More “Strange Fire”? – What IS “Christian Music”? – Part 1

The discussion isn’t new, but seeing a recent spate of videos stirred me up to revisit the subject – Just what is “Christian Music”?

Last Thursday I was sent a link to several videos shared by the Community Seventh Day Adventist Church of Englewood’s Facebook page; the first of them was titled “What’s Wrong With Gospel Rap, Reggae, Hip Hop?” part of a larger sermon by Elder Dwayne Lemon. It currently has over 120,000 views and over 400 comments.

The main argument presented in this video can be summarised as follows:

                    As Christians, our music & our worship should neither look nor sound like the world. If it looks or                                      sounds like the world, we are mixing the holy with the profane; therefore it is “strange fire”

But you see it’s not as cut and dry as Elder Lemon would have us believe. He seeks to teach us what’s wrong with “Christian [insert genre here]” by turning to 1 Samuel 16:14-23.

King Saul is being accosted by an evil spirit sent from the Lord (something Elder Lemon neglects to mention) David is brought in to play music for Saul whenever the evil spirit comes upon him. When David played, it says Saul was “refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.”

His argument is basically that the music wasn’t “worldly” and David didn’t “rap over it”, it was “inspired music”. If “inspired music” could make an evil spirit flee, then “ungodly music” can make a spirit come.

Phrasing the argument this way raises the question of “Secular” versus “Christian” music. But what is it that makes something “secular” or “worldly”?

“Secular” is a common word in Christian vernacular, but how many of us can actually define it?

A simple definition is: Of or relating to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred.

But even this is too generic and ambiguous. For example, what makes something spiritual? This is how scripture defines “spiritual warfare”:

                  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.                                   We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every                                 thought captive to obey Christ.” – 2 Cor 10:4-5

“Arguments”, “opinions”, “knowledge” and “thoughts” are all about ideas. Spiritual warfare is primarily a battle of ideas fought in the mind which is why you wage spiritual warfare by taking thoughts captive. This means that information and ideas are spiritual.

If we look at the roots of the word “secular” we can begin to hone in on something more specific with biblical precedent. It can be traced back to the Latin “sæculum” which means “age, span of time, generation” It was used in church writings in the same way as the Greek word aión as in “of this age” For example:

  • “Do not be conformed to this world [aiōni] ” – Romans 12:2
  • “In their case the god of this world [aiōnos] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers…” – 2 Cor 4:4
  • “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age [aiōnos] ” – 1 Cor 1:20
  • “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age [aiōnos] or of the rulers of this age [aiōnos], who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age [aiōnos] understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” – 1 Cor 2:6-8

This means that if something is “secular” it’s describing a worldview and a philosophy. It describes a way of thinking. It describes arguments, opinions and knowledge that are raised against the knowledge of God. Anything that challenges a biblical worldview is secular by definition.

So my friends, put quite simply, something that is “secular” is something that is “of or pertaining to this age” and “this age” describes a satanic, anti-Christian worldview. (Quick disclaimer: Not everything that is “satanic” is of the “human sacrifice, demon possessed, killing babies” variety. The word “satan” in Hebrew means “adversary” Therefore anything that is adversarial to the knowledge of God is “satanic”.)

Are beats and melodies, in and of themselves, anti-Christian? No they’re not. Thus, does it matter that David didn’t rap over his instrumental? No it doesn’t. Elder Lemon claims that David’s music was “inspired” and thus “holy” But on what basis? Because it drove an evil spirit away? What then do we do with 1 Samuel 18:10-11?

              “The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David                               was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. And Saul hurled the spear,                        for he thought ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David evaded him twice.” – 1 Sam 18:10-11

Same David. Same lyre. Same music. Opposite response.

The “inspired music” didn’t make the evil spirit flee. To follow Elder Lemon’s logic, if “inspired music” didn’t always make the spirit fee, who’s to say “worldly instrumentals” will always make an evil spirit come? Musical style is not the same as lyrical content.

So then, what is “Christian music”? If “secular” describes any world-view or philosophy that exalts itself against biblical revelation, then what makes music “Christian”?

“Christian Music” is that which sets Jesus Christ apart as Lord.

This is the meaning of “sacred” and “holy”; to be set apart. And setting Christ apart as Lord doesn’t always mean talking about Him directly (Esther is a biblical book that doesn’t mention God’s name once). It means that the worldview that you speak from bows the knee to Christ. Every thought is taken captive to Him and made to obey His truth.

This brings us to my final point: Music alone cannot do this.

Music without lyrics can have an effect on you (which we’ll talk about in a future part), but instrumentals concern musical style not lyrical content. A musical style in and of itself doesn’t present a worldview.

I’ll leave you with a song from Lampmode’s Stephen the Levite, “Frienemies” where he talks specifically about his relationship with Hip-Hop both as a musical style and a worldview.
Grace and peace!

Live Update: More “Strange Fire”? – What IS “Christian Music”? – Part 2

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