IF MUSIC IS NEUTRAL

Updated April 6, 2006 (updated March 9, 2004; first published July 21, 2003) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org) -

The foundational philosophy for both Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and Contemporary Christian Worship (CCW) is the idea that music is neutral or amoral and that any style of music can be used in the service of a holy God. Consider the following examples:

“...we need to stop advocating one music style over against another. Our tradition, our style, our renderings have to do with ourselves, not with God.” --Anthony Gentes,
The Worship Thought, July 2003.

“There is no such thing as ‘gospel music.’ Every style and form of music can become gospel, whether it’s jazz, pop, rock ‘n’ roll, or rap.”
--Don Butler, Gospel Music Association

“There is no style of music that can’t be enjoyed by Christians.” -- Ralph Carmichael

“God speaks through all different kinds of musical styles” --Bill Gaither

I have some questions to ask about this philosophy:

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY IS IT THAT THE MOVIE “TEXT PAINTER” CAN USE DIFFERENT STYLES OF MUSIC TO CREATE DIFFERENT EMOTIONS? This can be illustrated by the old silent movies. There were no words to the movies except the text shown on the screen, but the musicians (sometimes a lone pianist or organist; sometimes an orchestra) could create feelings of fear, haste, happiness, sorrow, romance, anger, indignation, tension, uncertainty, merely by changing the style of music. If there was a scene with the bad guy slowly sneaking up on the unsuspecting, sleeping heroin, the music would be tense and gloomy. If upbeat classical or peppy march music were put to that type of scene, the movie would be like a comedy, because the acting would be saying one thing and the music would be saying something different. The movie text painter can create different emotions with different styles of music for the simple reason that music is NOT neutral.

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY CAN AN ORCHESTRA CREATE DIFFERENT FEELINGS BY CHANGING THE STYLE OF THE MUSIC? Orchestral music ordinarily doesn’t have words; it is strictly music; but anyone who knows the power of music can testify that each style of music played by the orchestra creates different feelings and thoughts in the listeners. Put a different way, if all musical styles are neutral, why does a military march never sound like a romance ballad or a baby lullaby sound like a punk rock concert? The reason is that music is not neutral; music is a language.

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DO TAVERNS AND NIGHT CLUBS ALWAYS PLAY A CERTAIN KIND OF MUSIC? The reason this is the case is because music is not neutral, and taverns and bars play a kind of music that fits the lifestyle of that setting. Music is a language.

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID THE OLD BLUESMEN BELIEVE THAT CERTAIN KINDS OF RHYTHMS CAUSED WOMEN TO BE MORALLY LOOSE? For example, Professor Longhair’s boogie-woogie piano music is said to have caused women to “jump and wriggle” in a lascivious manner. Robert Johnson, one of the pioneering bluesmen who died young because of his womanizing, said of his blues rhythms: “This sound affected most women in a way that I could never understand.” B.B. King, one of the biggest living names in the blues, said in his autobiography, “The women reacted with their bodies flowing to a rhythm coming out of my guitar…” Those are powerful statements about the effect of a specific kind of music and rhythm. Were the bluesmen confused about their music? No, music is not neutral; music is a language.

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DO ROCK MUSICIANS CLAIM THAT THEIR HEAVILY SYNCOPATED RHYTHM IS SEXY?

Following are just a few of the many quotes we could give along this line.

“Rock music is
sex. The big beat matches the body’s rhythms” (Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention, Life, June 28, 1968).

“That’s what rock is all about--
sex with a 100 megaton bomb, the beat!” (Gene Simmons of the rock group Kiss, interview, Entertainment Tonight, ABC, Dec. 10, 1987).

“Rock 'n' roll is 99%
sex” (John Oates of the rock duo Hall & Oates, Circus, Jan. 31, 1976).

“Rock ‘n’ roll is
pagan and primitive, and very jungle, and that’s how it should be!” (Malcolm McLaren, punk rock manager, Rock, August 1983).

“The great strength of rock ‘n’ roll lies in its beat ... it is a music which is basically
sexual, un-Puritan ... and a threat to established patterns and values” (Irwin Silber, Marxist, Sing Out, May 1965).

