Discussion of Music and Worship Issues

Dr. Steve Viars July 9, 2003

                  MUSIC AND

This document was developed alongside our discussion of Frequently Asked Questions to provide a more substantive treatment of issues relevant to this subject.

1. Is music moral or amoral?
Answer: Passages like Psalm 19:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 14:40 indicate that everything in life has a moral dimension.  In The Ministry of Music, Milo Thompson states, “Man was commissioned to be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth, subdue it; and have dominion over the fish, fowl, and every living thing” (Genesis 1:28).  This implies that man is expected by God to manage and creatively develop His creation for His glory and the benefit of man.  However, because of the fall of humankind (Genesis 3), not only has the capacity for creativity been affected negatively, there is also the possibility of destroying the original intent, beauty, and potential of God’s creation by self-centeredness and sin….God’s creation has throughout an intended design, order, and purpose, hence morality (Psalm 19:1-3; 1 Corinthians 14:40).  This can be seen in chemistry, astronomy, weather, physiology, ecology, and in music.  Any one of these components of God’s creation reduced to its bare minimum or a singular element standing by itself may be debated as to its morality.  But for certain, the moment the element is added to another element and/or developed and managed by humans, there is morality involved as to whether God’s design, order, and purpose will be followed.

As mankind manages and creatively develops the basic elements of God’s creation in each of the following components, it will result for God’s glory or man’s sin.  Whatever someone does with the basic elements becomes a moral issue.

Basic Components Resulting Discipline Evidence of Proper Dominion Evidence of Man’s Sin
Chemical Elements Chemistry Vaccine Poison
Numbers Mathematics Geometry
Equations Statistical Misrepresentation
Colors-Light Art Nature Michelangelo Pornography
Spoken Letters Speech Greek Rhetoric Lying
Written Letters Composition
Music Lyrics John Bunyon
“Messiah” Moral Filth
Gangsta Rap
Sound waves
Individual tones Music Refreshing spirit and body Stimulating lust
Instant gratification

Because hundreds of verses in the Word of God speak to the issue of music, we must conclude that music is clearly moral. There are also principles regarding the place of our emotions, the place of our bodies, as well as principles that govern Christian liberty that all intersect the subject of music.  These passages demonstrate that music is an issue of morality even when the music itself is separated from the lyrics.

Many times, however, some who believe that music is moral state their views in such a way as to indicate that Scripture speaks in black and white terms about every piece of music.  And based on their position, each piece could be judged as being clearly appropriate or clearly sinful.  This view allows no room for freedom, no place for choices or preferences.  In other words, those who make this argument essentially say, “If you were as spiritual as I am, or as smart as I am, you’d make the exact same musical choices.”

Sadly, this position makes the Bible say much more than it actually does.  The Bible provides clear direct commands that help us establish biblical parameters for the selection of music.  Music that falls outside of those parameters can be judged as wrong, sinful, displeasing to God.  However, within those parameters, there’s a range of music that is perfectly acceptable and pleasing to God. 

The Bible also provides us with indirect principles to govern our musical choices.  It must be noted, though, that our level of certainty regarding the morality of musical pieces changes once we begin making applications based on indirect principles.  There is also a measure of freedom and greater room for discussion.  However, when an individual begins using his or her conclusions concerning the application of these principles to evaluate the spiritual maturity of others, legalism often results (Thompson 7-8).

2. What is the purpose of worship?
Answer: The purpose of worship is to attribute worth to God (Psalm 27:6), to praise God (Psalm 150:3-4), to lift the emotions of the heart (Ephesians 5:18-19), to learn Scripture and spiritual truths by singing (Psalm 32:7-8), to introduce others to Jesus Christ (Psalm 40:3), to instruct and convict through the proclamation and singing of scriptural texts (Isaiah 55:11; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 5:15-21), and to encourage obedience (James 1:25).

God is the primary focus of our worship endeavors, but we must also consider the effect of our worship upon one another.  John Frame addresses this issue, stating, “The focus of our effort in worship should be on pleasing [God].  From this principle, some might conclude that we should not pay any attention to human needs in worship.  Talk like that can sound very pious, but it is unbiblical.…In worship, we should not be so preoccupied with God that we ignore one another.  For example, worshipers should not ignore the needs of the poor (Isaiah 1:10-17).  And we should make sure that our worship is edifying to believers (1 Corinthians 14:26).  First Corinthians 14 emphasizes the importance of conducting worship not in unintelligible “tongues,” but in the language understandable to all.  Even an unbeliever, when he enters the assembly, should be able to understand what is taking place, so that he will fall down and worship, exclaiming, “God is really among you” (v. 25).  So, worship has a horizontal dimension as well as a vertical focus.  It is to be God-centered, but it is also to be both edifying and evangelistic.  Worship that is unedifying or unevangelistic may not properly claim to be God-centered” (7-8).

