Standards of Church Music
October 24, 2023 (first published June 10, 2020)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
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Churches need to train the people in music so well that they can test it by biblical standards. They must be able to discern such things as soft rock, honky-tonk, dance rhythms, chords as used in CCM, and worldly vocal styles.
It is not enough to publish a list of unacceptable music. Such lists are helpful, but any list will be obsolete in a short time. Further, no list is exhaustive.

The music must be sound in doctrine
(Col. 3:16).
The words of the songs must be theologically sound according to the teaching of the Bible. A great deal of Contemporary Christian Music is unacceptable because it represents ecumenical charismatic doctrine or it presents a vague message that lacks doctrinal clarity and strength. God’s people must weigh every song and hymn by the absolute standard of God’s Word. Just because a song is in a good hymnbook doesn’t mean that it is sound theologically. Just because it has a pleasant tune and people like it doesn’t mean that it is acceptable.
We want more than just theological soundness, we want theological depth. We want richness of truth that will edify deeply and broadly. This is why we don’t want only a diet of revivalist songs. These were written for a mixed-multitude evangelistic forum, such as those written by Ira Sankey for a D.L. Moody crusade, and therefore lack depth. “Sankey's songs were simple and direct, appealing to the heart and leading to a decision.” Examples are “Tell Me the Old Old Story,” “There’ll Be No Dark Valley,” “Throw out the Life Line,” “Wonderful Words of Life,” “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “The Cleansing Fountain,” “Faith Is the Victory,” and “Trusting Jesus.” The Sword of the Lord’s Soul Stirring Songs and Hymns is in the Sankey revivalist tradition. These are all good hymns and have their place, but there is also a need for hymns of greater spiritual and doctrinal depth to challenge the people and better educate them and to build them up to a higher level.
“Godly music is word-enriched and loaded with sound doctrine. Godly music packages Bible doctrines in memorable format” (Chris Starr).

The music must emphasize “melody” (Eph. 5:19).
Melody is the simplest part of music. It is the basic tune. It is the part that can be sung and hummed and whistled.
A good melody reinforces the words and helps God’s people remember the words and edify themselves with the words all during their days.
By emphasizing melody, God’s Word is teaching us to keep the music simple so that it doesn’t distract from the message of the words. There should be a good singable melody and the rest of the music should never overwhelm the melody. The music must never become so complicated or harmonic or loud that it drowns out the simple melody. In sacred music, a simple musical arrangement is superior to an overly complicated one.

The music must be spiritual and non-worldly in sound (Ro. 12:2; Eph. 4:17-19; 5:19; Col. 3:16; Jas. 4:4; 1 Pe. 2:11; 1 Jo. 2:15-16).
“Spiritual” means set apart for God, different from the world. Spiritual is that which is under the control of the Spirit of God, as explained in the verse previous to Ephesians 5:19. “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” Spiritual is the opposite of carnal, fleshly. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” Spiritual is the opposite of the unfruitful works of darkness that are mentioned in Ephesians 5:11. Spiritual is the opposite of worldliness.
Paul is saying that God’s people are to sing songs that are holy, that are sacred, that are set apart for God, that are not carnal and fleshly, that are different in quality from the songs of the world, that are morally pure, that are of a heavenly flavor rather than a worldly.
The church’s music will not sound like the world’s pop music and the music that the world uses for dancing and drinking and partying. The music of a holy God should contain no aspect of the world’s sensual ways.
Some styles of music that we purposefully avoid are dance syncopation (e.g., the backbeat, beat anticipation), honky-tonk styles (ragtime, boogie woogie, etc., that are popular in Southern Gospel), sensual vocal styles (e.g., scooping, sliding, breathiness, vocal fry), soft, overly emotional styles that are created by the wrong use of chords (e.g., unresolving chord cadences). The “soft sound” that weakens the power, dynamism, majesty, spiritual conviction, and militarism of sacred music.
We avoid the use of drums and electric guitars, because they are so totally identified with rock music and so easily used in a pop music fashion. (An exception is the use of drums in a timpani section of an orchestra.) (We must realize, of course, that rock can be played easily on a piano or an acoustic guitar.)
See “The Language of Music Styles” for a basic education on how to judge styles of music. This is one segment of The Satanic Attack on Sacred Music, a video series available at