“Rock and roll aims for liberation and transcendence, EROTICIZING THE SPIRITUAL AND SPIRITUALIZING THE EROTIC, because that is its ecumenical birthright” (Robert Palmer,
Rock & Roll an Unruly History).

“Rock and roll is fun, it’s full of energy ... It’s
naughty” (Tina Turner, cited in Rock Facts, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum).

“Rock and roll was something that’s
hardcore, rough and wild and sweaty and wet and just loose” (Patti Labelle, cited in Rock Facts, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum).

Rapper Missy Elliot’s 3rd album, “Miss E ... So Addictive,” is described as “a seductive cocktail of quirky rhythms and hypnotic beats.”

The blues music (predecessor to rock and roll) that was played in Gayoso brothels in Memphis, Tennessee, in the early part of the 20th century is described as “sexually syncopated sounds” (Larry Nager,
Memphis Beat: The lives and Times of America’s Musical Crossroads).

Why do these secular rock lovers describe the heavily syncopated rock rhythms as sexy, primitive, seductive, rough, hardcore, naughty, loose, wild, and hypnotic? What do they know, or what are they admitting, that the Contemporary Christian Music crowd denies? They are admitting that music is not neutral and that the heavy backbeat of rock & roll is sensual. This tells me that music is a language.

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DOES ONE OF THE FOREMOST EXPERTS IN DRUMMING CLAIM THAT CERTAIN RHYTHMS CAN ALTER THE STATE OF ONE’S CONSCIOUSNESS? Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead, has traveled the world researching the power of drums. In his book Drumming at the Edge of Magic he observes: “Everywhere you look on the planet people are USING DRUMS TO ALTER CONSCIOUSNESS. … I’ve discovered, along with many others, the extraordinary power of music, particularly percussion, to influence the human mind and body. . . . There have been many times when I’ve felt as if the drum has carried me to an open door into another world.” Why does Hart say this? Because he knows that music is not neutral, that certain music and certain rhythms produce certain results, that music is a language.

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY WOULD A VOODOO PRIESTESS SAY THAT HER GODS RESPOND TO CERTAIN RHYTHMS? Consider this quote carefully: “The rhythm is more important than the meaning of the words. Our gods respond to rhythm above all else” (a Macumba priestess in Brazil, quoted in African Rhythm & Sensibility). The voodoo priestess says this because she knows that music is not neutral and that certain rhythms interact with the spirit world. What a loud warning to those who have ears to hear!

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID THE 1960S LSD NEW AGE GURU TIMOTHY LEARY SAY, “DON’T LISTEN TO THE WORDS, IT’S THE MUSIC THAT HAS ITS OWN MESSAGE” (Leary, Politics of Ecstasy). Leary said this because he knew that music is a language.

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID JIMI HENDRIX, ONE OF THE FOREMOST EXPERTS IN ROCK RHYTHMS, CLAIM THAT CERTAIN MUSIC CREATES A CERTAIN ATMOSPHERE? “Atmospheres are going to come through music, because the music is a spiritual thing of its own” (Jimi Hendrix, rock star, Life, Oct. 3, 1969).

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID ROCK AND ROLL HISTORIAN ROBERT PALMER SAY THAT THE (IM)MORAL INFLUENCE OF ROCK AND ROLL INHERES IN THE RHYTHM? “I believe in the transformative power of rock and roll … this transformative power inheres not so much in the words of songs or the stances of the stars, but in the music itself--in the SOUND, and above all, in the BEAT” (Robert Palmer, Rock & Roll an Unruly History).

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID THE HOWARD HANSON, WHO DIRECTED THE PRESTIGIOUS EASTMAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC FOR 40 YEARS, SAY: “MUSIC CAN BE PHILOSOPHICAL OR ORGIASTIC. IT HAS POWERS FOR EVIL AS WELL AS FOR GOOD”? (cited from Frank Garlock’s The Language of Music; Dr. Garlock is a graduate of Eastman and sat under Hanson).