3. Why is there so much controversy over the use of music in the church?
Answer: Because Scripture does not speak explicitly on the issue of musical styles, people tend to elevate their tastes and preferences to the standard of Scripture, causing disagreement over those styles that are appropriate for use in worship.

Milo Thompson comments on this, stating, “It must be remembered that being without the clear teaching of the theology of the biblical text, a particular musical preference, taste, tradition, or culture may not necessarily be opposed to Scripture, and therefore is acceptable for the person or local group to practice.  As such, it may have personal or provincial meaningfulness and may be made binding to the group, but must not be made authoritative upon all other individuals or groups beyond the local sphere or universally…We must come to recognize that man’s culture, traditions, preferences, tastes, or misplaced convictions regarding music usually become the stumbling blocks and impediments for believers to come to the ‘unity of the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God’” (2).

4. How should I respond to the controversy over music?
Answer: The controversy should motivate us to know what the authoritative Scriptures teach about music so that we can think and act biblically in relation to the subject.  We should be willing to listen to the various views on the subject, but then we must ask, “What do the Scriptures teach about that?” or “What Scripture is used to support that belief or practice?”  We must be careful to listen to what Scripture teaches and to conform our beliefs to those teachings. 

Too often, however, Christians approach the subject of music from the opposite direction.  They identify what they believe to be appropriate musical standards and begin searching for passages of Scripture to back their position.  This is a practice known as proof-texting.  Proof-texting often involves the misuse of Scripture and can be used to support almost any conclusion.  This practice often causes Christians to embrace standards that go beyond what the Scriptures teach.  Many times, these standards are more restrictive than those laid out in Scripture.  Though it is not wrong to determine personal standards of conduct for oneself or one’s family, believers who choose to follow more restrictive standards must understand their reasons for doing so and must be willing to re-evaluate their standards in light of biblical teaching.  Such believers must also guard against holding others to similar standards.  Doing so would be akin to Pharisaism.

5. What standard will be used to determine our church’s worship music?
Answer: God’s Word will be used as the standard by which our church’s music will be selected and ministered.  The teachings of Scripture will help us to determine those musical selections that can appropriately be used in corporate worship.  However, it must be understood that while the principles governing our selection of music will never change, our application of those principles will change constantly.  We will continuously look for fresh and dynamic ways to worship the Lord.  The fact that we serve a living God, Who is actively at work in the lives of people, should motivate us toward creativity and vibrancy in our worship.

6. Who is responsible for setting the direction of our church’s music?
Answer: Often, the person who leads music for a worship service is called the worship leader.  However, this term is misapplied.  Though a church’s music leader will have a great deal of input regarding the content and organization of a worship service, Scripture teaches that a church’s senior pastor is its worship leader.  He bears ultimate responsibility for leading his church family according to the Word of God (Acts 14:23, 15:2; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 5:2).  This, of course, includes all music that is selected for use in worship.  Using the Bible as his standard, the senior pastor sets the direction of a church’s music. 

This is an important point to understand because church members have a responsibility to obediently submit to the leadership of their pastor (Hebrews 13:17) if his leadership is consistent with God’s Word.  Church members who disagree with the decisions of their pastor in this area must thoroughly search the Scriptures to determine whether their disagreement is rooted in biblical truth.  If it is, they must communicate their concerns to their pastor with a willingness to alter their own position if they come to see that their pastor’s leading is, in fact, biblical.  If their disagreement is not rooted in God’s truth, they must quickly and joyfully submit to their pastor’s guidance.

During this process, Christians must be careful to distinguish between biblical convictions and personal preferences.  Convictions are principles corresponding to direct commands and statements from the Word of God for which an individual would be willing to die.  Examples of biblical convictions include such things as the believer’s responsibility to speak truthfully, to evangelize those without Christ, to confess and forsake sins, etc.  Preferences are positions aligned with personal tastes or desires that may be legitimate or illegitimate personal applications of indirect principles of Scripture.  Examples of preferences include restrictions on clothing, food, entertainment, and music.  Most conflicts between church members and their pastors arise out of disagreements concerning appropriate applications of the indirect principles of Scripture. 

When disagreements are not based on clear biblical commands, church members must set aside their preferences to support the leading of their pastor.  In his book Seven Words to Change Your Family While There’s Still Time, James MacDonald states, “Unless [your pastors] are asking you to sin or do something that would dishonor the Lord, you ought to do the things that they are asking you to do.  And if a leader of your church actually asks you to sin?  Find a new church….But unless it goes that far, you ought to fall in line.  God will honor that even if you don’t see how” (125).

