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The Interceders Encourager No. 56 - CCM: Guidelines and Recommendations

In the last two Encouragers, we have looked at Contemporary Christian Music, and compared it to the music of the Early Church and the music sung during times of revival. We have seen how standards of music have declined, and how rock and pop music, which are based on rebellion against God and against order in society, have actually come into the Church. As a consequence, worshipping God with reverence and godly fear, as we are told to do, (Heb. 12:28), has all but disappeared, and the high standards of behaviour, as set out in the New Testament, have been discarded.

We will now seek to find guidelines and standards, by which Christian music and worship should be judged.

One of the problems encountered is the matter of balance; balance between words, music, tune, harmony, beat, rhythm and volume.

a) The beat must always be subservient to the tune. Music where the beat predominates is of the devil, for its purpose is sensual, as we have realized.
b) The rhythm must always be subservient to the words. Rhythm in music is good and helpful. Without it, the music becomes lifeless and languid, but it should never dominate over the melody, and even less over the words.
c) The music must always be subservient to the words. It is the words that are the most important. The music is merely the means of conveying their truth. If the music is so fast or so loud that the words cannot be heard or properly understood, then it needs altering until it is subservient. The spiritual purpose of the words must always predominate.
The Bible says that the words and the singing should predominate; "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord," (Col.3:16)
d) The volume must always be subservient to the words. This is the aspect of contemporary Christian music that many people find the most objectionable, as we have noted. In too many places, the volume of the "music" is so great that it drowns out the congregation singing, and is actually repulsive to the ears. In such cases, the music, which is supposed to be an accompaniment, virtually replaces the singing. The music becomes a god in itself; the musicians have become a law unto themselves, and the "worship" is handed over to them. But all this is not really worship. Our spiritual forefathers, especially those who experienced times of revival and awakening, would not recognize this as true worship at all. The volume in many places has to be drastically reduced.
e) The music must always complement the words and fit in with them. This applies to old hymns as well as more modern ones. Some tunes to older hymns are too slow or too fussy or too flowery, and not direct enough.
f) The words of the songs should be metred properly, so that every word can be sung clearly and sincerely to God. Many modern songs are very badly produced, as we have noted, often squashing words in, especially at the ends of lines, so that they cannot all be properly or sincerely sung. We may not like the singing of the Gaelic psalms as they do it up in Scotland, but at least they sing them slowly and deliberately, and mean every word they sing.
g) Singers (and writers) should not inject sensuality into the music through slurring, sliding, wobbling or extending notes, as worldly singers do, nor should they intentionally change the beat to "jazz" things up; for all this focuses attention on the singer or the beat or the music, and away from pure, simple devotion to Christ.
h) The accompaniment should be as simple as possible. There is no need for more than one or two keyboards, possibly with one or two orchestral instruments such as a flute or an oboe. That is quite sufficient. They are simpler and much more in keeping with the singing. We need to stand against all worldly pop group instruments.
For the musicians, the aim must always be for them to accompany the singing in as small a way as possible, remembering that they are just an accompaniment, in order that the words of the hymns and songs will truly predominate.
For the singers, the aim must be to sing the words clearly and sincerely from the heart as a ministry from the Lord and to others, realizing that the medium of the human voice, with its inflexions, its tones and its sincerity, and the person through whom they are sung, are just as important as the words themselves.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we read that in the temple when children were calling out 'Hallelujah', 'Hosanna to the Son of David', Jesus did not rebuke them but commended them, reminding them that what they were doing was the fulfilment of Psalm 8 v.2. There is a way of praising God more quietly but there is also praise that is acceptable to God that comes forth with shouts of joy.

So we can worship God with shouts of praise and also in quieter ways. Both are acceptable. In the case of Psalm 8, it goes on to say that God has ordained praise "because of His enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." So God can use praise to shut the mouth of the enemy. But the praise has to be genuine. If the devil can't stop people praising God, he will make them insincere, so that they will sing praise with their mouths but not in their hearts because it's not true in their lives. So, in both ways he succeeds. Empty shouts of praise that don't come from a holy life or from a sincere heart, don't have any power to drive out the enemy , but if the praise comes from a pure heart that is really committed to God, then it has power in it.

When the Israelites worshipped the golden calf and sacrificed to it as a god, that wasn't real praise. It was empty, it was hollow. There was immorality in the midst of that praise and that can happen today. People can praise God with a loud voice but if there is immorality or any sin in the midst of the people, the praise is of no value at all.. It is hollow and meaningless, as Jesus later pointed out. Only from sincere, pure hearts, can there be praise that is powerful enough to drive the devil out.

