Music in the New Testament Church

7. Evaluation of of rock music and Gospel music


There has been much said concerning the subjects of classic & popular music, gospel music, secular rock music, rock lyrics, and the lifestyles of musicians. It is not the intention to discuss these issues in detail, but to provide some insight into the general nature of this music and to introduce some guidelines in judging its influence.

In this regard the testimonies of the Scriptures, personal experience, and an appeal to the conscience are possible sources of truth.

(2 Cor 4:2 KJV) But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
(Eph 5:8-10 KJV) For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: [9] (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) [10] Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
(2 Tim 3:16 KJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

When the word “music” is being used in this discussion, it refers only to the sound produced by musical instruments, i.e., chords, rhythms, notes, beats, etc., and not the lyrics.

The Scriptures teach us to judge all things

(1 Cor 2:15 NIV) The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
(John 7:24 NIV) Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”
(1 Th 5:21 NIV) Test everything. Hold on to the good.
(Heb 5:14 NIV) But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

The Lord commands us to distinguish between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the unholy

(Lev 10:10 NIV) You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean,
(Ezek 22:26 NIV) Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.
(2 Cor 6:17 NIV) “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”

Musical instruments

In the past and in recent times, there seems to have been a controversy over the nature of musical instruments. Some have suggested that certain instruments are evil in themselves. It is claimed that the instruments that are widely used to produce rock music are evil, such as the electric guitar and bass. The opposite view is also proposed, that all instruments are good in themselves because they have the ability to produce music that glorifies God.

Musical instruments are mentioned frequently in the Scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. Among the different instruments mentioned are harps, psalteries, timbrels, cornets, cymbals, organs, tabrets, trumpets, pipes, viols, dulcimers, flutes, and sackbuts (2 Samuel 6:5, Psalms 150:3-5, Genesis 31:27, I Kings 1:40, Amos 5:23, Daniel 3:5).

In studying these instruments from the Scriptures, it appears that instruments in themselves are neither good nor evil.

Instruments are neutral devices. Nevertheless, these devices can be used for good or evil purposes. For example, the harp, cornet, and psaltery were used by David and the house of Israel to worship God (2 Samuel 6:5). On the other hand, during the time of Daniel these same instruments were used to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, a false god (Daniel 3:4-6). In another passage, God tells Israel to take away the noise of their songs for He will not hear the melody of their viols (Amos 5:21-27). Isaiah 5:11-13 states that in spite of the fact that God’s people used musical instruments in their feasts of worship, He judged them for not considering His work.

God is not concerned so much with instruments, but with the heart attitude of the musician. Musical instruments in themselves are shown to be neutral tools that can be sanctified or defiled by how, or by whom they are used.

The purpose of music

Music was frequently used for worshipping the Lord. King David made musical instruments for the specific purpose of praising the Lord (2 Chronicles 7:6). He also had given the Levites authority to appoint singers and musicians for the service of God (1 Chronicles 15:16-24,28). In one passage, the musical instruments used to glorify God are actually called “instruments of God” (1 Chronicles 16:42). David wrote many psalms encouraging people to praise God with music and instruments (Psalms 33:2,3; 81:1-4; 150:3-6). God is certainly not against music in itself. These passages reveal that God created music for His glory and honor.

Evil seeks to pervert all beautiful things that God creates. There are sure to be types of music that pervert its created purpose.

Music was made for man in much the same way as the sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). Among other things, the Sabbath day was to give man rest and refreshment a special time for devotion of God (Exodus 20:10,11; 23:12). In the same sense, music was created to bring forth attitudes and emotions in man leading to praise, worship, and expressing himself to God. Devotion to God is the ultimate purpose in music; God blesses us with good things to enjoy in Him and never to consume them upon our own lusts (James 4:3).

The question of neutrality in music

Is there such a thing as evil music? Many people would say no. Many, including some Christians, claim that all types of music are neutral and only the lyrics can determine whether a song is morally good or bad. This is one of the major arguments to support “Christian rock music.” The idea is that any type of music (country western, classical, jazz, heavy metal, punk rock, new wave, etc.) is acceptable to God if the lyrics are morally good Most people would agree that

there is such a thing as “evil words.” The scriptures describe evil words with the following adjectives: idle (Matthew 12:36), blasphemous (Acts 6:11), enticing (Colossians 2:4), vain (Ephesians 5:6), filthy and foolish (Ephesians 5:4), flattering

(1 Thessalonians 2:5), profane (1 Timothy 6:20), etc. On the other hand, the Bible speaks of good words as being truthful (Acts 26:25), wholesome (1 Timothy 6:3), edifying (Ephesians 4:29), sound (2 Timothy 1:13), and faithful (Revelation 21:5).

