CCM (2) - Definition and History
Written by Eric Moerdyk
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Reformed Practice - Music

The following article is a part of Rev. Moerdyk's booklet in which he evaluates Christian Contemporary Music from a Biblical perspective.

Defining Christian Contemporary Music

The CCM movement is very difficult to define. It embraces a wide variety of musical styles and lyrics. If you browse a Christian bookstore, you will find anything from heavy metal, rock, pop, and alternative, to urban, contemporary, rap, country, and southern gospel. The line of distinction between these styles is blurred just as in the secular market, sometimes making it hard to distinguish one style from another.

The name ‘Contemporary Christian Music’ was adopted in the late 70’s to include everything from the hardest of rock to middle of the road music. This means any definition will be inadequate, because there are some songs that will fall outside of it. The tremendous diversity found within the movement also makes analysis difficult. A knowledgeable listener could list exceptions to every critique, whether positive or negative. We do need to make an attempt though if we are to be obedient to the command of God to put everything to the test.

Though the CCM title embraces a wide variety of music, it does not embrace everything that is being written or performed today. In other words not all Christian music that is contemporary is called CCM. The Mattaniah Male Choir would not qualify. Nor would contemporary classical music fall in this category.

The name ‘CCM’ refers to the movement originating in the 60’s and 70’s which deliberately took the new style of music called rock & roll (in its various sub-genres, both the mild and the more extreme) and adopted it as Christian by adding new lyrics. At the risk of oversimplifying, I will refer to this music as rock music though I am aware of the different names given to different forms of the music. Several other authors, both secular and Christian, use the title ‘rock’ n’ roll’ for this purpose as well.

The History of Christian Contemporary Music

 In order to understand the history of the movement, we need a brief overview of the history of secular music in the 50’s and 60’s, because the CCM movement deliberately imitated the secular revolution in music. We can not speak about the movement without reviewing the history of the rock music that it mimics. On a purely musical level, rock music emerged as a synthesis of rhythm & blues, pop, and country western music. Though the music developed in various directions and subgenres, the dominant feature of all of it was a powerful incessant beat. The result of this was that the rhythm began to dominate the music to such an extent that the melody, harmony, and lyrics assumed a secondary place in the overall effect of the music on the listener. “For the total folk function of rock, the rhythm of the music has always had as much meaning as its subject matter, for it has given the subject matter a real immediacy.” This immediacy has been variously described as vitality, energy, and sensuality.

The rise of rock though was not merely the result of combining elements of other musical styles. Rock music was created and adopted as a medium to give expression to the vehement rejection of contemporary institutions, traditions, and values by the younger generation of the 50’s. Secular rock historian Carl Belz notes: “The music emerged in response to a series of changing values and vital needs...Its history must be seen as a youth movement and as the reflection of a way of life radically different from the one which prevailed before the 1950’s. When rock emerged, it spoke to these new values, to this youth, and to this changed way of life.” Later on he notes “Rock is almost as much a way of life as it is a musical style.”

Rock was the vocalization of a rebellion against traditional and conventional values. It was a rejection of authority on religious, political, and social levels. The cold war was in full force, and the establishment was blamed for the lack of world peace and love. The traditional was dismissed in favor of the new. The rationalistic outlook of modern society was set aside in favor of the elevation of instinct and passion. In other words, the focus and purpose of life for the revolutionaries became pleasure without restraint. It was raw hedonism: eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Rock music became a primary medium for expressing the values and lifestyle of this revolution. Noted cultural analyst Ken Myers states: “Rock music was made to order for this new cultural vision. Bursting onto the scene when it did, it thus had a remarkably wide appeal: it had a natural appeal to youth, who enjoy noisy, emotional, and sensual displays.”

In the middle of this chaotic scene, CCM had its birth. It rose out of the Jesus Movement of the 60’s. A large number of the hippies turned to Christianity. One reason Jesus appealed to the Jesus Movement is that they felt they had discovered a new Jesus, one with long hair and a beard, one who was a revolutionary, one who shared the characteristics adopted by the youth of the late 60’s and 70’s.

When they did so, they brought their music with them. This was natural because they saw their new music as the marker of their identity, and it was inevitable that they would bring it with them in their reaction to the structures of the traditional world. Their rock music portrayed itself as free from hypocrisy, as an expression of the deep emotions and questions of the new generation. It embodied a rejection of the past in a quest for relevance with modern experience. They saw their music as a viable and spiritual art form.

During the 1970’s, the CCM movement began to grow rapidly. On March 15, 1975, KYMS radio station in Santa Ana (California) became one of the first radio stations dedicated to CCM. Another early station that aired the new music that year was KBHL- FM in Nebraska, called ‘the Sound of the New Life.’ It was sponsored by Larry King and several associates. It aired on March 6. Early on they began sponsoring and promoting concerts by groups such as the 2nd chapter of Acts, Barry McGuirre, and other well-known artists. Soon magazines dedicated to Jesus Rock were published. The paper ‘Rock in Jesus’ was published, and combined in 73 with Right On! magazine. Then in 1975 the magazine ‘Harmony’ was published, dedicated to keeping up on the new music. This touched off rapid growth in the number of magazines, as well as the number of radio stations available.

1978 was another key year for the movement. Due to the widely expanding variety in the CCM music field, the distinction between the Jesus Music and other contemporary Christian music faded. Ralph Charmichael in a magazine article came up with 11 different types of Christian music. The name CCM was finally adopted in the late 70’s, to include everything from middle of the road music to the hardest of rock. The movement expanded rapidly, and the lines of distinction between the various styles began to blur just as it had done in the secular market.

The late 70’s also saw the emergence of disturbing trends in the movement. The movement had crystallized, and turned into an industry with markets and popularity, hits, and exposure. The movement had been commercialized. Richard Quebedeux in his book ‘The Worldly Evangelicals’ writes: “historically since the time of Constantine, whenever the Church has become established – too popular, too respectable – corruption and secularism have become rampant within its ranks.” This was certainly happening in the CCM movement. A new generation was rising which knew almost nothing about the Bible. They were imitating secular rock in its constant quest for novelty and shock value. They were adopting punk rock, and making ads and covers for their music with the same somber and grimacing looks on the covers as the secular artists. In the words of Paul Baker, “People were starting to worship the music, rather than center on Christ.”

One anonymous recording engineer voiced his doubts this way: “We’ve done a great job of converting the Church to accept rock and roll, but I don’t know how well we’ve done in converting people to Jesus with the music.”

The music continues to hybridize rapidly in all directions, making it increasingly difficult to analyze as a whole. It includes everything from gentle songs featuring only a singer and his guitar, to rock bands featuring full accompaniment, lasers, steam, and glitz. The great variety within the movement is illustrated in the annual awards ceremony of the Gospel Music Association. Every year this association hands out its Dove Awards to the best artists in various categories. These categories continue to expand constantly.

At the current time the CCM industry is worth around $450 million a year (USD). In 1995 there were 250 radio stations in the US playing CCM as their primary format. One fourth of the sales in the Christian bookstores in the States is music related. Not surprisingly, this has attracted considerable secular attention. Most of the recording companies are now in secular hands because of their profitability. These secular owners are not committed to Christianity, but to making money. They exert pressure on the artists to tone down their message, and to produce music that sells.

This in short is the history of the CCM movement, from its humble beginnings in garages and coffeehouses, to its present glitz and glitter as a part of the entertainment industry. It gives us an overview of the movement, along with some of its main features, and provides a point of departure for a closer look at CCM.

Rev. Eric Moerdyk is pastor of Monarch Free Reformed Church in Alberta, Canada.