For sixteen years I served as youth evangelist for the Texas Conference. One of my projects was to train groups of young people to witness through singing. Sometimes we had as many as twenty-five youth living in our home for the whole summer. I thank God for my very special wife Patsy, who loved, mothered, and fed them all.
I have become convinced that, if given a choice, many youth, both Adventist and non-Adventist, prefer good music over pop music. I could relate scores of stories and would like to tell you a few of them in this article.
It is true that the stories go back a few years, but we mustn't forget that even rock and roll has been around for more than forty years by now.
Before the stories, however, I would like to tell you about a survey that my son, Michael, sent out to about 1,000 young people in Adventist academies. You may be surprised by what he learned.
To the question, "Do you think rock music is compatible with the Christian lifestyle?" 75% of the Adventist young people who responded said, "No; rock music is not compatible with the Christian lifestyle."
In response to the question, "Are religious lyrics enough to make a song sacred?" 82% said, "No, religious lyrics are not enough to make a song sacred."
The so-called contemporary Christian music is closely linked to rock music. It uses the same beat, the same instruments, the same type of arrangements, and overall the same type of sound. It has religious lyrics, to be sure, words that are supposed to make it religious, but, as you can see, our own young people are wise enough to know that this is not enough to make it sacred.
"Good and evil never harmonize. Between light and darkness there can be no compromise. Truth is light revealed; error is darkness. Light has no fellowship with darkness, righteousness no fellowship with unrighteousness" (In Heavenly Places, p. 260).
"There is an emotional excitement, a mingling of the true with the false, that is well adapted to mislead.... Wherever men neglect the testimony of the Bible, turning away from those plain, soul-testing truths which require self-denial and renunciation of the world, there we may be sure that God's blessing is not bestowed" (The Great Controversy, p. 464).
Many groups offer religious rock today, and some of them are very popular, but are they really religious? A highly popular gospel group earned the following tribute from a newspaper music critic for its concert in a large Southern city: "As its beautiful a cappella opening chorus echoed through the hall to the cheers of the audience the band slowly filled in behind, and as the drums and guitars built to a crashing crescendo, the artist bounced onto the stage. This wasn't sweet hour of prayer, this was rock and roll, sometimes soft and tender as the sweetest love song, sometimes hard-edged and growling. But it wasn't words alone that brought the crowd clapping and cheering to their feet. There was some hefty assist . . . from booming guitar lines and crashing drums."
Ellen G. White tells us that young people "have a keen ear for music and Satan knows what organs to excite, to animate, engross and charm the mind so that Christ is not desired" (Testimonies for the Church, vol.1, p. 497).
At a "Gospel" concert
Even before I became a youth evangelist, while I was still attending Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University), four of us young men formed a quartet known as the Adelphians. My brother, Wayne Thurber, was baritone and director, Don Crook, second tenor, Jack Veazey, bass, and I sang first tenor. The college gave us a scholarship to travel around the Southern Union singing to churches and youth groups. One of the most memorable trips we took was to Asheville, North Carolina, to sing for a Youth Congress.
The quartet and Marilyn Dillow, our young lady soloist, were riding into the city about 5 p.m. The car radio was advertising a gospel all-night sing in the civic auditorium. We had never experienced a gospel sing, and since our music was hymns and gospel songs, we felt we could discover some new music by attending
We were college kids with no money, so we stopped at a gas station and changed into our uniforms. We hoped that the person at the ticket counter would recognize us as a quartet and let us in free. Well, the lady at the ticket counter not only let us in free; she showed us right up to the stage door, apparently assuming that we were on the program!
A man inside the stage door took us backstage, where Wayne spoke to another man who was checking in the singers. Wayne told him our story and that our desire was just to listen for music ideas.
The man responded by saying that when things began to get dull during the all-night program, he might give us a chance to sing; and he called for someone to audition us. The man who was doing auditions took us into a room with a piano in it and motioned to Marilyn to come and play. Wayne said, "We don't use the piano; we sing a cappella, and at times she sings with us." The man was surprised but asked us to sing anyway. Jack blew the pitch pipe and we sang, "The Old Rugged Cross." No frills, just the plain message in simple style. Without any expression on his face, the man asked us to sing another, and we sang "The City of Light," composed by an Oakwood College student. When we finished, he got up and said for us to go backstage and wait. We might be used some time during the program.
We felt a little nervous standing around with all the famous gospel quartets and trios that were advertised features for the evening.
Soon the program started, and the first quartet to be introduced was one of the most popular ones at that time. The place went wild with whistles and thunderous applause. The group sang for about twelve minutes and came backstage. Of course, the audience wanted more, so the group went back out. We were not sure which spirit was evident one of praising God or one of praising men. But which spirit it was became quite evident in their next song, and we knew that we were in the wrong place! The title of the song was "Hallelujah Boogie."