The music must edify (1 Co. 14:26).
“Edify” means to build up in the faith by means of hearing and understanding the truth of God’s Word.
All things being done unto edification means that sacred music must emphasize the message. The message must be clear so that it speaks to the people’s minds and hearts and thus edifies. Nothing must be allowed to detract from this. The musical instruments can be too loud and drown out the message. The music can also be so complex that it hinders the message. If the harmonies, for example, are so complex that the message is not clear, that is not good sacred music.
All things being done unto edification means there is no place for entertainment in sacred music. We want to purposefully and emphatically avoid anything that speaks of entertainment. This is why we do not applaud special music. This is why we don’t use sensual vocal techniques that draw attention to the singer (scooping, sliding, breathiness, vocal fry). This is why we don’t use video cameras to spotlight the singers and musicians and highlight them on video screens. These things are the way of performance and entertainment, not the way of true worship. It is carnally distracting.
All things being done unto edification means that each song should be selected because of its message. If the message is theologically wrong (e.g., “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) or weak (e.g., “Church in the Wildwood”), there is no edification.

The music must not produce a charismatic style mystical experience (“be sober,” 1 Peter 1:13; 5:8).
ntemporary worship music is designed to create an emotional experience, a sensual experience, as opposed to a sacred music style that edifies through the understanding. Toward this end, contemporary musicians use music with sensual dance rhythms, non-resolving chord cadences, repetition, electronic modulation, and other elements so that people will get carried away emotionally.
We reject any church music that is designed to create a highly emotional state or that produces any sort of hypnotic effect.

The music must not borrow from and thus build bridges to the world of contemporary Christian music (Ro. 16:17-18; 1 Co. 10:21; 15:33; 2 Co. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:11; 2 Ti. 3:5; Re. 18:4).
Contemporary Christian Music is a major element of building the apostate one-world church and represents this world with all of its doctrinal, spiritual, and moral dangers.
In former times, God’s people were not in much danger of being influenced by the authors of songs and hymns. But the Internet has changed that dramatically. Now if a song is sung in a church, the people can go online and find the author and communicate quite intimately with him or her and his associates and his “world.”
We reject any music that is written by contemporary musicians in order to avoid building bridges to these people and to their associates and to the dangerous ecumenical world that they represent.

The music must aim for excellence (Php. 1:10; 1 Co. 10:31).
Everything about the church’s music must be done on purpose, with biblical and spiritual wisdom, always aiming for the very best, the very highest, never satisfied with mediocrity, progressing in excellence. This is not for the glory of man, but for the glory of God.
We will aim for excellence in the standards for singers and musicians, in the selection of every song and hymn, in the conducting of every aspect of the song service, and in the quality of the singing and playing.

The music must be unquestionably right and safe (1 Th. 5:21-22).
To hold fast only that which is good, avoiding even the very appearance of evil is the highest possible standard for music. The standard is not just the bare minimum, not mediocrity, not borderline, not questionable in any way.
This is one reason why we avoid the use of drums and electric guitars. Even if they are used to play the right kind of sound, they are too intimately identified with rock music, and we want to avoid all such identity.
This is our fundamental music standard. If a song or hymn is questionable, we want to avoid it. If we aren’t sure if it is right, sound, and healthy, we want to avoid it. There is a wealth of unquestionably sound, doctrinally correct, spiritual, non-worldly, non-charismatic music. To avoid a piece of questionable music never harms a church, but using questionable music can definitely bring harm.
This requires constant testing of the church music.
This is the standard of wisdom and safety.

The music must avoid incrementalism (1 Co. 5:6; Ga. 5:9).
When it comes to church music, little can be big. The wrong music usually enters a church gradually, not overnight. One way it enters is through specials, choruses, and youth ministries. When this happens, the church is doomed to continue moving away from spiritual and toward contemporary unless there is a dramatic move to stop the progression, which rarely happens.
The music must be overseen by the pastors (Ac. 20:28; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pe. 5:2).
The pastors will oversee the music themselves and/or they will appoint the
right people to be in charge of the church’s music. They will approve all special music.

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