7. What should drive the selection of songs in worship?
Answer: Colossians 3:12-17 provides some parameters to help guide the selection of music.  Music selected for worship should meet at least one of the following four criteria:  1) Songs should focus on God’s character.  Such music will speak concerning His divine attributes, e.g., His power, holiness, love, goodness, eternality, etc.  Examples of this type of song include “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Great Is the Lord,” and “Holy Is He.”  2) Music should express thankfulness and praise to the Lord for His work in our lives as well as the lives of others.  “Give Thanks,” “Thou Art Worthy,” and “I’m Forever Grateful” are typical of this category.  3) Songs should exalt the Lord Jesus Christ.  Music of this type will present Jesus as being uniquely deserving of adoration and honor.  It includes songs like “No Other Name,” “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” and “Knowing You.”  4) Music should teach the principles of Scripture for the purpose of encouragement and training in God’s truth.  This category is very broad.  It can include instruction about God’s work in history (“I Sing the Mighty Power of God” and “Above All”), teaching on important doctrines (“Grace Greater Than Our Sin,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “People Need the Lord”), encouragement to mature spiritually (“Be Strong In the Lord”), and expressions of a desire to please the Lord (“Holiness,” “A Servant’s Heart,” and “Psalm 19”).  A song that fits into one or more of these categories can be appropriately used in corporate worship provided that its melody and arrangement do not place undue emphasis upon the body or emotions.

8. Are any musical instruments inappropriate for use in worship?
Answer: The Bible identifies three families of instruments as being appropriate for use in worship:  strings (Genesis 31:27; 1 Samuel 10:25; Psalm 33:2; etc.), wind (Joshua 6:5; 1 Samuel 10:1-6; 2 Chronicles 7:6; etc.), and percussion (Exodus 15:20; Judges 11:34; 1 Chronicles 15:19; etc.).

Many people argue that instruments such as electric guitars, electronic keyboards, and drum sets should not be used in worship.  These instruments obviously did not exist in their present form at the time the Bible was written, and many people seem to be of the opinion that if they had existed, Scripture would have condemned their use.  However, it is important to remember that these instruments did exist in another form, and Scripture actually encourages their use in worship. 

One argument levied against their present use is the fact that secular musicians use these instruments.  Because of this, some argue that we must not allow the use of these instruments in our services in an effort to abstain from every form of ungodliness.  The problem with this argument is that it focuses completely on one prominent feature among secular musicians while ignoring other prominent features.  For example, secular musicians often use microphones and large speakers to amplify their sound.  Should their use of such technologies prevent believers from using them? 

Christians have the responsibility to be discerning.  While it is important to avoid the appearance of evil, Christians must be careful to avoid reactionary stances that are not properly directed by biblical principles.  Those who assert that we must avoid association with particular secular groups must understand that this argument requires the avoidance of all prominent characteristics of those groups and not merely those characteristics found most distasteful.  Though our world tends to pervert the use of many things, we must consider that those very things can be used to the glory of God when employed in the proper context using proper methods out of proper motives.  We must use Scripture to help us identify both the sinful and God-honoring uses of the objects and devices God has placed at our disposal.

Another argument levied against the use of the instruments in question is the idea that these instruments become the focus of worship when they are used.  While it is true that in some churches the attention paid these instruments is disproportionately significant, that is not the case in all churches.  Here again, we must remember that anytime man begins managing the fundamental elements of any discipline, the potential for sin exists.  However, we dare not forget that where the potential for sin exists, the potential for glorifying God also exists. 

So, what determines whether God will be glorified or not?  The answer, as in all cases, is man’s response to God’s Word.  If those overseeing the use of these instruments are primarily concerned with the communication of scriptural truths, they will make every effort to ensure that instruments are used to enhance the lyrics of a song.  The musical text must take priority because the lyrics serve as the vehicle through which a congregation communicates to and about God.  Musical accompaniment should never overpower or steal focus from a song’s text.  When proper attention is given to God-pleasing lyrics, God is glorified in a congregation’s singing.

9. Are there any particular rhythms or musical styles that are sinful in nature?
Answer: In discussing the morality of music, we mentioned the fact that anytime mankind manages and creatively develops the basic elements of God’s creation, the question of morality is involved.  This question certainly pertains to the use of rhythm in different musical styles.  Rhythm is one of the building blocks of music.  It is also one of the foundational elements in any musical style.  Whenever we employ rhythm, our use will either result in God’s glory or man’s sin.  However, Scripture does not clearly identify those rhythms or musical styles that particularly please or displease the Lord.  Instead, Scripture points to several examples when music’s building blocks were inappropriately used to contribute to immoral behavior.  These passages include Exodus 32:15ff, Isaiah 5:11-12, and Daniel 3:5,7,10,15. 