We need to face up to the challenge of the world we live in. The world of the Early Christians was a mixture of very different races, cultures and religions, that were all anti Christian. Tacitus said of it, "All things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular." The world was full of greed and lust and selfishness, as ours is. But this was the world that the Church needed to convert and transform.

They did it by being completely different from the world in their moral standards,their modesty, their music and their abstention from the world's attractions: the shows, the theatres, the processions, the banquets, the games and the music.

Had the Early Church not stood so firm against such worldliness, it would not have survived. It would have melted away into one of the many sects of the ancient world. An easy going Christianity could not have conquered and changed the world. But it did survive and it did conquer because it held on to its high ideals, promoting views that went right against the views and practices of their contemporaries. They did not hesitate to denounce the music of their age as base, depraved and sensual, no matter how popular it was. "The strength with which the Early Christians stood over against what was evil in the culture around them, including its music, resulted in as thorough a transformation of culture as this sinful world is likely to see." (Staupert)

The tragedy is that in our day in the West, though faced with a similar situation of a sensation hungry, pleasure mad society, the churches have not faced up to the challenge to convert and transform our society. Like the Early Church, we should be denouncing all that is base, depraved, vile, sensual, immodest, irreverent and rebellious in our day, especially in the realm of music. But most of the churches have abdicated their responsibility in this, and joined the world. So the battle has been lost.

Hundreds of years before Christ came, Plato and Aristotle realized the huge influence of music on people's thinking, feeling and character; and many others since then, have echoed this truth. But the churches in the West carry on in their blindness, unaware of the end result of their unwillingness to stand up, speak out and act differently.

In the 2nd century, Tertullian, when faced with people who argued that the world's music gave them pleasure, so it did no harm, told them: "Once we make pleasure the standard by which we judge the quality or rightness of something, there is no limit to the flowering of all kinds of lusts,vanities and absurdities." We have seen the truth of this in our day. My experience is that every church that compromises with the world in one thing, especially in the realm of music, becomes more and more worldly.

In view of what we have investigated, it is time for all churches to consider their music much more carefully, and:

Reject the rock/pop music of the world, which is based on rebellion against God.
Reject the extreme loudness of worldly music.
Restore the proper balance between the singing and the accompaniment.
Simplify their musical accompaniment.
Learn to value and use the legacy of the past.
Restore the sense of beauty and restraint that the worship of Almighty God should have.
Use the very best of the world's tunes, where possible, but reject its attitudes, its shallowness, its pride, its rebellion, its selfishness, and all its hype and boasting.
Make Christian music the finest, the best, the most inspiring, the most encouraging, yet also the most honest, the most challenging, the most convicting, the most need of holiness creating, the most Biblical and the most God honouring that is possible.

But some people will say, "we couldn't go back to just a piano or a keyboard. We would lose most of our congregation. They like the excitement of a loud music group and the big congregation that it brings in.

My answer is "Tell that to the persecuted Christians in Muslim and Communist countries. They would say that you seem to have lost the plot. Granted that there is joy in large numbers of people meeting together, but basically, Christianity is about following the humble Carpenter of Nazareth, and going along the costly, narrow way, that Jesus said only a few would find. Most of our spiritual forefathers, from the Paulicians onwards, met in fairly small groups, and were all despised as cranks."

But, you may say, in times of revival, large numbers of people attend services. That is true, but none of them had musical instruments, showing that such instruments are unnecessary. Furthermore, their worship was of a quality and depth that we know nothing about today, and they worshipped and lived in the fear of God, something else that is little known today.

It may be that when the Spirit is poured out, there will be great numbers attending services and meetings, and it would have an influence on the whole of society. But that influence will be beneficial to society only insofar as the churches are pure and heavenly minded and maintain the highest standards, way above the standards of today's compromising churches.

To bring this about, as already stated, a huge cleansing, clearing and editing job needs to be done on most contemporary songs, and an even bigger job needs to be done in the minds and hearts of church leaders to stop them copying worldly attitudes and ways.

They need to be reminded that we are to serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire, (Heb.12:28-29), and that walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit is one of the secrets of real growth. (Acts 9:31).

But "I will show you a still more excellent way."

Unaccompanied singing

Some churches teach that it is wrong to use musical instruments to accompany singing during Christian worship assemblies because the New Testament does not command us to do so. All that it says is:

"Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:19).