Words form a language that communicates knowledge. Words that communicate heresies, false doctrines, evil imaginations, and blasphemies are evil words. Profanity and vulgar words are considered evil because these words have been abused and perverted. Words that minister edification, wisdom, truth, sound doctrine, etc. are good or wholesome words.

Words then are evil or good depending on the kind of knowledge they impart. In much the same way, music can be good or evil depending on the type of emotions and attitudes it conveys. The Scriptures list the fruits of good and evil as follows.

(Gal 5:22-23 NIV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
(Gal 5:19-21 NIV) The acts (fruit) of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; [20] idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions [21] and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Music has the power and ability to communicate these emotions/motivations to an individual. 1 Samuel 16:14-23, illustrates the tremendous power in music to influence man’s heart attitude. In this passage, an evil spirit is tormenting King Saul. In response to this, Saul’s servants sent for David to play on the harp, to make Saul well again. When David played the harp, Saul was refreshed and the evil spirit departed from him. Notice that David did not sing; he simply played skilfully on the harp. This shows music as a powerful tool apart from lyrics. David was a man after God’s own heart, and the Lord was with him. When David played the harp the attitudes of the Holy Spirit that he himself had, ministered to Saul through the music. i.e., love, joy, peace, etc. . As a result, Saul began to feel refreshed. In Psalms 81:2, Saul was delivered because his attitude was influenced by the godly emotions conveyed through David’s music. The evil spirit had to depart since it was no longer able to trouble Saul.

From this story, one can conclude that music has the capability of driving evil spirits from a person by imparting godly attitudes and emotions to their spirit. In contrast, music communicating ungodly attitudes and emotions to an individual is likely to make evil feel welcome.

Music and good emotions

Music was widely used for communicating and expressing the emotion of joy (1 Samuel 18:6, 1

Chronicles 15:16, Isaiah 30:29). The Scriptures speak about making a “joyful noise” unto the Lord (Psalms 66:1; 81:1; 95:1,2; 98:4,6; 100:1). Among other things, a joyful noise refers to music that expresses and communicates the emotions of joy and gladness of heart.

In the story of the prodigal son, music and dancing were expressions of joy when the wanderer returned home (Luke 15:25). According to Lamentations 5:14,15, music ceases when there is no joy. James 5:13 teaches that when a person is merry (cheerful), they should sing psalms.

Music and evil emotions

In Exodus 32:1-35, we read the story about the children of Israel making and worshipping the golden calf.

Israel sat down to eat, drink, then rose up to play. They danced and sang around the golden calf. This implies that music was being played as well. The people were singing, dancing, drinking, eating, and indulging in sexual immorality while Moses was on the mountain talking with God.

Many of today’s parties which promote fornication and drunkenness are also rarely without some form of music conveying these desires; hence the phrase, “drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll.” The music that was present when Israel sinned, was likely to have conveyed similar emotions of lust and sensuality, fitting the mood of their idolatrous revelry.

In Amos 6:1-7, the prophet sternly rebukes Judah and Israel. Among the sins of false trust, greed, and spiritual apathy, Amos reproves them of their revelry and banqueting where they “sing idol songs to the sound of the viol, invent for themselves instruments of music, and drink wine from sacrificial bowls.”

This is another example in Scripture illustrating how ungodly music, revelry, and drunkenness goes hand in hand.

The Scriptures also speak of revelry and rioting, which in today’s terminology would be called “partying.” The New Testament condemns such activity (1 Peter 4:3, Romans 13:13, Galatians 5:21). The Greek word for revellings or rioting is “komos”, which literally means a carousal as if letting loose. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says that this word is generally used to describe feasts and drinking-parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry. There are certain types of music today as there were in Bible times that can stir up an individual’s flesh, making a person feel like letting loose and carousing. Hard rock music, with its variations, is one such type of music.

Hard rock music

Hard rock can range from high pulsed energy beats, distortion and psychedelic sounds, to heavy blues notes in a minor key. Most of this music is played very loudly. In general the lyrics of most acid rock and heavy metal groups glorify the sins of illicit sexual acts, drug abuse, witchcraft, Satanism, and even suicide in their lyrics. Some groups sing about only a few of these things, while others sing openly about them all. Most punk rock, new wave, and hardcore groups emphasise rebellion against authority, anarchy, physical abuse, and bodily perversions. Much of the hard rock literature, album covers, and group names confirm these things. On the basis of the lyrics, it is clear that a vast majority of these songs promote unrighteousness and are displeasing to God. If a song conveys ideas that are false and encourage people to indulge in or to make light of sin, then the song is evil. (Ephesians 4:29; 5:4,12; 1 Thessalonians 5:22).

