition and respiration. Even neural networks of the brain have been found to be sensitive to harmonic principles” (Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, p. 136).

    Music can also be dangerous to the body.

    Dr. Adam Knieste, a musicologist who studies the effects of music upon people noted:

    “It’s really a powerful drug. Music can POISON you, lift your spirits, or MAKE YOU SICK without knowing why.” (Family Weekly Magazine, January 30, 1983, p. 12, article by David Chagall)

    Rock music can literally kill.

    The view that music is amoral or neutral with no inherent power to effect is completely proven false by extensive research performed on plant life. Rock music, with it’s hard driving beat, played to plants will kill the plants – while soothing classical music causes the plants to grow twice as fast.

    “Paradoxical as it may seem, music’s effect upon the more primitive vegetable kingdom is one of the most convincing methods of all for proving that music does affect life, including human life. For experiments conducted with humans, and even, to some extent, with animals, have the extra factor of the mind to contend with. This means that while men or animals may be demonstrated to have been affected by tones, the effect may not have been a direct or objective one. Rather, the effect upon the body may have been caused by the mind’s subjective reaction to the music heard. In the case of plant-music research, however, psychological factors cannot really be said to be present. If music can be shown to affect plants, then such effects have to be due to the objective influence of the tones directly upon the cells and processes of the life-form.”

    “An intensive series of studies carried out by Dorothy Retallack of Denver, Colorado, demonstrated the effects of different kinds of music on a variety of household plants. The experiments were controlled under strict scientific conditions, and the plants were kept within large closed cabinets on wheels in which light, temperature and air were automatically regulated. Three hours a day of acid rock, played through a loudspeaker at the side of the cabinet, was found to stunt and damage squash plants, philodendrons and corn in under four weeks. Mrs Retallack played the music of the two different Denver radio stations to two groups of petunias. The radio stations were KIMN (a rock station) and KLIR (a semiclassical station). The Denver Post reported:

    `The petunias listening to KIMN refused to bloom. Those on KLIR developed six beautiful blooms. By the end of the second week, the KIMN petunias were LEANING AWAY from the radio and showing very erratic growth. The petunia blooms hearing KLIR were all leaning TOWARD THE SOUND. Within a month all plants exposed to rock music DIED.

    In another experiment, conducted over three weeks, Dorothy Retallack played the music of Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge to one group of beans, squash (marrow), corn, morning glory and coleus; she also played contemporary avant-garde atonal music to a second group; and, as a control, played nothing to a third group. Within ten days, the plants exposed to Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge were all LEANING AWAY FROM THE SPEAKER. After three weeks they were stunted and DYING. The beans exposed to the ‘new music’ leaned 15 degrees from the speaker and were found to have middle-sized roots. The plants left in silence had the longest roots and grew the highest. Further, it was discovered that plants to which placid, devotional music was played not only grew two inches taller than plants left in silence, but also leaned TOWARDS THE SPEAKER. (Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, p. 142 – 144)

    All the plants that were next to the rock music – LEANED AWAY FROM THE SPEAKERS – trying to get away from the music! And to show that it was not just the noise itself – the plants next to the classical music – LEANED TOWARD THE SPEAKERS – actually trying to get closer to the music.

    In the end – ALL the plants next to the rock music – DIED!

    Do you still think music is neutral?

    Rock music, not the lyrics – JUST THE MUSIC, has been scientifically proven to literally KILL!

    And some Christians actually believe that the giver of LIFE – the Lord Jesus Christ is the author and god of “rock and roll”! The One that made the plants and LIFE itself is the author of a killer – Rock music! What could be more ridiculous!

    The Lord Jesus Christ said in John 10:10, “. . . The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to KILL, and to destroy: I am come that they might have LIFE, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

    John 14:6, says “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the LIFE: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

    And Christian rocker Larry Norman expects you to take him seriously when he falsely claims “rock music comes from God through the church”. (Hart, Lowell, Satan’s Music Exposed, Salem Kirban Inc., 1980 p.20)

    Christian rock band Petra has the gall to sing “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”.

    If you love the sound
    And don’t forget the source…
    you can love the rock
    and let it free your soul
    God gave Rock and roll to you
    Gave Rock and Roll to you
    Put it in the soul of everyone

    Is music neutral – Absolutely Not!

    Music by the arrangement of rhythms, tones and harmonics can have deadly effects! David Tame writes in The Secret Power of Music:

    “In conclusion, we can say that insofar as the physical body is concerned, the notion that music has no effect upon man, or that all music is harmless, is absolutely in error.” (Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, p.141).

    Rock music can literally cook an egg!

    Drs. Earl W. Flosdorf and Leslie A. Chambers found in a series of experiments that shrill sounds projected into a liquid media coagulated proteins. A recent teenage fad was that of taking soft eggs to rock concerts and placing them at the foot of the stage. Midway through the concert the eggs could be eaten hard-boiled as a result of the music. Amazingly few rock fans wondered what that same music might do to their bodies. (Larson, Bob, The Day Music Died, p.116)

    If music is neutral – how is it that certain music can literally break glass!