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Colossians 3:16).

They argue that the human singing voice, that musical instrument created by God Himself, is the only music that our Creator requires of us during a Christian meeting or service. Adding musical instruments to the worship service, therefore, seems as inappropriate as adding fish to the Lord's Supper. Since He has not commanded nor even suggested to us to play musical instruments in worship, we can be absolutely certain that if we don't use musical instruments, then He will be pleased with Christians singing, if their worship comes from the heart.

These people also point out that in the first centuries of the Christian Church, no musical instruments were used. This was originally because "they were associated so closely with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theatre and circus."

Augustine wrote "Christians should not turn to the pagans theatrical frivolities to discover whether anything valuable for spiritual purposes is to be gathered from their harps and other instruments," (especially as they often had idol heads on them.) We can understand this sense of revulsion, but may still wonder why all instruments were rejected, as so many of them are mentioned in the Bible: the horn, the lyre, the trumpet, the lute, the harp, the pipe, the flute, the cymbals, the tambourine, the timbrel, castanets and strings; and these are mentioned repeatedly in no fewer than 22 verses.of Scripture.

John Chrysostom answered this directly. "David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the guitar, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument; but, if you like, you may yourself become a lyre, mortifying the members of the flesh and making a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh no longer lusts against the Spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable path, then will you create a spiritual melody." What incredibly challenging words.

Ambrose was strongly against pagan music with its instruments, and he quoted Isaiah. 5:11-12 as his justification. "Psalms are being sung, and you take up the psaltery or the timpani. Woe to you because you relinquish salvation and choose death."

Clement of Alexandria wrote of man being an instrument made for peace, but musical instruments "become instruments of conflict, for they inflame the passions." Other nations use them "but as for us, we make use of one instrument alone: the Word of peace by whom we pay homage to God, no longer with ancient harp or trumpet or drum or flute which those trained for war employ." "He who sprang from David and yet was before him, the Word of God, scorned those lifeless instruments of lyre and guitar.. By the power of the Holy Spirit, He arranged in harmonious order this great world, yes, and the little world of man too, body and soul together; and on this many-voiced instruments of the universe He makes music to God, and sings to the human instrument. 'For thou art my harp and my pipe and my temple.'"

Eusebius wrote, "In olden times, those of the circumcision were worshipping with symbols and types, so it was not inappropriate to send up hymns to God with the lyre and the guitar, and to do this on Sabbath days. But we render our hymns with a living lyre and a living guitar with spiritual songs. The united voices of Christians are more acceptable to God than any musical instrument. Accordingly, in all the churches of God, united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and piety we send up a united melody in the words of the psalms, hymns and sacred songs."

Even the Catholic Encyclopedia states, "Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments, the first Christians were of too spiritual a fibre to substitute lifeless instruments for the human voice, or to use them to accompany the human voice." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10)

Theodoret wrote, "If songs were invented by unbelievers to seduce men, but were allowed to those under the law on account of their childish state, why do those who have received the perfect teaching of grace in their churches still use songs, just like the children under the law? Answer: It is not simple singing that belongs to the childish state, but singing with lifeless instruments, with dancing, and with clappers. Hence the use of such instruments and the others that belong to the childish state is excluded from the singing in the churches, and simple singing is left."

Edward Dickinson stated that "the religious guides of the early Christians felt that there would be an incongruity, and even profanity, in the use of the sensuous nerve-exciting effects of instrumental sound in their mystical, spiritual worship. Their high standards and moral enthusiasm needed no aid from external strings; as the pure vocal utterance was the more proper expression of their faith." Doesn't all this show up the weakness, the shallowness and the lack of spirituality in our worship today?

Papadopoulos "The execution of Byzantine church music by instruments, or even the accompaniment of sacred chanting by instruments, was ruled out by the Eastern Fathers as being incompatible with the pure, solemn, spiritual character of the religion of Christ. The Fathers of the church, in accordance with the example of psalmodizing of our Savior and the holy apostles, established that only vocal music be used in the churches and severely forbade instrumental music as being secular and hedonic, and in general as evoking pleasure without spiritual value"

Joseph Bingham stated, "Music in churches is as ancient as the apostles, but instrumental music not so . . . The use of instruments, indeed, is much older, but not in church service. . . In the Western parts, the organ, not known till the eighth century,(first record of one being introduced in 755 AD), and after that, only used in princes courts, was still not yet brought into churches in the West; nor was it ever received into the Greek churches, there being no mention of an organ in all their liturgies, ancient or modern."