In each of these passages, music is used inappropriately as a part of man’s rebellion against God.  It is interesting to note, however, that in each circumstance, the music served as the accompaniment for man’s sin and not the catalyst.  This fact undermines one of the arguments often levied against the use of contemporary choruses in worship.  The argument is made that certain rhythms in these choruses prompt the body to move in ways that are improper for worshipping a holy God.  But as these passages demonstrate, rhythm itself does not cause men to sin.  Rather, men use music to accompany their sins.  Music and its rhythms become an expression of man’s disobedience.  The causes of sin, therefore, lie within the rebellious hearts of those involved.  Thus, we see that rhythms themselves are not immoral, but they can become so when used as a means of expressing the sinful motives of men’s hearts.

10. Is music that appeals to my emotions sinful?
Answer: Not necessarily.  Some would assert that any music that stirs up the emotions draws attention away from a proper focus on biblical truths.  However, this view neglects the fact that God has created us as both thinking and emotional beings.  The Scriptures often speak of worship that involves the emotional aspect of man (Psalm 95:1-2).  Music, therefore, that appeals to one’s emotions can be a very helpful ingredient in biblical worship, provided that our emotions continue to be governed by a biblically controlled mind (1 Corinthians 14:15).

11. Is physical expression in worship inappropriate?
Answer: While not all forms of physical expression would be appropriate for the worship of a holy God, Scripture identifies and, in fact, encourages many forms.  Psalm 47:1, Psalm 98:7-9, and Isaiah 55:12 encourage clapping as a means of praising God.  In the Isaiah passage, the Lord Himself affirms the use of clapping with song.  Psalm 28:2, Psalm 63:4, Psalm 134:2, Psalm 141:2, Hebrews 12:12, and 1 Timothy 2:8 encourage worshippers to lift their hands in praise of the Lord.  Psalm 149:3, Psalm 150:4, Exodus 15:20, and Luke 15:25,32 associate appropriate worship of God with dancing.  In 1 Timothy 2, Paul refers to the principle that the body is an important element in worship expression.  This is a principle we do not hesitate to recognize when in prayer we use the body to bow our heads, close our eyes, fold our hands, or kneel.  The body is part of the total person engaged in worship.  It should be noted, however, that each of the passages mentioned above promotes physical expressions devoid of immodesty, lustful seduction, or self-display.  If physical expressions of worship are to be used, such expressions must be consistent with the entire counsel of the Scriptures.
12. Is music that prompts physical expression inappropriate for worship?
Answer: This question falls under the “Is music that makes me tap my toes evil?” category.  As discussed previously, physical expressions in worship can be entirely appropriate when done in a way that is consistent with biblical teaching.  However, some argue against the use of music that prompts movement of the body.  They claim that such music should be avoided because physical responses indicate that this music appeals to the flesh, and thus is unsuitable for use in worship. 

Those who make this argument falter on a critical point of theology.  When the Bible refers to “the flesh,” it is not referring to the physical body.  The term “flesh” refers to man’s sinful disposition—the inner part of us that is afflicted by the curse of sin.  “The flesh” is what Paul speaks of in Romans 7 when he describes the source of the self-serving lusts that wage war within him against his desire to please God.  The flesh must not be confused with the physical body.  “The flesh” is intrinsically wicked and longs to rebel against God.  The body, on the other hand, is not intrinsically wicked.  The body is intrinsically weak, easily habituated, and is often the vehicle through which sinful desires are manifested.  It, however, is not the seat of man’s selfish desires.   The physical body is the creation of God and may be used by individuals either to glorify or to revile the Lord.  The body should be disciplined for use in serving God.  This point is essential to a proper understanding of the question of music’s effect on the body. 

Because the body can be used in ways that bring glory to God within the context of corporate worship (see question 11), music that prompts physical movement is not necessarily wrong.  The Bible identifies certain physical expressions as being God-pleasing, and music that facilitates such expressions may rightly be judged as pleasing to God.  However, it must also be recognized that not all music fits this description.  Music that seems to prompt physical expressions clearly denounced by Scripture may be judged as being displeasing to the Lord and inappropriate for use in worship.

13. Is it wrong if I don’t express myself physically when worshipping?
Answer: No.  While it is legalistic to forbid the legitimate physical expressions of others, it is equally legalistic to mandate them.  The question that an individual should ask is, “Why am I uncomfortable expressing my worship physically?”  If a person feels uncomfortable doing this because of a belief that it is inappropriate to do so, his or her understanding of the biblical teaching on the issue is flawed.  If the individual’s discomfort is related to a lack of excitement concerning the character and work of God, this person needs to give attention to the health of his or her relationship with the Lord.  Some people may feel uncomfortable with physical expressions in worship because of a fear of how others will perceive them.  Such persons may need to address personal struggles with a fear of men.   Still others may say that they fear distracting others from worship by drawing attention to themselves.  For individuals struggling with these as well as other unnamed reasons, it is inadvisable to engage in physical expressions during worship.  For these persons, it is likely that such expressions would distract and prevent them from focusing on the character and work of God.  This, however, does not excuse them from dealing with the underlying reasons for their discomfort.  Issues of sin and spiritual apathy must be addressed and forsaken. 

