Contemporary Christian Music
Right or Wrong???

The following article is condensed from our live seminar on the subject of CCM. This short format was created for the purpose of engaging often widely diverse Christians into considering a biblical defense of what they believe [rather than tradition, or opinion]. As always we welcome comments and opinions, but most of all Biblical defenses! God Bless as you seek to find His perfect will.

Brent MacDonald

Music Discernment

Fact: It's important to understand Christian music because we're instructed to be using it regularly...

Ephesians 5:19 "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord"

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

Goals & Limitations of this study.

  • We can't examine all of CCM in the time we have [or in the confines of only this short article!].

  • We need to establish a biblical criteria for examining all music.

  • We want to allow you to ask questions and share your thoughts about CCM. [Email us with them!]

What is CCM?

Contemporary is dictionary defined as something "belonging to the same age; living or occurring at the same time" (F&W dictionary. pg. 137, vol. 1). So in a broad sense, Contemporary Christian Music is any Christian Music written or produced in this time era.

Most critics of CCM tend to equate the "Contemporary" part of this label to only styles that are new to these most recent generations like POP, Rock, & Rap. Although these account for much of what is being sold today, you can find virtually every style from the past including hymns, classical, acappela, plain song (chant), southern gospel, folk and more on current CCM labels.

As for being Contemporary "Christian" music, the word "Christian" has traditionally (historically) implied music for and by Christians.

Does music affect you?

Clearly yes — music that is soothing, slower, quieter tends to induce the same type of responses in the listener. On the other hand, music that is fast paced, upbeat, and loud physiologically (or bodily) affects the listener in those ways; to the point that even their heart-beat has been clinically shown to be accelerated.

One query that often arises from this is the question of whether or not it is right or wrong to be excited by the stimulus in the music. Another way to ask this question -- "Is it wrong Biblically to be excited, upbeat, fast-paced and loud?"

The answer, of course, is no! These emotions are part of how God has made us and clearly there is a time and place for the entire spectrum of these responses.

Psalms 47:1 Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph!

Psalms 150:1-6 Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!

One more thought regarding bodily influences. While a number of writers have written about how music can "change metabolism, affect muscular energy, raise or lower blood pressure," etc., and have even claimed this to be addictive due to it's pleasurable effects, they have not really made a case against its usage. If seeking out things that are pleasurable is addictive behavior, most of the planet are addicts. We all tend to return to things that give us pleasure. It's only if this pleasure is biblically wrong that this becomes sin (see Hebrews 11:25, Galatians 5:13). A British study released in 2000 showed that eating curry produces physiological changes similar to taking drug stimulants, prompting at least one news service to title their article, "Addicted to Curry?" (Reuters, Oct 25, 2000). The caffeine in coffee would be guilty of the same offense. If everything that produces bodily reaction and subsequently pleasure is wrong, don't just throw out the music, toss the curry and coffee with it... and likely a lot of other good things as well.

Okay, still another thought about bodily influences. Others cite studies that show music with a pronounced rhythm, or excessive volume, can kill plants — "if played long enough, the plants actually died." While it is true that extreme volumes can harm us (i.e. our hearing), the conclusions of these studies are seriously flawed. While many biased researchers quickly claim that the effects on plants can be carried to humans, they do so with no evidence — "Presumably, the same effect [on humans] can result in the negative sense, from bad music." This is bad science. Wonder why the plant may have died? With a speaker directed right at the plant combined with a greater volume, the sound waves effectively act as a continual breeze. Even a tree growing in the wild subjected to strong and continual coastal breezes will grow stunted. How much more effect would this have on a delicate plant. The classical music that is almost always use in contrast is always played at a lower decibel level and would not have the same effect.

Two primary classifications of Christian Music

We can use the symbol of the cross to help remember them.

The horizontal bar can be used to represent music whose primary purpose is to express truth's horizontally to other people. Needless to say, these truth need to be Biblical Christian truths to be "Christian" Music.

