Someone asked me an innocent enough question: “What kind of music do you listen to?” I paused. Fear came over me. My heart started to race and I felt sweat beginning to break out. I was flushed, feeling the all-too-familiar effects of an anxiety attack. I swallowed hard and nervously answered him. There was no judgment. But it made me look at myself and ask: does this question still bother me so much, after all these years?
Last night I posed a question on Twitter.
Depths of Pentecost @DepthsPentecost: “Should Christians listen to the world's music? That's what I will be blogging about this week. Before posting it, I welcome your thoughts.”
I was very interested to see how people would react, and the number of responses surprised and encouraged me.
Christos Makridis @camakridis: “There's a ton of heterogeneity in current music -- for a bulk of it, definitely an emphatic no, others seem more innocuous!”
Michael Hill @mikehill4jesus: “Like with anything, there is the good and the bad. There is uplifting music. Not all Hymns are perfect.”
Ekene @keasungs: “I think it depends on howmuch you've build ur spirit in Christ so even tho you listen, it doesn't become no pleasure you”
Dan Nieman @DLNieman: “When I listen to music, I listen in the presence of Christ. He leads in my choices of music.”
Warren Harrison @SheenWrr: “True followers of Christ moved by the Holy Ghost have no real interest in worldly music. They shun music with evil content.”
Apostolic Proof @ApostolicProof: “its not a sin, but we should prefer to listen to people who use their talents to glorify God.”
Abraham Mbaja @AbhuAbh: “I believe not. Because Christians should influence the world onto Christ; not vice versa”
Of course, not everyone agreed.
GlynnlucasGoForGod @cymri33: “If Christians listen to worldly music Who am I to judge!"Judge not lest Thou be judged"Matt7.1-3”
In the olden days, I’m not sure if there was much conflict between the church and the world’s music. I’ve never seen Smith Wigglesworth write a dissertation against opera, or Charles Spurgeon decry the negative influence of Beethoven. Even early country music was indistinguishable from Christian hymns; just listen to old records of the Carter family if you don’t believe me.
The backlash really started with Elvis, maybe because he was originally one of us. The king, like fellow early rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis, grew up in the Assemblies of God. One could even then argue that Pentecostalism somehow gave birth to contemporary music, like an illegitimate child it disavowed for years.
Elvis was the epitome of rebellion for the Baby Boomers. While the Greatest Generation had relied firmly on God during the Depression and Second World War, their children grew up in easier times and were ripe for a worldly figure to encourage them to forsake holiness. Elvis snarled and swung his hips, infuriating God-fearing families but causing teenage girls to scream in delight. His music was denounced as Satan’s work. Today, no one gives it a second thought.
It didn’t take long for that rebellion to lead down a terrifying path. It’s been said that the Beatles opened a Pandora’s Box of devil-worship in the 60s, setting the stage for occultism to sweep America. Rock and drugs already had a friendly relationship, but during the anti-war movement, culminating with Woodstock, the two became synonymous. This paved the way for the hideous death metal of the 80s where unabashed Satanism really revealed itself (although some still swear it was harmless).
During those decades, Christianity stood firm. Perhaps that is why both thrived. Rock music worked best as an act of rebellion against the Judeo-Christian foundations of this country, which is why so many of its pioneers were heavily into far-Eastern philosophies. The Pentecostal movement, on the other hand, still had tremendous power, seeing great revivals and outpourings of miracles. We were the ones who marched in protest, burning records en masse and trampling posters underfoot until they dissolved in the gutters.
But the devil has a way of waiting us out. Today, pop music flourishes and our opposition has waned. We don’t protest Taylor Swift or burn Selena Gomez albums. Many of our children listen to it, and we don’t see the harm. Sometimes we even play it in church, and accuse people of legalism if they dare say a word. Many even listen to the music of their youth and reminisce about their days in sin.
So has this been freeing for the church, or is it a sign of our increasing lukewarmth?
Of course, all the Word says on this in James 4:4: whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. But if we dig a little deeper (as I often encourage people to do), we find a surprise. Before Lucifer led a rebellion against God, he was the most exalted angel. Ezekiel 28:18: Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. He was adorned with the most precious jewels: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created (verse 13).
In other words, Lucifer was also the lead musician of the angels. He had the ability to play the instruments of heaven, producing beautiful music praising the Lord. But in him was the origin of all sin. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations (Isaiah 14:12)!
