The Idolatry of Music
May 9, 2022 - Enlarged May 11 and May 12, 2022
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
The following contains the original report from May 9 plus followup reports from May 11 and May 12.
On May 4, Evangelist John Van Gelderen published a report entitled “The Idolizing of Music,” at his Revival Focus blog. Following is an excerpt:

Over the years and again recently, I have become aware of some who make music the litmus test of fellowship. What I have observed does not target extreme differences, for those who have embraced musical extremes typically do not remain close enough to warrant talk of separation. Rather, it involves debatable matters. Yet for some, their view of music is held as a fundamental of the faith, and their moving beyond biblical proportion is divisive. If it is overkill (which I believe it is), it fits in the category of carnality—the divisive carnality condemned in the third chapter of First Corinthians. Strange it is . . . using carnality to fight perceived carnality.

This music litmus test is an over-prioritization of music. For many, it is assumes a one-style-of-music-only position. And any time we say “only” where God hasn’t, we are setting up an idol of our own making. This applies to many of the “only” positions that extend beyond the clarity of the written Word. Usually, such positions are three or four steps removed from explicit statements of Scripture, and when one gets that many steps away from the explicit words of God, flesh-dependence is likely as one is forced to rely on personal deductions. While it is fair to grapple, deduce and make personal applications, it is not fair to make a universal standard from conclusions drawn at this level. Personally, I enjoy a variety of music and especially an adagio classical sound, but this is not by any means the only legitimate musical style.

God created music. Satan degrades music (Is. 14:11-12). Therefore, not all music holds the same value. We need discernment in musical choices, but we can go beyond what God has made clear and become rigid where God is not. While each of us must live by our personal convictions, making a universal standard out of a personal application threatens to eclipse God’s personalized leadership in the lives of others. This is not to say that anything goes. God has a “box”—but it is larger than what some may think.

In Christian music, the music carries words of biblical principle. Music is therefore important. It is not unimportant. But it is less important than other, greater matters. ...

People have been mistreated and slandered over traditions and, specifically, music. Many have been unfairly branded with the C of “compromiser”—the scarlet letter in Fundamentalism. It is not unheard of that one so stigmatized would become the subject of a virtual feeding frenzy of criticism and be eaten alive by adherents of “proper, biblical standards.” But in the Bible, the only group that matches such a piranha-like description is the Pharisees. Some have spoken as if they were knowledgeable on music issues. But often this “knowledge” is courtesy of a ministry-of-criticism paper and not derived from a primary source. Too many times, I have found criticism papers to be inaccurate propagators of assumptions and misinformation, especially regarding motives. ...

Sadly, in those early years of ministry, I had fallen into over-prioritizing music. But then I started traveling in evangelism.  Travel can help prevent tunnel vision and the onset of living-in-a-bubble theology. I saw believers who loved God, having evidence of the joy of the Lord and effective ministry, who used music different from the music I would employ. I had to decide what was more important—the truth I wake up to preach (like life in the Spirit) or separating myself unto a particular style of music. I decided the more important matters needed to be given priority over less important matters. Someone might deify a particular style of music and demonize everything else, but this is a fear approach, not a faith approach. ...

Regarding music, everyone must apply what the Spirit individually persuades them to apply and must allow other believers to do the same. It is fair to seek to persuade others for what you think is best, but it is not fair to idolize music and make it the litmus test of fellowship. For those who have unwisely broken fellowship and yet, down deep, respect God more than they fear the stern faces in their group, the overkill needs to be humbly admitted and appropriate apologies offered.”

Excerpt from “The Idolizing of Music” by John Van Gelderen. In this excerpt, we have tried to omit nothing that is of substance to his argument. The entire article can be read



After I was sent the link to “The Idolizing of Music” by a preacher friend, I read the report and added the following comment, which was duly added to the blog -

Everyone would agree that there is a variety of “acceptable” Christian music and that personal taste and mere opinion cannot be used as a standard. But by speaking in vague generalities, the article, as it stands, is a clear call to treat the music issue as a non-issue. It is a stab in the back of the few who are still taking the music issue seriously, and that number is very few indeed. He doesn’t identify who is referring to. He says there are lines that need to be drawn in music, but he doesn’t define any lines other than ‘heavy metal.’ Is Contemporary Christian Music OK? Is contemporary Southern Gospel OK? Apparently so. He totally ignores serious biblical issues such as music that builds bridges to heresy and worldliness, which all contemporary music does, including contemporary Southern Gospel. I wonder how educated he is in this matter? I would recommend “CCM a Bridge to Dangerous Waters” which is available at the Way of Life web site as part of the series
The Satanic Attack on Sacred Music.