John Calvin said "Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists therefore, have foolishly borrowed, this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to Him."

The Church of England was the only Protestant church to use instrumental music before 1750 AD: When the Reformation came to England, the Anglican church came within one vote (58-59) of abolishing instrumental music in 1562.

Adam Clarke wrote "But were it even evident, which it is not, either from this or any other place in the sacred writings, that instruments of music were prescribed by divine authority under the law, could this be adduced with any semblance of reason, that they ought to be used in Christian worship? No; the whole spirit, soul, and genius of the Christian religion are against this; and those who know the Church of God best, and what constitutes its genuine spiritual state, know that these things have been introduced as a substitute for the life and power of religion; and that where they prevail most, there is least of the power of Christianity. Away with such portentous baubles from the worship of that infinite Spirit who requires His followers to worship Him in spirit and truth, for to no such worship are these instruments friendly."

Adam Clarke also wrote "I am an old man, and I here declare that I never knew them to be productive of any good in the worship of God, and have reason to believe that they are productive of much evil. Music as a science I esteem and admire, but instrumental music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music, and I here register my protest against all such corruption of the worship of the author of Christianity. The late and venerable and most eminent divine, the Rev. John Wesley, who was a lover of music, and an elegant poet, when asked his opinion of instruments of music being introduced into the chapels of the Methodists, said in his terse and powerful manner, 'I have no objections to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.' I say the same."

Charles Spurgeon said; "Praise the Lord with the harp. Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her to learn; but in these days when Jesus gives us spiritual food, one can make melody without strings and pipes. We do not need them. They would hinder rather than help our praise. Sing unto him. This is the sweetest and best music. No instrument like the human voice." (Commentary on Psalms 42:4) "David appears to have had a peculiarly tender remembrance of the singing of the pilgrims, and assuredly it is the most delightful part of worship and that which comes nearest to the adoration of heaven. What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettiness of a quartet, bellows, and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it." Never were mechanical instruments of music used in his services. When asked why, he quoted 1st Corinthians 14:15. "I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." He then declared: "I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery."

Charles Spurgeon also criticized some of the church music of his day with words that still ring true: "Is it not a sin to be tickling men's ears with sounds when we profess to be adoring the Lord?...Do not men mistake physical effects for spiritual impulses? Do they not often offer to God strains more calculated for human amusement than for divine acceptance?"

It is noticeable that so many of these eminent speakers refer to a certain spirituality, life and power found in unaccompanied singing that most of us know nothing about. Should we not, therefore, seek to understand what this spirituality, life and power really is?

Staupert also points out that in Rev.18, where the doom of Babylon is described, the angel says, "the sound of harpists, musicians, of flute players and trumpeters will be heard in you no more," which is rather a denunciation of musical instruments and a feeling of thankfulness that their sounds will never be heard again.

Jameson, Fausset and Brown, commenting on Psalm 150:6 wrote, "Living voices shall take up the failing sounds of dead instruments, and as they cease on earth, those of intelligent and ransomed spirits and holy angels, as with the sound of mighty thunder, will prolong the praise eternally."

We should also think seriously about the fact that, as far as I know, all genuine revivals and awakenings have had singing that was unaccompanied by any musical instruments. The only exception, I have been told, is that in the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky in 1800, one man, on what was then the American Frontier, played a banjo. But that was an outreach meeting, just as, in the Welsh Awakening from 1904, it is recorded that on a few occasions an instrument was used in outdoor outreach events. In spite of the fact that musical instruments of one kind or another, especially percussion instruments, have existed for thousands of years, all the records of the times when God has poured out His Spirit in convicting and converting power, indicate that no instrumental music was played in the meetings.

The most outstanding example of this was in the Welsh Revival and Awakening of 1904-1906, when, even though many of the church buildings had large impressive organs in them, they remained silent during the meetings.

We may well ask why this was so. In a previous Encourager, we noticed that Joseph Kemp, when he visited the scenes of the Welsh Awakening in 1905, was very impressed with the fact that the large organs at the front of many chapels, were not played, even though individuals started the singing of the hymns. If people start singing a hymn or song today, any musician there will immediately try to play an instrument to back up the singing. So why did that not happen then? My assumption is that the power and influence of the Holy Spirit was so strong that no musician dared to intrude on what He was doing. It was as if the Spirit of God was saying, "I don't want any instrument to interfere with the praise I am creating and directing." This backs up what Joseph Kemp noted that "the people had learned to sing in a new kind of way. They needed no organ, no organist or choir or leader, The Holy Spirit was in their singing as much as in any other exercise."

