CCM (6)- Where do we go from here?
Written by Eric Moerdyk
PDF Print E-mail
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.

Clinging to what is Good

This critique has been largely negative, due to the way things are in the CCM industry. However it would not be right to end on a negative note for several reasons. First, music is a tremendous gift from the Lord that is to be celebrated and cultivated to His glory. The critique launched at rock and at CCM in this paper must not diminish this conviction in any way. Music is one of the best remaining gifts from the Lord that we have after the fall. It is so great a blessing that we may not speak of it without ending with thanksgiving to God for giving us such a gift.

Second, we need to avoid a pitfall that well-meaning conservative Christians often fall into when criticizing the culture of the world. We need to avoid expressing the radical difference in values and way of life that there is between the world and the people of God purely in terms of the negative. That would mean only pointing out the poverty of their decaying productions in light of the view of the world that God gives in His word. When we do this, we will be involved with music and the arts only to censure them.That would be a tragic reduction of our calling in this world. The Bible calls us to sing to the Lord, and to make music that honors Him since He is the creator of music. Since obedience to the Word of God requires song, the question is not whether or not we will produce art and music, but whether or not it will reflect the order and truth of God accurately. We are called to produce music that demonstrates to the watching world the beauty and depth of the culture produced by a Biblical worldview. In doing so we will declare what we think about the character of God Himself. What we call beautiful says a great deal to the watching world about what we think of the God who has given objective standards of beauty and order in His Word.

Finally, we need to end on a positive note because our calling to discern in light of I Thessalonians 5:21-22 has both a negative and positive side. We are told to abstain from every appearance of evil, and to cling to what is good. This section of the paper is a brief attempt to foster clinging to what is good when it comes to music.

One of the ways in which this can be done is by having qualified people among us use their gifts to produce and promote good music. The Christian is called to cultivate all of the gifts God gives Him, in order that they might be used for His glory. We have not received musical talents in order to bury them in the ground. God has gifted some of you when it comes to playing music. Will you put those talents to work in composing good music as well?

This would go a long way to countering the negative influence of movements such as CCM. There is a historical precedent for the effect positive music has in displacing what is not acceptable. At the time of the Reformation, there was a man named Thomas Muntzer who led a liturgical reform movement. Though he focused on Christ in his lyrics, he drew attention to the exemplary character of His life at the expense of focusing on His cross. Luther fought these errors not by posting more theses on the church door, but by writing new songs that dealt with the death of Christ. These songs effectively replaced the songs produced by Munster. Those among us with musical talents need to join with others who have the ability to write lyrics that are theologically accurate, in order to counter the effects of CCM and any other music that contradicts a Christian view of life.

As we think about writing good music, Scripture itself contains rich guidance. The pattern for Christian lyrics is found in the Psalms. God has seen fit to give us an inspired songbook that functions for both the Old and New Testament Church. This songbook has been given for the church to use in its worship. This songbook also functions as the model for all of the music that the Christian sings or enjoys.

There are two things in particular that need to be avoided as we enjoy and compose music. First we need to avoid imitating the world. This means setting our standards from the Bible, rather than looking for the approval of the world. It means consciously beginning with a Christian view of life rather than trying to sanitize the things produced based on the world’s view of life. That is like putting a Christian veneer over things, a veneer that is often very thin. The result of ‘redeeming by veneer’ is that the world ends up redeeming what we do rather than we what it does. This is where CCM falls flat on its face.

We can avoid imitating the world by producing music based on the objective truths of the word of God. This will be music that transcends the decay that marks a sinful world, and draws our attention to the transcendent realities of God and grace. Another important aspect of Christian music is that it should be composed, performed, and enjoyed with a pilgrim mindset that looks to another city, whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:13-16).

Second, we need to avoid fossilizing, and expending our cultural energy only in order to preserve the productions of the past. The reaction to the cultural decline of our day has led some conservative people into what one musician laments as the ‘decomposing composer phenomenon.’ This is the idea that all good composition ended with the classical period, and that contemporary artists can only produce mediocre work at best.124 That is not true. We are free to use the gifts that the Lord gives to compose new music, and new styles of music, as long as they are consistent with the Christian view of life.

