Final Earthly Chapter of a Godly Music Man
June 30, 2013
Gordon Sears was born May 26, 1922, and died July 31, 2001, at age 79.
He was a pastor, evangelist, and musician who worked with some of the well-known names in gospel music of the past generation, including Rudy Atwood.
Though I had many opportunities to correspond with Brother Sears, I only met him one time, and that was soon before he died. I had been preaching in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and northern Michigan for two weeks in July 2001, and though I was in a hurry to get home and it was somewhat out of my way, I felt impressed of the Lord that I must stop by and meet Brother Sears. That was July 26, and he died on the 31st.
I thoroughly enjoyed the visit. Though very ill, he was in good spirit and was enthusiastic. He had long subscribed to O Timothy magazine and had wanted to meet me. He told me about his days on the road in full time ministry and expressed his consternation at the rapid decline of the spiritual character of fundamental Baptist churches over the previous two decades.
The following overview of his life prior to 1973 was given to me by his daughter, Ruth Ann:
“My dad was born in Hyannis, Mass. He was saved at age eight. He had attended an outdoor service of Gypsy Smith in Mass. He told of the huge crowds that came to hear Gypsy Smith preach that day and how little standing room there was for the press of the crowd. He told of how the message gripped his heart as a very young boy. Although he did not accept the Lord that day, it made a big impression on his heart; and not long after this experience he realized his need of Christ and accepted Him as savior. The first church he attended and was a member of was First Baptist Church of Braintree, Mass. He attended Moody Bible Institute for two years before entering the navy in World War II from 1942 to 1946. He sang at churches during that time when he had opportunity. He never returned to college, but learned the trade of piano tuning after the war. His desire was to serve the Lord, and he used piano tuning as a supplement to his income. During the 1940s and ‘50s he traveled with evangelist Ralph Neighbor as his song leader. It was during those travels, in 1951, in a meeting at her church in Pennsylvania, that he met my mom. They married in 1952. He then worked with his brother, Victor Sears, at Twin City Baptist of Mishawaka, Indiana, as associate pastor and music director. (Victor was pastor.) He worked for about a year there then went to serve in Canada with Youth For Christ [he pulled away from Youth for Christ later, as it became more compromised]. He served in Montreal for three years and Vancouver for another three. They had many big revivals among the youth at that time in Canada. After that he came back and worked again with his brother at Mishawaka about six or seven years. He then served at Calvary Baptist of South Bend, Indiana, for about four years, as associate pastor/music director. He then went to Muskegon Michigan, to Trinity Baptist, where he pastored for about four years.”
Brother Sears was a very enthusiastic song leader. His daughter said that after his health became so bad, she asked him if he might be able to lead singing without waving his arms so much and getting so excited. It wasn’t possible, though. She said, “He just couldn’t because of how enthusiastic he was! He loved to get people to REALLY open up and sing!” It is rare to find a song leader who really leads the song service, who helps the people to understand what they are doing and why, and really motivates God’s people to lift up their voices in praise to God. As a result, too many song services in fundamental Baptist churches are listless and almost purposeless. As far as I an concerned, a listless, purposeless song service is as spiritually deadening as a contemporary one. (We deal with song leading in the video series Music for Good or Evil, which is available from Way of Life Literature.)
Beginning in 1973, Brother Sears traveled full time for fifteen years with his family, singing and conducting evangelistic meetings across the States and Canada and up in Alaska. His daughter plays French horn, three of his sons play trumpet, and the fourth son plays tuba. They had a brass quintet as well as a trumpet trio, and many hearts were encouraged and blessed by their godly music. I remember hearing them at Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, during the mid-1970s when I was at Bible School. I was saved at age 23 and attended Bible college a year later, in 1974. In those days, the music at Highland Park was truly sacred and it was thrilling to hear the voices of that huge congregation lifted up in sacred song under the enthusiastic direction of Dr. J.R. Falkner. Every number by a choir or solo or group was of the highest spiritual standard, and nothing about the music reminded one of the world that I had been saved out of. There were no worldly background tapes produced by unregenerate Nashville musicians. Christian rock was unheard of among fundamentalists. It was just beginning to get the tiniest toehold in some circles out in California. In those days, the Sears family fit right in at churches like Highland Park, and music of that standard was the rule rather than the exception among independent Baptists.
That was then.
Things have changed rapidly during the past 25 years. And since Brother Sears’ desire was to maintain the highest spiritual standard in Christian music, he was deeply disturbed by the great decline in such standards among fundamental Baptist churches. Through the school of hard knocks, he learned that fewer and fewer churches would book a meeting with a musician and evangelist who refused to use music with a sensual beat and who was not willing to keep quiet about that issue. Eventually he was forced to stop traveling.
