Ahhhh, music and Christians. I remember the 90s and the “worship wars” that happened. Some churches believed (and taught) that God’s music only came from the hymnal and only played on the organ & piano. Guitars, drums, and basically any other instrument is out of the question. Furthermore, any genre outside hymnody was out. All styles of music for the Christian are really just one style: hymns – the older, the better.
Now, as you may know (or not know, so I will expose you to it), these beliefs have not disappeared. In fact, last night I had one of my youth (a 14 year old young man) approach me about this very issue. Is there a certain style of music that is God’s music? Should Christians listen or not listen to certain genre’s? His question went like this:
“Without the lyrics, non-Christian and Christian rock/pop sounds the same. But with hymns, there are no non-Christian hymns. Therefore, isn’t that the approved music of God?”
Although my answer is no exhaustive and I am sure there will be much debate over this issue, here is how I answered him (I trust it will be helpful to you).
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All creative expressions of humans (art, literature, theater, games, music, etc.) reflections of humans being made in the image of God. Humanity, unlike the rest of creation, are created to be creative. All the rest of God’s creation shows no ability to be willfully creative. If they show creativity (like the beauty of a spider web), it is because God built that into their nature and not in their will. For humans, made after the image of our God, who is the Creator of all things, we are creative and desire to be creative. So, we make sculptures, paintings, wood art, technology, etc. And in this, humanity reflects God’s creativity, with is for our enjoyment and for His glory.
To the question of music: all music is an expression of the image of God within us. The music in and of itself is not sinful. In fact, music was a part of humanity very early on (Gen 4:21) and then throughout Scripture, music for praising God was done with singing and with all kinds of musical instruments. For example, in 2 Chronicles 25, we find a 288-voice choir alongside a variety of instruments. Hezekiah loved stringed instruments (guitars?) in Isaiah 38:20. The Psalms mention a wide variety of instruments that are for the praises of God (trumpets, flutes, horns, harps, lyres. Tambourines, cymbals, etc.). Many of the songs were written with the expressed purpose of being sung alongside musical instruments (e.g., Pss 4, 6, 54, 55, 61). Jesus sang (Mark 14:26). Paul instructed the Gentile church to sing (Eph 5:19). And James said, “Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises” (Jas 5:13). Even in the prophetic book of Revelation, at the end of the ages, new songs will be written for the praise of God (Rev 14:2-3).
So, music in and of itself is not sinful. It is an expression of our being made in God’s image and it is one way to praise God.
Now, real briefly, let me pause to define music so that we are on the same page. I think Merriam-Webster does a fine job: “the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.” Note the words “ordering,” “succession,” “composition,” “unity and continuity.” These words have to do with the order that music is meant to have. Without order, without succession from start to finish, there is no music. There must be a beginning and end. There must be a flow of thought or feeling. There must be order. If some sound is labeled “music” and does not have order and flow to it, it cannot rightly be termed music.
So looking at the various genres of our day: can rock, jazz, country, blues, polka, gospel, classical, hip hop, musicals, world, disco, march, Latin, folk, R&B, electronic, pop, soul, film scores, reggae, ska, African, children, funk, and hymnody fit into the definition of music? Of course. Then these genres honor God in their creative expression.
Now, what do we do with music that dishonors Christ? Read this next line carefully now:
The only music that can dishonor Christ is music with lyrics.
In other words, music without lyrics does not dishonor Christ. Bad theology, false teaching, vulgar words, abusive language is what dishonors God (Prov 12:18; Acts 5:1-11; Eph 4:29-31; 5:4). And when these are put to music — as they regularly are by those who hate Christ and His Word — then they have perverted the purpose and joy of music that God has given.
Therefore, genres (that is, music styles without lyrics) are all a matter of preference.If you listen to music that has no lyrics (classical, movie scores, etc.), then it is to God’s glory and your enjoyment. Listen to your hearts delight. If you listen to Christian-lyric music, style/genre is up to everyone’s own liking.
But can I listen to music that is secular? Music that has lyrics that are not Christian? That I will leave for another time and maybe another blogger. For now, all music genres are to God’s glory and for our enjoyment as God’s creatures.