In many instances, hard rock music communicates the same attitudes that the lyrics convey; the music usually fits the words.

A good illustration of this concept can be seen through a movie or a television program. Notice the type of background music present during a horror scene. In most cases, the music is eerie. The music is communicating the same emotion as the scene. This is done to promote fear. Would the horror scene have the same effect if country western music was being played in the background?

During a love scene, the background music usually communicates a sensual or a romantic emotion. In the same way, hard rock music imparts similar attitudes to those expressed in the lyrics.

Depending on the particular band or song, hard rock music is very powerful in communicating the attitudes and feelings of lust, sensuality, rebellion, lasciviousness, carelessness, and pride. Certain songs have such an influential beat that they can stir up the desires of a person’s flesh, making them feel sensual and aroused. It is no coincidence that rock music has been linked with illicit sex and drug abuse. Many of the parties today which advocate sin have some form of hard rock music influencing the mood. Often, this music begins to convey emotions of pride, causing individuals to draw attention to themselves. They feel strong, self-confident, and secure. This is a misplaced security. It is merely the result of the mood set by the powerful sound of hard rock.

Why rock music is so popular

Hard rock music is very popular among the youth of our society. Rock fans spend a great deal of money and time on concerts, rock literature, albums, tapes, etc. What causes multitudes of young adults to be attracted and attached to this type of music? The obvious answer is because they like it. So the real question becomes, why do they like it? The answer is found in understanding the emotions conveyed through rock music.

Although some claim to enjoy hard rock based on musical appreciation, most people like it because of how it makes them feel. Again, the underlying reason has to do with the emotions conveyed. Many people have become dependent on this music. Hard rock has such a dynamic ability to provide an emotional outlet, that it becomes addictive to some degree. Christians who desire to follow the Lord, can have difficulty because they refused to part with this unwholesome music. The attachment can become so great, that people begin to worship the music as if it were a god, and they fall into idolatry. In essence, they love their music more than they love God.

Personal taste and the spiritual

There is a vast difference between criticising something based on personal taste and judging something based on the knowledge of the truth. A large majority has never disliked the sound of rock music. Many have listened to rock music for years. From the Beatles in an early age, through 1979, hard rock, British rhythm and blues from the late 60’s early 70’s. Bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, along with high school rock bands and the teen years of rock concerts. This scene soon begins to possess the hearts of the devotee.

The Lord can reveal the effect that this music has on the spiritual walk to those who ask and it will be found that He will demand preeminence in the believers’ heart. God said that He will not have any other gods before Him

The Scriptures also encourage us not to be in bondage to anything (1 Corinthians 6:12 & 2 Peter 2:19).

To acknowledge that one is enslaved, and that Rock music does not help faith in Christ, but hampers it, is the first big step. Both the music and the attachment need to be dealt with in repentance.

Often the why of “I spent so many hours listening to this music” is because of the feelings of self-confidence, pride, and power that it imparts and its value as an outlet to release feelings of frustration and hurt. This is a sense of false security and we become dependent on music rather than on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian rock music?

There are basically two schools of thought concerning this music.

The first view claims that all types of music are neutral and that only the lyrics determine the nature of a song. That Christian hard rock music is an evangelistic tool designed to attract young unbelievers. Through the lyrics or the message given at a Christian rock concert, many of these young people will hear and come to believe the gospel. The primary purpose of this music is to reach a group of people that have never set foot in a church, yet love rock n’ roll.

The second school of thought deals with the concept that music is not neutral. The claim is that Christian rock is evil because of the nature of rock music itself. Rock music is evil because of its negative history and association with such things as the drug culture, the sex revolution, the hippie movement, and the obscene lifestyles promoted by many rock musicians. Due to the defiling element of rock music, Christian rock is ungodly and revolting.

Many believers avoid issues of controversy and disagreement for fear of causing division. However, the Scripture says that this may well be so. In another place the word states, “prove (test) all things; hold fast to that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). In order to discern what is good or evil, one must prove or test it first.

(1 Cor 11:19 NRSV) Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.