The vertical bar, likewise, represents music that is vertical -- it's primary purpose is directly up and down, between you and God. This music includes that which worships God, is a prayer to God, and some that echoes God's message to us. Vertical music often tends to be quieter and softer, but not always. Perhaps this best reflects Psalms 46:10 which tells us to "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

Many songs include elements of both horizontal and vertical within them.

Can (and should) Christians use things that
are first developed by the world?

Talking about styles of music currently available today is one of the fastest ways to have a disagreement with many Christians.

At the heart of the argument behind many who would say that most modern styles are wrong – and have no place with Christian music – is the issue of whether or not it is right to use a style first developed (or at least popularized) by a non-Christian for non-Christian purposes (often proclaiming a worldly message).

To understand this better, let's look at a few (perhaps absurd) non-music parallels...

Let's say: Toasters were invented by a non-Christian, some people have died from the misuse of toasters (by sticking forks in them, etc.). So can we as Christians use a toaster and use it for something good? Of course!

Another. Let's say: Cars were invented by a non-Christian, powered by an explosive, and are one of the biggest killers of people in North America today? But can Christians use them and for good purposes? Once again, of course!

BUT, some would say, we're talking about entertainment here... So let's use an entertainment example.

Let's say: Baseball (or Basketball, or Hockey) was created by a non-Christian. They have become some of the largest, most greedy enterprises today, but is it okay for Christians to play ball (or hockey) as an activity? Careful now... they could be pleasurable. The bottom line is, that minus the greed [i.e. sin or misuse], it's fine to play these games.

What gets most people the most bothered about music – and the reason it is often judged by a different criteria – is the widespread, public, abuse of secular music in its message and influence, especially with young people.

This is not a new occurrence. A hundred years ago, the same arguments existed over the use of pianos in churches. (For that matter some churches today still won't use one). Why? Because pianos were first used as bar room instruments. Yet today, the piano, second only to the organ, is probably the most used instrument in the church for musical worship.

Some have tried to say that all music with a drum beat is wrong because it (multiple choice, chose any or all of the following)...

  • Uses a pagan voodoo drum beat

  • Is based upon music taken from voodoo drum beats

  • Uses drums which are/were voodoo instruments.

Whether or not any of these are true, these arguments rise and fall on the same question of whether or not the instrument, or style, can be used for good once it's been used for evil. [Another way to say this... Is the medium the problem or only the message? Both the instrument and the style of music can be considered part of the medium, unless one can objectively – by Scriptures – prove that one is inherently evil itself. Misuse, or prior use, of a medium cannot be the factor that makes an entire medium evil. If this was so, every medium once used in a corrupt way could never be redeemed or used for a good purpose ever again. People holding to this view, to be consistent, would have to never watch movies or television, because the medium was created first for a secular purpose.]

Let's look at the Bible on this...

1 Corinthians 10:23-30 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. (24) Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being. (25) Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience' sake; (26) for "the earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness." (27) If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience' sake. (28) But if anyone says to you, "This was offered to idols," do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience' sake; for "the earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness." (29) "Conscience," I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man's conscience? (30) But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?

(The context of this is: Paul talking about eating meats offered to idols – yet we have freedom but should not use it to offend others. See verse 32 following the above passage)

The bottom line: All instruments and most styles of music can be used to the glory of God. This said "most" styles because other Biblical criteria should also apply in discerning what's good and not.

The only restriction on our Christian freedom is to not use anything to sin or as an excuse to sin.

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Cultural Norms

Most evangelized nations in the world historically took existing music and styles and recreated them for worship after their conversion.

Yet, many are quick to judge the music of another culture by the standard of their own. (i.e. Is it okay for Chinese believers to use Chinese music or African music to be used by African cultures, etc. Is only western church music okay?)

As for styles of music... Blues style spirituals, southern gospel, country, and bluegrass are just a few styles that are culturally based and widely accepted in given regions or groups within North America. An individual who has always listened to that style of music can worship God just as effectively, if not more so, than with other styles not normally employed.