In his 1998 book Apostasy and Deception in Christian Music, he looked back on those times and described the dilemma that men of God are faced with today:
“When I traveled across America with my family in evangelism during the 70’s and 80’s, we were invited to participate in some Bible Conferences. We held to Christ-honoring music, and also spoke out against CCM, which was spreading into churches at that time. It was not long before we realized we were placed in a compromising situation and our convictions on the subject of music were not compatible to those of the conferences. From that point on we did not accept their invitations. By 1988, it was getting to the point where speaking out against CCM was not the popular thing to do, even in some of the independent Baptist churches.
“Not only are conference speakers forced into a corner where they dare not speak on the subject of CCM, but if they choose to write books and expose CCM in their writings, people will soon retaliate by not buying their books and not attending their meetings. They become the ‘bad guys.’ This puts them in a position where they must either compromise or take a firm stand for Bible separation. Most take the posture of compromise. It’s like the old adage: ‘If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em.
“When I began thinking how CCM fits into the picture of apostasy, the question kept coming up—why are these writers and speakers not speaking out against CCM. It was puzzling at first, but answers were forthcoming. One of the first things I did was write a letter to a man who has authored many books on Bible prophecy and other subjects and publishes an excellent monthly paper. Having read a number of his books, I have come to admire and appreciate this man’s ministry. Since we have had some correspondence by letter in the past, I thought he would be the ideal person to write to and ask why this subject appears to go untouched by him as well as others. I also remember that in one letter he had written to me he indicated that he shared my views regarding music. I have his letter before me where he says: ‘I can assure you that my thoughts on the subject of contemporary Christian music concur wholeheartedly with yours.’
“In my letter to him, I offered some thoughts on CCM and expressed my belief that this worldly music is the cause of strong division within local churches and a great hindrance to the work of the Holy Spirit. I asked him why he and others did not speak out against this evil that invites the sensual sound and emulation of the world into the churches. I eagerly anticipated his answer—but it never came. He has never answered my letter. To be perfectly candid, I understand why this brother did not respond to my inquiry—because I’m sure he, like so many others, realizes that this subject is like a bomb that could blow up in his face.
“Time and time again I have talked with pastors who tell me they do not approve of CCM, but even so, they permit it to be used in their churches. We held one of our Songfests in a church in Florida in 1992, when Rudy Atwood was still with us. On several occasions after we had presented our music, the pastor remarked, ‘Now that’s my kind of music!’ But whenever his choir or soloists sang, they used CCM with taped background for all their music.
“A few years ago I was in one of our four-day family conferences near Baltimore, Maryland. The pastor said he enjoyed our music and the emphasis on the home. He told me he wanted me to come back once every year and speak on the family. The next year I went back, and during the message I spoke out about CCM. That brought an abrupt conclusion to any further meetings at that church. So I do have first-hand experience with what happens when anyone dares to speak out against CCM. Attitudes will change very quickly!” (Gordon Sears, Apostasy and Deception, pp. 70, 71, 74, 75).
When many doors were closed to him by the early 1990s, he found himself in a financial quagmire. He didn’t have enough meetings to justify continuing full-time on the road; his travel trailer was mortgaged and he had other debts; he did not own a house or property; and he had very little monthly support. IT WAS AT THAT POINT OF EXTREMITY THAT HIS GOD SHOWED HIMSELF FAITHFUL and Brother Sears was given a lovely farm house on acreage in southern Michigan. There, in that quiet rural setting, he lived out the last years of a productive life with his dear wife and daughter under the same roof and two of his sons living nearby with their families.
In spite of declining age and serious physical ailments (i.e., heart and kidney disease, dialysis treatments), Brother Sears was not content merely to sit in a rocking chair and reminisce of days gone by. He continued to travel some part time. In fact, his final meeting was about one and one-half years before he died. He learned to use a computer and started writing. He continued to publish music through his Songfest ministry. He used the marvelous tool of e-mail to communicate with a wide range of people (including the author of this brief biography) far and wide.
The burden of his heart in his last years was made plain in 1994 when he published Is Today’s Christian Music Sacred? He observed: “You may not have noticed that the word SACRED is no longer used in connection with gospel music. Perhaps this is because the word ‘sacred’ means ‘holy, consecrated, opposed to profane and secular,’ according to Webster’s dictionary. ... Separation from the world in music is just as important as any other area of Bible separation.”
This simple but profound statement goes to the heart of the Christian music issue.
