Sunday, June 19, 2011

Music on a Biblical Scale

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Call it open honesty or religious ideology, here are my theological views on "secular music".

Copyright ©2010 by Earl Goedvolk. All rights reserved.

Permission is hereby granted to freely read, copy, distribute, print and store this material with the express condition that without written permission from the author, (1), neither this article nor any portion thereof be sold or associated with any product, service or work; (2), this work remains fully complete and unmodified; (3), this dissertation is circulated, held in reserve and reproduced only in its entirety and original form. If you wish to incorporate portions of this manuscript where distribution conditions are different, please write the author to request permission.

Scriptural quotations are from the King James Version Bible. Italic, underscore and upper-case letters have been added for emphasis by the writer.

Table of Contents

Prologue
The Criteria
The Principal
The Sentiment
    Rules
    Judgments
    Traditions
Finale

Prologue

My career as a guitarist began at the age of thirteen, when my mother bought me a guitar. I remember opening the cardboard box it came in, attending my first lesson and returning home with absolute assurance that I could play my favorite song on the radio. Only then did I realize that it wasn't going to be that simple!

My eccentricity soon emerged during the lessons I attended for about six earl13-390_thumbmonths thereafter, when I demonstrated to my teacher how a F bar chord was unrealistic and that one finger over the first fret was a far easier alternative. He let me off too easy! Aside from my eagerness to redefine chord shapes – as I still do today - my musical parents and upbringing were of great influence to me. At their direction I sang on the radio at the age of seven. My mother also led me to attend some piano lessons, while my dad inspired me with his ability to sight read as efficiently as improvising. I will always be deeply grateful to both my parents for their commitment, example and love, and to my mother who first encouraged me to play the guitar.

Approximately two years after those initial lessons I began playing everywhere I could: concerts, churches, meetings, school events, my English class (just think how much more I would have played if Spanish was an option then ;) On occasion my dad would join me at school, where we'd sing together to the tune of my twelve-string acoustic. At the age of twenty-two and during my theological studies, I founded a guitar academy with a fellow musician. We began writing our own tuition manuals, which I developed for many years thereafter. Soon, we had formed a band with Joe Jackson's drummer and recorded an album before relocating to the UK. There, I worked as a music director while tutoring music at my guitar institution in two Berkshire locations. To date I have performed for a wide range of audiences, playing frequently in the company of dignitaries that include British Royalty, the Queen's Counselor and a certain billionaire. Producing, sound engineering and studio musicianship are also an integral part of my background. All the while I had been highly outspoken about the role that music should play in the life of the Christian. Practically everyone who knew me in the past understood my so-called "Christian" music standpoint. I doubt they could ever anticipate what I am about to say here.

The subject we are going to consider is decisively delicate and emotive. We respond just as we do to other areas of theology: In line with our convictions, feelings, traditions and interpretation of Scripture. Naturally, there are differing sentiments, but we need not confuse them for what is scripturally correct. Unfortunately, today's theology is largely determined by what people believe and feel is acceptable. Yet the Bible and every aspect of the Christian life are not based on feelings but the eternal and final written Word of God. Scripture addresses this powerfully in many instances, such as in Mark 7:6-9:
"He answered and said unto them, Well hath Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honored me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."
So I am often reminded that nothing of ourselves, including our emotions and persuasions, can ever be trusted. Somehow, we have a "natural" tendency to believe things are biblical when they are not, and to be convicted of issues that are not sinful at all. In effect, the only surety in this world is unswerving faith in God's written Perspective. That piece of work has been completed forever, but some of the verses of our lives still have to be rewritten. After all, we are the Author's greatest literation.
Earl


The Criteria

This matter of secular music and all others that pertain to right and wrong can be effectively discussed and concluded with a single verse in the Bible, namely, 1 John 3:4:
"Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."
This verse may seem an unlikely answer since it does not contain a word about music, but it is the only yardstick we will ever need. Sin is the transgression of the law, the law being the Scriptures.[1] Thus, everything that is not explicitly mentioned as sinful in the Bible is not sinful. It really is as straightforward as that! To rephrase: If the Bible does not specifically condemn whatever we are doing then we are not sinning in those instances. Compare the following:
"For without the law sin was dead." (Romans 7:8) 
"For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Romans 5:13) 
"…where no law is, there is no transgression." (Romans 4:15)
So it is indisputable that only God's written Law rightly defines and condemns sin, and nothing is ever sinful beyond it. Yes, the scriptures also emphasize the need to obey God's voice subjectively, like when He instructed Jonah to go to Nineveh.[2] But that does not imply that everyone had to go there, much less – dare I say – preach against the city!

