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The Biblical Response to the Christian Music Debate

In teaching our children or discipling our students, we often have to deal with difficult questions in Christianity. One of these tough questions is how to handle situations about which good Christians disagree. My 8-month-old son is too young to have to worry about this now, but as he grows I know these types of questions will come up. When the time comes, I hope to teach him the truths of Romans 14.

I don’t know what issues will come up in the future, but today I am going to apply these principles to the topic of Christian music. Some of you may not even understand how there could be opposing views regarding Christian music, but this question has been an issue at my church recently. I attend a conservative church that has proudly sung hymns for the last fifty years and still includes an organ as part of our congregational singing. Lest you think we are stuck in the 50’s, we do also have a piano, keyboard, and orchestra, and the choir and soloists sing a range of traditional and modern songs. As you may guess, in these circles, the topic of contemporary Christian music produces much debate.  Romans 14 holds the answer to how we should handle this question as well as many other areas in which Christians disagree.

Guitar and piano

If you haven’t read Romans 14 recently, click here to read it.

This passage contains 7 key principles.

  1. This passage only applies to issues that the Bible does not clearly address.

 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. (v.2) One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. (v. 5)

We have to get this out of the way right away. This passage is discussing issues that do not have a clear biblical answer. The first issue involved eating meat. Some Christians were concerned either that the meat had been offered to an idol or that it was unclean according to the Mosaic law. The other issue is dealing with observing the Jewish feasts such as Passover. Both of these issues had no clear Scriptural answer. They were part of the law but Christ had done away with those restrictions and requirements. As such, the Christians were no longer obligated to keep these laws, but neither were they commanded to forsake them.

The point is that these issue did not have a clear biblical answer, so this passage does not apply to issues that the Bible clearly determines. Someone cannot use this passage to argue that they shouldn’t be judged for sleeping with their girlfriend or that homosexuality is okay for them. These issues are clearly addressed elsewhere in Scripture.

Musical Application: While the Bible gives principles that can be applied to the area of music, it does not clearly indicate what style of music is appropriate. As such, style of music would be the type of issue this passage is addressing.

2. Both sides are seeking to please God, and neither side is wrong or right (or even more spiritual).

 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. (v. 6)

Those that chose to celebrate the feast days such as Passover used those days to think on what God had done. Those who chose not to celebrate the day were doing so out of thankfulness that Christ had removed those obligations with the cross. Those who ate meat did so with a clear conscience, knowing that God had revealed to Peter that all meats were now clean. They also knew that an idol was just a piece of wood or stone and had no power over their lives. Those who chose not to eat were likewise striving to please God by staying away from anything having to do with an idol or that might be unclean. Paul doesn’t take a side and tell one group they’re right and the other that they’re wrong.

Musical Application: Those who choose to only listen to traditional Christian music are doing so out of a desire to please the Lord. They want to stay as far away from the world as possible. Maybe they were saved out of a rock-and-roll lifestyle and any music with drums and a beat brings them back to their unredeemed state of mind.

Those who listen to contemporary Christian music do so because it helps them in their spiritual life. The songs help them focus on Christ and what He has done for them.  Now I’ve heard it said that Christians listen to CCM because it appeals to their flesh. This just isn’t the case with anyone I’ve met. Christians that listen to CCM do so because it helps them spiritually. If they want music that appeals to their flesh, they turn on a secular station.

3. The two groups should not look down on or judge each other.

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.   (v. 3)

Those that ate meat were not to look down on those who didn’t, thinking they were foolish for not realizing Christ had done away with the law. Those who chose not to eat meat were not to judge those who did, believing them be sinning.

This is where the rubber meets the road and where we as Christians so often go wrong. We are way too quick to slap on the labels of legalistic or liberal. We must learn to respect the other person’s view, even if we hold a different one.

Musical Application: I’m guessing I have two groups of people whose blood pressure is rising right now as they read this. If you cannot even believe we’re even having this discussion and are wondering how anyone could possibly be so legalistic, be careful. You are despising those that do not eat.