Many, however, will prefer not to express their worship physically.  All should be able to make such decisions without concern for judgment by others.  Paul’s words to the Corinthian church should guide us here:  “Therefore, do not go on passing judgments before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

14. How do you define what music is unacceptable for use in worship?
Answer: In Ephesians 5:19, Paul admonishes believers to speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.”  Milo Thompson defines these three music categories in the following way:

1.   “Psalms” – Scriptural psalms set to music, songs of praise.
2.   “Hymns” – worship songs about God and His character and works, expresses the theological depth of the Christian faith (Ambrose, Bernard, Wesley, Bliss, Crosby, Clarkson, Leech, etc.).
3.   “Spiritual Songs” – an ode that reflects a path or way of life, the experience of a person knowing God, a personal testimony, along with singing Scripture and brief expressions of praise to God (Gaither, Green, Paris, Wyrtzen, etc.) (19).

Music that is theologically errant, that facilitates immodest or lustfully seductive behavior, or that fails to keep as its primary focus the communication of praise and scriptural truths is unacceptable for use in worship.

15. Should worship music be used to reach the spiritually immature?
Answer: On a horizontal level, the primary purpose of church services is the discipleship of believers—both mature and immature.  Anything that takes place within the context of such services should be undertaken with the purpose of discipleship in mind.  However, it is important to note that just as a believer’s age is not a valid indication of spiritual maturity, musical preference is also an invalid sign of spiritual maturity.  It is possible for two immature believers to have musical preferences that are radically different from one another.  One may want to sing only music found in the hymnal of the church in which he grew up, while the other may want to sing only the songs he has heard on the local Christian radio station.  Musical preference is not a valid test of one’s spirituality.  The mature Christian will be willing to enslave his or her liberties in order to help disciple those believers whose tastes and preferences may stand as a hindrance to their spiritual growth.  Mature believers will do this in the hope that deference to their weaker brother or sister will help the immature believer to identify particular areas in which growth and change is needed.

16. Should worship music be used as a tool for evangelism?
Answer: Though the primary purpose of worship is not evangelism, several scriptural passages point to the fact that the worship of God by His children should arouse interest among those who do not believe.  In Acts 16:25, we read of the imprisonment of Peter and Silas.  While in their cell, they began singing spiritual songs in worship of God.  The text says the prisoners and jailer heard the message of their singing.  So powerful and so infectious was their worship that the jailer was prompted to ask, “What must I do to be saved?”  Milo Thompson uses this passage to point out that “Spiritual music that is biblical and culturally relevant does reach the unsaved” (18).  In 1 Corinthians 14:25, Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to conduct their services in such a way that even an unbeliever might repent and worship God, declaring that “God is certainly among you!”  These passages clearly indicate that worship music not only can be used as a tool for evangelism, it should be used as a tool for evangelism.

17. Shouldn’t we stay away from melodies and accompaniment that sound like the kind of music played on secular radio stations?
Answer: Not necessarily.  Though Scripture does not give us guidelines specific enough to judge each and every piece of music as being clearly appropriate or clearly inappropriate for use in worship, we have enough information to discern where the biblical parameters for acceptable worship music lie.  As long as the melody and accompaniment of a given song lie within the parameters of biblical orthodoxy, the song can be rightly used to worship God.  Simply because a song may sound similar to a secular melody, its use is not automatically ruled out.  If the melody or accompaniment of a given song is clearly outside of appropriate biblical parameters, then the song’s use in worship would be displeasing to God.

18. If contemporary music is questionable, shouldn’t we refrain from using it?
Answer: “But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”  In Romans 14:23, Paul teaches that Christians should refrain from using certain tools or participating in certain activities when involving oneself with such things would be morally questionable.  For most issues, this teaching is designed to give the Christian time to evaluate the issue more closely through the lens of biblical truth in order to make a more informed decision regarding the issue’s morality. 
However, many apply this principle incorrectly.  When an issue is questionable, many individuals label the issue accordingly with no intent of further examination, thereby indefinitely labeling the tools and activities in questions as “off limits.”  Then, when these believers encounter the tools or activities in question, they often respond by claiming offense.  “Participating in this activity would violate my conscience.” “Using that tool would cause me to stumble.”  These arguments are regularly made in response to such encounters.  Using Paul’s admonition to refrain from doing anything that would cause a brother to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:13), those making these arguments make deference to their standards incumbent upon all who would use the tools or participate in the activities in question. 

Because these individuals neglect a thorough study of the issues, they are left continually nursing weak consciences, ones that are triggered by criteria not grounded in a proper understanding of the Scriptures.  These perpetual “weaker brothers” place themselves in a spiritual category where the Scriptures do not intend them to remain.  Hebrews 5 sternly rebukes believers who fail to mature in the faith saying, “You have become dull of hearing.  For though you ought to be teachers, you have come to need milk and not solid food….solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”  The writer indicates that one of the results of spiritual growth and maturity is the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong.  Those who continually nurse weak consciences without coming to firm biblical conclusions in regard to morally questionable matters indicate by their lack of initiative that they are spiritually immature and in need of rebuke. 