    Bob Larson writes in The Day Music Died:

    Perhaps you have seen the demonstration of the breaking of a glass by synchronizing high frequency vibrations with the vibrations of the chemical combination of the molecules in the glass. This in a word picture is what may happen physiologically to the human body when dancing frantically to rock music. (Larson, Bob, The Day Music Died, p.124)

    Music has a profound effect upon the mind…

    One of the most frightening display of the awesome power of music upon the human brain occurred in the conversion of Patty Hearst. In February, 1974, Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. But shortly after the kidnapping, Patty is helping the SLA rob banks. You wonder how they converted her? Dr. William Sargant, Britain’s foremost expert on brainwashing examined Patty Hearst. Here’s his alarming conclusion from Newsweek magazine, February 16, 1976, (p. 24):

    “…she was an unwilling victim of a “FORCED CONVERSION” or brainwashing. According to Sargant, a person whose nervous system is under constant pressure can “inhibit” and “exhibit paradoxical brain activity – bad becomes good and vice versa.” And that, Sargant argues, is precisely what happened to Patty… Her nervous system was kept at maximum stress by the continual playing of loud ROCK MUSIC.” (Newsweek, February 16, 1976 p.24)

    Not the LYRICS! Not the WORDS! But simply the MUSIC!

    “Music is used everywhere to condition the human mind. It can be just as powerful as a drug and much more dangerous, because nobody takes musical manipulation very seriously.” (Family Weekly, January 30, 1983, p. 15)

    “…music is more than a language. It is the language of languages. It can be said that of all the arts, there is… none other that more powerfully moves and changes the consciousness.” (Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, p.151)

    Dr. Howard Hanson, of the of the famous Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, and one of the greatest authorities on music, stated:

    “Music is a curiously subtle art with innumerable, varying emotional connotations. It is made up of many ingredients and, according to the proportions of those components, it can be soothing or invigorating, ennobling or vulgarizing, philosophical or orgiastic. It has POWERS FOR EVIL as well as for good.” (The American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 99, p.317)

    But isn’t music just notes and chords, etc.? How can notes be “bad” or “good”?

    Tim Fisher, former music professor, and founder of Sacred Music Services, gives this excellent analogy in his book, The Battle for Christian Music:

    “Perhaps some of you are asking yourselves the question, But how can a musical note be inherently good or bad? Aren’t notes just a matter of pitch variation, tonal vibration, compressions and decompressions of air? Those are fair questions. Let’s look at this more closely. Years ago I heard a tape of a man who was defending the neutrality of music in a public service. He walked over to the piano and played a C major chord. Then, he asked the audience if it was a good C major chord or an evil C major chord. After some scattered laughter, he said `See, there’s no such thing as good or evil music,’ He made a rather obvious mistake, however, in his reasoning: a C major chord isn’t music! It is a building block of music-and there’s a big difference.”

    “Take the English language, for example. If I write the letter ‘e’, is that a good ‘e’ or a bad ‘e’? Neither. As a building block of the English language it is a neutral entity. However, I as a creative writer can put that letter in conjunction with other letters and communicate something like…Praise the Lord…or I hate God.

    “In both of the above usages I have taken neutral letters and put them together to communicate something to you. However, what I have communicated is definitely not neutral, and my intent is clearly conveyed. “(Fisher, Tim The Battle for Christian Music, pp 60-61)

    Lowell Hart in his book, Satan’s Music Exposed, writes of the following experiment:

    “The unsuspecting “guinea- pigs” were a teenage boy and girl. They had never met previously and were completely unaware of any strange happenings. Unfortunately for them, as they sat getting acquainted in a cozy “private” room with soft music playing in the background, their reactions were being observed and recorded. When classical music and soft ballads were piped into the room they talked and were friendly, but somewhat aloof. When pop music and jazz were played they quickly developed a much “friendlier” attitude and began to hold hands and put their arms around each other. When the music changed back to classical and ballads they would again become more formal and reserved. If the music would swing back to the jazz and pop music “their formality would give way to familiarity.”(Hart, Lowell, Satan’s Music Exposed, p.63)

    Highly-respected, Professor Alan Bloom, professor of social thought at the University of Chicago, who has also taught at Yale, the University of Paris, the University of Toronto, Cornell and many other schools, writes in his best-selling book, The Closing of the American Mind:

    “Nothing is more singular about this generation than its ADDICTION to music. . . It is their passion; nothing else excites them as it does; they cannot take seriously anything alien to music. . . I suspect that the rock addiction, particularly in the absence of strong counter attractions, has an effect similar to that of drugs.” (Bloom, Alan, The Closing of the American Mind, pp 68…81)

    Another “proof” of the effects of music on a person is the billion dollar industry called Muzak or “moodsongs”. Muzak is the “mood music” that is piped into stores, airports, doctor offices, et. al. in order to “create an atmosphere”. The book, Elevator Music by Joseph Lanza, tells the history of Muzak and other moodsongs. Lanza describes an episode at the Hilton in Las Vegas when rock music was used as the “moodsong”. And because of the rock music customers experienced petit mal seizures! Lanza writes, “A doctor friend, a psychiatrist, later told me that kind of pulsation might create problems. I’ve gone into markets, telling them they are killing their business with high-speed rock.” (Lanza, Joseph, Elevator Music, p.142)

    Lanza also states, “Some background music has been known to induce musicogenic epilepsy, triggering a chemical brain reaction that elicits thoughts of suicide or murder…doctors had documented seventy-six similar cases.” (Lanza, Joseph, Elevator Music, p.194)

    Lanza also makes this startling statement:

    “…music designed to soothe can be altered to TORMENT…” (Lanza, Joseph, Elevator Music, p.196)

    It’s worth noting, that we are not talking about “lyrics” but simply the instrumental music.

    Rock music has been proven to obstruct the brain’s ability to think!