In a day when the overall trend among fundamental Baptists is toward the breakdown of separation from the world in every area, including music, “The Idolizing of Music” article will encourage even more compromise. 



Thank you, Brother David, for taking the time to share your thoughts.

If ‘speaking in vague generalities…is a clear call to treat the music issue as a non-issue’ then it seems strange that God in His infinite wisdom also spoke in generalities regarding music. He could have said more.

Just as every man doing that which is right in his own eyes ignores the Holy Spirit, so demanding that everyone else must adhere to one’s personal conclusions eclipses the Holy Spirit’s role for others. To dogmatically make everything black and white where God chose not to, especially in matters where those who love the Lord differ (which is what this article addresses), infringes on the role of the Holy Spirit. This is a grave error. While it is fair to argue for what one deems best, it is not fair to make one’s deductions on the level of God’s Word.

Just because someone differs on a subject does not mean they are uneducated on it. Those who may differ may be far more educated than one supposes.



Hello, Brother John. 

I appreciate that you took the time to respond. 

I certainly don’t believe that if someone differs from me on a subject, that they are uneducated on it. I was simply asking a question. Why not speak plainly? If you are well educated on the music issue, say so. Where are the teachings that you have given to the churches on the music subject? Where are the clear warnings? Where have you taught the churches to make wise, biblical lines on the music issue? I’m not saying you haven’t done this. I am simply asking to be educated about where you stand. I would like to see these things. 

Dear brother, you ignored the heart of my warning. You ignored the demonstrable fact (not opinion) that there is a 
lot of Christian music that builds bridges to heresy and worldliness, including contemporary S. Gospel and the Gettys, and those bridges are being built in a multitude of fundamental Baptist churches and the next generation is already crossing those bridges to their destruction. This is a solid Biblical issue called separation. See Ro 16:17; 1 Co. 15:33; 2 Co. 6:14-18; 2 Ti. 3:5, etc. Again we would point attention to the evidence compiled and presented in The Satanic Attack on Sacred Music, which is available for free viewing and downloading at the Way of Life web site.

By labeling men carnal, legalists, Pharisees, and idolaters without giving clear examples of who you are talking about, you are slandering men who love the truth and are fighting a lonely battle to rescue churches from great dangers. If this is not what you want to do, then you should make yourself more clear and come out plainly against wrong types of music--if you really believe there are wrong types. 

If someone is preaching mere opinion on the issue of music and making their tastes the law for others, I agree with you that this is wrong. 

I don’t see that as the main issue today, though. The main issue is that the wrong type of music is at the heart and soul of compromise, worldliness, and apostasy. That’s what I am going to focus on. 

I, and others I know who are teaching on this subject (I can name many), do not "demand that others adhere to our personal conclusions," do not "dogmatically make everything about the music issue black and white where God chose not to," and do not "put our deductions on the level of God’s Word" unless they are clearly supported by God’s Word. 

Contrary to what you imply, the Bible says 
much about music and it must be taught and applied. To preach the Word with reproof, rebuke, and exhortation requires application. Christian music is no small issue; it is not merely an issue of personal opinion and taste. Our book The Satanic Attack on Sacred Music deals with every major Bible passage on music and applies it to these times. A man doesn’t have to agree with everything in this book to benefit from it. It is based on a half century of Bible study, research into music, and experience in churches in many nations. I have lived overseas more than 30 years. I only say these things about myself because you do not know me.

As for “loving the Lord,” it cannot be the criteria for determining the truth about anything or determining with whom to associate. That is an ecumenical concept. Billy Graham was saying that 70 years ago. How do we know for sure who loves the Lord? Is the heart of man not deceitful, and can he not deceive himself and others? And can those who love the Lord not do wrong? Of course they can. Jehoshaphat did (2 Ch. 19:2). Lots of “good men” have been wrong about lots of things. The right standard is not man’s sincerity or man's love or man’s anything; the standard is the Word of God.