Lucifer was cast to the earth, taking a third of the angels with him, and stripped of his beauty into the ugly, despicable creature that he is today. And he knows music better than anything else.
When Christians defend secular music, their first claim is always “There’s nothing wrong with the lyrics!” But that is a complete misunderstanding of how the devil operates, and falls into one of his classic traps. Of course the lyrics seem harmless; would any Christian initially listen to something about rape, murder, or devil-worship? But everything the devil uses to destroy us seems good at first. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Satan is very good at causing us to sin through things that seem harmless. Every alcoholic took that first drink out of curiosity. Every drug addict experimented with that first hit. Eve ate the forbidden fruit because the serpent convinced her it would be okay. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat (Genesis 3:6).
The Beatles started off singing about wanting to hold hands; but before long, they were espousing paganism and claiming to be greater than Jesus. Miley Cyrus started as a young pop star on Hannah Montana that girls around America looked up to, but eventually she contorted herself in a bizarre outfit onstage while millions watched with horror, her eyes glinting with demon possession. And this same story has played out over and over again, with countless other musicians and bands, their bodies littering the bloody canvas of the dark history of the music industry.
And our own children will follow the same path if we allow it. I find it unreal what they hear on the radio or their parents’ iPods. Toddlers sing and dance about getting women pregnant. School children joyfully rap about shooting cops. Our previous generations would be horrified, but we just shake our heads impotently.
God warned the Israelites in the Old Testament not to worship Molech or Ba’al. These were idols of the Canaanites. Christians think they don’t need to heed this warning, since those gods allegedly don’t exist anymore. Yet they have appeared in Lady Gaga videos time and time again. God is warning His people not to take part in this, and nothing has changed; the same false gods have snuck into our time!
Usually, I don’t speak out against other Christians. But at one time I was following Israel Houghton on Twitter. When he tweeted that he was grateful to the late Bob Marley for all the wonderful music that influenced him, I unfollowed in disappointment. Marley was a pathetic tool of Satan who sang about getting high and promiscuous sex. And if you’ve ever been to Jamaica, you will quickly see that the king of reggae has been turned into an idol, with every street corner populated with vendors desperately trying to sell wood carvings, posters, flags, and anything with his face on it.
You may be wondering why I seem so hard against secular music.
Being raised in a strict Christian home, I had very little exposure to it. But far from being rebellious about this, I genuinely wasn’t interested. I actually preferred playing hymns on the piano and singing from the old red back books.
And then I, a scared, scrawny little child with glasses, acne and braces, entered middle school. Something wasn’t right with this environment, and I was an outsider from the moment I stepped in. I don’t know how it first got out. Word traveled that I didn’t listen to any kind of “normal” music. I had been a sheltered boy. Now there was a target on my head.
Every day at lunch, they would surround me. Time for the daily game. I couldn’t escape.
The rounds of questioning would begin. They would ask me if I’d ever heard of famous bands and musicians of the time (mid 90s). People everyone had heard of, especially if you listened to “cool” music.
“Hey Philip, have you ever heard of Britney Spears?”
My face red and my hands shaking, I would hang my head in shame.
They would take turns. And with each question, their laughter would grow louder.
“Hey Philip, have you ever heard of Hooty and the Blowfish?”
I would again shake my head, not looking up. The sound of their cruel, sadistic laughter still haunts my nightmares.
“Hey Philip, have you ever heard of AC/DC?”
It would continue. Nirvana. The Smashing Pumpkins. Marilyn Manson. Metallica. I’d never heard of any of them. And so the boys laughed at me and ridiculed me until tears were running down my face and I was emotionally crippled.
Whatever demons were in the music had turned them into little fascists, intent on destroying anyone who was different. Is this what we want our children to be?
We’ve let them barrage us with the question “Can I listen to it?” If we tell them no, they reply with “Why not?” Over and over again, until we begin to reconsider. We start to make excuses for them. “Well maybe they’re right; the lyrics aren’t so bad.” We have no idea we’re playing Russian roulette with their eternal destinations. When they ask if they can listen, my feelings are always “Why do you want to?”
I was a child not interested in the world’s music. Surely there are more. And that’s my cry as I look around at this upcoming generation. Where are the children who aren’t even interested in it? Where are the ones, like me, who were willing to be bullied at school for not listening to it? Are there any out there that love God enough that they’ll pay any price to please Him? Acts 5:41: And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.