 If you are reading this and just cannot comprehend that contemporary Christian music could possibly be acceptable, you are judging those that eat.

Plain and simple. We have to respect each other’s views. Remember the second principle – neither group is wrong and neither is right (or even more spiritual).

4. We will give an account to God for our decision.

 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. (v. 10, 12)

 Each Christian will stand before God to give account of his choices in unclear areas. We must remember this as we make our decisions. We must also remember this before we are so quick to look down on someone or to judge someone. God is the one who will judge. We don’t need to do His job for Him.

Musical Application: We will give account to God for our choice in music. We must honestly choose music that brings us closer to God and reject music that draws us further from Him. We are responsible for our and our family’s decision but no one else’s. We must not look down on others or judge others who are affected by music differently than we are.

5. If someone thinks something is wrong (or is unsure), it’s wrong for them to participate.

 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (v. 14) And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (v. 23)

Paul says that the meat is not unclean and that it is permitted to eat it. However, if someone thinks it is unclean, then it is. Likewise, if someone doubts whether or not he should eat and still does, that is sin. God cares about our heart more than He does about our outward actions. If we think something may be wrong and do it anyhow, we are not honoring God in our hearts even if the action itself is okay. By doing so, we sin.

Musical Application: Anyone who believes that contemporary Christian music is wrong should not listen to it. That does not mean that it is wrong for those who believe it is right and helpful in their lives.

6. We must not cause someone else to sin.

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. (v. 13) But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. (v. 15) It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. (v. 21)

Remember that if someone believes something is wrong, it is a sin for them to do it. Because of this, those on the other side must be careful not to lead their brother into sin. Now, the word offend does not mean that someone doesn’t like what you’re doing or is puffed up with righteous indignation. In that case, they are at fault for judging. No, the word offend means to cause to sin. If your actions cause someone to go ahead and do something they feel is wrong, then you are causing them to sin. We must be very careful not to do this.

Musical Application: If someone listens to contemporary Christian music, they must be careful not to turn it on in the presence of someone who chooses not to. For example, my mom and dad feel they should only listen to traditional music. Contemporary music does not help them in their Christian lives. Since they believe this, they would be sinning to listen to CCM. If they’re in the car with me and I crank up a Casting Crowns song, I am causing them to sin because they’re stuck listening to my song. This is not right. This is also the reason my conservative church would be unwise to put a worship band on the platform at this Sunday’s service. It would not be wrong in many churches, but in our church it would be causing people to betray their conscience.

One caution: This principle could be taken to the extreme, and Christians who choose traditional music cannot take this as license to critique and inspect every song that is sung at their church. For example, if one googles a song the choir sang and discovers it was written by a contemporary artist and then decides that they are offended by this song, they are not understanding the principle that neither contemporary nor traditional music is inherently right or wrong. Everyone will prefer different styles, and it is literally impossible for a church to please everyone in their choice of worship music.

 7. The work of God is so much more important than these petty issues.

Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.  For meat destroy not the work of God. (v. 19-20a)

 We must apply these principles from Romans 14 so that we are not distracted from our true purpose of reaching the lost and drawing closer to God. We cannot allow these topics to become areas of contention. If we believe the truths of Romans 14 and apply them to our lives, they will not.

So what is the biblical response to the Christian music debate? That it’s not a debate.

Today I applied Romans 14 to the area of music. What other discussions do these principles relate to?

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Linda Kardamis

I believe that when God calls us to teach, He promises the strength & wisdom to do it well. All we need to do is keep learning, growing, and depending on Him. I'm here to provide practical advice and Biblical encouragement so you'll have the confidence and perspective to not only inspire your students but reach their hearts as well.

  • LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this article. I have been praying about the right way to write about this myself but you’ve stated things so perfectly here, I don’t have to! Thank you!