Many men of God have observed that music is a major issue at the heart of the compromise of churches today. Forty years ago, 
Victor Sears warned, “Good fundamental Baptists and others that refuse the teachings of the charismatic crowd concerning tongues, signs, miracles, and so forth are now singing their music in our churches and preparing our people for the world, the flesh and the devil. It is the new Trojan Horse move ... to deaden our churches to spiritual truth” (Baptist Bible Tribune, 1981). Ernest Pickering said, “Perhaps nothing precipitates a slide toward New Evangelicalism more than the introduction of Contemporary Christian Music. This inevitably leads toward a gradual slide in other areas as well until the entire church is infiltrated by ideas and programs alien to the original position of the church” (The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism, BJU Press, 1994). Evangelist Gordon Sears said, ‘When the standard of music 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, then the sense of value in God’s truth is lowered’ (Songfest newsletter, April 2001). Dr. Frank Garlock said, “If a church starts using CCM it will eventually lose all other standards” (Bob Jones University, chapel, March 12, 2001). 

Where have you issued such a warning? I would love to add you to this list. 

I thank the Lord for brave men who were willing to preach an unpopular message, but these men are dead or retired, and the situation is getting worse every decade. Surely you know this is true. It is not time to sound a mushy message that music is largely a matter of taste and those who “love the Lord” shouldn’t be critiqued. It is time, rather, to teach much on this issue and to educate the churches well and continually, starting with the preachers, and to show the churches how to draw wise, biblical lines between sacred and contemporary music before it is too late. 

If ever there was a time when the trumpet needs to sound clearly, it is today. In my experience, a great many fundamental Baptist preachers are experts in sounding strong for the truth while not saying much of substance, because they refuse to speak PLAINLY on the great issues of the day and they refuse to name the names of errorists and compromisers in our own midst as Paul did. There can be no doubt that there are
 fundamental Baptist “good old boy’s networks” and to be in good stead, one has to act right and speak right. 

Though I have been a fundamental Baptist for 49 years, educated at Tennessee Temple in its heyday, I am on the very periphery these days. In my observation, most are tradition-bound, not Scripture-found, man-centered, not Christ centered; largely powerless (look at the homes, the youth, the lack of life-changing conversions, the emphasis on playing rather than prayer); they are getting weaker rather than stronger; they are trending toward lukewarmness and worldliness. 

If Christ removed Ephesus’ candlestick for losing its first love and spewed out Laodicea for lukewarmness, where does that leave most fundamental Baptist churches? I want to follow Jesus Christ and God’s Word, not man and his vain tradition. I don’t want to be a part of any good old boy’s network, because the fear of man bringeth a snare (Pr. 29:25). I want to sound a strong warning to fundamental Baptists to repent and obey God’s Word before it is too late. 

We don’t need a fundamental Baptist unity movement. We need a movement to separate those who love the truth from those who don’t, or they will all go together down the same devil-devised drain.



Thank you, Bro. Cloud, for your input. Thank you for your service overseas, and I really mean that. When your name has come up, I have often said that I tip my hat to anyway who has lived in a place like -----.

That brings up a good point. Missionaries. A burden in writing this article was to address the defunding of missionaries over not being as strict as someone who is perhaps more strict. To address this issue does not imply condoning compromise. The article says repeatedly that I’m addressing differences on the conservative side of things, among those who love the Lord, and are looking to and trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead. I’m not addressing those who just want to live unto themselves. That is an obvious problem. That’s why much of my preaching focuses on getting one's focus back on Jesus as both Lord and life.

You mentioned, “The right standard is not man’s sincerity or man’s love or man’s anything; the standard is the Word of God.” I agree! That’s my point: “the Word of God.” Not deductions three and four steps removed from the explicit statements in God's Word. It is fair to make these deductions. We have to. We have to interpret and apply. We can rightly seek to persuade. But there is a difference in authority the further we get from God's words. The further we get from God's words, the greater the possibility of the focus switching from God to man. When the focus becomes man-driven, things get messed up. That’s what I’m addressing.

I’m addressing the mistreatment of condemning the innocent (Matt. 12:7). Several of the comments in this discussion are combating that which the article does not talk about. This is misleading at best.

Over the years I too have studied music. I write lyrics and we produce music. I have studied the teachings and read the writings of Frank Garlock, Tim Fisher, Danny Sweat, Peter Davis (a doctoral level course), and so forth. But my focus, as my website reveals, is on “Experiencing Jesus.” So my books are on revival, the Spirit-filled life, the Holy Spirit, and faith. That is the focus the Lord has given me. The purpose of the article at hand is addressing what I believe to be a hindrance to revival—sectarianism of the sort in 1 Corinthians 3, “I of my-applications-only.” The examples in the passage named, Paul, Apollos, Christ, were not dealing with compromise, but unnecessary divisions. That’s what this article is about. To accuse Paul of compromise because he addressed these unnecessary divisions would be unfounded and slanderous.

