Testing Music In The Church
by Sandy Simpson, 10/00
The Lord blessed my family with a love of music. Since I was a small child our family often sang together in four part harmony. At the age of twelve I found an old guitar stored in the generator shed behind the school and put fish line on it for strings. When I was fifteen I started writing my own songs. I became a professional musician in 1975 and later went on to commercial jingle and Christian album production. Having been around music all my life, I know quite a bit about what goes on behind the scenes of Contemporary Christian Music. I want to pass along some things I have learned about music in the church from my experience and from the Scriptures.
Too many churches today are allowing music to be used in their services that is not glorifying to the Lord and can actually be a hindrance to the teaching of sound doctrine. Pastors and leaders should be using their leadership role to test what is being played and sung in their churches. Though some are quick to test preaching and teaching from their pulpits, many ignore the music being used in the same services. This is a tragic mistake. Music is a powerful medium. It is something that effects deeply the body, mind and emotions. It is a proven fact that music often stays with a person far longer than what is taught or preached. Songs roam around in our heads, especially if the melody appeals to us. What is often overlooked is the serious impression music makes on people, and the teaching they are getting over and over again as they allow the song to repeat in their minds and on their lips. Music teaches things much more subtly yet sometimes far more effectively.
That's why the lyrical content of music in the church, as well as its effect on the spiritual lives of those who perform and listen, should be vigorously examined by the leaders of the church. I am not suggesting that it should be done in a legalistic way. Church leaders do not want to discourage youth, for example, from leading singing in church. But discernment in the area of music must be done nonetheless.
Shepherds have an obligation from the Lord to protect their flocks. It should be established by the church leaders that any music done in the church will be held up to the same scrutiny as any other teaching or materials used in the church. If you donut allow just any book, any Sunday school material, any magazine to be on display in your church, then why would you allow music that has unsound doctrine and might cause people to sin?
STYLE VERSUS SUBSTANCE
Please understand that I am not one who puts down any particular instruments, style or form of music. Instruments are neither good nor evil in themselves. It is rather the motive and intent in using musical instruments that gives the interpretation or “spirit” to the music and lyrics. It is the musician that gives the instruments and vocals the words and music that create any particular mood, message or atmosphere.
Musical instruments have been around since before the flood (Gen. 4:21). All musical instruments can be used to glorify the Lord, or glorify something else. I do not agree with the current teaching, in some circles, that drums and percussion instruments were not used in Biblical times for worship, therefore we should not use them now. Those who teach these things are ignorant of Scripture. The “timbrel” or tof was “a percussion instrument with a membrane. The drums varied in size and were played either with bare hands or with sticks.” (Ralph Gower, The Manners And Customs Of Bible Times, pg. 309.) The “timbrel” or tambourine can be found being used for worship in the following passages: Gen. 31:27, Ex. 15:20, Job 21:12, Ps. 81:2, 149:3, 150:4. Many noisy instruments such as cymbals and horns were used in worship: Ps. 81:1-3, 150:3-5, 2 Sam. 6:5, 1 Chr. 13:8, 15:16, 15:28, 2 Chr. 15:13. So apparently it is not the noise level but the motive and intent of the people playing the instruments that count.
MOTIVE AND INTENT
The motivation behind the use of music and lyrics are what Christians leaders should be looking at seriously today. It may surprise you but, lyrically, I know of old hymns that have bad theology. I also know of hard rock music that pictures very effectively scenes like the death of Jesus Christ and are doctrinally sound. So it is not always the style of music that is necessarily the problem. The problem comes in the way it is presented and the lyrical content.
FLESHLY WORSHIP MUSIC
I am sad to say that much of the modern “worship and praise” music tends to appeal to the flesh. Much of it has lost focus on Christ, tends to be humanistic and has little or no beneficial lyrical content. Modern “worship” music today is often way too repetitive and, in fact, tends to send a person into a trance-like state. We are called to worship God with our whole mind, body and spirit (1 Cor. 14:14-15). Trance induction is an occult technique, not a biblical one. The lyrics to much of the music used today in churches is shallow theologically, and some teach downright false doctrines. Much of it also tends to be so simplistic that it no longer contains even the basics of good musicality. Thankfully there is also good modern music out there to be found if churches make the effort to obtain it.