Christians should be careful not to label certain ministry forms as “perpetually questionable” and for such reasons to avoid their use.  Such action, or rather inaction, would be a mark of spiritual immaturity.  The question regarding the morality of these music forms must be resolved.  If the Scriptures, in clear terms, speak against the use of such forms, these forms must not be used.  However, if the Scriptures do not speak against their use, believers must evaluate the indirect principles of God’s Word to determine whether the use of such forms would be displeasing to God.  If such a determination can be solidly made, the forms must not be used.  However, if after thorough evaluation of the indirect principles that speak to the matter, a believer cannot say that God would be displeased by the use of such forms, one must conclude that their use is entirely permissible and acceptable to God. 

However, it must be understood that once a determination can be made that the use of such forms is permissible, this determination does not require believers to use them.  If speaking about the boundaries families may set for the music that will be allowed in their homes, the authorities in the home must determine whether such forms will be most helpful for spiritual growth.  If speaking about the boundaries a church may set for music that will be used in worship, the pastor must determine whether such forms will be most effective in ministering to the members and visitors in the congregation.  At no point, though, should the boundaries set by an individual, family, or church be used as a test of spirituality for those who choose to establish their boundaries differently within the range of biblically permissible music. 

19. If our church uses music with a contemporary flavor, aren’t we catering to worldly standards?
Answer: Those who oppose the use of contemporary worship songs often claim that such music is “worldly,” and therefore inappropriate for use by mature believers.  This argument is made in response to Scripture’s teaching that believers are not to love the world (John 2:15-17).  We are to be “in the world, but not of the world” (John 17:15-16). 

However, before this claim can be accepted, we must understand what it means for believers to be “in the world, but not of the world.”  The phrase “in the world” is plainly understood to mean that believers reside among the peoples and cultures of the earth.  What is not plainly understood is the second phrase.   What, then, does it mean for a person to be “of the world?”  Some would argue that being “of the world” involves doing anything or using anything commonly associated with an immoral society.  Items often found on lists of worldly behavior include watching movies, owning trendy clothing, wearing popular hairstyles, piercing one’s ears, utilizing certain technologies, and playing contemporary music.  Proponents of this argument maintain that such things involve believers too heavily in the culture around them; that by using these things and behaving in these ways, believers essentially endorse the immorality of their societies.   As a result, believers lose their distinctiveness and forfeit any ability to impact their communities for Christ. 

Though this notion is widely held, such a definition of worldliness is incompatible with the teachings of Scripture.  In 1 John 2:16, we read that worldliness is not defined first and foremost by outward behaviors; rather it is defined by the content of the heart—“the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.”  Worldliness begins in the inner man.  It is a residue of the curse of sin.  And though believers will not suffer the penalty that sin’s curse brings, the effects of the curse still reside within men’s hearts. 

This is why Ephesians 4:22-24 instructs believers to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”  Believers have the ability to overcome worldly desires by the power of the Holy Spirit through the application of God’s Word.  However, in order to do so, they must understand that the battle on worldliness is not primarily waged against outside sources like clothing, technology, or music.  Rather, it is waged against the wicked lusts within. 

Much contemporary secular music promotes the lusts of the flesh and the godless spirit of our age.  It does so through ungodly lyrics as well as an overemphasis on the body and the emotions to the neglect of a biblically informed heart.  However, there are forms of contemporary music, some even secular that do not violate biblical principles.  For example, the fact that the world plays classical music does not make classical music worldly.  The key test for worldliness in music involves a biblical understanding of worldliness as a matter of the heart.

20. If we embrace contemporary worship music, aren’t we headed down the “slippery slope” that will lead us to displease God in our worship?
Answer: The “slippery slope” is a metaphor commonly used by Christians to discuss matters of moral concern.  At the top of the slope, presumably, is the point of absolute moral righteousness, the point at which believers would be most pleasing to God for their stance on the issue in question.  At the bottom of the slope lies total moral depravity, the point at which a believer’s stance is as displeasing to God as it possibly can be.  As the metaphor goes, somewhere between the two points, presumably nearer the bottom, is the line of sin.  This is the place where a believer may cross from pleasing God into displeasing God, and vice versa, depending on the particular stance taken on an issue.  The slope is referred to as being slippery because, again presumably, once a believer standing at a point near the top of the slope takes a step toward the bottom, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to stop before crossing the line of sin.  Those who employ this metaphor often use it to urge believers to remain as conservative on a given issue as possible, warning that one step down the slope can lead to utter and complete moral degeneracy.

