Monday, October 13, 2008

"The World's Music"

Can anyone give me an objective and empirical explanation of what constitutes "the world's music"? Simply saying that certain music "sounds worldly" does not make it so, and I fear that too many people judge music based on some esoteric or gnostic intuition they feel they have.

And let me just say: music and worship "wars" have been going on for a long time, and I don't really wish to focus too much on this secondary issue, but I'm curious.

A few months ago, I talked with a man who attends a church somewhere else in the United States, and he told me that he attended a particular church, as opposed to another church nearby, because his church understood the difference between "God's music" and "the world's music" (thus implying that the neighboring church did not understand the difference). I didn't realize that God had revealed to us what His music is. Sure, He has the book of Psalms, but that only gives us the lyrics to His music, and not the music itself.

So what are we to do? Many of these people decry any song that has a drumbeat, but won't think twice about playing Mozart or Beethoven on the cello for special music during church.

Am I missing something?

Despite my thoughts in the first few paragraphs, I do not want to make it sound as though I think anything and everything should go. I get very uncomfortable with many things that go on in the name of worship. As a matter of fact, I am fairly conservative in my musical tastes when it comes to worship services (of course, the term "conservative" is very relative) and I often find myself weeping at the actions of those who are supposedly worshiping, or leading in worship. What often passes for the worship of God seems to be the worship of self.

But on what basis can I declare any music to be evil or sacred? The Bible doesn't seem to give any type of black and white explanation of such distinctions. Obviously, the lyrics go a long way towards this discussion, and I think a lot of our "praise music" is very shallow and self-centered. But beyond that, where in scripture, or even scientific evidence, has it been proven that a drum or guitar or whatever your instrument of choice is, is inherently evil? Yes, I have heard and read that a syncopated beat is "bad," but I've yet to read any objective scientific evidence about this (besides from the pens of authors who have an agenda to tear down any type of music that is different from their tastes, or people who used to be in the rock culture and, understandably, would like to distance themselves from that type of music).

And I'm being serious about these questions. I am fairly "agnostic" on the music issue. I am very uncomfortable with a lot of what goes on in our church services, but I would also like to make sure that I am not simply reacting against these things because of my own biases. And, at the same time, I don't want to be arbitrary about music, saying that certain types of music are "worldly," yet not be able to utilize an objective rule of standard to make such statements.

And simply because a certain style seems to be of a "secular form" (how something is determined to be of a "secular form," I am not sure), does this make it evil? Why is music the only artistic medium in which we make such a distinction? We don't look at a painting, and say, "The way he utilized his brush strokes here is of a secular form."

So . . . can somebody please help me!

*The picture is taken from a clever website, which is selling T-Shirts based on Adventist culture. Please check out the site:


Cindy said...

I created a PowerPoint Presentation entitled "What is Acceptable Worship" that I'd like to send you. By the way, I play in a very contemporary praise and worship band at an SDA Church. Let me know if you'd like to view it!


Ellen said...

I've struggled with the same issue for many years... perhaps you can look at "secular" music in another angle... secular music as non-worshipful. EGW has been most helpful in helping me:) "Music was made to serve a holy purpose". Is the music sung in church giving glory to God or self? Self glorification by way of singing mannerism, attitude, "acting attitude", "It is not loud singing that is needed, but clear intonation, correct pronunciation, and distinct utterance" (EGW). I've also found the following article to be helpful:

God bless you and your family

Charles said...


That's my thought on this subject, at least for the moment. It's not a sound or mannerism of malicious compliance, but a sound representing "whatever...." LOL

Unfortunately, I am of the opinion that in the SDA church, this will ALWAYS be an issue. (For the record, its an issue in other denominations too). Recently, in my church, some youth and young adults had special music. One member of the group very conservatively played a djembe drum
to assist with the fullness of sound and rhythm. Also included were the piano, acoustic guitar. They sang a song by Andrew Peterson who is a very thought-provoking and lyrically deep singer. Within 30 seconds, an entire row of church members stood up and LEFT! The next elders meeting was rife with frustration and pain and caused quite a stir in the church. People were wounded...

WHAT MESSAGE ARE WE SENDING TO OUR YOUTH? OH MY GOODNESS!!!! Is it any wonder they are leaving in large numbers?

Guitars, drums, "canned music", beat, rhythm, syncopation, jazziness, praise music, campfire music, blah blah blah. I have sat in the pew and watched it for years and perhaps, this whole debate plays into my current spiritual condition - not sure of what I believe anymore. Who holds the cards on what is truth in this area? As you said Shawn, the Bible doesn't have anything specific, though it does mention praising God with loud/clanging/resounding cymbals. Mariam used a tambourine. And the above quote by EGW can be interpreted in many ways and in some ways is dissonant with Psalm 150:5.

