Why do we as Christians want to play secular music?

(Revised 2/5/2004)

I covered “Secular Music” in my book. At the time that I wrote it, I thought that if I presented people with the Biblical principles to use and the right questions to ask, that they would come to the truth all on their own. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case with a significant percentage of Christians and particularly Christian musicians. If you leave a way out or any reason for people to tell themselves “oh, it’s something I can decide for myself” then many of them will use that as an excuse to deny the truth and continue to gratify their own fleshly desires. So in this article I have attempted to further refine my views concerning what is God’s will concerning secular music and to spell it out a little more directly.

With some songs, it’s quite clear to anyone trying to be objective that the words and / or emotion conveyed by the music feeds the carnal side of our nature. Lyrics or music which generate feelings of anger, rebellion against authority, or lust are clearly not of God (Galatians 5:19-21). Listening to (much less performing) such songs would plainly be sin. Of course, if it’s anger directed at disobeying God or rebellion against authorities which are opposing God (as a large part of the Bible is) then that’s another story.

But what about taking secular music whose lyrics might not be acceptable to God and changing a few words and then performing it as a Christian band? Many Christian bands are doing it.

Or what about taking songs by secular artists which have no obvious violation of Biblical principles and performing them as a Christian band or artist? That would be OK, wouldn’t it?

To answer these questions, I think we have to take a look at two different but related areas; how you define “Christian musician” and what your priorities are.

If you view yourself as a musician who is a Christian, then expressing your beliefs about Christ will be a part of who you are and your music. However, you are not limited to strictly “Christian” musical themes or types of performances. Christ is an important part of your life but you would be a musician whether you were a Christian or not…it’s who you are and a significant part of your self-image. This approach gives you the freedom to play in venues and to pursue means of self-expression which might not be available to you if you limited yourself to a purely “Christian artist” mode.

If you view yourself as a Christian who is a musician, then musical talent is a gift from God and just part of who you are as a Christian. You recognize that you belong completely to God because “you have been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Therefore, you want your musical talents to express that and you seek to bring glory to Him in all that you do (1 Corinthians 10:31). Since God gave you your musical talents, you are willing to give them up if they begin to hinder God working out His plan for you (Matthew 18:9). You are a Christian whether music is a part of your life or not. This means that you avoid playing venues that might cause you or someone else to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9). You recognize that you have a dual nature (Galatians 5:17)(fleshly vs. Spirit) so you limit expressing certain parts of your nature because it would not glorify God. You do all these things not out of some legalistic attempt to please God but because you are head-over-heels in love with Jesus and want to show that in all that you do(Colossians 3:17).

So, if music is your life (and Jesus is just part of it), then you can do whatever brings you the most musical satisfaction, reinforces your self-image as a musician, and furthers your musical career. If you can create your music and throw in a little of your “Christian values” every once in a while, then so much the better. The creative door is wide open and there is no reason not to consider performing songs which don’t blatantly bash Christianity.

If Christ is your life (and music just a part of it), you realize that just because you like a song doesn’t mean that it’s OK to perform. You have a dual nature and seek to feed the “spiritual man” and starve the “fleshly man” (Romans 8:13). You want to bring a smile to God’s face in all that you do.

You see the difference in emphasis between the two lifestyles. With that as a foundation, let’s look at the question of priorities when considering secular music.

If you fall into the first category that we discussed, then there is not point in reading further. However, there are many Christians who are “sold out” to Jesus and still have questions concerning whether performing certain secular songs is something which pleases God.

Many Christians feel that performing secular songs allows them to connect with non-Christians who would otherwise dismiss their music. Once they get their attention, then the door is open to allow them to minister to them and tell them the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:22 is often quoted which says “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” The rationale sounds good but I question the overall effect of this application of that scripture. Let me tell you why.

There is a mystique around popular musicians…a “cult of cool” if you will. When you perform a secular artists’ song (even if lyrics have been changed to make them “Christian”) you automatically create an association in the mind of the listener between you and the secular artist or secular music world. That’s what makes the performance of secular music by a Christian artist effective. If the listener likes the secular artists’ music, then you “ride on the coattails” of that artist and, because they think the secular artist is “cool”, they consider you “cool” for playing their music. So, you see, you’re really reinforcing the listener’s admiration for the secular artist by performing the song (even if certain lyrics have been changed). You have also allowed yourself to be associated with the perception of the secular artists’ philosophy and lifestyle.