    In 1978, a California music therapist, investigating the effects of rock music on teenagers, administered to 240 school children aged 10-18 an emotional stability test during which rock was being played. The results were then examined by a psychologist who was unaware of the experiment. He concluded that the test had been given in a mental institution. (Hart, Lowell, Satan’s Music Exposed, p.101)

    Is this one of the reasons, since the 1960’s, when rock music began “taking over”, our education system has been a disaster? Despite spending billions and billions of tax payers dollars on our education system – we can no longer teach the average young person even simple reading and arithmetic!

    The Bible clearly teaches music is NOT neutral!

    Anyone who has read 1 Samuel 16 knows that music is not neutral. Even back during the time of Saul (around 1079 B.C.) they knew the power of music. When the “evil spirit from the Lord” began troubling Saul – it wasn’t a doctor or soothsayer they called – but a musician! David! They knew music had inherent powers! They knew music wasn’t neutral!

    14 But the spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.

    15 And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.
    16 Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on a harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.
    17 And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.

    18 Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him…

    23 And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

    Who that has ever read 2 Chronicles 5 could ever believe that the Lord thought music was neutral? At the sound of music – the glory of God was so strong the priests could not even stand “for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.”

    13 It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD;

    14 So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:13-14)

    The Apostle Paul clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 14 that certain sound, by themselves, had meaning and are not neutral.

    7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?

    8 For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? (1 Corinthians 14:7-8)

    Let there be no doubt… Music is not neutral. It has never been neutral nor ever will be neutral.

    Anyone who suggests music is neutral goes against all known disciplines of science, musicology, academics, medicine, physiology and the word of God.

    “Like human nature itself, music CANNOT POSSIBLY BE NEUTRAL in its spiritual direction … ultimately all uses of tone and all musical lyrics can be classified according to their spiritual direction, upward or downward. … To put it plainly, music tends to be of either the darkness or of the light. (Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, 1984 p.187).

    Neil Postman, professor of communication arts and sciences at New York University and a highly respected critic, educator, sociologist, and communication theorist who has written more than fifteen book states point-blank, in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death:

    “To maintain that technology [music] is neutral… is… stupidity plain and simple.” (Postman, Neil, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 157)

    Dr. Schoen, writes in The Psychology of Music:

    “Music is the most powerful stimulus known among the perceptive senses. The medical, psychiatric and other evidence for the non-neutrality of music is so overwhelming that it frankly amazes me that anyone should seriously say otherwise.”

    Tim Fisher writes in The Battle for Christian Music:

    “It is almost impossible to overstate the absurdity of the claim that music is neutral, amoral, or void of communication by itself. . . Those who have looked beyond the current music publications know that no one has ever taken the position that music is neutral except for Christians in the last twenty-five years who are trying to justify bringing rock into the church.”(Fisher, Tim, The Battle for Christian Music, pp.52…56)

    Dr Alfred B. Smith, author of many hymns and choruses including the chorus, “For God So Loved The World” and editor of Living Hymns states:

    “Some would have us believe that all music is a-moral and that it is only the words that make it Christian or not. I beg to differ with this philosophy!…music in itself is a language which can capture and control the very thoughts and actions of an individual, a crowd, or a nation. It is the fountainhead for good or for evil! As one must be discerning in the device of their friends and their food for a happy and healthy life … so we must be careful and prayerful in the music we chose to listen to or sing.” (Hart, Lowell, Satan’s Music Exposed, foreword)

    In his famous work Laws, Plato could have been writing about Christians and their foolish insistence that music is neutral in order to justify their love for wicked rock music.

    “Through foolishness they, the people, DECEIVED THEMSELVES into thinking that there was no right or wrong in music that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave.” (Plato, Laws as quoted by Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, p. 189)

    It’s important to note, that musicologist, David Tame, who shows no sign of being a Christian, makes these alarming statements:

    “More than any other form of the misuse of sound, it is rock with which we must deal today. … It is a global phenomenon; a pounding, pounding destructive beat which is heard from America and Western Europe to Africa and Asia. Its effect upon the soul is to make nigh-impossible the true inner silence and peace necessary for the contemplation of eternal verities. … How necessary is it in this age for some to have the courage to be the ones who are `different’ and TO SEPARATE themselves out from the pack who long ago sold their lives and personalities to this sound. . . I adamantly believe that rock in all its forms is a critical problem which our civilization must get to grips. . . if it wishes long to survive” (Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, 1984 p. 204).

    IS MUSIC NEUTRAL? NO!

    Not according to EVERY serious scientific, medical, physiological and psychiatric research known. Not according to EVERY serious musicologist. Not according to the word of God.

  3. Dear Vicki C.

    I don't know who you are, but you write with a rare clarity and alacrity on this issue that is truly impressive. Great imagery and excellent conviction. Thank you! I recognize your questions above as rhetorical, but I'd like to take a moment to speculate, hopefully, without slandering well-meaning believers.

    Q: "Cannot children be trained from a young age to value and prefer weighty music such as is compatible with the worship of the everlasting God?"

    A: Absolutely they can. Children love what they are taught to love. If parents teach them to love the adolescent drivel that sufficed during their own youth, then that's what they learn to love (and ultimately reject as they learn from peers to replace it with what is now 'cool.')

    Q: "If rock and rap are found most fitting for the savoring of things that are brutal or indecent, how can these genres also be fitting for worship that celebrates moral purity, integrity, uprightness, kindness, gentleness, self-control, holiness, reverence, modesty, service, personal sacrifice, and above all, holiness?"