I agree that we do not need a call to unity. It’s the wrong goal and I don’t believe it works. It can lead to real compromise. But nor do we need to make separation the goal. The splintered factions within Fundamentalism are not a good testimony. The goal must be a person—Jesus. To live by faith our focus must be on the object of faith. We must be ever looking unto Jesus. We must look and live unto Jesus, and that demands, at times, we will have to separate to protect our relationship with Jesus.

I preach nearly every week on walking in the Spirit to overcome the world and the flesh. I preach regularly on victory over sin. I name sin issues every week. I preach that there is one victorious life—Jesus. But I do not just preach on irreligious flesh (though I address it all the time), I also preach against religious flesh. That is what this article is about. Those who know my ministry can attest to this “double-barrel.”

I appreciate your observation that many have become man-cantered, not Christ-centered (John Van Gelderen, May 9, 2022).



John, I appreciate that you have allowed me and others to interact with your article, but I am saddened by this series of communications.

You say you are concerned about wrong lines being drawn “on the conservative side of things,” but you don’t define the conservative side of things. Your vague generalizing is a trumpet that doesn’t give a clear sound, yet you complain that you have been misunderstood.

True revival will not ignore the issue of sacred vs. contemporary music. True revival will not ignore the separation issue in music. The path of holiness we see in Scripture is a path that encompasses every area of teaching and warning in the New Testament Epistles. It is not one or ten or twenty things. It entails the whole counsel of God, the entire faith once delivered to the saints. God has not called any preacher to narrow his preaching to anything less than that. The command to “preach the Word” is the command to preach all of the Word.

You have persisted in ignoring the heart of my exhortation, which began in my first communication, as follows:

“He totally ignores serious biblical issues such as music that builds bridges to heresy and worldliness, which all contemporary music does, including contemporary Southern Gospel. I wonder how educated he is in this matter? I would recommend ‘CCM a Bridge to Dangerous Waters’ which is available for free viewing at the Way of Life web site, as part of the
Satanic Attack on Sacred Music series.”

The men you mentioned as your teachers have not made an issue of the bridge-building problem and have not plainly documented its effect upon Biblical churches. In fact, some of them are contributing to the problem (by endorsing the use of bridge-building music and artists, such as the Gettys). So I stand by my question as to whether you are truly educated in this issue (bridge building). You have given me no evidence that you are. Large numbers of fundamental Baptist churches have been changed by messing around with the wrong music. It is a problem that is increasing with each decade. It is a global problem. Music is certainly not the only issue at play, but it is a major one.

As for your statement that we do not need to make separation our goal, I could not disagree more. Separation is a major Bible doctrine; it is a command of God; and separation is exactly what is being given up by a wide swath of fundamental Baptists.

“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).



John, in the article “The Idolizing of Music,” you state the following: “Over the years and again recently, I have become aware of some who make music the litmus test of fellowship. What I have observed does not target extreme differences, for those who have embraced musical extremes typically do not remain close enough to warrant talk of separation. Rather, it involves debatable matters.”

This is not what I have observed. Rather, I have observed that many men will fellowship together even though they hold widely different positions on music, and the men of a sounder position--by associating with men and churches that are messing with contemporary music and are careless and clueless about music--tend to move incrementally down the contemporary path. A church does not arrive at an “extreme” position on music overnight. It happens incrementally. Thus small things in the music issue are important and cannot be ignored and treated as non-issues.

Further, I quoted men of God who have observed that music is a major issue at the heart of the compromise of churches today and challenged you to issue such a warning, yet you completely ignored this.

In my experience, which is not inconsiderable, most “good conservative men who love the Lord” are largely ignorant on the music issue and aren’t capable of discerning sacred from contemporary music. Most pastors don’t even know the characteristics of soft rock and are totally ignorant that unresolving chords are a major element of contemporary music and create a sound that is as fleshly and addictive as the backbeat. And in their ignorance, they are offended if someone tries to critique their music. When I first preached in the Philippines about 15 years ago, all of the churches I visited were using contemporary music, but they didn’t know it and assumed that their music was sound. Some pastors were offended when I tried to explain the elements of the world’s music. After I preached in one church, the pastor asked me what I thought of their music, and I said, “Your pianist sounds like Elton John. You don’t have to have drums and a bass guitar to have rock music.” He was offended and complained to other pastors that I was meddling in his church’s business, yet he had sought my opinion!

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