In 1998 he published the 104-page Apostasy and Deception in Christian Music. It was a hard-hitting book that went straight to the heart of the problem: carnality in the pew and compromise in the pulpit. Chapter 6 was titled “Preparing for the Storm” and the author warned that “signs of an impending storm are clearly seen on the horizon. It is time to take a stand and strengthen our homes and churches for more Satanic evils that may lie ahead.” Chapter 5 contains the testimonies of preachers and music directors on why and how they have kept Contemporary Christian Music out of their churches.
THE STORM HAS COME
Writing in 2013, I can say that the storm that Gordon Sears foresaw in 1998 is here. Many independent Baptist churches, such as Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, have become full-blown rock & roll institutions and those who still use sacred music and who say they are opposed to CCM are strangely quiet about what is happening. Influential leaders such as Paul Chappell and Ron Hamilton and professors at Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College and Northland Christian College are justifying the use of contemporary worship music and are trying to blacklist those who resist the tide and who simply stand where these very men and institutions stood only 15 years ago.
GORDON SEARS’ LAST BOOK
When he died on July 31, 2001, Brother Sears had almost completed another book, entitled The Rapid Decay in Sacred Music. It lacked only the final chapter, and his daughter prepared it for publication. It was completed in October 2002.
QUOTES FROM BROTHER SEARS’ WRITINGS
The following quotes from Brother Sears’ writings reveal the deep concern he had for the spiritual condition of Bible-believing churches. I believe he had a prophetic insight into these matters and that his voice needs to be heard far and wide. May the Lord raise up another generation of plain-spoken preachers to sound the trumpet warning against compromise.
“When the standard of MUSIC in a church is lowered … then the standard of DRESS is also lowered. When the standard of dress is lowered … Then the standard of CONDUCT is also lowered. When the standard of conduct is lowered … the sense of value in God’s TRUTH is lowered. When the standard of God’s truth is lowered … then we have SPIRITUAL ANARCHY.” —Gordon Sears
“The present condition of apathy, spiritual coldness, prayerlessness, lack of conviction, and indifference to the work of reaching the lost should cause Christians to wonder if the Holy Spirit has been grieved with the worldliness and entertainment that has come into our churches by way of CCM. If a CCM star or music group is advertised, the church will be packed to capacity, but announce a revival or soul-winning crusade and the same people will come up with all kinds of excuses why they can’t attend.” —Gordon Sears
“Please bear with me in what I’m about to say. The gospel of Jesus Christ has never and will never be popular with the unconverted world. If the Christian’s music is truly spiritual, it will not be received with the world! Mark it down—the only religious music the world will receive is the kind that appeals to the flesh.” —Gordon Sears
“The sound and style of secular contemporary music has been designed for the world, by the world, to appeal to the carnal mind. An attempt to make it spiritual doesn’t change the affect it has on people.” —Gordon Sears
“… those who speak on prophecy rarely, if ever, touch the subject of CCM. In fact, I’ve never heard or read of one of these men speaking negatively about CCM. I find this extremely strange as well as quite revealing. They can talk freely about the violence on our streets, about drugs and street gangs, about the floods, the hurricanes, the earthquakes, the wars, the famines, the diseases, the wickedness and shocking events that are taking place around the world that indicate we are in the last days of the end times, but the subject of today’s Christian music is avoided. Why? Is there anything in church history that has caused more controversy, more division, more confusion, more rebellion, more compromise, and more worldliness than CCM? Certainly most Christians who pay close attention to prophecy will agree—CCM is an unmistakable part of end-time apostasy.” —Gordon Sears
“Do not think for one moment that God is pleased with the faking and pretense that goes on today in the name of worship? Do you think God is pleased when performers are given the praise and glory that is due Him? True worship is not a SHOW and true worship is NEVER entertainment. If CCM was truly directed to the Lord, there would be no applause. The Lord does not need nor desire applause; He needs our total surrender, love, and devotion. He needs us to be quiet before Him so He can speak to us . . . “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psa. 51:17). The applause church audiences give for a performance is not for the Lord. It’s the performers who often bow and acknowledge the praise of applause that is directed to them. There is no getting around the fact that the audience responds like audiences do at a concert, a ball game, or some other secular event. Their minds are captivated with the sound and beat of the music they love and have been led to believe is spiritual. They have been deceived! God is not receiving the glory . . . man is! For those of us who go to church for worship and enrichment, applause is a noisy interruption and interference with the work of the Holy Spirit. Christians often wonder why the power and blessing of God is missing today. Well friends, it’s due to the fact that glory and praise is directed to the wrong person. Applause should be no more welcome in services of worship than a skunk would be at a wedding reception.” —Gordon Sears
