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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




To God Be the Glory, Part 2

By Ken Horn
Mar. 11, 2012

The classic song “My Tribute” describes genuine Christian music in its subtitle: “To God Be the Glory.” If music is truly Christian, God receives the glory.

Let’s look more closely into what that means.


It’s not all Christian music

Not everything that’s called Christian music is really Christian music.

Every week, in the offices of the Pentecostal Evangel, we get prerelease promos, lyric sheets and other information on new music releases.

The rosy picture of the popularity of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is not really accurate. Instead of CCM, much of the music in that genre is really MCC — Music Consistent with Christianity. And there is a difference.

There’s a significant difference between Christian music and Christian-friendly music. The two genres have unfortunately been dumped into one pot. Many songs have been carefully crafted to be appealing to believers, but ambiguous or vague enough to not be recognized as Christian at secular concerts.

It has been asserted that some of Christian music’s best-known labels are now owned by secular companies with one thing in mind: the bottom line. One is hard-pressed to find much of anything Christian in some music that is categorized as such.

An online music site made the following statements in a group profile of a leading CCM group:

“[The album] helped push sales … past the double-platinum mark, a stunning showing for a Christian group.

“Some secular listeners and radio programmers hadn’t realized that [they] were a Christian band, and there was something of a backlash when that fact became more widely publicized. What was more, they were criticized in some Christian quarters for touring with secular alternative rock bands.”1

When you can be a top-charting Christian group and have music that cannot be identified as Christian, what does that say?

It says there is another genre of its own — music with weak, watered-down lyrics and ambiguous pronouns.

I call it the Stealth-Christian Music genre, which arguably commands a significant portion of the Christian music charts. You could say that Stealth-Christian Music sneaks so-called Christian meaning into music that is accepted by secular audiences. But the opposite seems more realistic — secular music slinking into the Christian label.

Some argue such groups are in the world providing a witness. However, it is far more likely that a crossover Christian group will be drawn into the pop mainstream than it is large numbers of secular listeners will be turned toward real Christian music. Much of popular music dubbed “Christian” has actually served to dilute the Christian faith.

There are even some churches today that feature in their services crossover music devoid of spiritual truth and suitable for a secular rock concert … in a questionable effort to attract youth.

Some photos on CD covers and posters do not reflect well on the Christian message. They are drenched with the influence of the world.

Admittedly, the commercialization of Christian music is not just a current problem. Other generations have faced it. In an editorial on May 20, 1955, the Pentecostal Evangel carried this caveat: “We warn God’s people not to be swept into supporting the gospel show business.” Though the music was not nearly as secular then, the lifestyles of some of the artists were perceived as not in line with their message in song.

Any Christian music carries the danger of performance overshadowing ministry. Christian artists who are serious about giving the glory to God guard themselves to make sure this doesn’t happen.


Genuine Christian music

Genuine Christian music is marked by certain definitive characteristics.

• Content

Early Christians debated whether church songs could contain any words other than direct quotes from Scripture. Eventually (and reasonably) the hymns of songwriters that reworded biblical truth faithfully were accepted.

“Christian music is about a theology and a message and can’t be pinned down by any one style,” says Bill Gaither. “Over the centuries that message has been wrapped in a lot of different styles. The wrapper is always changing, but the basic message is always going to stay. I don’t think God really cares about the wrapper, but He cares very much about the content.”2

Many songs today have words that may be symbolic of a deeper spiritual meaning, but if that meaning is not clear to secular hearers, it becomes ineffectual to non-Christians.

I think it is fair to ask of any music labeled as Christian, “What is the purpose of the song?” and “Has it fulfilled that purpose?”


• Humility

Christian musicians should be held to the same standards as all Christian ministers. That includes a heavy dose of humility.

But that can be a problem for Christian musicians who become “stars.”

“Musicians can have a celebrity spirit,” says Jeff Jackson, past brand director of books and music for Relevant Media Group and label director for Gotee Records. Two of the strongest temptations pulling Christian bands apart are pride and disunity, which Jackson says are tied together.3

Andrae Crouch’s standard “My Tribute (To God Be the Glory)” is right. If music is Christian, God gets the glory.

