Christian vs. Rock
In this article, Mr. Englefield responds to an ongoing debate in the pages of RP. At issue is the question introduced by the Rev. Clarence Bouwman in February 1995: “Rock Music: For the Christian or Not?”
The Appeal of Rock's Beat
In his article on rock music (February 1995), Rev. Bouwman writes that young people like rock music because “it has a beat that appeals to the energy and vibrancy of youth.” I would like to add two other reasons. Firstly, rock music reflects the rebellion and hedonism that youth are susceptible to. Secondly, young people are under pressure to conform to the tastes of their peers.
Rev. Bouwman mentions beat and repetition in his definition of rock music. There is a third component: excessive volume. The volume at which rock music is meant to be heard can be experienced at concerts. Rock concerts are typically delivered near or above the threshold of feeling (120 dB). At this level, listeners suffer temporary hearing damage in less than fifteen minutes. Repeated exposure results in permanent hearing damage.
Why is rock music so loud? For several reasons. Firstly, rock musicians have determined that decibels are what sell. Secondly, loud noise of any kind prevents the listener from concentrating on or thinking about anything else. The goal of rock musicians is to consume their listeners completely. Thirdly, loud noise causes an adrenaline rush. According to audiologist Dr. Raymond Hetu of the University of Montreal, “The vibrating beat of the music brings on a state of arousal… It's like amphetamines. It's acoustic speed that makes people feel good” (“Music loud and proud,” Edmonton Journal, Dec. 22, 1991).
Rock listeners responding to Rev. Bouwman's article seem to be confused about the difference between beat and rhythm. However, the issue is not beat or rhythm per se, but the accented beat (and usually backbeat) of rock music. The melody of Psalm 90 contains syncopation, but it does not have a backbeat. The beat in Psalm 90 always remains firmly where it belongs – on the first quarter note of each half note measure. The off beat is not accented in any way. Significantly, the pipe organ is one of the few instruments that cannot accent notes. All the rhythm in an organ piece is generated by the melody and harmony. Furthermore, nowhere in the Book of Praise is there a song with repetitive, continuous syncopation.
The Birth and Death of Classical Music
I am disappointed that Mr. Selles (“Music for the Christian: Rock or Not?” April 1995) did not honestly report what the Larousse Encyclopedia of Music has to say about the origins of classical music. It mentions “the central position of the church in cultural affairs, above all perhaps in music” in the Middle Ages (p. 51). It clearly states that “the art of formal composition was born in the great churches of Europe” (p. 53). The music of the medieval church was “the most important single formative force in the history of western music” (p. 65). The motet (by definition, a short sacred choral composition) mentioned by Mr. Selles, was “first employed in the worship of the church” (p. 67). Furthermore, “the composers of the period were inevitably the heirs of the ecclesiastical polyphonic tradition, and not of the tradition of the troubadours” (p. 67). We should also remember that (p. 67).
Mr. Selles attributes the rise of poly-phonism to its secular popularity, but does not consider the possibility that it was developed out of a sincere desire to worship God, or that it became popular as a method of worship. In any case, this musical style was developed in the church, and then was adopted outside the church. In contrast, rock music was designed by the world, and subsequently has been adopted by Christian musicians and many churches.
It is true that in the 14th century the influence of the church declined. However, it was re-established in the 15th century, in spite of the humanism prevalent during the Renaissance period. What followed was, from a Christian perspective, the golden age of religious and sacred music –the Baroque and Classical periods.
Mr. Baker (“Reader's Response,” April 1995) says that he has “not encountered much direct evidence that the composers of Europe were considerably influenced by Christian values.” I can only assume he is not referring to composers like Bach, Handel, Haydn or Mendelssohn.
Bach dedicated all his works “to the glory of God alone.” He associated his motets “with all he did in the service of God”; the purpose of his cantatas was “to expound the gospel text in terms of music” (D, Ewen, The World of the Great Composers, 1962, pp. 47-48). Handel, on completing the “Hallelujah Chorus”, wrote, “I did think I did see all heaven before me – and the great God himself.” Of Messiah he wrote, “I should be sorry… if I gave pleasure to men; my aim was to make them better” (p. 73-74). Haydn, after composing The Creation, said “Every day I fell on my knees and prayed God that he might give me strength to bring this work to a satisfactory conclusion” (p. 95). He spoke of his faith in this way: “Since God has given me a cheerful heart, He will forgive me for serving Him cheerfully. Whenever I think of the dear Lord, I have to laugh. My heart jumps for joy in my breast.” (p. 103). More significantly, these composers' Christian values are evident in their works.