This ties in with what Ambrose wrote, "Christian praise, i.e.unaccompanied singing, brings about the blessing of the people, the praise of God and the joy of liberty. It softens anger, releases from anxiety, alleviates sorrow, protects at night, instructs by day, is a shield in times of fear, a feast of holiness, a pledge of peace and harmony. Such singing joins those with differences, unites those at odds with one another. It is, therefore, a great bond of unity for many people to join in one chorus. Among the people, the Spirit, as the great Musician, does not make mistakes."

If I may insert a personal experience, I still remember the time at the Beulah Gardens Prayer Retreat, in Chennai, India, where in the large spacious sanctuary, holding thousands of people, the new arrivals for the second part of the conference sang "When I survey" unaccompanied. The sound was beautiful and heavenly, and I think I started to understand what the people I have quoted were talking about.

It is obvious from the testimonies that God has blessed those who have sung unaccompanied in a special kind of way. But you may have doubts that their position can really be justified from the Bible when a) the psalms refer to instruments being used in worship many times, and b) the New Testament nowhere condemns the use of musical instruments.

One can understand how banging and clanging and whistling noises would be considered unnecessary intrusions into congregational singing, especially if they were associated with pagan worship, but it could be argued that instruments more similar to the human voice, such as the flute, the clarinet or the oboe, should not be regarded in the same way, especially as such instruments have become purer, clearer and more similar to the human voice, and the keyboard has significantly changed.

We cannot deny the evidence from the Early Church and most of the centuries since that true Christian believers have worshipped God through unaccompanied singing. Nor can it be denied that at every meeting of believers at times of revival and awakening that their singing was without any accompaniment. Therefore, just on that evidence, it could be argued that we should do the same, or that we should seek to do it as often as possible.

On the other hand, we need to realize that not using musical instruments does not necessarily lead to revival or greater spiritual life. The Eastern Orthodox Church do not use instruments for their services, but no revivals have been recorded through their churches, and they are generally very anti evangelical. In the West, the Churches of Christ, the Mennonites, the Primitive Baptists, the Brethren and the Free Church of Scotland have all traditionally sung unaccompanied, but, with a few exceptions, this has not led to spiritual revivals, but rather to sterility and intransigence. There were many groups of believers in Britain before the rise of Methodism, who all sang without accompaniment, but they had little impact on society. The difference with the Methodists was that they not only had the spirituality and the fear of God that other groups had, they also had great joy in the Lord, with assurance of being God's children, and a great concern to see others won for Christ, because of a strong belief in heaven and hell, that caused them to warn others to flee from the wrath to come.

So singing unaccompanied does not necessarily bring life, though it should help if is done with the right attitudes. We should think very seriously about what Adam Clarke said, that "musical instruments are a substitute for the life and power of religion, and where they prevail most, there is the least of the power of Christianity." His words should not be put aside easily. He had seen revival on a large scale, and he had seen many unrevived churches, so he spoke of what he knew with authority.

We also need to be concerned about the problem raised by Spurgeon, that singing Christian songs can just be an appreciation of the words or just the music. When this is the case, the singing can actually distract the worshippers from true worship. Even in the 19th century, there were those who sang more for their own pleasure and amusement than for divine acceptance. This is also a criticism of the music makers, who, as Spurgeon said, are "tickling men's ears with sounds when they profess to be adoring the Lord?...Do not men mistake physical effects for spiritual impulses?" Our worship should not be governed by the desire to please ourselves, but only on pleasing God and concentrating on Him; for we know that as we do so, in His mercy, God will give us great joy and peace, satisfaction and fulfilment.

We all need to ask ourselves some basic questions, that need to be answered.

1. Should Christian singing be accompanied by musical instruments?
2. If, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, we think it is right to use musical instruments, and if, as Adam Clarke said, "musical instruments are a substitute for the life and power of religion, and where they prevail most, there is the least of the power of Christianity," how are we going to deal with that problem?
3. If we still think it is right to use musical instruments, which instruments should we use that are pleasing to the Lord? How can we show that we are not copying the world with the instruments we use and the way they are played?
4. If musical instruments are acceptable, how should they be played? How can we get the balance right, so that the words always take precedence over the music?