Have you ever been watching a movie and found yourself laughing one moment, and then struggling not to cry in the next moment? There is probably a good chance that one of the major factors that influenced your mood swing was the background music.
Music is universally recognized as one of the most powerful tools of influence. Aristotle once said, “Music has the power to shape character.” Scottish philosopher Andrew Fletcher said, “Give me the making of the songs of a nation and I do not care who writes its laws.”
Since music has such power to influence, we would be foolish if we did not consider such power in light of God’s Word. Although the Bible never directly prescribes which styles of music we should use, it does address symbols and communication in general. Thus, the basis for our entire discussion will be the power of music as a communication tool.
1. Music by itself is neither good nor bad.
“All things are lawful for me.”–1 Corinthians 6:12-13
Once upon a time there was a middle C note. That middle C was dead in its trespasses and sins. It had no hope of redeeming itself. But then, one day, God breathed the breath of new life into that middle C note and it became the Christian note, which of course is the G note.
Okay, I know that story may sound absurd. But it raises an important question. What exactly is “Christian” music? Notes, chords, and rhythms are neither good nor evil, saved nor unsaved, Christian nor nonChristian, holy nor profane. They are merely “things”–pitches and soundwaves that travel through air. And as Paul tells us, all things are lawful.
2. Music attached to a context becomes influential.
“But not all things are helpful…I will not be brought under the power of any.”–1 Corinthians 6:12-13
Even though “things” are neither good nor evil in and of themselves, they do have great power to influence us for good or evil when they are introduced to a context.
When I was in St. Vincent one year on a missions trip, the local pastor excused himself to use the restroom. But the word he used for “going to the restroom” would be considered a curse word in America. What was cursing in one context was being discreet in another.
In the same way, music becomes communication when it is attached to a specific context. One style of music in one culture may be very moving, but in another culture it would be dull. In one culture, a particular style may communicate celebration. Yet, in another culture, that same style may communicate sadness over the death of a loved one.
3. Music used to influence acquires the moral responsibilities of communication.
“Let no corrupt communicaton proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good for the use of edifying, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”–Ephesians 4:29
All communication has the potential to build up or to tear down spiritually. And as such, in our study of excellent worship music, we must consider what elements of our music build up or tear down the people God has called us to impart the grace of the Gospel to.
Many of my readers come from a more conservative, traditional background. For those of you in this context, you rightly recognize that music has the power to influence us toward evil. But in your fear of music’s corruptive influence, you have forgotten that music can be even more powerful in its edifying influence. And as such, alot of your music is just “there.” It functions merely as a setting in which to place the real powerful element of the lyrics. Your idea of freshness is simply singing the text of one hymn to the tune of another hymn, but in the same style. If you wonder why people think your music is boring, it’s probably because it is. When you fail to purposefully explore the edifying nature of music in your writing, how can it turn out to be anything but boring? Rather than demanding that your listeners become more surrendered to God so that they will appreciate your boring writing, try reflecting more of the excellent character of God by writing in a way that embraces the edifying power of music communication.
The objection that is commonly raised in this discussion is that music should not be used to manipulate. But if music communicates something so powerful to the listener that it influences the listener to be built up in Christ, then it is not manipulation in a sinful sense. Instead, it is edification.
On the other hand, alot of my more contemporary counterparts seem to have the idea that it doesn’t matter what styles you use. Just do whatever you want musically because music is amoral. If you are in that context, I would caution you as well to consider the power that your music choices have to edify or to tear down the listener.
The fact is that no matter what context you find yourself in, your mission is to make disciples through faith in the gospel of grace. And one of the most powerful communication tools you have at your disposal is music.
A lyric of hope is made even more edifying when it is expressed with hopeful music. A lyric of being desperate for God is much more powerful when it is sung with desperate sounding music. A lyric of brokeness, builds the listener up even greater when it is wed to music that reflects a broken spirit.
How much more powerful our music would be if we purposefully wrote in a way that unleashed its power to edify the listener by reinforcing the truth of the gospel contained in the lyrics!