True, most composers were in the business to make a living. They wrote what they were commissioned to write, or what their audiences demanded. However, there were limits to what they could write, imposed by the state, the church, and their own consciences. Frequently, composers also wrote spontaneously, without any profit motive. Examining these works gives an idea of what they would compose left to their own devices. Mozart, for example, wrote Mass in C Minor for his own satisfaction. Handel wrote many works for the sake of various charities – Anthem for the Foundling Hospital is an example. Also, audiences then did not demand the same things as audiences now. One of the major reasons why Handel chose Biblical subjects for his operas and oratorios was “on account of the stories of the Bible heroes being a part of the very life-blood of the people whom he addressed” (p. 65).
Classical music until around 1900 was characterized by balance and order in melody, harmony and rhythm. In rock music, this balance is upset in two ways. Firstly, rhythm overshadows the melody and harmony (see Clarence Stam, “Christian Rock,” RP, December 1987). Secondly, the backbeat gives an impression of constant syncopation. Used sparingly, syncopation provides variety and interest; used excessively, it creates constant tension in the listener. The “harmony and peace” Rev. Bouwman refers to are the result of balanced music.
Twentieth-century classical composers might be considered to be continuing the traditions of the previous five centuries of music, but have departed so far from its origins as to make it unrecognizable. What is interesting is what they choose for their themes: a return to the pre-Christian paganism of Europe. Carl Orff's very popular Carmina Burana is an example – a celebration of hedonism and sexual license.
Another example is Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring. The ballet is “a vision of a solemn pagan rite: hoary elders seated in a circle, watching the dance of a young girl who was to be sacrificed to the god of Spring” (J. Adams, program notes, Philips CD 416498-2, 1977, p. 6).
The Rite of Spring, inverted many of music's seemingly immutable priorities. Melody was pushed to the background and rhythm given a principle role… Time signatures rarely remain constant for any length of time, and when they do, the accents are so displaced that if anything an even greater unease is felt. These complex rhythms are combined with simple melodic ideas and dissonant harmonies and set up an internal tension… The largest orchestral combination Stravinsky ever employed is used to assault the ear with sounds at once barbaric and vivid (p. 8).
In fact, part 2 of The Rite of Spring presents a sound practically unheard in classical music before: the sound of a repetitive backbeat. It is no coincidence that the first performance of the ballet ended in a riot and extensive damage to the concert hall.
Early in the 20th century classical music had largely mutated itself into irrelevance and become the domain of musical scholars.
In the Wake of Rock Music
Mr. Baker suggests that only people are evil, not things. As evidence, he cites Romans 14:2, 14. But here Paul is referring to things which are morally neutral, like food (and cars and televisions). Music is different in that it has spiritual qualities. Evidence of this can be found in 1 Samuel 16, which describes how King Saul was tormented by “an evil spirit from the LORD.” But when “David would take his harp and play… relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” Music can also have negative spiritual effects, as Rev. Bouwman and many others have pointed out.
But suppose that music is morally neutral. Romans 14 does not end at verse 14. Verse 15 says “do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died,” and verse 21 makes it clear that it is better not to do anything “that will cause your brother to fall.” We should heed the words of 1 Corinthians 8 regarding food sacrificed to idols. Even though “an idol is nothing at all in the world and there is no God but one” the Corinthians were to “be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul says that we should protect not only our own consciences, but those of others as well.
