If you are new to Christian rock, please read this
post about the definition of Christian rock and some of the biggest questions about Christian music.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Criticism of Christian Rock Part 1

As you know and have read on my blog posts, I am a long time fan and supporter of the ministry of Christian rock.  But, the more I have studied this genre, the more I have found that there are people against Christian rock and even Contemporary Christian music.  In many websites, YouTube videos, and books, there are pastors, writers, and youth leaders speaking out against Christian rock.  Some even go as far as calling it satanic and dealing with the occult.

For my next two posts, I want to set the record straight.  In these posts, I will be answering some of the biggest criticisms of Christian rock music.  I want to dissect Christian rock and use the Bible, my opinions, and the opinions of Christian musicians to show you that Christian rock is bringing praise and honor to our Lord. 

The first criticism is that Christian rock is an oxymoron.  An oxymoron occurs when two contradicting terms are combined into one.  Critics believe Christianity and rock and roll are two contradicting terms, thus Christian rock is an oxymoron.  

According to dictionary.com, the definition of rock and roll is, “a style of popular music that derives in part from blues and folk music and is marked by a heavily accented beat and a simple, repetitive phrase structure.”  This definition simply states the meaning of rock music.  There are no religious, Christian, or non-Christian implications in this basic definition.  Some people and musicians have taken this definition a step further and made rock and roll into a lifestyle, not just a type of music.  Some people associate rock music with drugs, alcohol, sex, parties, anti-religious beliefs, etc.  This type of lifestyle has nothing to do with the style of music a musician plays.  Yes, there are rock musicians that engage in this lifestyle, but there are also rap, country, and pop artists who engage in this lifestyle.  This lifestyle is simply an occurrence in secular rock music, it is not the definition of rock music.  Rock and roll is simply a style of music, just the same as saying gospel, country, hip-hop, or jazz is a style of music.  Music by itself has no religious or lifestyle implications; music is amoral.

Plus, to fully understand this criticism, one must look at music within a vacuum.  When studying if music has any religious implications, one must strip everything else away.  Meaning, take away the band members, their beliefs, and take away the lyrics.  So, all you have left are the notes on a page.  No matter how you look at those notes, there are no religious beliefs or lifestyles attached to them.  Only when you add the band members, their beliefs, and the lyrics of the song is when music takes on belief systems and moral or immoral lifestyles.  Therefore, Christian rock is not an oxymoron because rock and roll is a style of music, not a lifestyle.  You can play rock music without engaging in an immoral lifestyle.

The next criticism is that an entity like a band cannot be Christian.  To be a Christian, one must be a follower of Christ.  Some argue that a band can’t be Christian.  A band is a thing, and a thing cannot follow Christ.  I agree, only humans can be Christians.  Things like a band, or a computer, or a television can’t be Christian.  But, the members of a band can be Christian, and their music can point people to Christ.  If you want to get very technical with words, then yes a band cannot be Christian.  But, for me, I believe a band can be Christian if the members pass three, simple criteria.

The first one is very simple: are you a Christian?  I know this point seems obvious, but to be a Christian musician, Jesus Christ needs to be your personal Savior and Lord.  Yes, I know the Christian rock industry is not perfect and there are people in the industry that are not Christians.  I know that, and I accept that. But, for the truly honest musicians, you first need to be a born again Christian before you can be called a Christian musician.

Second, I believe the musician’s lifestyle also defines you as a Christian artist.  The type of music you play is not what defines you as a Christian, but the life you lead before Jesus Christ and others is what defines you as a Christian.  Now I am not saying go out and judge every single musician you see and say, “They’re a Christian, this band isn’t Christian, this musician is a Christian,” and so on.  I am not saying judge Christian musicians.  In the Bible, it specifically states in Matthew 7:1-2, that you should not judge others or you will be judged by God accordingly.  God tells us to judge what is right and wrong, not the validity of someone’s faith and how they present their faith to others.  That is for God and ONLY God to judge.  What I am saying is the musician’s lifestyle should be a major factor in deciding if this band is Christian or not.  It should be very evident in the musician’s life whether or not they are a follower of Jesus Christ.