    A: The only answer to this is that advocates of this style must either a) ignore common sense b) adopt psuedo-sophisticated post-modern relativistic philosophies of music, or c) embrace their own desensitization in order to deem all of music to be meaning-neutral. Motives for this stance vary from reaching the lost, to speaking to a new generation of believers, to the blatantly self-oriented 'this is the music that helps me worship.' Much of this is, I believe, variations on forms of self-deception. One little spoken of casualty in the adoption of this music is the class of elder saints. Afraid to speak up for fear of being told to leave, they stand mute in many houses of worship on Sunday mornings, subjected to the new praise bands and rock music they once denounced in their own homes as parents, unable to participate. Church after church has been hijacked in this manner until those who are bold enough to leave must travel 40, 50, and 60 or more miles to find reverent worship that contains the Gospel. This is a travesty and a despicable treatment of our elders in favor of the youth in a youth obsessed culture.

    I am also very appreciative of your consideration of Gospel-content entertainment. The blood of Christ is not for the passing of time. Entertainment style concerts that use the Gospel must be evaluated for their biblical legitimacy. This, of course, won't happen in a Christian culture that seeks to import entertainment music into its worship. But it is for the future after a musical revival has restored our affections for the Christ of the Bible and not the Christ of Hollywood and Nashville.

    Though not in explicit language, the Bible nonetheless makes clear in a variety of ways that musical sounds are not neutral.

    Thank you, again, Vicki, for taking the time to write this excellent essay.

    You have said it well.

    Tim

  4. Thank you, Scott! And I deeply appreciate the substantive comment written by Pastor Willy. Many of us know intuitively that music affects us physically. But to assist those who are unsure, it is so important that gifted writers and thinkers present the evidence in a readable fashion.

    Now, I hesitate to say this, because in doing my own research I came across many unsavory things that as a Christian, I didn’t really want to encounter. So I am not recommending that anyone try to find articles about the facts I am about to report, as these articles will tell you more than you really want to know about torture techniques. I myself have found that it is prudent to avoid reading further.

    But I will say that rock music has been used in warfare to disturb enemy troops, in police siege efforts, and in military torture. Here is one article that seems to avoid the more sinful things reported in other articles: http://www.nowpublic.com/strange/musicians-complain-about-their-songs-being-used-torture

    It needs to be said that other types of music played at shattering volumes also proved effective in torture, including a children’s song by Barney the Purple Dinosaur. (But don’t get me started about trivial-sounding children’s music! Cannot children be trained from a young age to value and prefer weighty music such as is compatible with the worship of the everlasting God?) But the overwhelming choice of the torturers was rock and roll, and rap.

    And with Muslim detainees, it wasn’t only the loudness, but the carnal quality of the “infidel” music that was tormenting. A true Muslim is a rigorously moral person, so I cite Muslim detainees as the example of a prisoner’s reaction to the sound of rock or rap being used as torture. The sound itself is unworthy of human dignity. The sound connotes carnality and a morally putrid lifestyle. Now of course, someone will say that there are lyrics with that sound, and that it is the infidel lyrics to which the detainess object, and which tortures their minds. Now I don’t have evidence of my next claim here, having not wanted to read further of torture methods, but I imagine that even if the detainee understood only Arabic, he would be offended by just the sound alone of rock and roll music or rap music, and would consider it an “infidel” sound. And I don’t blame him.

    Think of it this way – we have here two styles of music that employ the most degraded and disgusting lyrics in all of music. Is it any accident that songwriters who want to convey wretched thoughts consistently choose rock and rap as the most suitable musical settings for their morally repugnant words?

    To phrase it another way, if you were to read a set of lyrics on a piece of paper, and if you found those lyrics to be grotesque, indecent, shocking, ranting, macabre, insane, incoherent, inappropriate to decent society, etc., and if you did not know what type of music had been paired with those lyrics, it would be a pretty good guess, almost a sure guess, that the music would be some type of rock or rap.

    Why? Why do songwriters consistently find that rock or rap is the most fitting kind of music for the expression of indecent, violent, moronic, half-articulate, or ugly thoughts? There must be an intrinsic fitness of the characteristic sounds to the themes expressed in the words. There must, in fact, be an innately filthy sound that is found to innately suit filthy lyrics.

    And how can a musical medium that is consistently favored for the celebration of things such as rape, abuse, lewdness, personal power, brutish carnal satisfaction, stupidity, uncaring rebellion, drunkenness, and gross indecency be the same medium that we employ in the reverent worship of the Most High God, the holy and righteous Judge of All?

    If rock and rap are found most fitting for the savoring of things that are brutal or indecent, how can these genres also be fitting for worship that celebrates moral purity, integrity, uprightness, kindness, gentleness, self-control, holiness, reverence, modesty, service, personal sacrifice, and above all, holiness?

    It’s not just that rock and rap are only sometimes used as settings for morally disgusting lyrics. It’s that they are the overwhelming first choice of the morally degenerate songwriters.

    How then can such tones and rhythms also be adopted for worship? And that they are so widespread now in worship is testimony to how grossly even Christians can be deceived.