When applied to the issue of music in the church, this metaphor is commonly used to caution against the use of contemporary worship songs.  Those making this claim argue that a church whose music is as conservative as possible, presumably one whose music is comprised exclusively of hymns, positions itself nearest the top of the slope as possible.  However, the argument goes, that when a church introduces contemporary choruses in its worship, it begins walking a path that will eventually lead to sin and moral corruption.  And once the first steps have been taken, it becomes very difficult to return to a position that earnestly seeks to please the Lord.  (As a sidebar, it is interesting to note that, as many use the metaphor, the playing of drums in worship seems to mark a point that lies just south of the line of sin even though the use of percussion in praising God is encouraged throughout the Psalms.)

While those who make this argument should be commended for their desire to remain as far from the line of sin as possible, their application of this analogy ignores some critical statements made by the apostle Paul.   In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, Paul states, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might win some.”
Paul is not encouraging believers to go about compromising principles or watering down the message of the gospel in order to make converts.  Rather, Paul argues the existence of particular principles to which we must be firmly committed, objectives we must pursue to the expense of all else.  He urges us to firmly commit ourselves to the pursuit of men’s souls, and to cast aside any non-essential baggage that would hinder the effectiveness of our ministry.

In making his argument, Paul identifies two groups of people that he has sought to reach:  those under the law (the conservative Jews) and those without the law (the non-conservative Greeks).  These groups approached life from two very different perspectives.  The Jews viewed life through the grid of the Old Testament commands and the rigid requirements of the Pharisaic system.  The Greeks, on the other hand, viewed life with no restrictions whatsoever.  It might seem impossible to carry out an effective ministry to two so completely different peoples, but Paul, understanding the range of freedom available to him in Christ, makes the incredible statement that “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might win some.”  To the conservative Jews, he restricted his right to behave as one who had been freed from the law.  To the Greeks, he restricted his right to behave conservatively.  Without regard to personal preference, Paul sought a balance in his ministry that would maximize his overall impact. 

Considering Paul’s example, it would seem that the model of the “slippery slope” described previously requires modification.  Paul’s argument eliminates the possibility of a single-incline slope.  Rather the slope must have two sides.  At the base of one side lies a ministry ruined by a reckless disregard for God’s principles of morality.  At the base of the other side lies a ministry smothered by needless conservatism.  The peak of the slope represents a balanced ministry that seeks to effectively minister to both groups without regard to personal preference.

Where the use of music in the church is concerned, the elimination of traditional hymns in pursuit of a musical style most preferred by the unbelieving culture would negatively impact a church’s ability to minister to those whose music preferences are more conservative.  In the same way, the use of outdated music forms to the exclusion of all contemporary worship songs would needlessly hinder the ability of a church to reach those whose music preferences are more progressive.  Within the parameters of biblically acceptable music, a balance should be pursued that maximizes the overall effectiveness of a church’s ministry.

21. What should I do if I have concerns about the moral nature of the music our church is doing?
Answer: Most importantly, you should strive to approach the subject with humility and a learner’s spirit (1 Peter 5:5).  The subject of music has been an incredibly divisive issue in churches over the centuries and especially in the last forty years.  Because most people hold strong opinions on the subject, and because the opinions of different people within a congregation are often at odds, listening to the counsel of God’s Word is critical for the pursuit of unity within the Body of Christ.  Recommended resources on the topic of music and worship include The Ministry of Music by Milo Thompson and Worship in Spirit and Truth by John M. Frame.  If, after applying yourself to the study of God’s Word’s, you still have concerns, please communicate your concerns to your pastors in a biblical fashion.  Because it is inappropriate to second-guess the intentions of others, Ephesians 4 places the burden for honest, current, and God-honoring communication upon those wrestling with particular concerns.  

22. What should I do if I don’t like the music being selected for worship?
Answer: If you don’t like the music being used for corporate worship, you must ask the question, “Why don’t I like the music?”  Your answer will determine your response.  If you don’t like the music based on theological grounds, you must first verify that your theological understanding is accurate.  If it is, you must then communicate biblically with your pastor.  If your dislike for the music selected is based on personal preference, you should heed the counsel of Ephesians 5:20-21, which calls us to be “subject one to another.” Your concern should not be centered on your preference.  Rather, your concern should be for the impact of the selected music upon the church’s ability to minister effectively to the congregation and the community at large.  At a certain point, after considering the counsel of God, your response to the music used becomes a submission issue.  Will you submit to the authority God has placed over you in your church family?  Your pastor has the responsibility for leading the church’s worship.  As long as your pastor’s leadership is not in conflict with the teachings of Scripture, you have the responsibility to follow and support their direction.  Hebrews 13:17 admonishes believers to “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.”