Most Christian rock performers and groups speak about good things in their lyrics. They usually speak about the truth of God’s word, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the salvation that is available through the Lord Jesus Christ. Some speak about the Christian walk and spiritual warfare. Many glorify the name of Jesus Christ. Since the knowledge that is communicated through the words is usually good, then it would follow that the lyrics are usually good. The only difference between a Christian rock song and a secular rock song is the lyrics; the music is no different. This is confirmed by the fact that many contemporary Christian performers have borrowed the tunes of popular secular songs and have put Christian lyrics to them.

Music can be good or evil depending on the emotions it conveys. Hard rock music communicates the emotions of sensuality, pride, lasciviousness, etc. Since Christian rock music is the same as secular rock music, these same emotions are conveyed through the music.

In Christian rock, both the clean and the unclean are present. The lyrics are communicating righteousness, but the music is communicating unrighteousness. The Bible describes such a mixture as impure and unholy.

The Scriptures condemn mixing the clean with the unclean (Galatians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 5:6,7; Leviticus 10:10). In the Old Testament, the mixed multitude among Israel typified the worldly element in the church (Exodus 12:38,

Numbers 11:4, 1 Corinthians 10:1-6). Israel finally separated herself from these people (Nehemiah 13:3). 1

Peter 1:15,16 commands us to be holy. The Greek word for holy is “hagios”, which means separated from sin and consecrated to God. “Hagios” comes from the root word which is translated “pure.”

Pure means free from defilement, not contaminated; hence, not mixed. If something is pure and holy, there is no spot, blemish, wrinkle, or mixture in it (Ephesians 5:27). When listening to Christian rock, one can sense a spirit of mixture in the inner man. The words are saying something good, but the music is saying something totally different

One way to determine the effectiveness of a ministry is to examine its fruit. Jesus told his disciples to beware of false prophets (Matthew 7:15). He told them that the way to recognise the true from the false was to examine their fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). This is a principle that can be applied today. It has been said that Christian rock has been effective in reaching the lost for the Lord. No doubt there are those who experienced genuine salvation through the influence of a Christian rock musician. However, even this does not justify the music.

Although Christian rock may be effective in bringing many people to hear the gospel message, this in itself does not make it right. Just as Christian rock has the ability to lead people to the Lord by its words, it also has the potential of leading people back into the world through its image and the attitudes conveyed through its music. A significant question is what type of Christians does this sort of ministry produce? Does Christian hard rock produce godly righteous individuals who are separated from sin and the world?

Many believe that Christians should change their image to relate to people in the world. They argue that even Jesus did this when he ate with sinners, and the Apostle Paul likewise said that he became all things to all men that he might win some to the gospel. Although there is some truth to this suggestion, it can be taken to the extreme. The danger is in becoming too much like the world. Jesus ate with sinners for the purpose of saving them, yet at the same time the Scripture says that He was separate from them (Hebrews 7:26). When Jesus related to sinners He never lowered God’s standard. The gospel message is one of separation from the world (James 1:27; 4:4; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; 1 John 2:15-17). Paul makes it very clear in Romans 12:2 that believers should not be conformed to the image of this world. The word “conformed” means to render like or to imitate. This is one of the dangers in Christian rock. Their image and example is unscriptural, as well as the emotions communicated through their music. Paul told Timothy to be an example in speech, conduct, faith, love and purity (the absence of mixture).

The conscience question

In dealing with issues on which the Bible seems, Christians must learn how to find the truth through other avenues. One avenue is through the conscience. There is very little taught today regarding the conscience. Our conscience, which is a part of our spirit or heart, is extremely helpful in discerning right from wrong. The conscience was designed to be an inward monitor that approves or disapproves actions (Romans 2:15 & 1 John 3:20,21). The conscience bears witness to the truth (Romans 9:1, 2 Corinthians 1:12, 1 Timothy 1:5).

The Apostles lived by the dictates of their conscience and taught others to live in all good conscience. (Acts 24:16, 1 Timothy 1:19, 3:9, 2 Timothy 1:3, Hebrews 13:18, 1 Peter 3:16). It is dangerous to ignore one’s own conscience.

Some people confuse their conscience with their thoughts or emotions. They tend to rationalise their actions through logic and reason and confuse this for the voice of conscience. Others go so far as refusing to obey their conscience for a long time. In this case, their conscience may not function properly. The Bible describes a person in this state as having a seared conscience and a reprobate mind (1 Timothy 4:2 & Titus 1:15,16). When a person is in this condition, they no longer can distinguish between good and evil.