  • Thought provoking- thanks for the article and your perspective. My church is going through this at present. My own thought is that a blend can work and even to include some great Christian music outside of “traditional hymns” and the CCM copyrighted in the past 15 or so years- which seems to be the debate (at least in my church) presently. Quality matters to me (maybe more than it should?), but I’d love to see the blend extended, where possible, to include bluegrass, gospel, Bach….

    • This article is great. Just one question: I came from a very concervative background and we have been going to a church with contemporary music. I enjoy it in the car and most of the time in church, but once in a while some songs still bother me in church and I have the internal debate is this right, or is all the stuff I was taught as a kid right? Does that mean I’m sinning if we continue going to this church? Unfortantly if you know anything about us conservative Christians we sometimes worry to much over every little bit, but I’d just like to get your opinion as I feel in the middle a bit and I don’t want to sin anymore than I already do. Thanks!

      • First, I’d definitely recommend praying about this and praying for God to direct you.
        Another question to continue to ask yourself – *why* do I feel uncomfortable about this music in church? Is there something Biblically wrong with it? Or am I just not used to it? Or is it maybe just not my preference for what I like in church?

        One phrase I’ve found helpful recently is the phrase “educate your conscience.” What it means is that we need to continually be looking to the Bible to know what is right and wrong – and as we learn more, we need to educate our conscience – teach our conscience what is right and wrong based on the Bible. Because while the conscience is God-given, it can also be influenced by non-Biblical influences (either to sear it and make us not feel bad about wrong things or to over-sensitize it and make us think things that are acceptable are wrong). So as you continue to think this through, pray about it and look to what the Scripture says to inform your conscience.

        Finally, be aware of the “personal preference” aspect of music in church. There are many styles of music for church that are not wrong but that I don’t personally prefer for church worship. I need to be clear in my mind the difference between what is right/wrong and what I prefer/don’t prefer – so as not to get confused or wrongly judge others. However, it *is* reasonable to take these things into consideration when deciding what choice to join and to find a place where the music helps you focus on God and worship.

  • Hi Linda,

    Your blog came at a perfect time in my life. I’ve been watching so many YouTube videos lately condemning almost all CCM music played on the radio today. How a lot of the music is more about self than about praising God. How a lot of the music is meant to make us feel that God is talking to us when in fact it’s not. I watched these YouTube videos condemning this music that I have been listening to for years and I deleted all of my Christian playlists. But, I’ve been questioning myself of whether I should have done this because now I’m questioning what I can and cannot listen to. So I prayed about this and then I found your blog which led me to read Romans 14 again.

    There is no way for us listeners to know the heart of Christian artists played on the radio. Only God can know that. There are some that say that if a song doesn’t even mention God then you shouldn’t listen to it. But, I don’t think a song necessarily has to have “God” mentioned explicitly for a listener to know that that the song is about God and is about praising Him. I think that you can listen to Christian music because it’s positive and encouraging to remain strong in our faith in God. They help us to see our self-worth…that we are worthy made in God’s image and that He loves us unconditionally. So I think those songs can still be used for a purpose. Though I do think all songs should reflect our dependence and need for God. I think Christian music should always be biblically and scripturally sound.

    I have to listen to music. It’s just a healing part of my life. I would rather listen to Christian music than listen to music of the world. God calls me to not live in this world. And while I love all types of music, for my Christian walk to keep me continually praising God and keep my thoughts on Him all day long (praying without ceasing), I need Christian/Gospel music. I will say it is important for Christians to continually discern what we watch, what we read, what we listen to. But, we can’t always know everything about every Christian artist out there. And we know that we are all sinners. The only thing I won’t compromise on is listening to Christian artists that are still engaging in sexual sin. Where I disagree with CCM is that they are allowing Christians that are identifying as homosexual and that are still living a homosexual lifestyle to produce music that is topping the charts. That music, even if biblically based, the artist his/herself is not living biblically. But, I would hope that I would also have an issue with any Christian artist that is living in any type of sin. That praises God with their lips, but still live that sinful lifestyle. Because I believe by their lifestyle of still living in sin can cause others to stumble.

    So thank you for your blog and thank you for leading me back to Romans 14.

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