    I confess that I used to worship to such music. At first, it did not feel right. But others were doing it, and I was a new Christian, so I figured I was the one who was wrong. I longed for a sacred sound, but I soon accepted other sounds, since these other sounds were being promoted by people upon whom I was dependent, as a fledgling Christian, for guidance in how to walk before the Lord. In fact, I passed on the same sounds to others, even to a newer Christian who looked up to me for guidance. It was the blind leading the blind. However, I believe that God finally led me to understand that His holiness is indeed incompatible with sounds that are most compatible with unholiness. (It is not that He cannot perhaps “use” lyrics that are packaged in an unholy sound. But it is that He would not choose that sound to go with those lyrics.)

    There is indeed such a thing as a “sacred sound.” (Just as there is a “New Age” sound that is readily identifiable, and a college fight-song sound, and a sound appropriate to martial music, and an important-sounding sound that announces a media news broadcast, a hillbilly sound, a cowboy country-music sound, a nightclub sound, an irreverent sound appropriate to comedy music, a sea-chanty sound, an inner-city anthem sound, a party sound, etc.

    And there are more subtle sounds, such as the jazzy sound of intellectual sophistication such as might be heard at a gathering of thinkers and professionals, or a sound that says that a big ego is being expressed in song (I think of Tina Turner’s triumphantly seductive growl, or the hypnotically commanding sound of U2, as the singer Bono brings large crowds ecstatically under his sway), the sound of a carefree or freewheeling lifestyle (the Grateful Dead?), a cotton-candy sound of meaningless sentiment (Abba? The Bee Gees?), or a darkly seductive sound such as in the songs of Prince or Jim Morrison, or the sound of a certain kind of smooth evening music at an upper-class pub, bistro, or casino that subtly says it’s time to find a civilized and casual way to shrug off inhibitions, etc. People do know what sounds mean, and with greater precision than we might at first realize. They do understand the connotations.

    And thus there is the musical sound of rebellion of heart too, and the sound of selfism or selfishness of heart, and the sound of sensual satisfaction, and the sound of various kinds of immoral or unwise intoxication, whether physical, mental, or emotional, and the sound of triviality. We know these sounds. Intuitively, we know what a musical pattern, texture, or sequence means!

    For example, Punk Rock is not called Punk because the sound is neutral! It is called Punk not because of the lyrics. It is not a certain kind of lyric that is looked for, in order to categorize a song as Punk. It is a certain kind of sound! Punk is identified by the sound, not the lyrics!

    Punk is categorized as Punk, not by lyrics, but by sound.

    All of the Punk songs, no matter what the lyrics, share one identifiable quality of sound.

    And those who write punk music think that the word “punk” best describes their sound – and “punk” means, according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, things such as, “petty gangster, hoodlum, or ruffian,” or something even more immoral in the 3rd definition that I will not print, but that is in the dictionary.

    You see, it is the musicians themselves who label their style of musical instrumentation, melody, texture, and rhythm as being that which has to do with petty gangsters, hoodlums, ruffians, and even more deeply immoral themes too. They can tell that their sound is appropriate to these themes. It is not some Christian who is coming along and labelling the sound. The Punk Rockers themselves have labelled their signature sound to be “Punk.”

    (And they underscore this idea, of what the punk-rock sound signifies, by their characteristic mode of dress: for example, neon-colored spiky mohawk hairstyles, tattoos, piercings, black garments, spiked dog collars worn on a human neck, heavy coarse chains worn as necklaces, and other modes of making oneself appear ugly, scary, or aggressive or immoral.)

    Thus, in similar fashion, there are many other “sounds” that bring to mind other moral, metaphysical, and social realities. And the makers and listeners of these sounds are aware of this. They do not regard their own sounds to be neutral.

    So why would we Christians naively regard musical sounds as neutral, as having no intrinsic meaning in the absence of lyrics?

    Another comment: I thank Pastor Willy for giving voice to something I have been experiencing, and of which I wondered if other people experienced it too: When I’m in a public place that pipes in modern music, or in the home or car of someone who listens to secular music, I too find, as it was stated near the end of Pastor Willy’s post, that “Its effect upon the soul is to make nigh-impossible the true inner silence and peace necessary for the contemplation of eternal verities.” I find this not only with rock, but also with certain types of easy listening music, and any other profane music.

    The ubiquity of profane music being played in the haunts of humans these days, does indeed disrupt the mind’s ability to dwell upon eternal verities.

    It also can thwart attempts to think logically and meaningfully about other topics. It especially seems to interfere with deep moral thinking and moral appreciation. I might “know” things about God while I am under a barrage of profane music, but it is harder to meditate on those things, harder to bring them to the forefront of my mind and dwell upon them, harder to also savor and appreciate them, and harder to do the hard mental work of making application to my own life. The piped-in music is highly distracting to someone trying to think of divine truth.

    The profane music has a somewhat entraining effect, an effect of carrying the mind along in some kind of subtle current, and into certain patterns of thought, feeling, or attitude, and away from an ability to think clearly – although I pull against it. It reminds me of certain sonic weapons that are designed to entrain people’s minds, making them incapable of organized resistance.

    Have you ever shopped for a greeting card for an important event, in a Hallmark store that had top-40 music blaring? I almost want to give up in frustration sometimes, as I struggle to identify the correct card for the special event. Perhaps someone has tragically died, and you are trying to purchase a sympathy card that will be especially sensitive. Or perhaps you are seeking a lovely wedding card for your best friend’s wedding. But Mariah Carey is belting her songs over the loudspeaker, and you can hardly think. And I daresay that at the grocery store I sometimes go over budget because the store’s music makes it hard to think and make decisions. (I should bring a list and stick with it, but am often in a hurry!)