Now let us apply the principle. Does the Divine Law discuss secular music? Does the Bible mention the phrase "secular music"? Does it condemn secular music? 1 John 3:4 and the rest of the scriptures all say No! In fact, there is no basis at all for the "secular" distinction. While most of the book of Psalms and numerous passages in the New Testament encourage us to play music for and to God, nowhere in the entire Bible is anyone judged for playing music that is not religiously orientated.

The Principal

Of course, not all music is wholesomely beneficial. For instance, we should not play or listen to anything that is in favor of the devil and immorality:
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8)
That is all the music ethics we need as Christians and should not have to pursue this topic further. But we might as well address a few additional concerns that often arise.

The Sentiment

Rules
"Christian music" is just one of many persistent examples of how society and denominations define and impose their laws on us as Christians. I am always overjoyed to use my musical talents for God and acknowledge that they are from Him. Now after many years of being mislead by erroneous doctrines I am finally free to play music that is not Christian. Does that sound contradictory? Previously, to me every note religiously-undefined was iniquitous. I would subconsciously block it from my mind and still often find myself self-condemned. You may think I was excessive, but with this thought process even a jingle playing on the radio in a supermarket or a reactionary tap of the foot to an "irreverent" beat is cause for sin. One is incessantly flanked by fear and guilt, and those who maintain that secular music is sinful and do not have these feelings clearly are not living out their beliefs.

The transition in my thinking was not easy. I responded much like Peter when God commanded him to eat what was considered unclean.[3] Similarly, I am blessed to say that the Lord's Word set me free.

Judgments

Perhaps it is just coincidental, but typically the regimen is stipulated by those who aren't musicians. I do not expect these folk truly understand their claims. Imagine hearing that you cannot work and receive a salary as a computer engineer unless you do so on religious grounds? Surprisingly, it is acceptable to say that to musicians who spend many hours each day honing their skills with all their might. What about tape editors and sound and production engineers? Should an audio technician even work on equipment that is not being used for "Christian" music?

Other well-intentioned folk argue, as their peers did in the eighteenth century, that certain elements of music are devilish. Yet music was never invented – it was there even before creation. Their mindset continues to assert that modern music is polluted. Why, the beat itself is evidential! it is alleged that classical music is the only untainted form of music. But the Bible contains no prophecies about Bach or Handel, who themselves were schooled in plain rudiments handed down to them from past generations. What is more, these men, well-meaning and brilliant as they were, both played "secular" music and were committed musicians in "churches" that were clearly unbiblical. Logically, there is also no way of telling what "wicked" elements have been subsequently added to the classical style as we know it today(!). In essence, the only difference with music in this age is that it can be amplified and distorted sadistically. Unless music is entirely different in heaven, the angels must frequently hear soulful diminished fifths resonating around God's throne. And I expect the volume levels easily explode rocks in the mesosphere! Imagination aside, we can be sure that if any aspect of the rudiments of music was evil God would have told us so in the Bible, which in actuality is the only rule of law we ever need to believe.

Then there are a handful of Scripture verses that some folks presume substantiate the argument against secular music. For example, Revelation 18:22:
"And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;"
To me, the only literal interpretation of this passage is the end of all joy for an unbelieving, impious people judged by God. If that is not the case then we must apply the entire verse and conclude that it is evil to be a craftsman and grind grain! Personally, I can think of at least one Craftsman in Galilee Who frequently ate bread ground on a millstone and definitely pleased His heavenly Father.