The final criteria, I believe, is lyric based.  There are really two major types of lyrics in the Christian rock scene.  The first type of lyric is worship lyrics.  These lyrics are pure worship songs unto God.  The main focus of these songs is bringing praise and glory to God.  The second type of lyric is issue based.  Most Christian rock bands, since they are geared toward teenagers and young adults, talk about issues that are occurring in teenager’s lives today.  When it comes to subject matter, most bands have a wide variety that they choose from.  The subjects can be everything from prayer and witnessing, to alcoholism and cutting.

You may ask, “How can singing about alcoholism and cutting be Christian?”  There is a very fine line that Christian bands walk when singing about these subject matters.  Most bands choose to sing about these subjects because kids are dealing with these subjects everyday.  Most bands believe that they can reach out to kids and witness to them by meeting them wherever they are.  They want to show teenagers that even though they are alcoholics, or they are cutting themselves, or they are thinking about suicide, God still loves and cares for them.  With this subject matter, there is one major difference between Christian rock bands and secular rock bands.  Secular rock bands glorify these subjects. Secular bands glorify alcohol, drugs, sex, and suicide.  On the other hand, Christian bands are showing kids that these life choices are wrong, but God still loves and cares for them.  That is one major difference between secular and Christian rock music.

If you want to get very technical with words, then a band cannot be Christian.  But, if you look at the beliefs of the band members and study the lyrics of a song, I think you can safely label a band Christian.

Next, two of the most popular criticisms of Christian rock music deal with drums and melody.  First, some critics of Christian rock say that you can’t use drums to praise God because 1. This instrument is not mentioned in the Bible. 2. Drums are used in voodoo worship services.

First, I totally agree.  I could not find once in the Bible the mention of drums.  Critics use the Bible verse Psalm 150:3-5 when talking about drums.  It reads:  “Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.  Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and flutes.  Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.” 

Their argument is that drums are not mentioned in this verse.  I agree, drums are not mentioned in Psalm 150.  But, there are many other instruments that are not mentioned in this verse or in the Bible including piano, organ, guitar, and bass.  There are only a limited number of instruments mentioned in this verse.  But go back and read it.  It does not say that you can only praise and worship God with these instruments.  It simply says praise him with these instruments.  This verse doesn’t prohibit the use of other musical instruments.  It is inferred that you can bring glory to God with other instruments.  Also, in this verse, many percussion instruments are mentioned.  Timbrels and cymbals are percussion instruments, just like the drum. 

The second part is that critics believe that the origin of the drum was for voodoo and satanic services.  Personally, I know very little to nothing about voodoo and satanic services.  Could people in those services use drums to worship Satan, absolutely.  But does that mean drums, in and of themselves, are bad or evil?  Absolutely not! 

Let me explain it like this.  God created the universe and everything in it; thus He created music.  He also created man, and man has the ability to use and practice music.  Since God gave man a choice and free will on everything, including worshiping Him, man has the choice to play music however he chooses.  This includes all instruments and types of music, not just drums.  Therefore, people can use a drum or any other instrument to praise God or they can use an instrument to bring glory to Satan.  Instruments in and of themselves are not evil or immoral. 

As Christians, we shouldn’t look at things in this world to shun.  Yes, there are things explicitly told in the Bible that we should not do.  But, there are also many things not mentioned in the Bible.  Just because something is not mentioned in the Bible does not make it bad.  We should look at anything whether it is drums, music, movies, television, or whatever, as a chance and opportunity to bring glory to God!  Not as something we should shun.    

The next criticism is beat and melody.  Most of the time, these are used as separate criticisms, but I am going to lump them together for now.  Most critics say Christian rock is bad or evil because it emphasizes the beat and that there is no melody.  Before we can dissect this criticism, we must look at each of these definitions.  According to definitions.net, the musical term beat means, “marking the time division or an accent for music during performance.” 

A beat is in every form of music, everything from classical piano to heavy metal.  Every piece of music has a beat.  The time signature for each piece of music describes the beat.  The top number represents how many beats are in a measure of music, and the bottom number represents the note that gets the beat.  For example, if the time signature said ¾, this would mean that there are three beats in a measure and that the quarter note represents one beat.  I don’t want to take too long going into great detail about this.  But, if you want more information, you can definitely find it online.  What I am saying is that every song, every piece of music, and every genre of music has a beat.  Whether it’s a hymn, or a classical piano piece, or a Christian hard rock song by Skillet, every piece of music has a beat, and every piece of music emphasizes the beat.