Mr. VanHuisstede says “there is no solid basis on which we can condemn a musical style just by the way the guitar and the drums sound.” This is not true. David Pratt of Tennessee, a former Satanist high priest, testifies that “it was not just the words but the music itself. Its effect on me spiritually was to bring me into another state of consciousness. The beat and style of the music used in the occult rituals is the same that I now hear in… 'Christian contemporary' music today.” He says that people who were “saved from the youth culture of today” have trouble separating “the things of the world from the things of God. When they hear what is called 'Christian' music that sounds just like the world, these vulnerable young Christians become confused and the music becomes a stumbling block in their lives” (Anon. “Ten scriptural reasons why the 'rock beat' is evil in any form”).
There are Christians trying to leave behind a life which included ungodly music – but when they hear “Christian rock” it brings it all back. Given that this is the case, it is clearly unscriptural to insist on such music. This is a solid basis on which to condemn rock music by its sound alone.
Mr. Selles points out that some of the music and shouting used to praise God in the Bible would “not be welcomed in our church today.” But nor would they have been welcomed in the temple then. Not all forms of expression that are acceptable outside the church are necessarily acceptable inside the church. Mind you, there are churches where shouting is acceptable.
Mr. Selles, however, attributes this solely to cultural differences. These are certainly a factor; we should therefore consider that an even greater cultural difference exists between us and the world. We should not adopt the world's music. But Mr. Selles argues that doing so would be equivalent to “reclaiming” the lyre and pipe for the worship of God. According to Mr. Selles, these instruments had to be so reclaimed because they were invented by Jubal, a descendant of Cain. But Genesis 4 also mentions living in tents, raising livestock, and forging bronze and iron tools. Did these also “begin or became wrong” and have to be “reclaimed?”
In any case, not all things can be adapted for use by the Christian community. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and found the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, he “burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it” (Exodus 32:20). Couldn't he have used the gold for another purpose? He could have used it to plate the ark of the covenant, for example. But he didn't. It was an object that warranted total destruction. Similarly, Deuteronomy 7:25 says, “The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the LORD your God.” We are not to take on aspects of the other religions of the world. When the apostle Paul was in Ephesus, “a number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly” (Acts 19:19). They did not use the scrolls for scrap paper. They did not even want to own them anymore. Neither should we tolerate ungodly music in our homes, in keeping with Deuteronomy 7:26.
In any case, in “reclaiming” rock music, Christian musicians changed only the lyrics, nothing else. They did not change their dress, much of which violates Deuteronomy 22:5. They did not change the damaging volume levels at their concerts. They did not change their album covers. They did not change the unbalanced elements of rock music. Some Christian rock groups (for example, Petra) even have backmasking on their recordings (D. Peters and S. Peters, Backwards Masking (audio cassette), About Rock Ministries, 1985). In all these things, they are guilty of imitating the world in clear violation of Scripture (see Romans 12:2).
Philadelphia's Brian Clarke defends the glaring demon/dragon on the cover of the album Search and Destroy, saying “That's the typical metal album these days… But it's not just to imitate secular styles…” It's not just to imitate secular styles! Here is a Christian rock musician who comes right out and says his group imitates the world. (D. Peters, S. Peters, and C. Merrill, What about Christian Rock? Bethany House, 1986, p, 166).
Defenders of Christian rock music frequently mention those who have been saved at Christian rock concerts. I suggest that God saved them in spite of the medium, the lyrics of which convey one message to the mind while the sound conveys a contradictory message to the body and spirit (p. 44). Many people may have been saved by the testimony of the demon-possessed girl described in Acts 16. But Paul commanded the spirit to come out of her. Likewise, Jesus silenced the evil spirits that testified that He was the Christ (Mark 1:25). “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” (2 Corinthians 10:3, 4)
When religious freedom was introduced in Russia, western evangelists took the opportunity to help spread the gospel there. This is how Russian church leaders responded to the rock music they brought with them:
For thirty years we have suffered intense persecution, and now freedom is bringing another great harm to our churches. This damage is coming from the Christians in America who are sending rock music and evangelists accompanied by rock bands… We abhor all Christian rock music coming to our country. Rock music has nothing in common with ministry or service to God… It is true that rock music attracts people to the church, but not to godly living… We, the leadership and congregations of the Unregistered Union of Churches, the former persecuted church, have made an agreement not to allow rock music in our churches. We urge you to join with us, and we advise you to remove rock music from America.How to Conquer the Addiction, p. 23
This letter was written in November 1991 by Peter Peters, Head of the Unregistered Union of Churches, and Vasilij Ryzhuk, an elder of the Union. In July 1993, the letter was read and affirmed by Sergei Andropov, a member of the Russian parliament and deputy chairman of the Committee for Social Policies, who wrote, “To use rock music to bring young people into the church is to turn them away from their search for true faith in God.” Two weeks later, at the request of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian parliament passed legislation restricting western missionaries from entering Russia.
By Their Fruits You Will Know Them
Mr. Selles says that “music should not be broadly judged by categories or roots.” He offers no reasons why this is the case. He knows that if rock music is judged as such, it will be found wanting. But consider his statement about judgement by categories applied to pornography or drug abuse. If rock music is incompatible with Christianity, it should be judged by category.
I suggest that we should judge music by its roots, and its sound, and its lyrics, and by the lifestyles of its makers. All of these should be taken into account. And music should certainly be judged by its fruits. What are the fruits of rock music? Rock music is at the forefront of the continuing secularization of western society. It encourages rebellion, materialism and hedonism. It preaches nihilism, occultism, and immorality of all kinds. Rock music is perpetually at the cutting edge of tastelessness. We see the fruits of rock music all around us in violence, rape, depression and suicides. I am not suggesting that rock music alone is responsible for all these things. Rock music contributes to them. According to an MTV advertisement, MTV “is a cultural force… MTV has affected the way an entire generation thinks, talks, and buys” (Bob DeMoss, Focus on the Family, August 1994). Bob DeMoss adds, “MTV is perhaps the leading contributor to cultural decay in the world – and they're proud of it.” Dr. James Dobson writes, “It is difficult to overestimate the negative impact music is having” on teenagers, and describes the rock industry as one “that has helped to destroy the moral code of Western civilization” (Children at Risk, Word Publishing, 1990, p. 65-68). Rock was designed to be the music of the 1960s counterculture, symbolizing rebellion against anything that represented the establishment, and it accomplishes the purposes of that design.
Mr. VanHuisstede seems to believe that Mr. Breukelman has cited the only two examples of post-concert violence in existence. In fact, such violence is common (Why Knock Rock?, p. 177). There have been millions of dollars' worth of damages; there have been further millions spent on increased security at rock concerts. There have been hundreds of assaults, hundreds of arrests, hundreds of people treated for drug overdoses, and dozens of deaths. For example, at a single rock concert in Cincinnati, 11 people were asphyxiated. True, the audience members are responsible for the crimes they commit. However, it is deceptive to suggest the concert has nothing to do with it.
Mr. Baker asks if the churches should impose discipline on people who listen to rock music. The implication is that this would be unthinkable. The same sort of “argument by consequence” is used by abortion advocates in statements like, “Without abortion, there would be millions of unwanted children.” It is clearly sinful to listen to anti-Christian music. For an example I hope we can all agree on, let me mention Nasty As They Wanna Be. This album, like many other rock albums, is nothing more than audio pornography. Should the church discipline unrepentant consumers of pornography?
At the conclusion of his second article, Mr. Selles states, “Parents are afraid of the new songs and music.” The same sort of argument is used by the homosexual lobby in labeling their opposition “homophobic.” It is a dirty tactic. It trivializes parents' valid reasons for rejecting rock music, attributing them instead to irrational fear. Children reading the article are therefore encouraged to rebel against their parents. With rock music, rock videos, television and peer pressure around, the last thing we need is yet another encouragement for children to rebel – especially not from within the Christian community, or the pages of a Christian magazine. It is well within parental rights to forbid their children to listen to rock music, and it is sinful for such children to listen to rock music against their parents' wishes. Mr. Selles, you should be ashamed!
Avoiding rock music will probably not hurt anyone's Christian walk. But it is clear that listening to rock music can do so. Therefore, is it better to avoid rock music, and miss out on “Christian rock” – or to listen to it, and risk stumbling or causing your brother to stumble? I urge Christian defenders of rock music to turn and face the greater danger. Young people in our churches are not listening only to Christian rock, but to whatever is on the radio or television. Instead, they – and everyone else – should be following the advice of 1 John 2:15:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.