    Most music in public places makes it quite hard for the mind to maintain a sanctified, sacred mindset, or to think in a disciplined, rigorous manner, or in a highly sensitive manner. It seems to especially jam weighty thinking, while allowing trivial or commonplace thinking. TV has the same effect.

    And people are flocking to the devil’s bait of entertainment, which not only wastes time, and carnalizes a person by its content, but also changes the mind’s very style, mode, and rhythm of thinking. The mind is trained over time to have different thinking reflexes than it would have had if it had not been in the habit of being entertained. It becomes weakened, atrophied, and accustomed to trivial and quickly passing thoughts. It becomes less able to process weighty themes. It becomes passive, and undiscerning.

    And it develops an appetite for cheap, fleeting, and selfish satisfactions. It’s an addiction to not only entertainment, but to self-satisfaction in general.

    So entertainment transforms a mind into a pleasure-addicted mind, a mere organ in a sense – an organ that unthinkingly gravitates to whatever feels most pleasurable at the moment, and that is also a weak mind that cannot process weighty subjects, nor discern carefully between the more subtle forms of good and evil.

    How clever of the devil, to foist such a form of pleasure upon a whole society – it’s almost a kind of public and accepted lewdness, if that make any sense to anyone reading this. There is a species of pleasure that is denied to the moral person, but which they can experience in another way by giving themselves up to mere entertainment. At first it seems innocent, since the devil starts out with innocent-seeming content. But there is a problem with the very design of the entertainment scenario, with a person sitting there waiting for the performers to tickle him in some way, and with the person also putting his brain in neutral. This creates wrong attitudes and desires, and wrong thinking habits, wrong mental patterning, inadequate control of thoughts, inadequate organization of thoughts, etc. Mere entertainment, as an activity, seems to me to be quite hazardous.

    Can we be entertained to the glory of God? I think not. I think we can appreciate beauty to the glory of God. Perhaps we can appreciate classical music, or a piece of art, to the glory of God. But to assume the posture of a person being entertained, that is something different. And even the appreciation of beauty can be done so obsessively or continuously that it renders the mind, over time, incapable of a proper response to other situations, and to the whole of reality.

    I may not be expressing this very clearly. But basically, any auditory or visual stimuli that are engineered to be entertaining (as opposed to being beautiful or worthy in its own right, whether or not anyone likes it, and as opposed to being something other than escapism) will also transform the mind of the person who is being entertained. And this happens so subtly, that the person probably doesn’t realize it. I report this by observation, but I would not doubt but that there are scientific studies that demonstrate this, to an extent.

    Certainly we all know that today’s eletronic media have drastically reduced the attention span of today’s youth, as well as affecting their communication patterns, etc.

    In the same way, all kinds of entertainment affect the thinking apparatus of the one who regularly yields that apparatus to the entertainment. If we sow to the flesh, we reap, from that flesh, destruction. Can one take fire to his bosom, and not be burned? We are affected by that to which we yield our members! And thus modern entertainment becomes a means of making a person more deeply the slave of sin than ever before.

    It grieves me immensely to observe children who cannot think about matters of significance, nor even care. They seem unable to grasp that there is anything to be concerned about. And the problem with the children isn’t entirely moral. Some of it, I believe, is that their thinking processes, their brains, have been “jammed” by the constantly shifting input of electronic media. Such input can be attention-demanding or mind-numbing, by turns. In any event, it repatterns the process of thinking, so that the way that children read, speak, think, and consider, seems far different than the way that we used to read, speak, think, and consider, when we members of the older generations were young.

    In other words, young nervous systems are crippled by the constant stream of noxious input.

    I call it noxious because, like alcohol or drugs, which seem pleasant to the intoxicated person but which actually are experienced by the human body as noxious and harmful, so it is that the audio-visual stimuli and the nervous-system entrainment of modern entertainment is in itself noxious to the system, while yet feeling enjoyable to the unwitting subject.

    Now the word “entrainment” brings up another thought – a scholar named Philip Tagg has written with breathtaking insight about a phenomenon that we intuitively know, but maybe haven’t been able to prove – that musical sounds do in fact have what he calls connotative precision, and can subtly entrain the mind into a desired direction. (For example, in scores to films – certain musical types fit certain movie scenes. Martial music is used with war scenes, and romantic music is used with romantic scenes. To do the opposite would be jarring, and ineffective for the purpose. And especially in advertising, Tagg’s principles are employed in order to instill in the consumer desires that can be to the profit of the vendor.)

    That is, the mere sound, without words, is able to suggest certain things to the mind. And then by a process of synechdoche (In synechdoche, the part alludes to the whole. 100 head of cattle means 100 cattle, not 100 heads.), the music entrains the mind to also entertain thoughts of a whole complex of things associated with the first thing to which the music alluded. And it is so subtle that before the person knows it, they have certain desires that the music has thus subtly triggered.

    For example, try reading here, where he deals with popular music, TV music, etc.: http://www.tagg.org/articles/xpdfs/filminternat0412.pdf

    Tagg shows that the connotative precision of music is downright eerie. In studies, participants were found to come up with the same kinds of images when listening to a particular piece of wordless music. And the first image was suggestive of other related images.

    And so we have it that in reverent worship, we introduce musical tones and rhythms that have been found effective in evoking in the mind the most carnal thoughts, and that have been regularly employed by advertisers and by big-name rock bands to entrain minds, hearts, and bodies into sinful behavior, for the profit of the commercial interest behind the music. In other words, rock and rap, as well as the sensuous sounds of easy listening and top 40, have typically been the vehicle of choice, in the music world, for plunging people into sin. And yet, now they are used in worship.

