The following article is condensed from our live seminar on the subject of CCM. This short format was created for the purpose of engaging often widely diverse Christians into considering a biblical defense of what they believe [rather than tradition, or opinion]. As always we welcome comments and opinions, but most of all Biblical defenses! God Bless as you seek to find His perfect will.
Fact: It's important to understand Christian music because we're instructed to be using it regularly...
Goals & Limitations of this study.
What is CCM?
Contemporary is dictionary defined as something "belonging to the same age; living or occurring at the same time" (F&W dictionary. pg. 137, vol. 1). So in a broad sense, Contemporary Christian Music is any Christian Music written or produced in this time era.
Most critics of CCM tend to equate the "Contemporary" part of this label to only styles that are new to these most recent generations like POP, Rock, & Rap. Although these account for much of what is being sold today, you can find virtually every style from the past including hymns, classical, acappela, plain song (chant), southern gospel, folk and more on current CCM labels.
As for being Contemporary "Christian" music, the word "Christian" has traditionally (historically) implied music for and by Christians.
Does music affect you?
Clearly yes music that is soothing, slower, quieter tends to induce the same type of responses in the listener. On the other hand, music that is fast paced, upbeat, and loud physiologically (or bodily) affects the listener in those ways; to the point that even their heart-beat has been clinically shown to be accelerated.
One query that often arises from this is the question of whether or not it is right or wrong to be excited by the stimulus in the music. Another way to ask this question -- "Is it wrong Biblically to be excited, upbeat, fast-paced and loud?"
The answer, of course, is no! These emotions are part of how God has made us and clearly there is a time and place for the entire spectrum of these responses.
One more thought regarding bodily influences. While a number of writers have written about how music can "change metabolism, affect muscular energy, raise or lower blood pressure," etc., and have even claimed this to be addictive due to it's pleasurable effects, they have not really made a case against its usage. If seeking out things that are pleasurable is addictive behavior, most of the planet are addicts. We all tend to return to things that give us pleasure. It's only if this pleasure is biblically wrong that this becomes sin (see Hebrews 11:25, Galatians 5:13). A British study released in 2000 showed that eating curry produces physiological changes similar to taking drug stimulants, prompting at least one news service to title their article, "Addicted to Curry?" (Reuters, Oct 25, 2000). The caffeine in coffee would be guilty of the same offense. If everything that produces bodily reaction and subsequently pleasure is wrong, don't just throw out the music, toss the curry and coffee with it... and likely a lot of other good things as well.
Okay, still another thought about bodily influences. Others cite studies that show music with a pronounced rhythm, or excessive volume, can kill plants "if played long enough, the plants actually died." While it is true that extreme volumes can harm us (i.e. our hearing), the conclusions of these studies are seriously flawed. While many biased researchers quickly claim that the effects on plants can be carried to humans, they do so with no evidence "Presumably, the same effect [on humans] can result in the negative sense, from bad music." This is bad science. Wonder why the plant may have died? With a speaker directed right at the plant combined with a greater volume, the sound waves effectively act as a continual breeze. Even a tree growing in the wild subjected to strong and continual coastal breezes will grow stunted. How much more effect would this have on a delicate plant. The classical music that is almost always use in contrast is always played at a lower decibel level and would not have the same effect.
Two primary classifications of Christian Music
We can use the symbol of the cross to help remember them.
The horizontal bar can be used to represent music whose primary purpose is to express truth's horizontally to other people. Needless to say, these truth need to be Biblical Christian truths to be "Christian" Music.
The vertical bar, likewise, represents music that is vertical -- it's primary purpose is directly up and down, between you and God. This music includes that which worships God, is a prayer to God, and some that echoes God's message to us. Vertical music often tends to be quieter and softer, but not always. Perhaps this best reflects Psalms 46:10 which tells us to "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"
Many songs include elements of both horizontal and vertical within them.
(and should) Christians use things that
Talking about styles of music currently available today is one of the fastest ways to have a disagreement with many Christians.
At the heart of the argument behind many who would say that most modern styles are wrong and have no place with Christian music is the issue of whether or not it is right to use a style first developed (or at least popularized) by a non-Christian for non-Christian purposes (often proclaiming a worldly message).
To understand this better, let's look at a few (perhaps absurd) non-music parallels...
