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Christian Rock Music in the SDA Church


 

There is probably no more emotive issue in the Adventist church today than music. Its ability to raise temperatures and increase blood pressure is unquestionable, and these tensions are not necessarily split along the lines of age, gender or race. The issue runs so deep that some churches have split over this issue and cease worshipping together. Although the protagonists in this argument claim that their differences are over worship expectations, when the curtain is drawn aside it is invariably over music. Specifically, the issue is: to rock or not to rock!

In the last decade and a half a new wave of music, generically known as "Christian Rock", has arrived at the front door of the SDA church. The music is up beat, brazen, loud and bold, and it does not hesitate to announce its presence to the church. The impact of this music has been profound and perhaps long lasting. While some consider Christian rock to be the scourge of the church and yet another sign of the end, others praise God that at last a medium has been found that communicates the message of Jesus to a modern generation.

A Definition of Rock Music.

Perhaps the problem begins when we try to define what "Christian Rock" is. This is probably as difficult as coming up with a suitable definition of rock music itself. "No one has satisfactorily defined rock music."1 Rock music is a loose term that covers a host of different music styles. This includes heavy metal, acid, techno, reggae, punk, rap, jungle, soft and hard rock, and this is only a small example of what society considers rock music to be.

Nevertheless a definition must be attempted to give the reader some indication of the music that is under discussion. In this article what is termed "Christian Rock" music will have some and usually all the following characteristics.

1. Repetition - Music that features repetition of chord patterns, words, beat, rhythm, and is written using a narrow range of notes.

2. Driving Beat - Music driven by a heavy repetitive beat.

3. Decibels - Music that is dominated by the element of volume.

4. Impact - The impact of this music is primarily from its sound and rhythm and not its words.2

Each of the above characteristics is present in most secular rock music. What distinguishes "Christian rock" from secular rock is not the music but rather the words. The other elements must be present or the music of both genres simply would not be rock music.

The proponents of "Christian rock" cite its frequent use and acceptance by the church as evidence of its suitability. However rock "music is not good because it is being performed in a 'religious' context, any more than rock music is bad because it is being performed in a 'secular' context. Rock music must be judged not by its context but by its content. Beautiful flowers can be found in a dusty desert and poisonous plants in a lovely garden."3 Therefore, to rightly resolve the issue of "Christian rock" in the Adventist church, we must judge it for what it is rather than from where it is being played, that is, a church or a night club.

A LOOK AT SECULAR ROCK

The Roots of Secular Rock.

To arrive at a balanced conclusion on this subject it is necessary to understand the roots of "Christian Rock." It is generally recognized that rock music traces its early development back to the West African slave culture of the 15th century. From Africa it was transported to the West Indies on slave ships. Primitive slave instruments were replaced by trumpets, pianos and drums. Together with the Western influences of Ballard, Quadrilles, Spanish Dance, and American Country Music, Rock developed into its own new form of music. After World War II came Bill Haley with "Rock Around the Clock" followed by Elvis Presley with "Love Me Tender."4 Rock jumped the Atlantic and came back to America in the form of the Beatles. The Revolution had begun.

Today rock music is everywhere. Its sound can be heard on radio, television, in shopping malls and bars, at football matches, movies, clubs, and of course in the church. None of this makes rock music good or bad. Remember, we must judge rock music by its impact on the life of its composers, performers and listeners.

The Impact of Rock Music.

"There can be no denying that from megastar Jimi Hendrix (who claimed to have slept with a 1000 women) upwards, many of its leading performers have made adultery, fornication, lesbianism, homosexuality, or some other form of sexual perversion a way of life."5 Elton John, who sang at Princess Diana's funeral once said, "There is nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex. I think people should be very free with sex."6

Rock performers are not the only musicians known for their questionable behaviour. "Tchaikovsky was no paragon of virtue, Chopin had the reputation of a womaniser, Mahler was hardly blameless and Mozarts haunts were not exactly havens of sanctity. As for Wagner, he has been described as grossly immoral, selfish, adulterous, arrogant, wildly hedonistic, violently racist and... a thief to boot!"7 These examples illustrate how we need to be careful in condemning music solely because of the lifestyles and behaviour of its creators and performers.

