We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Power of Music

I have often stated that for any song of worship or praise, the music must be congruent with the message.   This lacking of congruence is very noticeable in much of “contemporary” Christian music, and it is invading the Church wholesale.   A commenter on my post, Contemporary Music Demands Immediacy, cited an ancient quote about the power of music, which led me to thinking about this collection from David W. Cloud’s book, Contemporary Christian Music Under the Spotlight.  Reviewing these citations should make people think twice about what they are using for “worship and praise.”  

“Musical training is a more potent instrument that any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.”  Plato, 428-348 B.C.

“Music directly represents the passions or states of the soul—gentleness, anger, courage, temperance. … If a person habitually listens to the kind of music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form.  In short, if one listens to the wrong kind of music he will become the wrong kind of person; but conversely, if he listens to the right kind of music he will tend to become the right kind of person.”  Aristotle, 384-322 B.C.

“Music is part of our human nature; it has the power either to improve or debase our character.”  Boethius, 480-524 A.D. (Greek philosopher and statesman)

“We know by experience that music has a secret and almost incredible power to move hearts.”
John Calvin, 1509-1564 A.D.

“For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate—and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good?—what more effective means than music could you find?”
Martin Luther, 1483-1546 A.D.

“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.”  Dr. Max Schoen, The Psychology of Music, 1940.

“Music is a curiously subtle art with innumerable, varying emotional connotations.  It is made up of many ingredients and, according to the proportions of these components, it can be soothing or invigorating, ennobling or vulgarizing, philosophical or orgiastic.  It has powers of evil as well as good.”  Dr. Howard Hanson, American composer, conductor, and teacher, Director of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, 1942.

“The fact that music can both excite and incite has been known from time immemorial. … Now in our popular music, at least, we seem to be reverting to savagery . . . and youngsters who listen constantly to this sort of sound are thrust into turmoil.  They are no longer relaxed, normal kids.”  Dr. Dimitri Tiomkin, composer and conductor, 1965.

“We cannot change the basic effect of certain kinds of rhythm and beat simply by attaching to them a few religious or semi-religious words.  The beat will still get through to the blood of the participants and the listeners.  Words are timid things.  Decibels and beat are bold things, which can so easily bury the words under an avalanche of sound. … There are music forms, whether secular or sacred, which create moods of pensiveness, or idealism, of awareness of beauty, of aspiration, and of holy joyousness.  There are other forms of music which create moods of recklessness and sensual excitement.  Surely it doesn’t take much judgment to know which forms are most appropriate for religious functions.”  Dr. Richard M. Taylor (professionally trained musician), 1973.

“Words are incidental at best, or monotonous and moronic as usual.  But the point is, that they don’t matter.  What you dance to is the beat, the bass and drums.  And with this mix and volume, not only is the beat sensed, but literally felt, as this aspect of the rhythm section takes precedence over melody and harmony.”  Dr. Stephen Halpern (professionally trained musician), 1978.

“Music is a two-edged sword.  It’s really a powerful drug.  Music can poison you, lift your spirits or make you sick without knowing why.  Whereas mellow tones can relax you, loud grinding music can cause blood pressure to rise, leading to headaches and an anxious feeling.”  Dr. Adam Knieste (Musicologist who studies the effects of music on human behavior), 1983.

“Since music is an emotional language, and since some emotions are wrong for the child of God, then some music is wrong for the Christian.”  Mike Coyle (world-class professional French horn virtuoso), 1983.

“Music is a form of language . . . music's more than a language.  It is the language of languages. … Like human nature itself, music cannot possibly be neutral in its spiritual direction.”  David Tame, musical researcher, 1984.

“Music is something terribly special. … it doesn’t have to pass through the censor of the brain before it can reach the heart . . .  An F-sharp doesn’t have to be considered in the mind; it is a direct hit, and therefore, all the more powerful.”  Leonard Bernstein (composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist), 1990.

“Music is not neutral.  It has the capability of communicating imbalance and sensuality, and it can confuse the spiritual effectiveness of the message.  Therefore, I as a Christian must draw the line.  Any music that cannot appropriately communicate the message is unfit to use to worship the Lord.”  Tim Fisher (musician, teacher), 1992.

Music is NOT neutral.  “Worship leaders” need to understand this and choose their music appropriately.


Anonymous said...

Oh but Glenn, "music is neutral". (I know you closed your article with the truth that it is NOT neutral, I'm just jazzing you, pun intended... :) )

I might say more later, after reading this more in depth. But really, do we put our babies to sleep using heavy metal or "screamo"? Do we bring honor to a king or president with music found in a burlesque show? Do we get crowds all riled up at sporting events using Brahm's lullaby?

Then what do we bring to our Redeemer, who purchased us with His own blood?

I rest my case.


Anonymous said...

Alright, I took the time to read each quote. If only worship leaders - and senior pastors - would listen. But no, they won't. Why not? Because we've grown up in a generation of ubiquitous music, all of it from a select few genres (namely pop & rock). Go somewhere, anywhere, and all you hear is rock or pop music... it doesn't matter... the gas station, the supermarket, the mall, the doctor's office, the post office, even your place of employment, and often times, voluntarily in our own cars and homes... so of course we hear nothing different in the churches. Because we're saturated in the world's music the rest of the week, we bring it right in to worship. Therefore, when it comes to music, in many cases, the church is no different than the world. The church can't decipher this, however.

Honestly, most of the music used in CCM is very casual, or has a beat where you can shake your "posterior end" to it. If we think about Christ dying for our sins, should that make us shake our "posterior end", or should it make us stand in reverent awe?

Yes, music itself, without words, is a language that does communicate meaning, and powerfully impacts our minds, bodies, souls and spirits.

I can hear it now, I'll be labeled a legalist. So be it, I've had that implied of me before, when I stated that the young women in our church need to dress modestly (something that they were not doing, and many still aren't). Additionally, I've already been told in two churches so far that my "style" of music is some sort of an issue of concern. What is my style/kind? Traditional hymnody and classical sacred. One thing in common with both of the genres I have gravitated to as a musician - neither has a beat to which you can shake your "posterior end".


Glenn E. Chatfield said...


Well, I certainly can't think of anything to add to your comments - you've hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous said...

Hi Glenn,

Same sentiments found in the book "Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns" by T. David Gordon. I heard him interviewed on Janet Mefferd (I think) a while ago, and read excerpts from his book, and that's what he said.