Nothing says you have to like all the styles that exist, even among differing cultures, yet we can all appreciate and understand the diversity and effectiveness of them in their respective settings.

  • What culture do you think bagpipes would be effective in?

  • What culture do you think rap music would be effective in?

Criteria for evaluating Christian Music

The Philippians 4:8 test...

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-- think about these things.

Galatians 5:22-23 test...

Does the artist and message display the fruit of the Spirit... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no law. (2 Peter 1:5-8 again references "self-control")

Can you hear the message?

Again, remember that some who are used of a particular style may find it much easier to follow than one who is not used to it.

1 Corinthians 14:8-9 "For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air."

Is the style of music inherently against God's revealed character and nature?

If the music is intentionally chaotic, you need to question whether it could be glorifying to the God of Order revealed to us in scriptures.

Colossians 2:5 For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. (Also Exodus & Leviticus re temple ordinances etc.)

If the music is presented, or designed, to intentionally display or promote rebellion... How could this being glorifying to the God who stated that "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.

1 Samuel 15:23a For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft...

And no — there is no such thing as "Christian Rebellion". That's a contradiction, we never rebel against the world. Rather we are obedient to the ultimate authority which is God. It's the world that's in rebellion. (1 John 5:3-4)

Is the music edifying (meaning building up) Christians? This will be the case if it is expressing truth horizontally or vertically.

1 Corinthians 10:23-30 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.

Ephesians 5:1 tells us

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.

with the Greek word translated as imitators literally mean "to mimick". If we are mimicking or imitating God, a test that should apply to all we do is the question "would Jesus listen to this, or watch this, or go here."

(The evaluation of this WWJD cannot be by arbitrary means. It must be by the standard of Scripture – God's revealed will.)

Balance in music listening habits

  • There's a time and place for varying styles and the emotions they affect. Church or worship services would naturally use more vertical music.

  • Like the Cross in our example, there should be more vertical than horizontal music within our listening habits. This balance in musical listening patterns is often completely lacking — in many cases leaning only to the horizontal — especially with young people.

Can I listen to any non-Christian music?

1 Corinthians 10:31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Colossians 3:17 "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

The thought behind these verses should govern all we do... That it all be to God's Glory and in His name.

Outside of Christian music there are three other primary divisions. To evaluate and classify them we must examine their Message (lyrics & images), Intent (use), and the Artist's Lifestyle (and testimony).

  1. Secular - Non-Christian (i.e. includes New Age instrumental music and other religious songs)

  2. Amoral - Songs that convey no morals (i.e. "Jingle Bells" and much instrumental music)

  3. Moral - Songs about good things that should be done. (Includes many kid's songs about brushing your teeth or being kind, etc.)

Amoral & moral songs are not offensive to God, so most Christians generally have no problem with listening to them occasionally. But when amoral or moral music replaces Christian as your primary music then there becomes a problem.

One big problem in the CCM industry is the mislabeling of songs, if not entire albums. A song that doesn't express Christian truths horizontally, much less vertically — even though sung by a Christian — no more makes it one than you being a cow because you walk around wearing a sign saying you are one. Let's keep the "Christian" label for music that is truly Christian.

What about the artists?

To be truly Christian music, the artist must be Christian...

Think about it! Can a non-Christian do anything that is pleasing to God? No. Because they are not acting out of faith!

Hebrews 11:6a "And without faith it is impossible to please God..."

Romans 14:23b "...for whatever is not from faith is sin."

With CCM being the only large growing market left in the music industry, many non-Christians are crossing over into the CCM venue. This calls for discernment on behalf of the listeners. Some have lyrics that have no Christian message whatsoever, many more have lifestyles completely contradictory to any Christian message or testimony they may profess. Some don't even profess to be Christians, they're only being marketed as such -- often with statements like "I'm just getting back to my Christian roots". Generic "I love Jesus" statements are not sufficient as a testimony -- even members of cults like Mormons and Jehovah's witnesses would make these statements.

