The Christian and Music
The Bible, starting in Genesis 4:21, often mentions music and occasions where music would be present. But perhaps surprisingly, it actually gives very little specific instruction on music itself. God’s instructions to Moses on how He was to be worshipped had much to say about the Tabernacle and its furnishings (Ex 25-40), the sacrificial system and feasts (Lev 1-6, 21-25), but close on nothing about the place and use of music (Num 29:1-6 Feast of Trumpets).
Again, David’s preparations for and Solomon’s construction of the Temple are given in great detail (1 Chr 28 - 2 Chr 7). Yet the details of the instructions to the musicians by David are not told us (2 Chr 29:25). Even the Bible's own hymn and prayer book of Psalms gives us precious little by way of actual instruction as to how to use music to God's glory.
We know Christ and the disciples sang hymns (Matt 26:30); so did Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25). We are taught to use music to worship God and to edify each other (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16) and that singing is a right response to joy (Jms 5:13). But again there is nothing specific as to how music can be used for God's glory, or what type of music we are to use.
Let us be cautious not to be more “holy” than the Bible itself, and seek to limit the use of music to formal worship services. We read of Christ at a wedding in Cana (John 2), and it is hard to imagine a Jewish wedding without music, dancing and singing! Yet we don't read of Christ leaving in righteous anger, or of using the occasion to speak out against music and dancing. On the contrary, he turns the water into wine, thus ensuring the success of the celebration.
We also need to avoid the mistake of rejecting something as unBiblical just because we as individuals don't like or cannot appreciate it. Contemporary Western urban culture is different to rural tribal African and Renaissance European cultures. It is ridiculous to live in the past (we certainly don't do this with technology), believing that “good” music was only written in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and that nothing worthwhile has been written since!
Nor is Reformed theology necessarily synonymous with being conservative. Rather, it should teach us how to live in a culturally relevant way by the principles of the Reformers who believed we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, all under the authority of the Scriptures alone. The Reformers were rejected by the authorities of the day because they were revolutionary – and that included their understanding of the place and use of music. Indeed, what we know as traditional church music today (hymns, congregational singing in the vernacular, women and men singing) was a radical Lutheran departure of the Catholic experience of chants, choirs and men only – singing in a language no one understood!
One reason why today's music industry is so morally debased is because so few Christians are prepared to get involved in it. What a mission field awaits us! We are the light of the world; we should be shining here. We are the salt of the earth; we should be preventing the moral decay so prevalent in this industry. Indeed, as Christians we should not just be present in the music world: we should be actively working to redeem and transform it unto the glory of God.
However, let us not make the same error as the immature Corinthians who believed “everything is permissible”. They probably reasoned that as Christians they were no longer under law, but under grace. While this is true and wonderfully liberating for the Christian, it is incorrect to conclude that this means we can live as we want.
As Christians, we understand “not everything is beneficial or constructive” and that whatever we do should be done to the glory of God (1 Cor 10).
Much in the Christian life is not simply a matter of right or wrong, but rather of wisdom and folly. The Scriptures tell us to ask God for wisdom, promising He will give it in abundance (James 1:5). And in Romans 12:2 we are warned not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but rather to be transformed in our minds. The church of Jesus Christ needs to be careful not to follow the rapidly changing fashions of the world, but rather to set the standard for the world to follow.
What follows are some of the dangers in today's rock and hiphop scenes. Let us use our sanctified common sense and ask ourselves three questions throughout:
- Is this God glorifying?
- Is this beneficial to others?
- Is this edifying to myself?
1. VOLUME AND NOISE
For every 3 decibels increase in volume of a sound, the safety period of being exposed to that sound is halved. For instance, at 90dB (vacuum cleaner), the safety exposure period is eight hours; at 93dB (lawnmower), it is four hours; at 96dB (bulldozer), two hours. At the average rock concert, the volume is 130dB, which means the safety period is a mere four seconds. Any longer can impair one’s responsiveness, hearing and even sanity levels. And a rock concert without continuous, excessive volume is a contradiction in terms. Nor would any self-respecting fan of Live, Nickleback, Linkin Park, Rammstein or the like listen to their favorite CD with the volume turned down low...
2. RHYTHM AND HYPNOSIS
Rhythm is a natural physical force (heartbeat, walking, breathing). The body readily responds to strong, external rhythmic stimuli (drums, pulsating beats, hypnotic lighting effects), which stimulate the release of adrenaline and sex hormones. In an interview with “Life” in 1969 the late guitarist Jimi Hendrix admitted “You can hypnotise people with music, and when you get them at their weakest, you can preach into their subconscious what you want to say.”