Is it any wonder that we are still here? If we cannot love one another despite musical tastes, how are we going to get along in heaven when there will be music that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor entered into the heart of man? And, its very possible in heaven, worship will get pretty emotional - hands raised in praise, falling to our knees, casting crowns at the feet of Jesus, cries of HOLY HOLY HOLY?

Sounds a little too joyful and raucous? Sounds awesome!

Shawn Brace said...


Thank you for your thoughts. And yes, Cindy, I would love to view your PowerPoint presentation. Please send it along to my e-mail address, which is

Ellen, thanks for your thoughts also. The quotes you share are very appropriate, and I will read that Pipim article that you sent.

My only question that comes up in response to your thoughts and quotes is this: you say that secular music is "non-worshipful," but interpreting what is "worshipful" and "non-worshipful" is very subjective. Very! That seems to be the whole problem. If you were to line ten people up, sing them a song, and ask them what they thought of it, each person would have a different response. Some would say it was "worshipful," others would say it does not "serve a holy purpose." We definitely have principles as it relates to music, but how those principles are implemented and interpreted varies from person to person.

Charles, I share your sentiments as well. This is really an issue that I don't have a huge burden for, and I think we talk about it too much. As I said, I am fairly agnostic about it. Yet it is relevant to me because I just had a church member caution me this past week about a song I sang, because it had a drumbeat. This person was greatly concerned - especially since the pastor was the one setting an example!

Yet I had another member tell me that she was greatly blessed by the song. So who do I listen to??

What I am concerned with, most of all, is that too many of us are careless about our musical tastes, and we do not put a lot of prayer, thought, and energy into thinking about what will truly glorify God. For many of us, the only criteria is whether I like the music or not - and that goes for people on both sides of the aisle. Those on the more "liberal" side say, "This music blesses me so much," and that is their only criteria. Yet they never pause to wonder if God is blessed by the music.

Of course, those on the more conservative side are guilty of the same thing. They are critical of the liberals for using the "if it feels good, do it" standard, yet they say, as well, "If it doesn't feel good, don't do it." Both are guilty, I believe, of worshiping self.

I just hope I'm not guilty of worshiping self.

Don and Sue said...

Shawn, I believe (whatever that's worth) that you found the bottom line when you said..."and we do not put a lot of prayer, thought, and energy into thinking about what will truly glorify God. For many of us, the only criteria is whether I like the music or not - and that goes for people on both sides of the aisle. Those on the more "liberal" side say, "This music blesses me so much," and that is their only criteria. Yet they never pause to wonder if God is blessed by the music."

Back in the early 70's I was teaching at Loma Linda Academy. Our Bible teacher was Jerry Hoyle. At that time, he and his fellow musicians...The Wedgewood ("Trio" at that time) were being banned from singing in many churches. A couple of weekends ago The Wedgewood held a concert at the Centennial celebration of our church. They were introduced with a "recalling" of those issues. What changed?

I know there is some music that does not bless me and even annoys me, but it isn't always the "kids" music! We all have different tastes, but I think the closer we come to Jesus the more our music tastes change...both religious and secular. The same is true for others, and if someone is drawn closer to the Lord by music that makes me hear fingernails on a blackboard, then I just need to cringe-and-bear-it. Getting up and walking out is not an option for those who love others...especially young people. In such instances we become that Pharisee who was glad he wasn't like the publican. I have also been shown that if I identify with the "publican", I show myself to be a Pharisee. God be merciful to us all.

Dingo said...

Can't help myself.

I've been told that any music that puts the accent on the 2nd and 4th beats of a measure is evil because it causes you to rock side to side in an "unnatural motion" instead of moving forward in a "natural" motion. (Tell that to any mom standing with a baby in her arms rocking it from side to side - unnatural for sure.)

I was trained as a classical musician and the Western ear automatically hears accented beats as the first and third beats of a measure, even if the accent starts on even beats - so go figure.

I think my all-time favorite is the "origin of the music" standard. If the music was originally written for a worldly purpose, the whole thing is anathema. But the strength of the evil depends on how much you know about the song.


It's OK to sing "What Child is This" because we don't know that the tune, "Greensleeves" was a love song about a camp follower. But it is OK to berate kids at camp meeting because they were happily singing "Pharaoh, Pharaoh" which is to the tune of "Louie, Louie". We all "know" that the song had dirty lyrics. (What we don't know is that the dirty lyrics were urban myth - additional ones made up by students, not part of the real song.)

So... all I can say about trying to be the music police is that we tend to know just enough to be dangerous to the spiritual health of someone else.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shawn,
I have also had some of the same questions. I personally like music with a beat but I also want to do God's will and therefore, I started carefully and objectively researching music and it's effects over two years ago. I am glad that you are open to getting more knowledge on the topic as I believe it does has a bigger impact on our relationship with God than we realize. I have just finished compiling 25 pages of quotes with all the references, from mostly secular communication experts, sociologists, psychologists, scientific and medical researchers, music experts and performers. I have also included priciples from Scripture and quotes from a variety of christian authors as well. What I have learned is astounding and I feel God has led me to to this research in order to especially help Christian youth stay close to God during this spritually dangerous time in earth's history. My research uses factual information not personal opinions and preferences. I would be happy to send a copy to anyone that is interested. E-mail me at with a mailing address and I'll send it to you (snail mail, as I am not very computer literate).

In the interim, a few thoughts to ponder that are also addressed in my research...
-Scriptures teach that there is a great controvery between God and Satan, between good and evil. Do you think Satan would leave music without a counterfit deception as it is considered to be one of the most powerful forms of communication?
-If the origins of jazz and rock music/rhythms were historically connected to spiritualism and if they are still openly acknowledged as connected to spriritualism how does that impact christians choice of music?
-How does music affect our mind? Can Satan gain access to our mind through music?
-Can the rock beat effect us physically and should our worship stimulate the physical or the spiritual?
-Does the music itself communicate a message apart from the words?
-Can Christians embrace the style and beat of rock music that the secular music industry and performers freely promote as satanic, immoral and the very essence of rebellion and ligitimately use the exact same music style in our worship of a holy God? Who are we trying to please?
-Much of what is coined Contemporary Christian Music(CCM)uses a style and repetitious beat exactly like rock music does. The only difference is found in the lyrics. Should christians use the devils tools to try and teach God's principles?
-Who determines how we should worship, God or man? Is individual taste, culture or nationality the dertermining factors in our choices of music or is there one God of the universe whose Word contains principles that encompass all people of any generation, culture or nationality?
-Does it matter to God how we worship him? Is sincerity the only criteria?
-Since the great controversy is all about who we are going to worship, from Eve in the garden to the mark of the beast in the last days, and since music forms an important part of our worship to God, should we not be concerned that our worship glorifies Him?

Here are a couple quotes just to wet your appetite...
NPR Interview
All Things Considered, Oct. 7, 2002
(Part of interview with the Band the Wayward Shamans - a pretty harmless sounding group)

Band Member #1 - "Here is an example of how we took a field recording and used ancient primary rhythm as a foundation to create a modern composition." (They played examples)
NRP - "And when you hear it in the field you're hearing multiple drummers, many drummers at a time playing 4/4, 6/8 and maybe other rhythms even on top of that and interlaced with it."
Band Member #1 "Yeah, well that's why the main reason for that is that those rhythms pull down the God's or ureshas and project them into the dancers. That's the primary reason of those rhythms is to actually pull down these spirit deities and have them speak to the people."
NPR - "And there's a specific rhythm to call each of these deities?"
Band Member #2- "Exactly, it all goes back to West African religion..."
Band Member #1 - "And one of the things that I think is important to point out and Joe and I joke about this being drummers, it really had a lot to do with the influence of the Catholic church because here in the United States this was a protestant culture and pretty much all the Protestant cultures burned the drums but the Catholics realized by allowing the drums to be played and those folkloric rythms and traditions to be kept, it merged with Catholicism..."

Richard Hodges -"During these rituals that still take place in the Congo and Yorubaland, the intricate layers of multiple rhythmic drumming are considered a primary source of occult power."
Richard Hodges, "Drum is the Ear of God", Material for Thought No. 13, far West Press, San Francisco, 1992

Duke Ellington - "Rhythm came from Africa to America. Do you know what it does to you? Exactly what it's supposed to."

Jimi Hendrix - "Music is a spiritual thing of its own. We can hypnotize people with music and when thay are at their weakest point we can preach into their subconscious what we want them to say. That is why the name 'Electric Church' flashes in and out. The music flows from the air; and that is why i can connect with a spirit."

Little Richard - "My true belief about Rock n' Roll and there have been a lot of phrases attributed to me over the years is this: I believe this kind of music is demonic...A lot of beats in music today are taken from voodoo, from voodoo drums. If you study music and rhythms like I have you'll see that this is true."
Little Richard, "The Life and Times of Little Richard" by Charles White, p. 197

This is only a tiny sample on the spiritualism connection with the beat in music. There's a lot more information in my research. God bless you as you study to know and do His will.


Shawn Brace said...


Thank you very much for your thoughts! I am excited about reading your paper. I will e-mail you my mailing address.

Blessings to you!