CCM (3) - The Entertainment Issue
Written by Eric Moerdyk
|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.
We now need to proceed with analyzing the CCM movement, in obedience to what scripture teaches (I Thessalonians 5:21-22). In the first place, it was noted earlier that the CCM movement is wrestling with an identity crisis. Is the work of these artists ministry or entertainment? This question continues to provoke discussion about the place of music in the life of a Christian. Does all music have to be evangelistic or Biblically oriented? Do the lyrics have to mention God and truth in order for music to be called Christian? Is there to be a clear-cut difference between music that is written for ‘religious functions,’ and music that is written to entertain?
What has caused this conundrum? There are several factors at work here, but there are two in particular that need to be mentioned. First, the nature of the music itself has something to do with the debate. Rock music was created to entertain, in the modern sense of the word. This means that it is produced in order to gratify the immediate desires of the consumer, rather than being molded by a clear understanding of what is true, good and beautiful. It is aimed at producing excitement rather than revealing something about the good, true, and beautiful.
This issue has implications for the entertainment question as well. It means that when CCM artists deliberately imitate secular rock, they are adopting music that is entirely entertainment oriented. This is evident in the glitz and fanfare that is an integral part of a rock concert regardless of who the performer is. It is no surprise then that when they reproducethe same atmosphere, even in a somewhat sanitized form, that their work is considered to be entertainment. Note again the words of April Hefner, current editor of CCM magazine: “The truth is that, whatever else it may be, Christian music is very much a part of show business. While many fans would prefer to call it a ministry, the fact of the matter is that we are immersed in the entertainment industry.”
Second the name of the movement has added to the debate. Many of the early artists called their music ‘Jesus Music.’ They saw it as a viable spiritual art form that could be used to bring the gospel to others. They saw that many people were turned off by any cultural institution that could be construed as part of the establishment, and so they wanted to appeal to these people in a language that they could identify with. Since the new music was such a central part of the Cultural Revolution, many of the new musicians decided to use it to bring the message of the gospel to the down and out of society. Therefore Jesus Music concerts were called ministry, evangelism, and worship.
What has been the result of this question of identity? Many have mixed the two and decided that their work is both entertainment and ministry. This has had disastrous and at times blasphemous consequences. The motive, goal, and means used to reach that goal are radically different when you want to produce entertainment, than when seeking to do ministry. It is like trying to mix oil and water. Obviously this does not mean that our work needs to be boring, archaic, or irrelevant in order to be called ministry. But it does mean that there is a different way of doing things when one is seeking to entertain, or to minister. When artists who claim to be doing ministry have not given clear Biblical thought to the nature of ministry, their work is not acceptable.
Let me give some examples of the effects of mixing the two. I attended a David Meece concert in 1995. The concert was promoted as ministry, and included evangelism. David Meece arrived in a glittering outfit that looked no different than the typical rock star seen on MTV (Music Television for secular rock). As the evening unfolded, he was quite obviously impressed with his own status as a star in the industry. In between songs David talked. He alluded to God and the Bible, but in a way that often had the audience in stitches rather than in awe or under conviction.
At one point when attempting to describe the sovereignty of God, he used an extended analogy about being in the shower. You feel in control until someone flushes the toilet, and then you realize you are not. He compared this to waking up to the fact that God is sovereign in your life. However he got sidetracked describing slime on the walls and hairballs on the drain of the shower, so that his audience was laughing nearly hysterically.
Then near the end of the concert he decided that the Spirit of God was moving among the people, so he led us in singing choruses over and over again, finally ending in an invitation for those who wanted to be saved to come forward. The sad thing was that a clear and Biblical presentation of the gospel was lacking the entire evening. This is by no means abnormal in CCM concerts, and yet this sort of thing goes on in the name of ministry!
In another concert that I attended, a well-known conservative artist was trying to remember the last time he had been in town for a concert. He concluded ‘I have not been in Grand Rapids since God was a boy.’
These kinds of incidents are obviously completely out of place. Whenever anyone in scripture was conscious of the presence of God, they reacted with awe and a trembling heart (cf Eccl 5:1-3). Even in moments when the joy of the Lord overflowed in their hearts, you do not read that they forgot their place before Almighty God and became jocular or trivial in their language. The Apostle Paul was all things to all men, but this never included clowning around to get or keep people’s attention. He always kept a serious, earnest tone. That tone comes through at times in some artists, but the effect is often undone in other parts of the concert.
The result is that the entertainment dynamics of the music keeps a great deal of CCM from being Biblical ministry, while the ‘ministry’ aspect keeps a great deal of it from being acceptable entertainment.
Another of the consequences of the entertainment dynamic in CCM is that non-Christian businessmen have recognized the money making potential of the music and have bought out most of the record companies. Stan Moser, an executive at Star Song Records, recently said in an interview that he is disturbed by the trends he sees today. “In fact, I would probably be more inclined to call the industry ‘commercial Christian music,’ rather than ‘contemporary Christian music.’” Singer Steve Taylor writes “What bothers me about the pop labels right now is that I don’t believe there is anything they wouldn’t do for money.” Michael Card states “When I look at Christian music as an industry, I’m always discouraged by it. The direction and value system are getting worse faster than any of us can imagine. There’s no community in Christian music, but instead there’s competition, commercialism, and individualism.” Both of these singers were quick to add that there are still people in the movement who are driven by a sense of call, but even so, these are very disturbing remarks.
Another result of this commercialization is that concerts have become quite expensive. For a ministry, the teams of musicians charge a great deal for their concerts, cd’s, and other memorabilia. Obviously they can’t be expected to give them away, but the money that they make exceeds what ought to be charged. This is evident when secular companies are eager to buy out these ‘ministries’ because of their tremendous money making potential. One disgusted critic summarized his thoughts on the commercialization of CCM by saying, “The CCM industry calling itself a ministry is like McDonald’s calling itself a hunger-relief organization.”
The secular companies who now own most of CCM are putting pressure on the artists to remove anything that might cause offence to unbelievers. After singer Wes King began a promising career, his record label sent him to ‘CCM’s finishing school’ to increase his marketability. “I found myself going to this lesbian atheist who was going to tell me how to talk in interviews.” He was also instructed to use terms like ‘my faith’ instead of ‘Jesus,’ and ‘dysfunction’ instead of ‘sin.’ When Michael Card was working on a recent album based on the book of Hebrews, one of the marketing people from Sparrow Records said, “is there any way we can do this so people don’t know it’s about Hebrews?”
This serious problem has come about because ministry was made entertainment. The world saw the cash value of the entertainment, and wants to ditch the ministry aspect to make money on the entertainment. This troubling reality in the CCM movement means that a great deal of the music produced under these influences is not worthy of the support of Christian people because it has watered down the contents of the music to an unacceptable degree. It is conforming to the world, rather than being transformed (Rom 12:1-2).
Rev. Eric Moerdyk is pastor of Monarch Free Reformed Church in Alberta, Canada.