The Satanic influences of the occult have certainly been present in rock music from its earliest development. From AC/DC to Michael Jackson and on to bands such as the Rolling Stones, Oasis, Prodigy, Nirvana, and Marilyn Manson the overtones of the occult are evident for any to see. Album covers, lyrics and music boldly declare the association of many rock musicians with the dark underworld.

Together with the occult, drugs have played a pivotal role in the lives of rock musicians and in the development of their music. A leading rock group manager states: "No matter what anyone tells you, drugs will always be a part of the rock scene."8 The tragic list of those who have died as a result of drug use in the rock industry is overwhelming--- Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon and Sid Viscous, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, to name just a few. It is more than relevant to correlate the massive upswing in drug use by young people with the emergence of rock music as a cultural phenomenon.

Violence is also prominent in the lives and music of many rock musicians. Growing increasingly popular are the gangsta rappers who come from off the streets of some of America's larger cities. Their songs advocate murder, rape and violence. One only has to pick up an album from the rap singer Snoop Dog to see that what these musicians proclaim is shocking violence of a graphic nature almost unheard of until the advent of their form of music. Coolio, 2 Puc and Will Smith are a few examples of the growing emergence of this form of violent music.

Allan Lanier admits that rock music brings out violent emotions. "There's a lot of violence, a lot of aggression in the music."9 Perhaps this factor has something to do with the unusually high number of rock musicians who have been killed recently in brutal drive-by shootings. 2 Puc, a rap singer and self confessed murderer was shot dead in 1996 as he drove through his home suburb. He died in a hail of bullets--a scenario that he had sung about many times.

Violence often accompanies rock concerts. The violent behavior inspired by rock concerts often turns its participants into bulldozers, capable of destroying millions of dollars worth of property in few moments. These destructive events have received national coverage in the public media. If by their fruits we shall know them, then the destruction and desolation caused by many rock concerts speak for themselves.

IS THERE A PLACE FOR "CHRISTIAN ROCK" IN THE SDA CHURCH?

The issue we are addressing is not personalities but whether or not the so-called "Christian rock" has a place in Adventist worship.

We live in the very last days of earth's history when the pressure of cultural conformity is intensifying. The issue we are addressing has eternal consequences for our youth and for us as leaders. Our church wants to ensure that everything, including our music, glorifies Christ and draws young people to the beauty and the wonder of serving Jesus.

What you are about to read reflects the commitment my church has made to uphold the standard of Christian music. We will not attempt to impose our standard upon you. In the end only you and your local church can decide what will happen in your church programs. However, we will endeavor to maintain this standard in all our local church programs.

"The story is told of a man who, during an election campaign, had a bumper sticker on his car which read, 'my mind is made up--don't confuse me with the facts'."10 The subject of Christian Rock is wide ranging and complicated, yet many don't hesitate to give their opinion based on how they feel and think, rather than looking openly, seriously and honestly at the facts to weigh the subject.

Before anyone can deliberate on the advantages or otherwise of "Christian rock" in the Adventist church, one must have a vibrant personal daily walk with Jesus Christ, (daily Bible Study and Prayer). It is only within the context of a healthy Christian experience that a mature judgment can be expressed on Christian rock in the church.

Let us review the basic facts about Rock Music:

1. "Christian rock" has its roots in secular rock.

2. Secular rock has the following qualities: (a) Rooted in the West African slave culture. (b) Influenced and advanced by various Western factors. (c) Most of its performers and composers live debauched lifestyles that are evident in much of their music.

3. Is deeply immersed in the occult.

4. Is rooted in and encourages drug use.

5. Promotes and encourages violence.

It is difficult for "Christian Rock" to divorce itself from its roots. You cannot just baptise rock music and make it Christian. The predominant difference between Christian rock music and secular rock music is the lyrics. The different use of lyrics hardly gives "Christian rock" the right to claim validity in the church of God.

Let us take a closer look at some of the characteristics of the so-called "Christian rock" music.

1. "Christian Rock" Imitates Secular Rock: Scripture summons us not to "love the world or the things of the world". (1 John 2:15), but "Christian rock" imitates its secular counterpart. "Christian Rock artists imitate the clothing, gestures, movements and voices of secular rock performers; their whole style is set by the world."11

Petra, one of the pioneers in the "Christian rock" scene, is a good example of this point. Except for the words of their songs, the style and approach of Petra is the same as that of any secular rock band. The same clothes. The same hair. The same wild eyes. The same driving, heavy beat. The same syncopation. The same rhythm. The same extreme noise levels. The same gravel voices. The same gyrating, pelvis-thrusting angry stage manners. The same dancing, moshing fans. It is all the same. The same music from the same source.

In his article "Where the Lyrics Fall Short," Lee Roy Homes, a well known pastor and evangelist explicitly states: "The religious pop music industry parallels in every major aspect that of secular pop-music, even having its own personality cult, its top ten listing, and its mass marketing."12

By imitating so closely secular rock, the so-called "Christian rock" encourages young people to accept the world-view of secular rock, with its violence and sexual perversion. Ultimately this leads our youth to loose their Christian sense of identity.

2. Christian Rock Distorts and Blurs the Message of the Gospel

"God gave us the gospel in words, and nothing should distort, blur or push away the clear word that God is endeavoring to share with us."13 "Faith comes through hearing and what is heard comes through the Word of God" (Rom 10:17). Most "Christian rock" songs, however, drown out the words so that the message is incomprehensible.

In an article about veteran Christian rock singer Sheila Walshe, David Hotton writes: "Sheila relates easily with the audience, speaks helpfully about her faith... However communication ended when she sang... the band was too loud for us to catch the words."14 As another Christian writer puts it, "If the volume or dissonance of the music are such that the words can not be heard clearly, then the whole performance is an exercise in absurdity."15

3. "Christian Rock" is not Neutral

Defenders of Christian Rock claim that the "music is essentially neutral and is only colored by the words."16 However, this argument has major flaws. In his book the PSYCHOLOGY OF MUSIC, Dr Max Schoen notes that, "music is the most powerful stimulus known among the perceptive senses. The medical, psychiatric and other evidence for the non-neutrality of music is so overwhelming that it frankly amazes me that anyone should seriously say otherwise."17 Music in shopping centers, aeroplanes, at concerts, and in the church is chosen to do something. That it does do something is proof that music is not neutral.

Jimi Hendrix, one of the great icons of rock, recognizes the power and non-neutrality of rock music. He states that "atmospheres are going to come through the rock music, because the music is a spiritual thing on its own."18 He goes on further by saying, "you can hypnotise people with rock music and when you get them at their weakest point then you can preach into their subconscious what you want to say."19

Jimi Hendrix does not see rock music as being neutral. In fact he believes just the opposite. The music is so charged that it allows him to preach his message into the sub-conscious of his hearers. It is the rock music--not the words, that gets the hearers of Jimi Hendrix into such a state that they would do anything for their guitar playing, rock-singingmessiah. (According to Jimi Hendrix himself, up to 1000 women can testify to the truth of what he claims). If rock music of any kind was neutral, then it would be impossible for Hendrix to do what he did.

Christian rock like its secular cousin is not neutral. It has an enormous capacity to control people's mind. Most Pentecostal preachers are well-aware of it and use rock music to the full to manipulate the mind and the emotion of their congregations.

4. The Difference Between Secular and "Christian Rock" is Nominal

Supporters of Christian rock often state that the difference between Christian and secular rock is vast and recognizable. The truth is that the difference between the two types of music is hardly distinguishable. Both forms of music use the same rhythm, beat, and syncopation. Chuck Girard, a Christian rock musician, concedes that "if you take the lyrics away and changed them to a secular message, it would be difficult to tell the music apart."20

Steve Turner reported in the music magazine BUZZ that "the difference between a rock concert and many Jesus rallies (youth rallies) is negligible."21 Professor Verna Wright states that when Christian and secular rock music was played at a club in Belgium, the hearers could not tell the difference.22

The words of Richard Taylor sum up the fatal flaw in the argument that religious rock is somehow different. "We cannot change the basic effect of certain types of rhythm and beat simply by attaching to them a few religious or semi-religious words. The beat will get through to the blood of the listeners. Words are timid things. Decibels and beat are bold things, which can easily bury the words under an avalanche of sound."23

This confirms the conclusion of Dr William Shafer who says, "rock is communication without words, regardless of what ideology is inserted into the words."24 Professor Frank Garlock agrees with these findings; "the words only let you know what the music already says... The music is its own message and it can completely change the message of the words."25 "Christian Rock," as its secular counterpart, influences the listeners more through its "music" than through its "words".

These compelling facts should cause Adventist youth leaders to be concerned about the use of "Christian rock" in the church. While it is true that most of the words of such music are somewhat God-centered, the fact remains that the music, which clearly has the major impact on its listeners, is and remains rock music. It is the same "music" that Marilyn Manson, 2 PUC and Snoop Dog use. It is the same music that Elton John, Coolio, and Nirvanah play and sing. It is the same music that causes violence. It is the same music that has its roots in the occult. It is the same music that generates rebellion. The so-called "Christian rock," like its close secular cousin, is harsh, cold, hard, loud, and anti-Christ. Jesus is gentle and quite, speaking to us in soft godly tones. Jesus gentle manner is a long way from where we are headed in much of "Christian rock" music today.

Pierre and Gisela Winandy, respectively Theology and Music professors who have served in seven Seventh-day Adventist Colleges on four continents, state: "We noticed in Africa that converts from paganism were actually frightened by gospel rock. It reminded them of the demonic music to which they had formally been accustomed. With deep concern they described as naïve the use of such music in Christian congregations. Using such music to support the name of Jesus they considered blasphemous."26

God fearing tribal Africans, are calling late 20th century, technologically advanced, well-educated, western Christians, naïve. And they are right, because they understand the demonic source and the root of the music we are often using in our worship. The so-called "Christian rock" is a hybrid of the real thing--secular rock. It is just another wedge being used by Satan to get into the church and weaken, and in many cases destroy, young people. It is time that we as the youth leaders and as a church wake up to this deception. Let us never forget that the three angels message of Revelation 14 call us to the true worship of God and warns us against the deception of false worship. Could it be that Satan is succeeding today in promoting false worship, not only through the wrong day of worship, but also through the wrong music in worship?

Our belief in the certainty and imminence of Christ's and our commitment to prepare our young people for the soon-coming Savior, should cause us to question the use of the so-called "Christian rock" in our worship. Ours is an enormous and sobering responsibility to care and lead young people to the feet of Jesus. We cannot effectively fulfill this responsibility while using the evil tools of Satan.

THE FRUITS OF THE "CHRISTIAN ROCK" MUSIC

Perhaps the best way to evaluate the so-called Christian Rock is by its fruits (Matt 7:16-20). What are some of the fruits of Christian Rock?

1. "Christian Rock" Blurs the Distinction between Christian and Worldly Values

When we use rock music in our church programs we are offering young people the same music that they find in the world. It is almost impossible for them to distinguish between the world's music and that of the church, when the only difference is the words--words that in most cases cannot be heard. This may explain why after attending a series of church meetings in 1998, a young lady passionately told to me. "You tell me not to go to clubs and yet I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do drugs. You are always saying that I should not go out dancing and yet you played the same music in tonight's program as I heard in a club the other Saturday night"!

Let me assure you that it certainly was not the same music as she heard in the downtown dance club, and yet the fact remains that she was unable to distinguish the difference.

In the last decade and a half there has been a massive exodus in Western countries of young people from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It would be too simplistic to blame this departure from the Faith solely on the advent of Christian rock music. There are other factors that have contributed to this exodus -not least the spiritual walk of young people themselves. Nevertheless we cannot ignore the fact that "Christian rock" has predominantly been the genre of music used during this period by many youth leaders to attract the youth to church programs. Such music may have contributed to blur the distinction between the Christian and worldly view of life in the mind of our youth who already live in a confused environment.

2."Christian Rock" Causes the Loss of Christian Identity

By blurring the distinction between the Christian and the worldly view of life, "Christian rock" ultimately causes our young people to loose their Christian identity. Identity comes from being able to clearly distinguish one's beliefs and practices from others. This becomes difficult if not impossible when young people who are exposed to the same genre of music in the church and in the world. When one loses the sense of religious identity, one looses the reason to belong to a church. This may explain why so many young people fail to understand the significance of Adventism in the opening years of the 21st century.

Music plays an important part in our worship culture. The Bible clearly portrays this as being good and healthy (see Psalms). However, when a large section of our worship consists of rock music, we are treading on very dangerous ground. Our worship becomes a fertile ground for Satan to work in because we are using his tools--not God's.

Adventist young people are finding it increasingly difficult to see the distiction between their church and what other Christian and non-Christian churches have to offer. The danger of this is that they will go to whoever offers the "best rock music" rather than to the church that offers the truth. I personally have friends who have left Adventism for Pentecostal churches using as the basis for their decision the supposed better worship style of the Charismatic church--a worship style that is largely rooted in "Christian rock" music, a music that creates unholy excitement. The truth becomes secondary in their search for a better experience--an experience generated by "Christian rock" music.

3."Christian Rock" Distorts the Biblical View of God.

We live in a world that has a distorted view of God and Christian Rock has played a major role in distorting the real character and nature of God. "Christian rock" artists and song writers have "redefined the Lord Jesus Christ as a 'politically-correct,' 'tolerant,' 'lovey-dovey,' non-judgmental, 'partying,' 'hip-hop,' 'rapping-rocker' that appeals to the world."26

Albums like, dc Talk's "Jesus Freak", Messiah Prophet Band's, "Master of the Metal", et al, have all encouraged this distortion of God. Carmen, one of Christian Rock's most popular artists, describes the Lord in one of his songs as a "street hippie," crucified in a street-gang fight who is then thrown in a dumpster."27

There are many examples of "Christian rock" distorting and often blatantly changing the truth about God and the Bible. These Christian rock portray a God who is foreign to Biblical revelation. To do this so openly within the context of Christianity is blasphemy.

4. "Christian Rock" Misrepresents the Work of the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit is an important and vital ministry of God to His church. "Christian Rock" claims to be of the Holy Spirit. However the facts belie this notion. The Holy Spirit only comes and ministers in the worship setting of order and discipline and not of confusion and excitement.

At the turn of the century Ellen White warned the Adventist church regarding the use of inappropriate music in worship at the end of time. Surprisingly the context of the warning was a campmeeting held in Muncie, Indiana on September 1900. After receiving the report from S. N. Haskell about the kind of music played and sung at the Muncie campmeeting, Ellen White wrote:

The things you have described as taking place in Indiana, the Lord has shown me would take place before the close of probation. Every uncouth thing will be demonstrated. There will be shouting, with drums, music, and dancing. The senses of rational beings will become so confused that they can not be trusted to make rational decisions. And this is called the moving of the Holy Spirit.28

Those things which have been in the past will be in the future. Satan will make music a snare by the way in which it is conducted. God calls upon his people, who have the light before them in the Word and in the Testimonies, to read and consider, and to take heed. Clear and definite instruction has been given in order that all may understand. But the itching desire to originate something new results in strange doctrines, and largely destroys the influence of those who would be a power for good.30

"A Bedlam of Noise."

Ellen White clearly states that

The Holy Spirit never reveals itself in such methods, in such a bedlam of noise. This is an invention of Satan to cover up his ingenious methods for making of none effect the pure, sincere, elevating, ennobling, sanctifying truth for this time. Better never have the worship of God blended with music than to use musical instruments to do the work which last January was represented to me would be brought into our campmeetings. The truth for this time needs nothing of this kind in its work of converting souls. A bedlam of noise shocks the senses and perverts that which if conducted aright might be a blessing. The powers of satanic agencies blend with the din and noise, to have a carnival, and this is termed the Holy Spirit's workings. No encouragement should be given to this kind of worship."31

Note that Ellen White attributes the origin of this noisy music to "satanic agencies." It is a sobering thought that Satan, the fallen choirmaster of heaven, is the author of the bedlam of noise that characterizes rock music today. The recognition of this fact should warn our youth and its leaders against the dangers of "Christian rock."