Hebrews 5:14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 "Test all things; hold fast what is good." (Also Ephesians 5:10 & Romans 12:2)

How about "cross-over" artists
to secular venues and media?

Taking and expressing your Christian views into your secular place of employment is a must for all Christians. This is being Salt and Light to the unsaved world around us. (Note: The majority of producers and distributors of Christian Music, and for that matter Bibles, are secular companies now)

Matthew 5:13-16 "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (14) "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Sadly, the power of the secular music entertainment industry is such that many (but not all) Christian artists that have crossed over have compromised their message, or their lifestyle, to the point that their Christianity has taken a back-seat. Part of this comes from a Christian culture today that is not rooted in God's Word ("gospel lite") — many don't knowing what they believe, let alone standing unswervingly on it.

Also another problem with the crossover venue is that some Christians use the excuse that listening to secular music radio is okay because there are some Christian artists on it. One large personal concern is that rather than the often expressed intent of drawing non-Christians to listening to more Christian music, the real effect has been to draw more Christians to listen to non-Christian music.

Yes, we still need Christian influence in our secular entertainment industry – including television and music – but to make a real difference it's going to take people with a resolve to be uncompromising for the cause of Christ -- untainted by the filth and corruption of the industry around them.

Can CCM be used for evangelism?

Related Question: Is Christian music a good vehicle for evangelism?

The Bible is clear that the one given method of evangelism is the preaching and teaching of God's Word.

Romans 10:14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

Wherein, and to the extent that, the music directly conveys God's word; music can aid in this process — but the focus should still be preaching and teaching (which includes personal evangelism). Some CCM artists have been able to combine teaching ministry with their music quite effectively. (i.e. Thom Shumate, Al Denson).

Doctrine and CCM

1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

John 4:24 "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

Sound doctrine and truth should be of concern to all Christians. CCM music must be judged by Scripture as to it's message. Too many Christians base their theology on songs, or accept aberrant teachings in their music, because a prominent artist or group has sung it. The absolute criteria for any doctrine must remain the scriptures. This is not to say that any one error in words by an artist automatically negates their ministry or music [anymore than it would a pastor or teacher]. Chronic error does for sure.

(Example: Satan bite the dust / Carman. Line: "I speak to you demons like dogs.")

Contrast this song of Carman's to 2 Peter 2:10b-11 & Jude vers. 8-10...

2 Peter 2:10-11 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; (11) yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord.

Jude 1:8-9 In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. (9) But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"

Clearly the line "I speak to you demons like dogs" does not follow the scriptural mandate. But are all Carman's songs wrong — NO! The vast majority are completely scriptural. Again — judge all music by Scriptures.

Truly all CCM artists that profess to be using their music as ministry, placing themselves into positions as ministers of the gospel, should be under the same narrow criteria established by Scripture, as preachers and teachers, because of their visibility. One of the greatest concerns within the CCM industry is many artists and groups who are accountable to no one - not a church, a board, no one at all. The importance of teachers is shown clearly by James 3:1...

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

Without this accountability, the public moral failure of many CCM artists often allows the individual to remain in the industry — sometimes fully making a mockery of the cause of Christ and Christian ministry.

(Sandy Patti? Michael English? First Call? Ron Moore? Amy Grant?)

Ephesians 5:3 "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people."

Is the CCM industry perfect?

The CCM industry does have problems — but that should not stop us from striving for perfection. We need to be ready and willing to point out it's problems for the sake of making things better.

Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Regardless of the industries' problems we need to be exercising our own individual Christian discernment — because what matters is what you and I are doing in the sight of God.

Besides, the only thing that keeps errant and questionable CCM artists in the industry is the buying and listening Christian public. (Regardless of the crossover argument, Christian music is almost always bought by professing Christians). You can vote for change with your wallets.