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID THE WORLD FAMOUS CONDUCTOR LEONARD BERNSTEIN SAY THAT MUSIC IS A LANGUAGE THAT REACHES THE HEART: “Music doesn’t have to pass through the censor of the brain before it can reach the heart. An f sharp doesn’t have to be considered in the mind; it is a direct hit, and therefore all the more powerful” (Bernstein, The Joy of Music).

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DOES THE BIBLE SPECIFY THAT BELIEVERS SHOULD SING A CERTAIN KIND OF MUSIC? “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). The word “spiritual” means set apart for God, different from the things of the world. A tavern or nightclub owner would never play sacred psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs over the music system, even if the words were not included. It would create the wrong atmosphere. Why, then, should believers borrow the music that tavern owners use to entertain and lull or stir the drinking crowd to their lascivious pleasures?

If all musical styles are neutral, THAT MEANS THAT THE DEVIL HASN’T CORRUPTED MUSIC, but such an idea is nonsensical. The devil hates God and has attempted to corrupt everything that God has created. He is called “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:3) and “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2), and he has corrupted religion, literature, art, fashion -- you name it. Music is one of the most powerful influences in society. To think that the Devil has not corrupted music to his own wicked purposes and for the enticement of fallen man is contrary to everything the Bible teaches us.

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DID JOSHUA DISCERN THAT THE MUSIC COMING UP FROM THE CAMP OF ISRAEL WAS “A NOISE OF WAR”? (Exodus 32:17). If music is neutral, how could he make any judgment at all about the nature of what he was hearing?

If all musical styles are neutral, WHY DO CHILDREN REACT DIFFERENTLY TO VARIOUS KINDS OF MUSIC? After visiting a church while on vacation, one of my readers submitted the following, “Why did my children behave properly during the traditional morning service, but jump around like they had ‘ants in their pants’ for 45 minutes during the loud rockish night service at a church we were visiting?”

SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Question: You mean that a b flat note has a moral quality, Brother Cloud?

Answer: No, a b flat note is nothing in itself, and a b flat note is not music. But when that B flat is put together with other notes and components of music and is made into a musical piece, that musical piece becomes a language (music is rightly called the “language of the heart”) and has a moral quality. It is like the alphabet. The letter “d” has no moral quality in itself, but when it is placed with other letters to make words and sentences and paragraphs, that piece of writing assumes a moral quality. The letter “d” can become either “DIVINE” or “DEVILISH.” It is the same with art. Lines and circles in themselves have no moral quality, but when they are placed together into a piece of art, it ceases to be neutral and becomes a language that spells out a certain message in this world and has a certain influence upon men.

Question: Do you mean that drums and guitars are wrong?

Answer: A musical instrument is not wrong in and of itself. It depends on what type of music it is used to produce. Drums are used in orchestras and in military bands and in rock bands, but in an orchestra the drums are used sparingly to assist rather than control and overwhelm the music and in a marching band the drums are used to produce a natural or straight beat, but in a rock band the drums are used to pound out a sensual back beat that the rockers describe as “sexy.”

Question: Do you mean that churches should only use music that was written in former times?

Answer: No, there is a lot of good sacred music being written today and we use it. Our oldest daughter has written some beautiful sacred songs and some of the members of our church have done the same. Majesty Music and the Wilds and Northland Baptist College and Faithway Baptist College and many other groups have produced some excellent sacred music. It doesn’t matter when the music was written but the style in which it is written and whether or not it is sacred or worldly, whether or not the message of the music fits the message of the lyrics.

CONCLUSION

We conclude that music is not “neutral” or “amoral.” Music is a language, and in the Christian realm the message of the music must match the message of the lyrics. There are many styles of worldly music that preach a message that is contradictory to the Bible and therefore cannot be used in the service of a holy God.

I close with the testimony of a man who left the contemporary music scene after having led contemporary worship teams in two churches:

“I am now convinced that God will not accept our worship when it is offered with music styles that are also used by pagans for their immoral practices. If I am wrong, why was he so harsh in judging Israel when they sacrificed to him using the pagan high places and rituals? He is a jealous God. If you grasp this principle alone, it will change for ever the way you lead a worship service. … The true heart of worship is the heart that bows before God and submits to his Word, no more and no less” (Dan Lucarini,
Confessions of a Former Worship Leader, p. 57).