The performance by a Christian band or artist of a popular secular song provides an excuse for listeners to listen to and go purchase the secular artists music and further expose themselves to their non-Christian philosophy as well as increasing their admiration and emulation of the secular artist. Most Christian listeners know intellectually that the performance of a single song by a secular artist does not constitute an endorsement of all of their music or their lifestyle. But sin is always looking for an excuse to justify itself and your performance of a song by a secular artist may be just the rationalization someone may be looking for to indulge themselves. Non-Christians, on the other hand, don’t have the Holy Spirit to help them so they usually just consider the Christian artist to be a fan of the secular artist just like them. Is that really the impression that we want to give non-Christians? Doesn’t using secular music to “hook” them and then changing over to Christian music seem a little dishonest…sort of a musical “bait and switch”?

Have non-Christians been converted by a Christian band or artist who performed a secular song to get their attention? Undoubtedly. Does it justify the practice? No. Consider the Crusades when many people converted to Christianity at the point of a sword or (more recently) the Children of God cult whose adherents would do anything to convert the non-Christian including having sex with them or doing drugs with them. I realize that these are extreme examples but the point is that just because someone is converted through a given practice doesn’t mean it’s pleasing to God. I believe the practice of Christian artists performing secular songs in an attempt to get the attention of the unsaved risks reinforcing their admiration and emulation of the secular artists and the secular music world’s values. As such, it plants the seed of future problems and hindrances to their growth even if they are later converted. This admiration of popular secular artists has another name. The world calls it “idol worship”…the Bible calls it idolatry. By attempting to ride on a secular artists’ popularity, we participate in this idolatry (Galatians 5:19-21).

For those who are still not convinced, allow me to provide a Biblical example. Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato were all popular and well- known Greek philosophers in Paul’s day. Paul sought to evangelize the Greeks and (as he said in 1 Corinthians 1:22) “Greeks search for wisdom.” Why did Paul never use any of these famous Greek philosopher’s writings or statements when trying to convert the Greeks? Is it because there was no truth in it? No one who has ever read their writings could reasonably make the assertion that there was nothing of value or truth to their philosophies. Aristotle’s tenets of logic and reason along with Socrates and Plato’s use of the dialectical method (the art or practice of arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments) provided the philosophical foundation for scientific investigation and most of Western thought. Could Paul have found no common ground on which to use the Greeks understanding of logic and reason to lead them to an analysis of the claims and life of Jesus? Isn’t that what every book on apologetics does? Paul was an educated man and I’m sure was aware of them so why didn’t he use it to “get his foot in the door” with some of the Greeks…to engage them in discussion which he could later turn to the Gospel? No one can say for sure, but I think the fact he did not avail himself of this method says something to us. I think it says that not all means of getting someone’s attention so as to later tell them the Gospel are acceptable. Especially if it means associating yourself with or lending credibility to a lifestyle or philosophy which is outside of God’s will.

All of the views here are based on Scriptures and fundamental principles of the Christian walk many of which I have provided. Is it clear that God commands us to be holy? Yes. Is it clear that God commands us not to love the things of the world? Yes. Is it clear that God calls us to be separate from the world? Yes. Is it clear that God calls us to use the very creations of “the children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) which their father Satan (John 8:44) uses to seduce the world to attract the unsaved and as vehicles for the Gospel? NO! Where is that scripture? Where is that Biblical principle? Where are the multiple examples of God’s people doing that in the Bible? I would love to hear a scripturally-based argument which supports the view that God loves the use of secular music by Christian artists. My arguments use many scriptures across the entire New Testament and doesn’t take a single scripture out of context and try to base a rationalization of an existing stance on it.

In summary, I think the question boils down to this; is any benefit gained by playing secular music (with lyrics changed or not) worth the risk of giving an implied endorsement to your listeners to listen to, buy the music of, and emulate secular artists? Do we really want to influence our listeners by trying to partake of the “cult of personality” which surrounds popular secular artists? Isn’t it the job of the Holy Spirit to get people’s attention and make it resonate in their heart when the Gospel is presented (instead of using something of the world to get their attention and attract them)(John 6:44, Romans 10:17)?

Secular artists and Christian artists SHOULD represent entirely different things. The secular music industry represents and encourages everything that Jesus stands against; greed, excess, lust, rebellion, independence, and “idol worship.” Can anyone deny that secular music is one of Satan’s most effective and insidious weapons in the way that it influences people’s feelings and attitudes? Isn’t it a conflict of interests to play secular music (which stands for everything that we’re opposed to) in God’s service? And the past 5 years have seen a blurring of the line between secular and Christian artists with Christian artists opening for secular acts at secular venues and other Christian artists “crossing over” into secular. Do we really want to contribute to the blurring of the distinction between secular Rock Star and Christian musician?

Revelation 3:15,16 “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

1 Corinthians 10:23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.

1 John 2:15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

2 Corinthians 6:14-17 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.” Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you.

1 Peter 1:14-16 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."