Next is melody.  According to dictionary.com, melody is, “a succession of notes forming a distinctive sequence; or tune.”  Some also say that melody can mean the sweetness of the tune.  Most critics say that rock music emphasizes the beat and discards melody.  They say music must have melody, and since rock music has no melody, it is not really music.  Every song has a beat, and I agree rock music does emphasize the beat stronger than other genres of music.  But that does not mean rock music discards melody.  To have melody in a song, you simply need to have a succession of notes that make a tune.  That’s it!  The other definitions of melody are the sweetness of the tune and the pleasing sounds of music.  That, in my opinion, is in the ears of the audience.  Just because you don’t find any pleasing sounds in a type of music, does not mean that other people will not find a sweet or pleasant sound in that same type of music.  With this criticism, there are two things to remember.  The beat is in every type of music, not just rock music.  And melody is in every type of music, including Christian rock!

The next criticism is that Christian rock songs are ambiguous.  Some bands do not come out and say Jesus or God in every song.  Since God is not mentioned, critics say that Christian music is ambiguous, and it is not very clear what the song means or who the musicians are singing about.  As I said earlier, bands either talk about issues of today or they sing worship songs unto God. 

To tell you the truth, for me, very few songs in Christian rock are ambiguous.  If you listen to the lyrics, in most songs you can tell very easily what the song is about.  Plus, you can go to the band’s website or social media pages, you can go to YouTube and watch their interviews, and you can read reviews from music critics to find out even more information about the meanings of songs.  Some bands, like Disciple, even list Bible verses that go along with each of their songs.  If you study most songs, the meaning is easy to find.  

With that being said, I will admit some songs are ambiguous.  But, they are ambiguous for a reason.  Some bands like to leave the meanings of songs up to the listeners.  Many artists want to allow the spirit of God to minister to people in different ways and to connect with people on different levels. 

Finally, a lot of bands use a more poetic form of lyric writing that uses lots of imagery, metaphors, and symbols.  Christian bands use these to minister to non-Christians.  They use images, themes, and symbols that both Christians and non-Christians can understand and relate to.  By doing this, people can be impacted and moved.  Jesus Christ did the exact same thing in the Bible.  Jesus mainly taught through parables.  Just like a short song, Jesus used a story to minister to people in a way they could understand.

If you are ever unclear about the meaning of a song, do research.  Use the internet, research the band, and the specific song.  Talk to other people and ask them what they think the song is about.  These are so many great ways to find the meaning of a song if you are ever confused.

The final criticism in Part 1 is that Christian rock music does not make a joyful noise to the Lord.  Critics believe this for a number of reasons:  the music is too loud, the lyrics are ambiguous, drums are evil, etc.  But as for me, I definitely believe that Christian music glorifies God and makes a joyful noise.

I actually thought about this statement for a long time.  I kept thinking to myself, what is a joyful noise?  What does God consider a joyful noise, and how can I make a joyful noise when praising God?  I kept coming back to two answers: sincerity of the heart and that the music seeks to glorify God.  It doesn’t matter what you are singing, whether it is Christian rock, contemporary Christian music, hymns, or gospel music.  But what does matter is whether you are singing with a sincere heart.  It doesn’t matter if you sing bad, good, loud, soft, scream, or whisper. What matters is if you are sincerely offering this song up to God, giving praise to Him.  I think that is what makes a joyful noise to the Lord.  So, if you are sincerely offering a Christian rock song up to God, then I believe you are making a joyful noise.

This is Part 1 of me tackling the major criticisms of Christian rock.  In Part 2, I take a look at tattoos, long hair, bands playing in bars and clubs, and critics calling Christian rock satanic.  To see Part 2, click here.

Criticism of Christian Rock Part 2

Here is Part 2 of me looking at the biggest criticisms of Christian rock music.  I want to dissect these criticisms and show you that Christian rock is bringing praise and honor to our Lord.  If you missed Part 1, you can find it here

The first criticism for Part 2 is about a musician’s look.  Some Christian rock bands today have tattoos and they have long hair.  On these two subjects a lot of critics stand firm.  Critics believe that Christians should not have tattoos or long hair.  First, I want to talk about tattoos.  In today’s society, tattoos are very prevalent in both secular and Christian societies, especially in Christian rock.  Many members in Christian rock bands today have tattoos.  When talking about this issue, critics like to quote this passage of scripture from Leviticus 19:28.  It says, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” 

That is a pretty straightforward passage.  I totally agree that it reads that you should not have tattoos.  But, let’s take a little deeper look at this passage, and see the true meaning behind it.