    My contention is that these forms of music are particularly suited for the lyrics that are used, and that they put the listener “into the mood” to sin, even without words being used. Let’s face it, there is a certain kind of “night music,” for example, that most of us have at one time or another heard, that is highly suggestive of a private time between a man and a woman, and that somehow has overtones of this being an illicit or risky private encounter. If that softly risque music, without the words, can connote such an encounter, then cannot the same thing happen with other themes that are connoted by different types of music?

    (In fact, certain kinds of classical music absolutely depend, for their cultural value, on music’s ability to suggest to the mind, without words, certain rather precise ideas, themes, setting, scenes, etc.)

    Besides the connotations in the sounds themselves, certain signature sounds become associated with certain events, movies, feelings, etc. by customary use, and can evoke the attitudes and thoughts that go along with those events or things with which they are associated. Folk music and sports music for example, can call to mind a certain country or a certain team, because the particular melody is customarily used for that country or team.

    Try taking the theme from the movie Titanic and putting worship lyrics to it, and you will have people responding not to the God of the Bible, but to the young male actor who posed with the pretty girl with the deep red-brown hair on the bow of the Titanic. Now take music which is not from The Titanic, but sounds like it, and you will have similar effects in the psyche of the hearer.

    Take a lullabye, and set worship songs to it, and people will be moved to think of babies, not just because the music sounds appropriate to babies, but because also it is traditionally used for babies. Take a Hollywood sound, if you can imagine what I mean, and inject it into worship music, and all the values of Hollywood come tagging along with it, like stowaway passengers into the mind and heart. Thus, the mind is reminded of certain moral realities that may be at odds with the moral reality that we are trying to sing about in church. So there is the connotation by association too.

    (I’m getting this idea of association, as also the idea of the connotations of the sounds themselves, if I remember rightly, from an article by the scholar Philip Tagg: http://www.tagg.org/articles/xpdfs/filminternat0412.pdf) He writes much better than me, and has a lot of organized thought behind it, so you may like to read his article.

    If someone is still skeptical, and if they say that Christian lyrics sanitize, sanctify, and transform any genre of music, then let them consider their own wedding day. What if the wedding coordinator were to say to them, “Don’t worry, we will certainly use wedding lyrics for all of your wedding music. But as to the sounds, well, we might use a college fight song, or a punk rock riff, or some TV commercial jingles. But don’t worry about that, the lyrics will transform these tunes into wedding music for your special day, and you will treasure the memory always.” Would you buy that? Would you allow a wedding coordinator to use any old kinds of musical sounds to go along with your special lyrics for your wedding celebration? Would you not care what the sounds were like, so long as the lyrics were wedding lyrics?

    Further, would you not want a sound that expresses not only the idea of a wedding, but also the personalities and characters of yourself and your beloved? Yes, I daresay that you would choose not only lyrics, but sounds, that convey two things: the fact that this is a wedding, and the personalities and characters of the bride and groom.

    The music reflects the nature of the event, and the nature of the persons who are the objects of attention. Even music without words will do this, so if you have some wordless music in your wedding, I daresay you won’t be neutral about that either, but will choose something that “sounds” appropriate. You know exactly what I mean, by, “sounds appropriate.”

    So the question is, is God actually pleased by the use of the sounds of a decaying culture being paired with lyrics (which are often shallow and inadequate to convey divine truth, by the way) that are offered as holy worship of Him? Many have pointed out in the past that with Nadab and Abihu, and with the golden calf, God can and does punish the worship of the right God in the wrong way.

    And Jude 11 has this, which puts me in mind of the great profitability of the secularized versions of Christian music that are being served up by the music industry, and making many musicians rich: “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.”

    Music has a very deep effect on us, an effect that is hard to erase. It sets up strongholds for sin within us. Have you ever noticed the scary phenomenon of how totally and faithfully we can recall all the profane songs to which we used to listen before we became Christians? For example, all you have to do is hum the first couple of bars of almost any popular song from my childhood, and I can start singing the lyrics, just like that. In fact, you can hum a couple of bars from the middle of the song, and often it downloads the song to my conscious mind. Total recall, crystal clear. Oftentimes every single verse, every refrain, and even of the vocal inflections of the dramatic, repeated ending, are recalled.

    “Sugar, sugar. Ah, honey, honey. You are my candy girl. And you got me wanting you.” I don’t know who wrote that, but even just the few bridging notes that are not even paired with lyrics, “da-da di da di da,” can release the lyrics into my mind.

    And there seem to be untold numbers of such songs programmed into my mind. Candle in the Wind. Bennie and the Jets. Jeremiah was a Bullfrog. Bridge Over Troubled Waters (this is one of the more worthwhile songs). Rocky Mountain High. Sunshine on my Shoulders. And less savory songs than that. One after another, the titles and tunes and lyrics tumble out of my mind. Often a mental picture of the singer or of the album cover appears in my mind with the song. Even the musical textures and harmonies are all there, wonderfully preserved. But I can’t remember how to do college calculus. I can’t remember all my verb conjugations in Spanish. But I can reproduce many popular songs flawlessly in my mind.

    And by now you are probably hating me, because I am putting into your mind songs that you would rather forget. Perhaps it will take a while to get the song out of your mind today! Such is the strange power of music.