LEADERSHIP IS NEEDED
We have a great tradition of music through hymns that teach good theology, even though hymns must also be held to the highest biblical standards. When a person wants to do special music I believe it is the duty of the church leaders to ask that person to provide them with the lyrics and play a sample of the music before they are allowed to play it in church. When the song is an original composition, what better opportunity could there be for church leaders to help composers write theologically correct lyrics! Body language and dress style can also be discussed at that point, with the goal in mind of helping, especially young people, to be aware that they should be careful not to cause others to sin (Lu. 17:1) because they represent Christ. Christians are always to worship God and bring glory to Him in all situations. They are to enrich and build up the lives of other believers who listen and participate in church meetings. Young musicians could really benefit from the help and encouragement of elders in the church. Why? They are usually also young believers and may not have a solid theological understanding, which would cause them to produce lyrics that are helpful and not a hindrance to the growth of the body of Christ.
Let's look at some examples of the good, the not-so-good, the bad, and the ugly in “Christian” music lyrics.
First, lets look at a few of the “good” variety to have
something to compare. First a hymn, then a “praise and worship” song.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not; As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me!
(Text: Thomas O Chisolm, Music: William M. Runyan, ©1923 Hope Publishing Co.)
Even in the first verse and chorus of this great hymn it teaches us many important core sound doctrinal concepts.
(1) God is faithful.
(2) God never changes.
(3) God is always compassionate.
(4) Gods mercies are new every morning.
(5) God provides for His children.
The doctrines presented in this song are all supported
by the whole Scripture, both in word and in testimony. Lets look at a good
“praise and worship” song.
Great is the Lord, He is holy and just, by His power we trust in His love. Great is the Lord, He is faithful and true, by His mercy He proves He is love. Great is the Lord and worthy of glory, great is the Lord and worthy of praise. Great is the Lord, I lift up my voice, I lift up my voice, great is the Lord, great is the Lord.
(Rita Baloche, © 1989 Maranatha! Music)
This song also has good theology. God truly is holy, just, powerful, trustworthy, faithful, true, merciful, full of love. No matter whether this song is sung acappella, with a pipe organ, with a guitar or with a rock band, it teaches sound doctrine.
Did you know that there are hymns that are not so good?
Here's a hymn in the “not-so-good” category.
Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome! Holy Ghost we welcome Thee. Come in power and fill this temple; Holy Ghost we welcome Thee.
(Text: Lelia N. Morris, Music: Daniel Read/Kurt Kaiser, ©1986 Word Music)
Apart from the use of the word “Holy Ghost” which I think gives a bit of a negative picture of the Holy Spirit in our modern English language, this song gives a false impression of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in our times. The Bible clearly states that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Christians need not summon the Holy Spirit to meetings because He lives in them if they are believers and He is present with them when they meet together in Jesus’ name. The Holy Spirit has already sealed and baptized every true believer. He already inhabits the “temple” made without human hands. Church buildings are not the "temple" today. The Holy Spirit certainly does fill believers for service to the Father and for witness. It is nice to welcome the Holy Spirit, but “invoking“ or “summoning” the Spirit by way of words or music in unbiblical ways can be dangerous. God is sovereign and moves as He will, thus we dare not command Him to be anywhere but wait upon His sovereign will to move. We may ask, seek and knock but only in His will according to His Word. If we summon the Holy Spirit and the Word tells us He is already present, then “summoning” is an unbiblical practice. We can give an opening to the enemy to pose as the Holy Spirit and bring deception into the lives of those doing such “summoning“. We are not to bring “strange fire” before the Lord or worship Him in ways He has not ordained. This very summoning of the “Holy Ghost” is what was done at the beginning of every Vineyard meeting before the false unbiblical manifestations of laughter, barking and screaming would show up, and later on in the Toronto “Blessing” and Brownsville AoG. I would be very leery about singing this hymn in my church, unless it was made clear to those in the church that it is not being used as an invocation but as a song acknowledging the presence and work of the Holy Spirit already taking place.
Lets look at some songs that are clearly not Scriptural
and in the “bad“ category. I am defining “bad” (for the purposes of this
article) as a song having bad theology, but not necessarily so ugly as
to effect the core doctrines of the church, but clearly bad enough to warrant
not using it.
Down the mountain the river flows and it brings refreshing wherever it goes. Through the valleys and over the fields the river is rushing and the river is here. The river of God sets our feet a-dancing. The river of God fills our hearts with cheer. The river of God fills our mouths with laughter and we rejoice for the river is here. The river of God is teeming with life and all who touch it can be revived and those who linger on this river’s shore will come back thirsting for more of the Lord. Up to the mountain we love to go to find the presence of the Lord. Along the banks of the river we run. We dance with laughter giving praise to the Son
(Copyright © 1997 Andy Park, Mercy/Vineyard Publishing.)
This “river” being sung about is not some allegorical
river but the river of the counterfeit revival. It is tied to the Third
Wave so tightly that its intent cannot be easily separated from that movement.