Another motive against secular music is the widespread immorality of its musicians and supporters. Agreed, there is so much atrocious impiety. But astronomy, geology and science are never considered immoral just because many of the advocates of those fields insist there is no God. Even some of the most beautiful, well-known classical music was composed by excessively degenerate people. I assure you, "Christian music" is not immune to that epidemic. Neither is it necessarily doctrinally-sound, even if certain people and organizations advocate so. While I do not condone music and musicians that advance depravity, I believe those of the Cradle of Filth ilk would not be righteous if they wore suits and sang in white chapels in three-part harmony with smiles on their faces! Logically speaking, we cannot judge a particular ‘style' of music on the basis of morality, where in fact we can only expect the world to be… the world.

As we know, some of the most influential musicians and bands of our time stand openly for Christ on the secular stage – for instance, Phil Keaggy, Tommy Emmanuel, Larry Carlton and U2. Like other occupations in this world, theirs are not appropriate in a biblical church meeting but highly commendable and perfectly acceptable nonetheless. I can say that confidently because the Bible does not condemn what they are doing! The wisest career choice for these musicians is unmistakably… music.[4] Why would it be different for anyone else who can make a living in this profession?

Now it is interesting that we attach the term "Christian" to entities: Christian ministry, Christian business, Christian gifts, Christian shirts… However, a man who truly possesses one of the four kinds of ministries[5] found in Ephesians 4:11-12 practically never calls himself a Christian minister or refers to his ministry as Christian. The clarification is entirely unnecessary. In contrast, the entities that require the Christian adjective are invariably a-scriptural. I grappled with this many years ago when God revealed it to me. A "ministry" or anything else that we call "Christian" or "Sacred" is simply not so if it is not word-for-word in Scripture. Would God really give us a ministry that is nowhere to be found in the inspired and final written Word that He expects us to live by? Here I am differentiating between ‘a' ministry – which in a biblical context is always official – and the individual albeit vital spiritual ‘work' we each have outside the Church. it is also curious that the Christian clause commonly entails money, occupation and eminence. No wonder Christian music has an adjective.

Traditions

Although I failed to recognize it until quite late in life, you may have noticed that Christian concerts also do not feature in God's Word. The Bible categorically insists that it contains every detail about how the Church should function and what should take place therein.[6] Therefore, while concerts have their rightful place in society, they are obviously not part of a ‘biblical' Church life. No doubt we copied entertainment and professionalism from the world, because such things are foreign to the Bible and were so to early believers as well.

Please indulge my foolishness for a moment.[7] I have appeared in many "Christian" concerts that were hailed as blessed and successful. The opportunities I've had to frequently play for notable people in the world will never be available to many musicians. But truthfully I admit that the basis for most of these "religious" accomplishments cannot be authenticated in Scripture. Had God not shown me otherwise, I would have continued a work that in heavenly terms is of no value at all.[8] My friends, we must understand that all that glitters is not gold.

What more can we say about the "professional Christian musician" and the "music ministry," except that we have fallen prey to the same distractions believers encountered previously in history? Around 363 A.D the Romans admitted that they had employed every possible means of torture against Christians without success. The Emperor Julian himself acknowledged it:
"Give them [the Christians] only occasion and they will crowd as fast to martyrdom as bees fly to their hives."
So he devised the only successful means of persecution the Romans ever invented: A polluted religion that they could control surreptitiously. Julian lifted the ban on religious meetings and cunningly introduced a host of heretical doctrines, pagan figures and idolatrous practices into the Church. Around that time preparatory courses for baptism and church membership were also first publicly embraced in Antioch. These diversions led to the greatest downfall of the Church in that age, and it has haunted us ever since. One would think that the true Bride would be all the more conspicuous as a result. But much of the Church and the world remain blind to the fact, even though they were unambiguously forewarned.[9]

The "Christian music" standpoint also invariably supports some form of Christian music business, which forever reminds me of Jesus sweeping through the temple with a whip. All sorts of "vessels" have been carried into God's house, which sequentially has been turned into a den of thieves.[10] The New Testament makes no reference to anyone being paid for religious music. The Bible tells us plainly that in each local gathering only the elders (plural) are to receive remuneration, and that for overseeing the flock and, especially, for preaching.[11] Even passages in the Old Testament do not support the idea of paying "Christian musicians." I quote from the Preface of my book, "In the House of God":
"…while references to Levites in the Old Testament can hold subjective meaning for an individual, a Christian musician is not a Levite. A Levite is someone born of the tribe of Levi, and the Bible affords us no other literal latitude other than lineage and New Testament significance to all believers. So as pertinent as it can be, subjective interpretation should never be viewed as fundamental."
"…aside from the manner of worship as recorded in the Old Testament, only the New Testament defines how the Church should function."