Let's say: Toasters were invented by a non-Christian, some people have died from the misuse of toasters (by sticking forks in them, etc.). So can we as Christians use a toaster and use it for something good? Of course!
Another. Let's say: Cars were invented by a non-Christian, powered by an explosive, and are one of the biggest killers of people in North America today? But can Christians use them and for good purposes? Once again, of course!
BUT, some would say, we're talking about entertainment here... So let's use an entertainment example.
Let's say: Baseball (or Basketball, or Hockey) was created by a non-Christian. They have become some of the largest, most greedy enterprises today, but is it okay for Christians to play ball (or hockey) as an activity? Careful now... they could be pleasurable. The bottom line is, that minus the greed [i.e. sin or misuse], it's fine to play these games.
What gets most people the most bothered about music and the reason it is often judged by a different criteria is the widespread, public, abuse of secular music in its message and influence, especially with young people.
This is not a new occurrence. A hundred years ago, the same arguments existed over the use of pianos in churches. (For that matter some churches today still won't use one). Why? Because pianos were first used as bar room instruments. Yet today, the piano, second only to the organ, is probably the most used instrument in the church for musical worship.
Some have tried to say that all music with a drum beat is wrong because it (multiple choice, chose any or all of the following)...
Whether or not any of these are true, these arguments rise and fall on the same question of whether or not the instrument, or style, can be used for good once it's been used for evil. [Another way to say this... Is the medium the problem or only the message? Both the instrument and the style of music can be considered part of the medium, unless one can objectively by Scriptures prove that one is inherently evil itself. Misuse, or prior use, of a medium cannot be the factor that makes an entire medium evil. If this was so, every medium once used in a corrupt way could never be redeemed or used for a good purpose ever again. People holding to this view, to be consistent, would have to never watch movies or television, because the medium was created first for a secular purpose.]
Let's look at the Bible on this...
(The context of this is: Paul talking about eating meats offered to idols yet we have freedom but should not use it to offend others. See verse 32 following the above passage)
The bottom line: All instruments and most styles of music can be used to the glory of God. This said "most" styles because other Biblical criteria should also apply in discerning what's good and not.
The only restriction on our Christian freedom is to not use anything to sin or as an excuse to sin.
Most evangelized nations in the world historically took existing music and styles and recreated them for worship after their conversion.
Yet, many are quick to judge the music of another culture by the standard of their own. (i.e. Is it okay for Chinese believers to use Chinese music or African music to be used by African cultures, etc. Is only western church music okay?)
As for styles of music... Blues style spirituals, southern gospel, country, and bluegrass are just a few styles that are culturally based and widely accepted in given regions or groups within North America. An individual who has always listened to that style of music can worship God just as effectively, if not more so, than with other styles not normally employed.
Nothing says you have to like all the styles that exist, even among differing cultures, yet we can all appreciate and understand the diversity and effectiveness of them in their respective settings.
Criteria for evaluating Christian Music
The Philippians 4:8 test...
Galatians 5:22-23 test...
Can you hear the message?
Again, remember that some who are used of a particular style may find it much easier to follow than one who is not used to it.
Is the style of music inherently against God's revealed character and nature?
If the music is intentionally chaotic, you need to question whether it could be glorifying to the God of Order revealed to us in scriptures.
If the music is presented, or designed, to intentionally display or promote rebellion... How could this being glorifying to the God who stated that "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.
And no there is no such thing as "Christian Rebellion". That's a contradiction, we never rebel against the world. Rather we are obedient to the ultimate authority which is God. It's the world that's in rebellion. (1 John 5:3-4)
Is the music edifying (meaning building up) Christians? This will be the case if it is expressing truth horizontally or vertically.
Ephesians 5:1 tells us
with the Greek word translated as imitators literally mean "to mimick". If we are mimicking or imitating God, a test that should apply to all we do is the question "would Jesus listen to this, or watch this, or go here."
(The evaluation of this WWJD cannot be by arbitrary means. It must be by the standard of Scripture God's revealed will.)
Balance in music listening habits
The thought behind these verses should govern all we do... That it all be to God's Glory and in His name.
Outside of Christian music there are three other primary divisions. To evaluate and classify them we must examine their Message (lyrics & images), Intent (use), and the Artist's Lifestyle (and testimony).
Amoral & moral songs are not offensive to God, so most Christians generally have no problem with listening to them occasionally. But when amoral or moral music replaces Christian as your primary music then there becomes a problem.
One big problem in the CCM industry is the mislabeling of songs, if not entire albums. A song that doesn't express Christian truths horizontally, much less vertically even though sung by a Christian no more makes it one than you being a cow because you walk around wearing a sign saying you are one. Let's keep the "Christian" label for music that is truly Christian.
What about the artists?
To be truly Christian music, the artist must be Christian...
Think about it! Can a non-Christian do anything that is pleasing to God? No. Because they are not acting out of faith!
With CCM being the only large growing market left in the music industry, many non-Christians are crossing over into the CCM venue. This calls for discernment on behalf of the listeners. Some have lyrics that have no Christian message whatsoever, many more have lifestyles completely contradictory to any Christian message or testimony they may profess. Some don't even profess to be Christians, they're only being marketed as such -- often with statements like "I'm just getting back to my Christian roots". Generic "I love Jesus" statements are not sufficient as a testimony -- even members of cults like Mormons and Jehovah's witnesses would make these statements.
about "cross-over" artists
Taking and expressing your Christian views into your secular place of employment is a must for all Christians. This is being Salt and Light to the unsaved world around us. (Note: The majority of producers and distributors of Christian Music, and for that matter Bibles, are secular companies now)
Sadly, the power of the secular music entertainment industry is such that many (but not all) Christian artists that have crossed over have compromised their message, or their lifestyle, to the point that their Christianity has taken a back-seat. Part of this comes from a Christian culture today that is not rooted in God's Word ("gospel lite") many don't knowing what they believe, let alone standing unswervingly on it.
Also another problem with the crossover venue is that some Christians use the excuse that listening to secular music radio is okay because there are some Christian artists on it. One large personal concern is that rather than the often expressed intent of drawing non-Christians to listening to more Christian music, the real effect has been to draw more Christians to listen to non-Christian music.
Yes, we still need Christian influence in our secular entertainment industry including television and music but to make a real difference it's going to take people with a resolve to be uncompromising for the cause of Christ -- untainted by the filth and corruption of the industry around them.
Can CCM be used for evangelism?
Related Question: Is Christian music a good vehicle for evangelism?
The Bible is clear that the one given method of evangelism is the preaching and teaching of God's Word.
Wherein, and to the extent that, the music directly conveys God's word; music can aid in this process but the focus should still be preaching and teaching (which includes personal evangelism). Some CCM artists have been able to combine teaching ministry with their music quite effectively. (i.e. Thom Shumate, Al Denson).
Doctrine and CCM
Sound doctrine and truth should be of concern to all Christians. CCM music must be judged by Scripture as to it's message. Too many Christians base their theology on songs, or accept aberrant teachings in their music, because a prominent artist or group has sung it. The absolute criteria for any doctrine must remain the scriptures. This is not to say that any one error in words by an artist automatically negates their ministry or music [anymore than it would a pastor or teacher]. Chronic error does for sure.
(Example: Satan bite the dust / Carman. Line: "I speak to you demons like dogs.")
Contrast this song of Carman's to 2 Peter 2:10b-11 & Jude vers. 8-10...
Clearly the line "I speak to you demons like dogs" does not follow the scriptural mandate. But are all Carman's songs wrong NO! The vast majority are completely scriptural. Again judge all music by Scriptures.
Truly all CCM artists that profess to be using their music as ministry, placing themselves into positions as ministers of the gospel, should be under the same narrow criteria established by Scripture, as preachers and teachers, because of their visibility. One of the greatest concerns within the CCM industry is many artists and groups who are accountable to no one - not a church, a board, no one at all. The importance of teachers is shown clearly by James 3:1...
Without this accountability, the public moral failure of many CCM artists often allows the individual to remain in the industry sometimes fully making a mockery of the cause of Christ and Christian ministry.
(Sandy Patti? Michael English? First Call? Ron Moore? Amy Grant?)
Is the CCM industry perfect?
The CCM industry does have problems but that should not stop us from striving for perfection. We need to be ready and willing to point out it's problems for the sake of making things better.
Regardless of the industries' problems we need to be exercising our own individual Christian discernment because what matters is what you and I are doing in the sight of God.
Besides, the only thing that keeps errant and questionable CCM artists in the industry is the buying and listening Christian public. (Regardless of the crossover argument, Christian music is almost always bought by professing Christians). You can vote for change with your wallets.