“A compromise with truth is never right, and it never succeeds in accomplishing good! CCM is the scourge of our day, and in spite of all the arguments to defend it, it amounts to a compromise between truth and error. When preachers, teachers, and authors refuse to speak out, but skirt around the subject of music because they fear the people, it too becomes a compromise.” —Gordon Sears
“Recently I talked with a Baptist church pastor in the state of Michigan who lost fifty members of his congregation over the subject of CCM. This pastor had refused to allow CCM to be a part of his church music program. The fifty people who left all went to another church where they could enjoy their contemporary music. The fact is that the music became more important to these people than their convictions and doctrinal beliefs. They were willing to give up their church, where they had attended for many years, to join a church of another denomination, where the teaching and standards would be entirely different. This, dear reader, is ‘a mark of apostasy’—personal preference becomes more important than biblical truth. Similar experiences like the one in Michigan are happening all over the nation. People who are addicted to contemporary music seem to gradually lose whatever love and appreciation they may have had for the great traditional hymns of the church. If the church they attend takes a stand against CCM, the reaction is to retaliate by moving to another church.” —Gordon Sears
“Television has proven to be a monstrous beast of evil, with the power to persuade, deceive, and control the thinking of most Americans. It makes celebrities out of villains, while evil is made to look good. It promotes violence, immorality, hate, and depravity, while at the same time accepting no blame or responsibility for the consequences of what it has accomplished in destroying lives, families, and our nation. We are truly living in ‘perilous times,’ with TV promoting evolution, humanism, and every conceivable form of evil corruption that denies the truth of God. Unfortunately Christians who are not prepared and alert to the spiritual warfare are being deceived along with the ungodly. There is an orchestrated denial and departure from truth, and CCM is leading the parade.” —Gordon Sears
“The truth of the whole matter is that the mind of today’s Christian has become so amalgamated into thinking just like the world, he can no longer differentiate between music that is holy and set apart unto God, from music that is profane and of the flesh. Tolerance sets in when families gravitate to watching the immorality, vulgarity, obscenity, and violence, which at the same time promotes ungodly music into the home by way of television. They soon become so accustomed to it, it no longer offends them. If Christians tolerate the sinful ways of the wicked, they will soon tolerate the music of the wicked, because the two go hand-in-hand. Evidence of this spiritual condition is everywhere today. THE PATH OF TOLERANCE LEADS TO THE HIGHWAY OF ACCEPTANCE. Once a person finds CCM acceptable, he will easily embrace it in worship.” —Gordon Sears
GORDON SEARS’ LAST LETTER
Sunday, July 29, 2001
Dear Friends of Songfest:
We had a delightful visit at our home yesterday (Saturday) with David Cloud from Way of Life Literature. Although we have had considerable contact with Bro. Cloud through the Internet, we had never met him personally, so this was a very special occasion. Music of Bro. Cloud's ministry is in the area of exposing the end-time apostasy. There are very few today who dare to take the stand upon the Word of God and speak with authority as this man does.
I was raised in the days when preachers didn't beat around the bush about sin. So many today speak in generalities, but fail to mention what sin is and what the sins are. They may mention about Bible separation from the world, but fail to point out what those separations are. Few ever teach the evils of Contemporary Christian Music, that would be offensive because they know many of their people are listening to this music in their homes. They may speak about Christian standards, but they fail to deal with the manner of casual, sensual dress styles because too many of their church members dress like the world. They will not deal with the subject of Bible perversions because their members carry these bibles and have not been taught that this also is part of the apostasy. They will not expose "false teachers" and therefore, many in their congregations do not know the difference between those who teach the truth and those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. It's a sad day when preachers are afraid of offending someone, so they appease the people by not mentioning what the sins are and not exposing who false teachers are. It is indeed a tragedy that preaching with power and authority is nearly non-existent during these perilous times.
No doubt I will upset some with what I have said above, but I would point out that the Scripture says to the preacher, "Preach the word; be instant (persistent) in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). This is what we need today.
Physical problems continue to hinder me from completing my new book titled THE RAPID DECAY IN SACRED MUSIC. Along with kidney dialysis, which takes three days of the week, I now have an infection that has been painful and weakening. Bro. Cloud encouraged me to finish the last chapter of the book and with your prayers I hope to accomplish this soon.
May God help us all to, "Watch ye, stand fast in the truth, quit you (conduct yourselves) like men, be strong" (1 Cor. 16:13).
P.S. by Ruth Ann Sears: Dad went to be with his Heavenly Father an hour or so after writing this letter...this IS his final chapter! AMEN.
Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials