Addressing the issue of music

When I first came back to the Seventh-day Adventist church, I came in straight from the world. Everything about me was marinated in worldliness. My thoughts, my attitudes, my language, my lifestyle, my clothing, my music, my entertainment, all had the distinctive flavor of the world. The church I joined was a very conservative church. I did not like the music that they played. I was definitely not blessed by the hymns. In private, I laughed and made fun of them, as well as the restrictive doctrines taught in the adult Sabbath School class, but I stayed because the people loved me and I really did have a desire to know Jesus. These sweet conservative people showed me Jesus. They did not have to change their worship style to attract me, nor did they have to change their doctrines, they just had to act like Jesus.

One of the many areas the Holy Spirit began working on me was music. A dear friend pointed out to me that there was music some Adventists played, even in Ellen White’s day that made the angels weep. She tried to teach me the difference between music that appeals to the spiritual nature and music that appeals to the carnal nature. I did not get it. I read what Ellen White had to say. I read other books. I listened to taped lectures. I really wanted to understand, but I still didn’t get it. I did not want to make my angel weep. When I read the counsel that it was better that no music be played than the wrong kind of music, I chose to fast from all music until I could figure it out.

Several months later a youth choir came to church and sang to an accompaniment tape with beats and rhythms patterned after the world.  I began to cry uncontrollably. I could not stay in the sanctuary.  I still couldn’t explain it, but at that moment I understood that there was ‘Christian’ music that could make the angels weep, turn their backs, and leave. It literally took months, but I was no longer desensitized.

Years later, when our boys were little, I had a really hard time. I was tired, I was lonely, I struggled with depression and resentment. I was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of motherhood. I found myself withdrawing from others. One day the Lord impressed me to call the pastor and ask what the opening hymn was. Our boys were two and four years old when I began teaching them the opening hymn each week. Singing the hymns with my little ones I found peace. The hymns had been okay when I sang them once a week at church. But I hadn’t really appreciated or even really bothered to think much about the words. But as I began to sing them daily and memorize them I began to learn to praise God in a deeper, more fulfilling way. I never knew what an encouragement the hymns we sang at church could be. I discovered that they taught doctrine, reminded us of promises, and gave testimonies of God’s power and grace.God began to use music to bring me courage in my daily life. What I had experienced before with the worldly Christian music was like cotton candy. What I was experiencing was like a hearty stew, satisfying, fulfilling. But it was years after I left worldly music behind before I began to find joy and satisfaction in the hymns.

How does the Spirit of Prophesy address this?

There is an article entitled: MUSIC Its Role, Qualities, and Influence As Set Forth in the Writings of Ellen G. Whiteon the White Estate website that is really helpful in studying the issue of music.

Reading this article raises a lot of questions that seem to just beg for answers:

  • What kinds of music were there in EGW’s day that ‘made the angels weep’?
  • Was it the precursors to rock music that were just emerging? Or was it Stephen Foster’s songs? Or something else?
  • How is music ‘often perverted to serve the purposes of evil’?
  • What kinds of music ‘lead the youth captive’?
  • What kinds of music ‘detract from the seriousness and sacredness of religious service’?
  • What kind of music ‘makes sacred music unappealing’?
  • What kinds of music ‘lead to pride, vanity, and folly’?
  • What kind of music is ‘one of the most successful agencies Satan uses to allure the mind from duty and from contemplating spiritual things’?
  • What kind of music will be performed in our SDA churches right before Jesus comes that will be outright evil?

We are promised that God has given us enough instruction that we will be able to understand.

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.  2SM pp.37, 38

Does it make sense that we will go straight from the good, holy, and pure, to completely evil? Or does it make more sense to make gradual steps?

I found it interesting that my perspective changed when my questions were no longer on where to draw the line. Instead I had a longing to know what was best.  There really is beautiful counsel in this article!

Did you know that good music promotes harmony, awakens sympathy, and brings order, unity, courage and gladness? It brings us closer to God and to each other. Usually Christian music patterned after the world splits churches.

How many people say, “I feel the spirit of Satan present with the traditional hymns?” How many people say that it reminds them of their past unholy life? How many people truly believe that hymns are sin?  People do sincerely believe that of much of Contemporary Christian musicand even about hymns played with the beats and rhythms patterned after the world.

Instead people say, “I don’t like hymns.” Or “I’m not blessed by them.” Or “Hymns are dull.” And “It is only fair that you let us participate in the worship service in the way that blesses us too sometimes.” And “We will lose the young people if we don’t play the kind of music they like.” Then in the name of fairness, a more contemporary music with worldly beats and rhythms is forced on a church that is uncomfortable with it and sees it as wrong.

I am learning that church isn’t about us. It is about praising God and worshipping Him in the way He wants to be worshipped. Cain offered the fruit of his own hands- his preferences- what blessed him. Abel offered the sacrifice God asked for. Isn’t God still particular about how we worship? The day we worship on, the things we preach and the ways we preach are important. It stands to reason that the kind of music we offer God as a sacrifice of praise would be important too. God doesn’t change. We still need to study to show ourselves approved. Ellen White said that her writings were given so that we would be without excuse and so they would bring us back to the Word. (3SM chapt. 4)

What about biblical counsel?

Because of my own experience, I’m not confident that study alone will bring understanding. I really wanted only to do what God asked. But for me, even that strong desire to please Jesus and persevering study wasn’t enough. As long as I was listening to worldly music in my daily life, I could not understand. It took time away from all music in my daily life for me to understand.  How can I expect others to understand right away when I could not?

It is not right to expect everyone to be on the same page at the same time. But there has to be a biblical way to deal with this kind of spiritual problem when we don’t agree. I think the counsel Paul gives us in Romans 14 and in 1 Cor. 8 applies.

The people who ate the food offered to idols were very angry and showed contempt for those who didn’t.  …Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats(Rom. 14:3 NKJ)

They felt they had the right to eat what they wanted. They made a big deal of it in front of those who had chosen to abstain from anything to do with their former idolatry & believed it to be sin. Paul said that when they did this, they sinned against Christ.  For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. (1 Cor 8:10-12 NKJ)

By publicly exercising their rights to eat what they wanted to eat, they encouraged their brothers to go back to their worldly ways. But another stumbling block was the temptation to judge and condemn.…and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (Rom. 14:3,4 NKJ)

It is like Paul is speaking to two naughty, bickering children. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Rom. 14:10 NKJ) People that truly believe Christian music patterned after the world is sin have a hard time not judging those that force it upon them. This condemnation is a sin against Christ. When those that desire worldly Christian music force it on their brothers, it shows contempt for theirbrother’s convictions. This also is asin against Christ.

It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. (Rom. 14:21,22NKJ)  I understand that to mean, in this circumstance, if you are going to listen to music that others believe is sin, partake at home.

But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Rom 14:23 NKJ) Eating is a little bit different because you can watch someone else eat and not partake yourself. It is much more difficult to not partake of music and remain in the same room.

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Cor. 8:13 NKJ) Paul chose to abstain from something that was not sin rather than offend his brothers. He did not choose to participate in sin to promote unity, nor did he counsel anyone else to go against their conscience for the sake of unity.

There is a lot of conflict in the church over the issue of praise and worship. There are two sides. Both are asking for kindness and compassion, and rightfully so. Both sides are asking for sacrifices from each other. But the sacrifices are different. One side asks for the sacrifice of their brother’s personal preference. The other asks for the sacrifice of their brother’sconvictions-their brother’s salvation. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Rom 14:23)