Once again, like any other passage in the Bible, we need to take a look at the surrounding verses as well as the entire Bible to fully understand each verse.  Let’s take a look at Leviticus 19:26-31.  It says, “You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying.  You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.  You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.  Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness.  You shall keep My Sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD.  Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them.  I am the LORD your God.”

In this passage, God is specifically speaking about pagan, religious rituals.  Each of these acts would lead the Israelites away from God and toward false Gods.  One of the pagan rituals in Biblical times was the use of tattoos.  So, the word ‘tattoo’ in this passage is totally different than tattoos of today.  Nowadays, tattoos are used as body art or decoration.  Today, getting a tattoo is a form of self-expression; it is not a pagan or cultic, religious ritual like the Biblical times.

Second, the Old Testament laws were meant to point the Israelites to God.  When Jesus Christ came and died on the cross, Jesus wiped away all the old laws.  We no longer had to keep following every little law in order to get close with God.  Now we only have to accept Him as our Savior and Lord.  Certainly, though, if we accept Christ it will change us, as we seek to honor Him with our lives.  Part of the choice of getting or not getting a tattoo for a believer should be, “does this honor my Lord?”

Finally, tattoos can be a form of evangelism and witness.  Many Christians in today’s world get Biblical and spiritual tattoos in order to be a witness.  For example, the lead singer of Skillet, John Cooper, has a large tattoo on his forearm that says forgiven.  This could be an entrance into a conversation about Jesus Christ forgiving us of our sins, if a non-Christian engaged Cooper about his tattoo.

With all this being said, I do want to say that you should not come to a decision about getting a tattoo lightly.  You should take time and think hard about whether or not this practice is right for you personally and spiritually.  I think a person should also carefully think about why they are getting a tattoo.  Is this about drawing attention to one’s self or are we genuinely trying to be a testimony of Christ?

If you would like some more information on tattoos and the Bible, click here.

Many critics also dislike the idea of long hair.  Many musicians in the Christian scene do have rather long hair.  Critics like to quote the Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 11:14, which reads, “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him.”  Just like the tattoo verse, this pretty blatantly says that long hair is a disgrace.  But, once again, we must look at this verse in context. 

In the Corinthian culture long hair was a sign of feminism and even homosexuality.  When writing to the Corinthians, Paul was reminding the church to protect their testimony and witness.  Paul was telling the Corinthians to guard themselves against things that might hurt their testimony.  He was not saying long hair was necessarily bad or evil; it was just a cultural issue at the time.  Second, when Paul was writing to the Corinthians, the church was having divisions on some issues.  In his letter, Paul talked about how certain issues should not divide the church, including the length of your hair.

All in all, in 1 Corinthians 11:14, Paul is simply stating that long hair is bad, only because of the culture of the Biblical time period.  He is also saying that the length of your hair should not be an issue that divides the church.

The next criticism of Christian rock is that Christian music should not be played in bars or clubs; it should only be played in the church.  Critics of Christian rock certainly believe this standpoint.  But, I totally disagree.  First and foremost, I do believe Christian music should be played in the church.  I think this should be the first place Christian music is played.  Should it be the one and only place, absolutely not.  I believe this for two reasons.  First, the church is not a building.  The church is wherever people have gathered to worship the one true God.  It says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.”  The church is wherever Christians come together to worship God.  Church is not a building with a steeple; it is a fellowship of believers that come together.  Therefore, we can sing Christian music wherever we are, not just in a church building.

Second, sadly, the world is not in church on a regular basis.  Sadly, the world is in bars, clubs, and concert halls.  For that reason alone, bands choose to go there so they can minister to non-Christians.  In an interview, Sameer Bhattacharya, a guitarist for the Christian hard rock band Flyleaf, said this, “We go out to the bars and things like that, because that’s life.  That’s the world.  We know we are not supposed to go to church and preach to people there because they already know.  So we are supposed to go out there and love.  That’s our job is to love our God and our neighbor.  People in these places are our neighbors.  No one’s out loving anyone anymore.  Everyone is just condemning people.  We are so far away from the church Christ intended and Paul fought for.”