Notice the reference to “the river” causing “laughter”. This is in reference
to the “holy laughter” of Rodney Howard-Browne and the Toronto “Blessing”
movement. Also, to state that touching this “river” will revive a person
is deception. Only salvation in Jesus Christ can cause a person to be born
again, and only the indwelling Holy Spirit can revive. The Bible says:
then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of
refreshing may come from the Lord ...” (Acts 3:19). The criteria
for true revival (refreshing) is repentance, not getting some kind of Gnostic
“anointing” experience imparted by "slain in the spirit". And finally,
can we get any more of the Lord than we already have? Think about it. He
created us, He sustains us, He died to save us from our sins, He rose again
to guarantee us eternal life, and He gave us His Spirit to indwell us,
sealing us till the day of our resurrection. In the light of what God has
done for us, all this “I want more” business sounds incredibly self-serving.
I receive You, O Spirit of love, how I need your healing from above, I receive you. I receive You, I receive your healing from above. I can feel Your power on me now. I can feel Your power on me now. I can feel you, touching me right now, Come reveal Your power on me now, I can feel You. I can feel You. I can feel Your power on me now. I can feel Your power on me now.
(John Lai, Songs of Fellowship, no. 403)
Another catchword of the Third Wave is talk about the Holy Spirit in terms of a power “on” someone. This song uses hypnotic induction to get people to think that what they feel is the power of God without any objective evidence. How can a person prove they are “feeling” the power of God? The most important evidence is that we tell the truth and live the truth, and show the fruit of the Spirit. How can a person singing this song claim to be telling the truth when they cannot prove in any objective way that the “feeling” of the “power on” them is God and not simply emotions or another spirit. This is not the fruit of the Spirit of truth. We do not lie to people to get them to experience something. The end does not justify the means. We tell them the truth and then if they experience the hand of God in their lives it is because they are living in the truth, worshipping God in Spirit and in truth. Also, why would you want to sing a song to God telling Him that you “feel” Him? Imagine standing in front of Jesus Christ in person and singing a song saying “I can feel you”. Whether or not you actually felt Him, would that be the point? Would it not be better to worship and praise Him at His feet?
Then there is the “ugly” category. These are songs with
doctrinal heresy that is deadly because it attacks the core doctrines of
I’m thirsty Lord, Yes, I’m thirsty Lord. I’m thirsty Lord for the Living Waters of Life. I want a drink (x3) of the Living Waters of Life. Fill me up Lord. I don’t have to feel it. Make me drunk with your Holy Spirit and I’ll take a drink (3x) of the Living Waters of Life. Fill me up Lord. I don’t have to feel it. Lord, make me drunk with your Holy Spirit. I’m tired of whisperin’. I’ll start to shout it: ”I don’t want a cup Lord, give me Your fountain!” I’ll take another drink (3x) of the Living Waters of Life
(© 1994 Scott Underwood, Mercy/Vineyard Publishing.)
This heretical song is easy to discern in many ways. First
of all the Bible says: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.
Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) Is this passage
teaching us to replace alcohol drunkenness with being “drunk in the Spirit”?
No. It is saying we must be “filled” with the Spirit. “But the fruit
of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
(Gal. 5:22-23) Drunkenness and self-control are mutually exclusive
concepts. Therefore anyone filled with the Spirit will not be drunk, with
wine or with the “Spirit”. Anyone opening themselves up to being
“drunk in the Spirit” is actually opening themselves up to another spirit,
because the Holy Spirit never causes people to be drunk in any way. Ever
wonder why they called alcohol “spirits” in the old days? In fact, drunkenness
is a sign of the antichrist spirit of the whore of Babylon. "Babylon
was a gold cup in the LORD's hand; she made the whole earth drunk. The
nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad." (Jer. 51:7)
Lets look at another ugly song making the rounds.
Here in this moment in time we search for wonders for miracles and signs. Something to satisfy the hunger in us all. A human rage from deep within the soul. Like a machine in pursuit on the horizon like a raging fire we move. Driven by questions in an endless search for truth. There is a stirring in us, a great awakening begins. I believe there's a mighty power. I believe it's a latter rain. I believe there's a move of God calling us all higher. Oh I believe these are the days of the great awakening. More than our hearts can contain it is an overflow of God's amazing grace coming to reconcile a world that's lost its way. Oh, all consuming fire come purify us once again. There's no containing this great move of restoration. It knows no walls, no boundaries or lines. Without a doubt I do believe if we'll just get down on our knees. The latter rain is gonna fall. It's just a matter of time.
(Artist: 4Him, Great Awakening, Benson Records)
This song, by the group “4HIM”, has so much bad doctrine it ought to be easy for anyone with even a simple knowledge of the Scriptures to spot. But it is amazing how many church leaders let songs like this slip by without even checking them for content. Lets test this song step by step.