    Such songs are there to stay, woven into the fabric of our deep memory, ready to be triggered. I don’t have time to delve into the potential implications of this upon behavior, attitudes, etc., of this large bank of songs, this sleeping mental jukebox, but I suspect that such implications are there.

    Finally, I would note that when I was an unbeliever, I always drew back from evangelization efforts that smacked of pandering and compromise. There is something about trying to be like the world to gain the world for Christ that actually sickens the sheep whom God has been calling. Just as Laodicea sickens God and makes Him decide to vomit up the lukewarm church, so it is that lukewarm decisions on the part of evangelists about what is holy and what is not holy will make sick the sheep whom God is calling.

    If we want to draw the true sheep of Christ, the elect of God, we had better make sure that our presentation of the gospel bears the “fingerprint,” if you will, of the holy voice of God. It had better sound like how God might be expected to sound, if that makes any sense. The Holy Spirit is working on that person, and they are being sensitized by that Spirit to the difference between the holy and the unholy.

    In John 10:4-5, I am certainly not positing the ridiculous conclusion that Jesus has in mind a particular physical sound, but I think that these words of Jesus are words of which we should be mindful when we design musical accompaniment (as well as other incidental factors) for evangelistic presentations to non-believers whom we hope God will draw to Himself:

    4 “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (NKJV)

    And this practical effect is even less weighty in our decision making process than the simple need to rightly reflect the glory of God, to both those who are being saved, and those who are perishing. The glory of God is the ultimate issue.

  5. Dear Tim,

    Thank you for this great encouragement. Your encouraging words come at a good time. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply – I needed the feedback, so I really appreciate your taking that time.

    I want to respond briefly to something I greatly appreciate in your reply to me. You used a phrasing that helps me in my own attempts to find a way to explain to megachurch evangelical worshippers where they might be falling into error. Your helpful phrasing is this: "the Christ of the Bible and not the Christ of Hollywood and Nashville."

    I have believed, for some time now, that due to how Christ is distorted by the secular-style music that has infiltrated the church, that the people worshipping under that music (which is often accompanied by substandard or worldly preaching) are in danger of actually worshipping a different Christ – a Christ who cannot save them. Your phrases above have helped me to be more clear, more precise, with this concept.

    The "different Christ" is "the Christ of Hollywood and Nashville" – you have identified him, you have given him a name. You have taken the concept of a different Christ beyond theory, to a real identification which makes this imposter more tangible.

    I suppose we can also call him "the popular Christ," or "the Christ of the people, the Christ demanded by the people," as compared with "the Christ of God." But I like your more specific phrasing, which I think may be useful in conversations.

    May God use this phrasing to help open eyes of people who have come under the sway of this delusion.

    May the grace and kindness of God, in Christ, abound to you and your family,

    Vicki

  6. Oops, Tim, I was mixed up at the end of my last comment. I thank you, Tim, for your comment. And I thank Scott Aniol for the website! And I thank God for both!
    Thanks,
    Vicki

  7. Scott, great article but lets be honest, there arent many Fundamentalist churches that place such a premium or even understand what you are saying on music. Many Fundamentalist churches play at their worship and music. There is a great quote: "People worship their work, work at their play and play at their worship." I think this applies to many Fundamentalist churches. I read the comments on here and am blown away by some of them. These folk think they have the corner of the market on music. If we were to judge all churche's music against the standards in your article, the Anglican church would win hands down! They have a proper way with music and even an order to worship that Fundamentalists cannot comprehend. I am by no means endorsing Anglicans, just laughing that Fundamentalist think they understand worship and music. I read comments on your article about relativism in music. One person listed 3 popular CCM songs and analyzed them. Basically he concluded that the music imitated the "sex act". I listened to all three and I dont like CCM. I will agree that they were junk , but I nearly fell off the couch at his comparison. How bizarre can you get? These comments were offensive even to read. If this is the best that Fundamentalists can do to critique poor music and lyrics then the Fundamentalists are in bad shape. It seems that any music outside of the narrowly defined Fundamentalist box, is tarred and feathered and labeled as sensual. Nuts! label it what it is, poor music and poor lyrics, and argue it out as to why and provide a decent alternative. The reason Fundamentalist churches are struggling with music is that they have not provided good musical alternatives to much of the contemporary music that is out today. TIn some regards they have no one to blame but themselves. When the majority of songs sung in Fundamentalist churches are gospel songs focusing on me, my, I and mine, the lyrics are missing the point. When the music is ridiculous polka tunes at best, the music is missing the mark. No wonder Fundamentalist churches have an issue. Lastly, just because something is not in the narrow Fundamentalist box dont discard it. Here is my question, in what areas do Fundamentalist allow for divergence of opinion? There aren't many that come to mind. Unity is not uniformity. No two people are going to see eye to eye on many things. Allow for different opinions on music within the bounds of acceptability! Lets not force everyone to listen to Fundamentalist music and resign everyone else to the trashbin of "sensuality" who choose to do otherwise.

  8. I just have to say, I enjoy reading your site. Maybe you could let me know how I can subscribing with it ? Also just thought I would tell you I found your website through yahoo.

  9. The deep question I have for music is, Can rhythm be accentuated?

    Can we call a backbeat an evil thing? But what determines or who determines how much you use syncopation or those elements?

    Most songs today are identically in the part of rhytm as the world.

  10. Kevin, neither rhythm or syncopation are evil. They can be used in the context of a piece of music to communicate something enriching or something debase. The whole piece of music must be evaluated as to what is is communicating.

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