Posted by: rcottrill | January 5, 2019

Divided Loyalties?

What do you think of division between worship music and gospel music? You get two directions: one you sing hymns at the church; second in order to proclaim gospel to the culture you adapt all varieties of music genres and styles, fashion, and other pop-culture stuff, [label it] Christian, and sing about God, Jesus, faith, etc. What do you think about this division?

ANSWER: I suppose it depends somewhat on what we think of as contemporary Christian music. There are some fine newer songs. But there are also ones so saturated with worldliness in the text, the music, and then in the use (or performance) of them, that they become something God hates (I Jn. 2:15-17; cf. II Cor. 6:14 and 7:1).

I believe very great caution is needed in following the path you suggest. Now, first, you have to realize where I’m coming from. The blog has been designed to inform believers about our great heritage of sacred music, especially our English hymnody since the Reformation (along with English translations of songs going back into biblical times). I’ve focused mainly on the hymns found in evangelical Protestant hymnals since the 1950’s. I believe churches that decide to abandon this heritage are robbing their people of a rich treasury, valuable for doctrine and devotion.

I haven’t made a detailed study of contemporary religious music, but most of what I’ve seen is doctrinally shallow and not worthy to be compared to the great hymns of the faith. We shouldn’t just be mouthing mushy sentiments or shallow truisms with our sacred spiritual songs, perhaps singing a few words over and over, and over again. We’re to be “teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3:16). Further, the style of the music is sometimes so worldly that it obscures or cancels out the message.

I was in a service recently where a pastor decided to play a religious rock song called Behold, the Lamb, because he thought it suited the theme of his message. So, we were subjected to a couple of minutes of deafening din and pounding drums, with a singer screaming or screeching over and over, “Behold, the Lamb of God, behold, the Lamb of God.” But the band never got to the end of that wonderful Bible verse, “who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). I was horrified. It cut out the point of the verse about the plan of salvation. What we heard was carnal, not Christian.

I went on YouTube and listened to the song by the same group, several times. The accompanying picture of the band showed long-haired, leather jacketed young men, with sullen expressions on their faces. They were obviously trying to be as much like the world as possible. Is that what God wants? No, the Bible says, “Come out from among them and be separate” (II Cor. 6:14–7:1). That song failed to present the truth of the gospel.

Back in the late nineteenth century, the great preacher Charles Spurgeon was scheduled to preach to an audience in an enormous auditorium. He was concerned that all present would be able to hear him. (No sound amplifiers in those days.) He and a friend went to the empty auditorium, and Spurgeon had his friend go to various spots and listen, while the preacher stood on the platform and said in a good clear voice, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” many times over.

Unknown to them, there was a man on the roof doing some repairs, and he heard that verse repeated again and again. The Holy Spirit used it to convict him, and he put his faith in Christ and was saved. God’s Word has power. And when we use music that truly reflects and enhances its message, so do our hymns.

I have a friend who, decades ago, was a drummer in a rock band. They played the loudest and hardest rock of the day, along the lines of Led Zeppelin and Jimmie Hendrix. Then, wonderfully, several of them got saved, and they decided to go to church. In they came to a gospel service, one Sunday night, long hair and all. And the congregation sang the good old hymns of the faith, from hymn books. My friend said it was an amazing experience. “Instantly,” he said, “our spirits responded to those songs. It was like coming home.”

I have another friend, on the board of an evangelical church. And they decided to bring contemporary religious music into the church, rock bands and all, so they could bring in more people. Then, the idea was that they would present solid messages from God’s Word, or involve them in Bible study groups. My friend told me that, yes, they drew a big crowd, but they found many of those that came were there for the wrong reasons. They liked the music, but they wanted no part of the truths of God, or the deeper things of spiritual life.

And I have yet another friend who worked in a church that bypassed the music issue in this way. They opened a coffee house in the city, where Christian workers met day by day with street people. They got to know the customers, listened to them, talked to them about life, and about the Lord. Many were saved through that ministry. One Sunday night, about twenty of them came to a service at our church, gave their testimonies, and were baptized. What a blessing!

The often thunderously loud rock music of the world, with its pounding beat, is designed specifically to do three things (not counting that it’s intended to make money for the music makers). 1) The music is meant to give listeners an exciting, overpowering adrenalin-pumping experience. 2) It is often an expression of rage, and rebellion. 3) It’s beat is a musical simulation of lustful sexual rhythms and behaviour. (The rockers themselves admit these things, but also check out the dress of the performers, antics on stage, and facial expressions, and so on.)

Being in services where this kind of music is used (even with some christianized words) is like having on open pipe in the wall pumping sewage into the sanctuary. The Lord was concerned that when the Israelites got into Canaan, they would see how the heathen worshiped their gods, and might want to copy this in how they worshiped Him. “How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise,” they would say. But God said, “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abomination to the Lord, which He hates, they have done to their gods” (Deut. 12:29-32).

Does what you’re suggesting ever work? Perhaps. Sometimes. God sometimes uses strange instruments. On one occasion, He spoke through a donkey (Num. 22:28)! But this practice of trying to straddle two worlds can also be prey to excesses and abuses that are not honouring to the Lord. If the songs are strongly Christian–with good solid biblical lyrics–and are accompanied by music that provides a suitable framework, that’s fine. But if we try to copy the world in evangelistic services, instead of a call to holiness, we’re simply saying, “You can have all this, and Jesus too.”

We don’t need to create an adrenaline rush with pounding music, gyrating musicians, flashing lights, smoke, and all the rest. We have the thrilling power of the gospel to present (Rom. 1:16), in the power of the Spirit of God (I Cor. 2:4-5). God’s work in our lives is done from the inside out, not from the outside in (Rom. 12:2).


  1. Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful!
    When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died. How grateful I am to have been introduced and well grounded in truly praise worthy hymns to God’s great grace and mercy.
    Thank you so much for your powerful righteous critique. How desperate is the need for correction and instruction in the things of righteousness. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Amen.

  2. Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful!
    When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died. How grateful I am to have been introduced and well grounded in truly praise worthy hymns to God’s great grace and mercy.
    Thank you so much for your powerful righteous critique. How desperate is the need for correction and instruction in the things of righteousness. Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful.

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