Monday, August 29, 2005

More on secular music

A few days ago I received an e-mail from a man (who I assume might be young, either in age or in the Lord), who sent me this e-mail:
was looking at your interest in music and noticed some "secular" artists. i say it like that because i'm personally at a crossroads in terms of musical interests. i'm a christian and i listen to worship music - mostly contemporary christian. however, i'm also a musician and i like to listen to secular artists. what is your opinion on the two? i have christian friends who would burn me at the stake if we lived in salem, ya' know? they say that secular is secular, it doesn't glorify God therefore i shouldn't allow myself to listen to it. i can't understand this reasoning. what gives?
The following is my response. You be the judge if I answered appropriately:

Thank you for your e-mail. I'm also a musician. Spent two years as a full-time working drummer, about 10 as a semi-pro. I also spent 14 years in the worship band. I would not be the drummer I am today if I only listed to worship music. My skills were developed studying jazz, classical, world, and fusion. That's where the "technique" guys are.

I would ask your friends if they watch TV, go to movies, or do anything else in the world? Do they maintain friendships with people who aren't Christians? If they're going to pressure you into abstaining from the world, I would hope they would put themselves under the law, as well. Read 1 Cor. 8 and see what I am talking about. Let me further this for you, though:

Paul writes all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. By "all things," he's not saying "make your own rule." There are very clearly rules laid out for us in the Ten Commandments that we should abide. However, he's also pointing out we are not under the law that extended into every detail of life until Christ came, died, and rose again. For example, you could not eat food that was not kosher -- that is, food that went through an extensive process that included the way it was prepared. Paul says if you don't *know* that food is sacrificed to idols -- that is if you don't know if it's kosher or not -- go for it. Eat in good conscience. However, don't partake of food that you know for certain was sacrificed to idols.

I consider good "hermeneutics," to look at that verse and apply it to a wide variety of things, including music. Secular music, the vast majority of it, has no spiritual value. This does not uplift in the sense that worshipping God does, but it does not destroy, either. If you don't know whether the music you listen to has been dedicated to idol worship, I say listen in good conscience. In my day, there were very clearly bands who did this. I always felt the worst of them was Trent Rezner and Nine Inch Nails, because the *spiritual* context in his words was explicit. While he believes in no supernatural power, the words to his lyrics might as well have come from hell itself. Today, I think there are bands that are less ... explicit, but equally damaging. Tool, whose band members are publicly committed to a philosophy called Lachrymology, which espouses emotional and physical pain as a means to self-enlightenment. While not as over-the-top, Tool's lyrics are very much in line with Rezner's.

When I don't know about the music artist's background, I take what I want from the music and leave the rest. Mostly I'm looking for *musical* ideas. David -- the Biblical David -- borrowed from the pagans for his own musical influences, and even brought Egyptian percussion equipment into the mix. Anything that has a neutral spiritual value, and I would include anything that can be used to make music -- can be used to glorify God.

Our first priority in this life is to worship God, not because of what we can get in return, but because He's worthy. I think it's good that you understand this and you will be blessed with greater understanding about the nature of God because of it. That said, there's nothing wrong with being a discerning listener to the world's music. Preventing yourself or others from doing so without a strong Biblical argument is nothing more than legalism, which is not Godly. In fact, it's spiritual bondage.

I hope this answers some of your questions. I would encourage you to read through both 1 Corinthians and Galatians for more on your freedom in Christ.

If I could write this e-mail over again, I would add there's plenty of "Christian" music that is nothing more than secular music with spiritually-empty "positive" lyrics attached to it. Just because it says it's Christian doesn't mean it edifies. I would also encourage anyone in this position to follow Paul's guidelines. You have freedoms, but if your brother or sister in Christ has a hang-up about it, use good judgment and don't stumble them. Perhaps they are telling you this and feel this way because the kind of music they used to listen to is a major tripping block for them.

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