Music is a topic in which many people in the Christian community have varying views and philosophies. Usually, the questions sound like: what music is worldly? Is worldly music okay if it’s not blatantly bad and carries a wholesome message? How about instrumental music? All valid questions. God cares about these things.
We have to remember one thing about music, it is not solely an expression of art or creativity, but a medium. Any time matter is vibrating, sound is being produced. Waves are produced carrying energy that is separate from light, water, temperature, etc. A Greek philosopher, known as Pythagoras was able to discover a way to organize pitches in a way that can be categorized. He took strings of different materials and stretched them across his house and calculated the distances in which he plucked each one. Doing this, he discovered intervals and modes, the very basis (outside of rhythm) that all modern music theory is based on. After his discovery of the modes (spheres), other Greeks began to relate with the emotional atmospheres each mode produces. For instance, therapists would play on harps in the hypophrygian mode in order to help alcoholics overcome their addiction. This is the same concept behind music today. In film scores, certain modes and tonal centers contribute better to certain scenarios than others. A composer wouldn’t use the music from a horror film interchangeably with that of a romantic comedy. The modes provoke different emotions.
I know that was a lengthy, rough introduction to music history but it’s necessary to understand the rationale behind being selective about the music you listen to. David, as a young man was often called in to play his harp and an evil spirit literally fled and dispersed from Saul after having taken him over (1 Samuel 16:14-23). We have to remember that music is a medium. It is an actual manifestation of God’s Word just like any other matter. When David played, he was in tune with the Spirit of God and so the melodies and “riffs” he decided to play were kin to that connection.
Worldly music. The name is the answer to the question, “is it okay?” Again, music is a medium and is built to invoke emotions in a very particular way. Another important thing to note is that Satan absolutely has his hand in it. I know that’s a concept that’s just kind of thrown around but even the short passage (Ezekiel 28:12-15) gives us an idea of what God had in mind for the cherub. An ultimate musical instrument was being constructed at the same time Satan was created. Satan’s music was meant to be a part of a heavenly covering among the angels. When Satan fell, he lost his authority but didn’t lose his function. Secular music has historically had some kind of function. The orchestras, field bands, string quartets all served a certain purpose. Maybe to welcome a foreign leader to an event, or other types of royal ceremony, or for study. On the other hand, attending the opera was a sure chance at vain content but attendees knew that going in (for the most part). What the secular music industry has done today is taken the agenda of several songwriters and producers (or whoever is endorsing them) and coupled corresponding lyrics (self-hate, objectification, sexual abuse, drug abuse, etc.) with music that invokes the opposite emotional response. For example, Bruno Mars has a tune called “Marry You”. If you were to read the lyrics you’ll see that it’s about a man and woman who get so inebriated that they decide to get married on a whim, realizing they will regret everything the next day and most likely split up. Spotify has this song as the #2 most played wedding song in 2018 (https://bit.ly/2QLbKsQ). I would assume that most people wouldn’t want to be blasting those lyrics into their consciousness on that magical day and yet there’s no question to include that song in the playlist. Even my first time hearing the song all the way through (at a wedding for an apostolic couple) I was completely ignorant to the message. Why? Modes. Grooves. Sound production. The song is filled with bright chord progressions, pop-grooves, and a heavy emphasis on a single line. “I think I wanna marry you”(which by itself is extremely harmful but can seem cute). On my first listen, my only thoughts were about how catchy, celebratory, and fun it sounded. Then there’s the claim, “well I just listen to the song because I like the beat/how it sounds, not the lyrics”. Not a thing, sorry. Even if you feel like you are not at all conscious of what the words are saying, you are absolutely ingesting that message. The lyrics are not its own entity within a song. It is 100% incorporated into the musical production. The words are directly linked to rhythmic and melodic phrases so that it lives homogeneously with “the beat”. When you sing the beat of the song, you will not avoid memorizing the lyrics.
I’ve heard a lot of controversy and “spilled tea” about how songwriters and artists approach Christian music. There is often the claim made that Christian artists are merging their musical styles with that of the secular industry. Therefore, listening to contemporary Christian music is like an equivalent to listening to secular music. I will say that there are a number of songs out there that have great lyrics but the instrumentals are clearly that of a secular idiom. What I mean is that the instrumentals are almost exclusively used with secular acts (clubs, parties, raves, etc.). I personally think that should be avoided. If you want to express that Jesus loves you, don’t use a track that is obviously reminiscent of a heavy metal band. There are particular lifestyle traits that are publicly known to be tied to heavy metal. That being said, the broad claim that all Christian music is heading toward the world is false. Musicians of all kinds have been following after each other since the antiquity. The studying of music, for a musician, isn’t always inherently about what kind of message it will send, but about simply studying. Musicians study all kinds of music for the sake of becoming a better musician. Even David was known for his impact on his environment because of how skillfully he played. Styles and approaches are inevitably going to sound similar. It’s been this way for a long time. Even the songs from the good-ole days, songs that send congregations flying from the chandelier were modeled after the shuffle, country, and blues bands. God has not been honoring the style, rather the devotion to play skillfully as well as dedicating the lyrics to glorifying Him. The only way you’d have the right to say that your church’s music is nothing like the world is if you were singing homiphonal chants in unison without clapping.
So if you’re wanting to take inventory on what kind of music you’re listening to, I would personally consider these things:
• Does Jesus get glory?
• Am I being productive with this music in the background?
• Do I feel empty after jamming out to this?
• Are there lyrics I “bleep” out when I sing along?
• Would I play it around someone I’m witnessing to?