Bands today are going to bars and clubs so they can evangelize to those that are hurting and who have never met Christ in a life changing relationship.  Christian rock bands are meeting people in this world wherever they are, and sharing Christ through music. 

That thought brings me to the next criticism that Christian music should not be used to evangelize, it should only be used to bring praise and worship to God.  I totally disagree with the statement that Christian music should only be used to praise God, and not evangelize to the lost.  Yes, the number one purpose of music should be used to glorify Christ.  But that shouldn’t be the only purpose.  Why can’t Christian music be used to evangelize?  Evangelizing to the lost is a form of praise and worship to God!  God rejoices when we bring people to know Him. One example of music evangelism is in Acts 16:25-34. Paul and Silas were singing praise hymns to God in prison.  They weren’t singing songs in the church, they were singing in prison!  Later on in the story, a jailer and his family were saved and baptized through the ministry and overt praise of God.  Their singing, along with God’s miracle of the earthquake, helped lead a family to Christ.  Once again, music can and should be used to not only praise God, but also evangelize to the lost.

To sum it up, Christian rock bands are only fulfilling the Great Commission.  In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says to the disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Jesus doesn’t say sit in your church building and hope someone comes in.  He says go out into the world.  Meet people wherever they are in life, and share the gospel with them.

This final criticism is the one that bothers me the most.  Most critics say that Christian rock bands are satanic.  I am fine if you don’t like Christian rock.  I know quite a few people that don’t like Christian rock music.  I am fine with that, it doesn’t bother me one bit.  But, what does bother me is when people come out and blatantly judge someone’s faith, and say that they are not Christian simply because of the type of music they play. 

In Matthew 7:1-5 it says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” 

God specifically says do not judge or you will be judged by Him accordingly.  God does tell us to judge what is right and wrong, but not the validity of someone’s faith.  When you accuse Christian rock as being satanic, you not only accuse the style of music, but you accuse everyone who is associated with that genre as being a Satan worshiper.  You are judging their faith based on the style of music they play.

My biggest question is how can a genre of music that encourages us to love our neighbors, that lifts praise to God, and that seeks to offer the gospel to the lost, be satanic?  Is Christian rock perfect?  No.  But if Satan was in control of Christian rock, why would he want to lift up the name Jesus?  Why would he want Christian rock bands to praise God?  If Satan was in control of Christian rock, he would want the bands to glorify him, and not glorify Jesus.  I believe Jesus uses Christian rock everyday to reach people.  I firmly believe this.  Satan takes no part in Christian music. 

Finally, I just want to urge people who are critics of Christian rock to carefully consider what they are saying and how it impacts others.  I know Christian rock is not perfect, and it has its flaws.  But, as Christians, we should be very careful about criticizing the ministry of others. Jesus says in Mark that whoever is not against us is for us.  Mark 9:38-41 says, “ ‘Teacher’ said John, ‘We saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’  ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said.  ‘No one who does a miracle in My name can in the next moment say anything bad about Me, for whoever is not against us is for us.  I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in My name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.’ ”

God is urging the disciples to stay as one body of believers.  We should not judge each other’s faith and ministry.  But, as a body of believers, we should be out in the world, gaining people for the Lord.  As Christians, we should lift each other up, not tear each other down.  Instead of spending all of our time and energy complaining, arguing, nitpicking, and judging each other’s faith, we should be out in the world reaching people for Christ.

By doing these two blog posts, I am not trying to tear down the faith of those who disagree with me, or to claim that I have all the answers.  I just wanted to share with you Biblical truth, along with my thoughts and opinions.  If you believe deep in your heart that Christian rock is wrong, that is fine.  Stay away from Christian rock music and don’t listen to it.  I will not judge you at all if you don’t agree with Christian rock.  Everyone is entitled to their opinions.  But, if you push your opinions and beliefs on others, I will definitely stand up and speak because your opinions have now crossed over into the territory of judgment.  If you really study the Bible, there is no proof Biblically that Christian rock is wrong or evil.  I firmly believe Christian rock musicians are bringing honor to our Lord, and reaching people for Christ every single day.