In a vision Ellen White saw how the wrong music can drive away the angels from young people gatherings. She wrote: "The young are assembled; there is the sound of vocal and instrumental music. Christians are gathered there, but what is that you hear? It is a song, a frivolous ditty, fit for the dance hall. Behold the pure angels gather their light closer around them, and darkness envelops those in that dwelling. The angels are moving from the scene. Sadness is upon their countenance. Behold, they are weeping. This I saw a number of times all through the ranks of Sabbath-keepers."32

This statement embodies an important principle. Music played in dance clubs is not fit for the worship of God. There is a clear distinction between sacred and secular music. But we have found that this distinction is largely blurred when "Christian rock" is played in church, because such music shares the same repetitive beat, rhythm, and volume of secular rock.

CONCLUSION

An Australian experience of Louis Torres, a former bass player in Bill Haley and The Comets, provides a fitting conclusion to this study. Torres writes: "Not long ago I was invited to speak about music to groups of Seventh-day Adventist young people in Australia. After my meetings I heard many a sad confession from young people who had been weaned away from the church (rather than held inside of it) through the use of contemporary music at worship times. One youth, who was trying to get back into the church, told me--evidently speaking for other youth as well--'My fall from the church began when they started to play gospel rock in church. The gospel rock provided a natural bridge to secular rock, and soon I lost all relish for singing hymns. I lost all love for the church and was out of it before I knew it. I trace my troubles all to music.'"33

Throughout the centuries the challenge of Christianity has been to confront the world with the truths of the Gospels, rather than to conform to the world's trends and practices. Unfortunately, much of the history of church is a story of ideological and existential conformity to societal trends. Thus, what is happening today with the adoption of "Christian rock" by many churches, is nothing unusual. It only reflects the historical failure of many Christians to live in a secular society without partaking of its values and customs. Like in the past, today God calls His people not to conform to the world, but to transform the world by His saving grace (Rom 12:2).

God summons His people, saying, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Rev 18:2-4). May God help us to respond to His endtime call to separate ourselves from the perverted beliefs and practices of spiritual Babylon, which include the bewitching, degrading rhythms of the rock music of Babylon.

NOTES

1. D.Jewel, The Popular Voice. 2. W.Shafer, Rock Music. 3. John Blanchard, Pop Goes the Gospel, p.28. 4. Ibid., p.13. 5. Ibid., p. 33 6. Rolling Stone, 7th October, 1976 7. S.Lawhead, Rock Considered 8. Circus, 17 April, 1979 9. Super Rock, June, 1997 10. Daily Express, 24th March, 1988 11. Youth Aflame, October 1982 12. Adventist Affirm, Music, Where the Lyrics Fall Short 13. Quoted by New Wine Magazine, 1985 14. Buzz, May, 1981 15. B.Larsen, The Day Music Died 16. M.Schoen, The Psychology of Music 17. Ibid 18. Life, 3rd October, 1969 19. Ibid. 20. Buzz, 1984 21. Ibid 22. Ibid 23. KE Parker, "Music the Cultural Frontier of the Church," in Windstorm Christian Music. 24. B. Larson, Rock 25. Ibid 26. Adventist Affirm, "Music, Not All Youth Want to Rock" 27. Internet,www.rock, Why Can't I? 28. Selected Messages, Book 2, see pages 31-39 29. Ibid., pp 37-38, emphasis supplied. 30. Ibid., pp.35-36. 31. Ibid., p. 36-37. 32. Ibid., pp. 35-36. 33. Louis Torres, "Christian Rock," Adventist Affirm (Spring 1998), p. 19.