(1) The song talks about seeking “signs and wonders“.
The Bible does not call us to seek signs and wonders but rather the sign
for our generation is “the sign of Jonah” (Lu. 11:29) which is the death
and resurrection of Jesus Christ through faith and repentance.
(2) It speaks of a “great awakening“ or end times revival. The Bible does not paint that picture but rather one of apostasy (2 Th. 2:11, 2 Pe. 2:1, Matt. 24) and a great turning away from the love of the truth (2 Th. 2:10).
(3) What “mighty power” are they talking about? Since it is not articulated, it could be any mighty power, including the power of the enemy. These things need to be spelled out in Christian songs because so many people are calling on any “power” these days.
(4) It talks about the “latter rain”. The Latter Rain is a false doctrinal system of end times revival and impartation of a false anointing. The latter rain has already fallen at Pentecost and the Holy Spirit is available to all men through salvation in Jesus Christ today. We're not waiting for a latter rain, we are already living in the time of the latter rain since Pentecost.
(5) It speaks of “restoration”. Restorationism is another false eschatological doctrine that states the Church will take over the systems of government of the world and Christ will rule the earth through His church, not as a result of His bodily return at the start of the millennium.
As you can see, this is a very dangerous song because of all the false doctrine in the lyrics. Yet it has been played on most Christian radio stations and is used by youth groups. As it is with most unsound doctrinal songs and teachings, error is laid alongside truth (2 Pet. 2:1) to make it more palatable. But the fact is that the message of the song can cause people to be lead astray into doctrines and movements that are not of God, and in fact may lead them into following the coming antichrist.
Perhaps the song lyrics that get the award in this article
for being the “ugliest” would be the following song written by Kathy Riss,
wife of Dr. Richard Riss who is the foremost historian and apologist for
the Third Wave movement. That Dr. Riss would allow his wife to write this
song and publish and republish it all over the Internet, shows he has no
headship over his wife at all.
If you feel too serious and kind of blue, I've got a suggestion, just the thing for you! It's a little unconventional, but so much fun, That you won't even mind when people think you're dumb! Just come to the party God is throwing right now, We can all lighten up and show the pagans how Christians have more fun and keep everyone guessing, Since the Holy Ghost sent us the Toronto blessing! I used to think life was serious stuff; I didn't dare cry, so I acted kind of tough 'Til the Spirit of God put laughter in my soul, Now the Holy Ghost's got me, and I'm out of control! Now I'm just a party animal grazing at God's trough, I'm a Jesus junkie, and I can't get enough! I'm an alcoholic for that great New Wine, 'Cause the Holy Ghost is pouring, and I'm drinking all the time! Now I laugh like an idiot and bark like a dog, If I don't sober up, I'll likely hop like a frog! And I'll crow like a rooster 'til the break of day, 'Cause the Holy Ghost is moving, and I can't stay away! Now I roar like a lioness who's on the prowl, I laugh and I shake, maybe hoot like an owl! Since God's holy river started bubbling up in me, It spills outside, and it's setting me free! So, I'll crunch and I'll dip and I'll dance round and round, 'Cause the pew was fine, but it's more fun on the ground! So I'll jump like a pogo stick, then fall on the floor, 'Cause the Holy Ghost is moving, and I just want MORE!
This song was used in Toronto “Blessing” meetings to put people into an altered state of consciousness so they would be more receptive to the false anointing. It sets people up for unbiblical and even demonic oppression. The things mentioned in this song have been going on since John Wimber and the Vineyard and continue today in Toronto "Blessing" and Brownsville AoG influenced churches. This song is so disgusting I had reservations in citing it, but I do so to inform you about how far away from the Word of God many churches have strayed in their music, teaching and actions.
Music is a very powerful medium, perhaps even more powerful in terms of what and how much a person remembers than sermons. So it must be treated with the same kind of discernment. We need to be very much aware of the songs that are being used in the church.
The lyrics to music are probably the single most important factor to evaluate. The motive behind the music should also be investigated. If the music tends to stimulate “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life” in the performers and the participants, then it is inappropriate to use. This will take careful observation. Remember: in testing music you may not like the style of a song but that is not really the criteria that is best to use to discern. Look at the effect it has on those performing the music and on the audience. If it stimulates the sin nature, it is not good. If it truly glorifies God, it is good. Try to remember in testing music that we have freedom in Christ and are no longer judged by the Law, but that we are also to be salt and light to the world around us. Don’t be legalistic in your approach, but also don’t allow music that is a hindrance to the believer to take hold of your church, your youth, your body or your mind.