The hardhouse mixes of Benni Benucci and Ferry Corsten is not much more than short, endlessly repeated computer-generated rhythms, with a thumping bass. So too, the hiphop scene of 50cent, Usher, Beyance and Eminem emphasises strong rhythmic rap against a largely amelodic, repetitive backdrop. Prolonged exposure can be trance-inducing.
3. SEXUALITY AND MORALITY
From the outset, music promoters have recognised the power of sex in music. Said Richard Oldham (manager of the Rolling Stones ) in 1971: “Pop music is sex and you have to hit them [teenagers] in the face with it.” Most songs speak of premarital sex as an expected norm. There is hardly a music video seen on MTV (the music channel of DStv) that is not sexually suggestive. Indeed, this visual dimension of today's music is probably more harmful than the music itself.
For the December 2002 Aids Awareness concert, loveLife brought out megastars Alicia Keys, P Diddy and Usher to South Africa. “Use a condom” was their endless message to young people - there was never a mention of abstinence.
Deviant sex is actively used to market rock stars. Will Young shot to fame by declaring himself homosexual in his first interview after winning the 2002 British pop idols competition; the Russian teenage duet Tatu scored instant media interest by promoting themselves as lesbians. Robby Williams' womanising is glamourised as something to be emulated.
But Romans 6:18-20 tells us to “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? ... You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.”
4. DRUG CULTURE
Virtually all clubs assume their clients will be using drugs on their premises. That is why they advertise and provide chill-out rooms (where users come down from their trips in sedate surroundings) and medical facilities (including ambulance evacuations) in their promotion brochures. Terms like “psychedelic playground” and “uplifting trance” are used to describe the venues. Events at clubs are advertised in visual imagery strongly related to the world of drugs.
And have you noticed how many movies (with powerful soundtracks) on drug themes are making money these days? Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction, Lock Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels, Romeo & Juliet are just a few of the more recent ones. Again, the visual counterpart to the music could be even more damaging than the music itself.
5. AUTHORITY AND SOCIETY
George Lees, a rock critic of the 70's said “Rock music has widened the inevitable and normal gap between generations, and turned it from something healthy into something negative, destructive, nihilistic.” It is promoted as a special type of music that only the young can understand, and with it goes clothes and morality that older generations find unacceptable. And so the relationship between parent and child is widened in an era where the family is already under serious attack.
In the past five years, the white rapper Eminem has made his musical mark by degrading people and authority, and using much foul language in his music. His album “The Eminem Show” was the world’s biggest music seller of 2002, and consists of one song after another with explicit four-letter expletives in them. His much applauded movie “8 Mile”, based on his own dysfunctional upbringing, earned $240M. Again, there is hardly a sentence in it without a swear word.
The latest to join this group of musicians, who by their lifestyles and lyrics promote social and family rebellion, are Eman and Frankee, whose tit-for-tat songs “F*** It” and F*** You Right Back” topped the British charts for weeks on end. These songs also received much airplay in South Africa. While foul language is often beeped out on radio, it is left on CDs and on internet and club versions of the songs ...and these are the versions that are known and preferred.
Hiphop also has done a lot of moral damage by the way artists are marketed by their media officials. There is an undeniably strong gangster mentality deliberately portrayed in lyrics, recorded interviews with artists and again, in the visual counterparts to songs, namely promotional videos. Hand signals, foul language, clothing styles and lascivious gyrating are the order of the day for Nelly, Missy Elliot, Ludacris and virtually every hiphop artist.
6. THE CHURCH AND GOD
“None of us believes in God.” was Paul McCartney's candid response in a 1965 “Playboy” interview. And in 1976 David Bowie told “Rolling Stone” “Rock has always been the devil’s music; you can’t convince me it isn’t.” In the 1980's, Madonna (now calling herself Esther) quipped “There’s a naked man hanging on the cross. I find that rather sexy.”
At the May 2003 public hearings for zoning of red-light districts in Cape Town, the anarchic goth rocker and God-hater Marilyn Manson made a guest appearance, sneering at protesting Christians. He was cheered on by the crowd, which included prostitutes and brothel owners. Grammy award winners Evanescence (best newcomers for 2004) were initially marketed as “Christian”; their lead singer Amy Lee ended up ridiculing Christians on their website for so readily embracing their music.
Islam certainly wouldn't tolerate Allah being insulted by musicians; why do Christians allow our Saviour and His church to be degraded by individuals? Titles of songs (“If God is a DJ” - Pink; “Church of the Poisoned Mind” - Culture Club) speak volumes about the artists' attitudes to God, the Bible, its teachings and the Church.
Let us be careful not to associate with those who deserve to be punished more severely, "...who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" Hebrews 10:28-29.
It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.
by Carl Fourie, he is a music critic, High School Teacher and Church Elder