However refraining from fossilizing when it comes to music does not mean that we are to ignore what was accomplished in the past. We are heirs to a rich history of music in our western culture that was written from the perspective that life makes sense, and has order and meaning. We should not only enjoy this music, but also use it to make our own music in the 20th century.

Let us not buy into the arrogance of our culture with its constant quest for the new, and its contempt for the old. Culture and specifically music that expresses the values and way of life of a people must by definition include a storehouse of great material from the past that sets a standard for the new. This in the past gave stability, permanence, and a foundation to the efforts of musicians. Our popular music culture today examines the same material and dismisses it as stagnant stuff, the dusty leftovers of a way of life that has been replaced in the modern world.

From a Christian perspective, the opposite is true. Our culture is in marked decay and decline, and this is reflected in the culture and music that is produced today. There is a great deal of music from the past that is superior to what we have today because it was produced from the perspective that life has meaning, and that there are objective standards for what is good, true, and beautiful. This of course does not mean that we are to suspend discernment when it comes to older music.

Principles for Discernment

The following principles have been drawn from Scripture to assist Christians in choosing music that glorifies God. It will be put into a more concrete form in the next section.

1) The Christian must sing (ex Psalm 98:1, 100:2, 147:1 and many others). Song is a mark of being filled with the Spirit of God (Eph 5:18-19).

2) Song exists for the supreme purpose of glorifying God (Psalm 145:1-5, 150:1-2). The most common occasion for song in the Bible is to praise God for His wondrous works in creation, providence, and redemption. It has also been given like all things for us richly to enjoy (I Tim 6:17). However the enjoyment of it must glorify Him. Song glorifies God when it reflects the orderliness of His character, proclaims His truth accurately, and tends to holiness.

3) Christian song must be filled with scripture. Colossians 3:16 says that the mark of the word dwelling richly in a believer is song. Note the tie to Ephesians 5:18-19. A spirit-filled Christian is a word-filled Christian. This means the lyrics of our songs must be filled with scripture, and must be filled with the doctrines of scripture. They must also be doctrinally accurate. This means that they must not only use biblical words, but also explain them correctly. Our songs must be balanced. They may not proclaim one aspect of truth at the expense of another, but the whole council of God must be reflected in them collectively. Song must include teaching and admonition (Col 3:16), speaking about God’s character (Psalm 101:1), adoration of His works in nature and salvation (Ps 98:1, 96:1, Rev 5:9), of the law of God (Ps 119:54), giving of thanks (Eph 5:19-20, Ps 95:1-2), praise (Ps 92:1), confession of sin (Ps 51), hunger for God (Ps 42), and joy (Ps 149:5). Every aspect of Christian experience needs to be addressed, as well as every aspect of truth.

4) Christian song must be distinct from the world. Scripture repeatedly emphasizes that there is a radical difference between the world with its values, and God’s church. Col 3:5-17, Eph 4:17-5:12, Phil 4:8, Titus 3:1-8. We are not allowed to be conformed to the world, but must be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom 12:1-2, James 4:4, I John 2:15-17, 5:19, I Tim 4:1-4). Scripture uses the word ‘new’ in relation to song more than to any other word. The song of the people of God is a new song, distinct from the world. This world is not a playground, but a battleground where there is enmity between God’s cause and Satan’s cause. This will display itself in the words of our songs. Even songs which are not explicitly about salvation must represent life as anchored in the fear of the Lord, and may not contradict a Christian worldview. This will also be reflected in the music itself. When a style of music is developed to give expression to the philosophy and depravity of the world, it is no longer fit for Christians.

Negatively this means Christian song must avoid even the appearance of evil. I Thess 5:22-23, Phil 4:8, Rom 12:9b. Our songs must reflect holiness and purity. This means that we do not try to get as close as possible to the world, but that we are zealous to maintain purity and a clear separation even from the appearance of evil.

5) Christian song must be a witness to the world. The church is a light set on a hill, and therefore everything a Christian does is to be a witness (Matt 5:13-16). The believer is to walk as a child of light in a dark world. This means being separate and holy.

6) Christian song may include diversity of style. Psalm 150 shows us that various instruments are to be used. There is legitimate cultural difference between various groups in musical style, as long as the first 5 principles are kept in mind. There is room for personal taste, as long as the song is objectively in accord with the principles of scripture.

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