23. If I disagree with the direction of our church’s music, is that a justifiable reason to leave the church?
Answer: If you disagree with the direction of the church’s music, you should follow the steps outlined in the previous question.  Once you have communicated with your pastor, if you are still convinced that the direction of the church’s music is in conflict with the teachings of Scripture, you must biblically determine whether your pastor is in sin.  If the Scriptures clearly teach that your pastor is in violation of the commands of God with no signs of repentance, you must follow the steps outlined in Matthew 18.  You must first go and confront your pastor about his sin.  If he repents, rejoice in the winning of your brother.  If he is unwilling to repent, take one or two along with you to confront him.  If your pastor still refuses to repent, you must follow the steps outlined in your church’s constitution to seek your pastor’s removal.  This will likely involve a public discussion of your pastor’s sin, thus satisfying the third element of the church discipline process.  If your pastor is removed from his position by the church body, yet refuses to repent, he must be removed from the church’s membership and treated as an unbeliever.  If, however, the church congregation is unwilling to remove your pastor from his position in opposition to the clear teachings of Scripture, you must begin searching for a church home that will honor the teachings of Scripture. 

This process is a serious one and must not be entered into haphazardly.  The result of your actions could have grave repercussions upon the lives of all within your church, most notably your pastor and his family.  You must undertake such action with much prayer and in an attitude of humility.  At every point in the process, you must examine your heart and your behavior to ensure that you yourself are not in violation of God’s commands.  Your goal in each of the steps outlined above must be to bring honor and glory to God.

However, let’s say that after first communicating your concerns to your pastor, you recognize that the direction being undertaken is not unbiblical.  Still, you do not believe the direction to be wise.  At this point, you have the freedom to choose whether you will continue to remain in your present church family or whether you will go in search of another Bible-believing church.  You should consider that though your present church may not be perfect, the next church you might attend would not be perfect either.  Understand that God may want you to experience a period of spiritual stretching as you wrestle with the issues at hand in order for you to become more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29).  The spiritually mature person will not abandon ship every time the seas become contrary.  The mature believer will seek to grow in the midst of the storm.  Consider that God may be trying to accomplish this in your life.  Nevertheless, if the direction of your church’s music becomes so great an obstacle that you find yourself unable to worship joyfully, perhaps the best course—for you as well as the church—would involve your departure.
24. Is it wrong to listen to secular or contemporary Christian music (CCM)?
Answer: Where secular music is concerned, God has given us the right and privilege to employ the elements of His creation for our use and enjoyment (Psalm 8:6, I Timothy 4:4).  Obviously, some choose to abuse this privilege, creating things that are dishonorable and blasphemous.  Sadly, this is true of all disciplines, and great discernment is required on the part of the Christian.  Most secular music falls outside biblical parameters because the lyrics are unbiblical.  In other cases, there is an overemphasis on musical elements that appeal to the body and/or emotions.  All secular music should not be automatically rejected, but in many cases, listening to secular music is not best (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23).  There are, however, some legitimate uses of music which can be enjoyable and beneficial to the hearer.  God says that even things that are not inherently “Christian” can be partaken of to His honor and glory (I Corinthians 10:31).

These same principles apply where CCM is concerned.  However, there are other issues related to CCM that should be clarified.  First, the word “contemporary” simply means “new.”  Every hymn and chorus was contemporary at one time.  In fact, many of the hymns sung without debate in churches today were the source of great controversy when first introduced.  Second, while some contemporary music is undoubtedly questionable in both lyrics and style, it would be a mistake to label all CCM as unacceptable, just as it would be a mistake to characterize all traditional hymns as acceptable.  Such a simplistic approach provides an easy, if not altogether accurate, method for music evaluation, but a biblically informed mind will be able to evaluate songs across cultural and historical lines to determine whether the playing of such music honors God.  Finally, we should understand that while certain songs may be appropriate for personal listening, these songs might not be best suited for congregational worship.  In determining those songs that may be appropriately used in corporate worship, consideration must be given to the impact of such songs upon the overall effectiveness of the ministry.

25. Why didn’t God provide us with clearer instructions on this issue?
Answer: God’s Word was not written to address the specific details of every decision in life.  He could have given us a checklist against which we could compare every last song, style, and genre.  Instead, He gave us the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit to help us rightly divide the Scriptures and the liberty to apply His principles in appropriate ways.  He did this not to confuse us.  Rather, He intended us to think and act with discernment, to learn from and rejoice in the diversity among our brothers and sisters in Christ, whose differing tastes and cultural backgrounds serve as evidence of the universality of gospel truths, and to long for the day when we will see Him face to face just as He is!

This document was adopted as part of the music and worship philosophies of Faith Baptist Church by the pastors and deacons July 10, 2003.  For a more extended discussion on music and worship issues, please refer to Pastor Viars’ Summer 2003 Worship series and our other documents entitled “Corporate Music and Worship Philosophy” and “Frequently Asked Questions about Music and Worship.”

Dr. Steve Viars


Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation


B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and three grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video