Finale

We know nothing more about the application of music in heaven other than that it will always be used to worship God. When we are there we won't need to comfort, encourage and admonish each other in song - we will have everlasting consolation from One so great that we'll need an eternity just to look at His face. Until then, the biblical paradigm in 1 John 3:4 applies for our benefit and complete peace of mind.

it is also significant that nowhere do the scriptures condemn music in secular society where in bible times it also frequently involved payment. Wouldn't that be unusual if it was indeed a sinful practice, particularly as the Law is entirely explicit about sin? We are not being unspiritual by singing and playing songs that do not mention God. Otherwise, we'd need to do the same with every word we utter. Then how would we ask for a postage stamp, let alone a new set of guitar strings? The Bible admonishes us to do everything to the glory of God. He gave us countless reasons to sing and play about love, the earth and all that is in it. So why not do so with all your heart for Him?

I recall Martyn Joseph's last concert in the UK before he launched his secular career overseas. Sitting in the audience I could not concur with his ethic and motivation, yet somehow they made a lasting impression on me. Since then I have come to understand that we do not have a reason or a right to judge believers for playing secular music. Without doubt God is using them, just like everyone else who is following Him wherever ‘He' wants them to be.


[1] The law being the Scriptures (also note the PURPOSE of the law in this Bible reference):
Gal 3:19-26, "Wherefore then serveth the LAW? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the SCRIPTURE hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore THE LAW WAS OUR SCHOOLMASTER TO BRING US UNTO CHRIST, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."
[2] God instructed Jonah to go to Nineveh:
"Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me." (Jonah 1:2)
[3] God commanded him to eat what he considered unclean:
"And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven." (Act 11:7-10)
[4] The wisest career choice for these musicians is… music:
"Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called." (1 Corinthians 7:20). V24: "Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." Of course, these verses do not apply to immoral vocations!
[5] The four kinds of ministries:
We can deduce the number from the fact that the word "some" is used four times here:
"And he gave SOME, apostles; and SOME, prophets; and SOME, evangelists; and SOME, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:" (Ephesians 4:11-12)
[6] The Bible categorically insists that it contains every detail about how the Church should function and what should take place therein:
"These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest KNOW HOW THOU OUGHTEST TO BEHAVE thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
"Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for THE FAITH which was ONCE delivered unto the saints" (Jude 1:3)
"According as his divine power HATH given unto us ALL THINGS that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3) 
"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and HOLD THE TRADITIONS which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our EPISTLE." (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
"Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and KEEP THE ORDINANCES, AS I DELIVERED THEM TO YOU" (1 Corinthians 11:2)
[7] Please indulge my foolishness for a moment:
"I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise." (2 Corinthians 11:16-19)
[8] I would have continued a work that in heavenly terms is of no value at all:
"Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
[9] They were unambiguously forewarned:
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that AFTER MY DEPARTING SHALL GRIEVOUS WOLVES ENTER IN AMONG YOU, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. THEREFORE WATCH, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears." (Act 20:28-31)
Note in the above verse that it is ‘elders' (plural) who are responsible and answerable to God for maintaining sound teaching in the Church.
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be FALSE TEACHERS among you, who PRIVILY SHALL BRING IN DAMNABLE HERESIES, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And MANY SHALL FOLLOW THEIR PERNICIOUS WAYS; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." (2 Peter 2:1-2)
[10] God's house, which sequentially has been turned into a den of thieves:
"And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves." (Mark 11:15-17)
What strikes me in the above verse is that Jesus would not allow them to "carry ANY vessel through the temple". We cannot contribute anything of value to God's complete and perfect model for the Church as documented in Scripture. Even our own efforts are futile. This is a lesson that has been reiterated throughout Scripture – for example, when Uzzah tried to steady the ark (2 Samuel 6:6-7) and in the account of Cain's offering (Genesis 4:3-7).
[11] In each local gathering, only the elders (plural) are to receive remuneration:
"Let the ELDERS that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward." (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

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