And a proud musician is not letting God receive the glory He is due.


• Ministry value

There are some good questions to ask about Christian music. Is it true? Does it minister? Can it get you through hard times? Do the musicians display the joy of the Lord?

These questions are good to ask of both performance and recorded music. But worship music, and the actual act of worshipping accompanied by music, also must pass the test of ministry value. It is one of the most important things people do when they go to church, and it occupies a large percentage of the time people invest in services.

How do you assess whether a time of worship is effective?

The opinion given by Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston on his Twitter account last year has the ring of truth: “Don’t assess the worship team by simply watching the stage. A better gauge is the involvement of the congregation!”

And, frankly, that involvement is becoming less and less in many congregations.

Mark Rutland, president of Oral Roberts University, observed: “When worship becomes nothing more than high-tech mood music, the souls of the hungry go wanting for a divine encounter. The sensual appeal, the ambient tingles, and expenditure of excess energy can leave the worship experience stranded at the level of the superficial.”4

Thirty years ago, Jack Hayford made this observation: “There are churches who have become captivated so much with the liberty and their fluency of exercise in worship that without perceiving it they have come to worship worship — rather than to worship the Lord.”5

In a service, music can either augment the move of God among the people, or it can overpower it.

I was in a service where people with needs were invited up front and others were asked to intercede for them — a common practice in many churches today. The guest worship leader immediately began praise music and asked — inappropriately — people to sing and praise the Lord, diverting the attention of the people from the goal and replacing the intended intercession with music.

The purpose of intercession — or any prayer time at the altar — is not to be serenaded by praise music. Music can easily eclipse the practice of prayer both by decibels and by diverting the attention of people who should be praying.

Any music that complements a time of prayer must be subordinate to the main event. It’s a shame when it actually interferes with ministry. The term “background music” needs to be revived in the church.


Style

There are more genres — and distinct styles — of Christian music today than ever before.

When it comes to services, a George Barna survey noted there are plenty of options: “73 percent of all Protestant churches have multiple services, with at least one out of every four churches offering services featuring traditional, blended or contemporary worship music.”

You do have choices. But there is an unfortunate byproduct of this menu of services: division of the generations. This has not been a healthy thing and requires a congregation to diligently look for other ways to connect people of disparate age groups.

The music we instinctively enjoy is mostly a matter of taste — which is often, but not always, dictated by age. It can be hymns or Southern gospel or contemporary Christian. It can be rock or rap or classical. Though there are some music genres that don’t seem to fit the Christian message well, that is admittedly a matter of opinion, and something we have chosen not to probe in this series. You don’t have to like my kind of music, and I don’t need to like yours.

But style does matter — lifestyle. If one claims to be Christian, the walk must match the talk. One girl group a decade ago was called to account for their sexually suggestive lyrics and videos that contradicted their words about Christianity. Some earlier groups exhibited other problems, such as tobacco use. I personally ministered to an exceptionally talented Christian artist who became an alcoholic while on tour.

Christian profession must be supported by a godly life.


Conclusion

By command and example, the Bible encourages the believer to put his or her praises into song. “Sing praises to God, sing praises!” (Psalm 47:6, NKJV). “I will praise the name of God with a song” (Psalm 69:30).

This short series has intentionally focused not on specific music or musicians but principles. Music is given to believers. It is made for praise.

Genuine Christian music succeeds in this, and lifts the spirits of the singers as well. So, “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving” (Psalm 147:7).

When it comes right down to it, everything we’ve said can be summed up by our title. When it comes to Christian music, the most important thing is: to God be the glory.

1 Pandora.com, accessed 6/2/11

2 Steve Rabey, Religion News Service, 11/21/08

3 “Gotee Records: ‘It’s All About Ministry’” by John Cockroft, Pentecostal Evangel, April 21, 2002

4 enrichmentjournal.ag.org/?200303/200303_026_Power.cfm

5 1981 Pastors’ Seminar, “The Priority of Worship.” Soundword Tape Ministry, “The Church on the Way” First Foursquare Church, 14434 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, Calif.  91405, tape # M 1207 B


KEN HORN is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Email your comments to pe@ag.org.