"God's work is ever characterized by calmness and dignity."
We huddled together and discussed whether to exit the back door or stay on just a little longer. We decided to stay, hoping the music would improve. But when the quartet came off stage, the emcee went out and introduced us as the next group! Much to our surprise, we heard him talking about this college quartet from the Chattanooga area that had happened in, and that we were different. "They don't use any accompaniment, but sing a cappella,"he explained.
We were stunned to be second on the program. The crowd gave us polite applause as we walked on stage. Wayne went to the microphone, introduced us, and announced our first song, "The Old Rugged Cross." When we finished, we got very little applause, and we felt sure that we were out of place. Wayne introduced our second song, "Have You Been in the Garden with Jesus, Alone with the Saviour in Prayer?" When we finished this time, there was absolutely no applause. Wayne said to us, "Let's sing one more and leave." He chose a number that Marilyn sang with us, "The Song of Heaven and Homeland." "Sometimes I hear strange music, Like none e'er heard before, Come floating softly earthward, As through heaven's open door. It seems like angel voices, In strains of joy and love, That swell the mighty chorus Around the throne above." Marilyn was offstage behind the curtain with a microphone, adding an obligato part. Her voice sounded truly like an angel's. When we finished, there was again silence.
As soon as we walked off stage, the emcee went back to introduce the next group. But the audience started to applaud lightly and kept on doing so until the emcee asked if they wanted to hear more of our kind of music and they kept on applauding. So we went back and sang for another twenty minutes, once more without applause. As we were coming off stage for the second time, one of the singers in another gospel group said to us, "Don't ever change your music; it's of God. I know that some of our music is not pleasing to God."
We believe God gave us an opportunity to witness for Him that night before a huge crowd. Says Selected Messages, 2:42, "God's work is ever characterized by calmness and dignity."
At an outdoor rock concert
Another story that illustrates how Adventist youth have triumphed over pop music began when the pastor in a town where our team was scheduled to sing in church asked us to sing for an outdoor rock concert scheduled by the city fathers in the city park.
I was not at all sure we should agree to the pastor's request. As youth evangelist for the Texas Conference, I knew that parents trusted me to take care of their children and protect them from evil influences. I spoke up to the pastor and said, "I will have to pray and think about this one." His reply was, "The Lord has opened the door, and you will have to decide whether to close it or not."
The next day was Monday, and the appointment was for Wednesday evening. At our group worship we talked over the matter and prayed about it. I knew that most of the team had never been to a rock concert, and I certainly didn't feel comfortable about introducing them to one. But one of the young men in our group said, "You know, Brother John, we are told to witness in season and out of season."
Wednesday afternoon came, and I still wasn't clear about what to do. As evening approached, the pastor said, "Let's go over to the park and talk to the man in charge. Maybe he will help you decide." I agreed, and we all drove to the park.
Talk about loud music! As we got close, we could hardly hear one another talk. We drove around to the back, got out of our cars, and huddled together to talk. I still didn't feel clear. Just then a nice-looking young man came over to where we were standing and introduced himself as the one in charge of the program. He said, "You must be the group of Christian young people who have come to sing for us." I replied, "Let me ask you a question. If you were me and you had a group of Christian young people who sing soft songs with simple melodies centered on the saving grace of Jesus, would you not feel a little out of place? Your city young people come to hear rock and to dance."
The young man's reply was right to the point. "I'm a Christian and very concerned about today's youth. I was pleased that the city fathers chose to have a Christian group. You were the ones they chose. The opportunity is here, and you are the only ones that can fill it. Think it over. I'll be back in ten minutes for your answer."
We prayed together, for we were now down to the final decision. After our prayer, Greg, our college speaker for the summer, urged us to take the opportunity. Before finding Christ, he himself had been in the world of rock and drugs. We took a vote and found that all were in favor of witnessing.
The young man came back for our answer, and after we said we'd do it, he informed us that we would be on right after the present band had finished. We unloaded our equipment and set it in place as the band completed its final number.
When our turn came, Greg stepped to the mike and said, "Would you please be quiet?" But there was still quite a bit of noise. Then he said something to that wild crowd that amazed me. "I believe that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, and we have come to sing for you in His name." Philippians 2:10 says that "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow," and, sure enough, the crowd grew still. Then Greg invited everyone to come and sit right in front of the team. He went on to say, "I want you to listen to the words of the songs. We do not sing loud; our music is soft and meaningful." The team then sang for about twenty minutes with testimonies interspersed among the songs.
After our last number Greg stepped to the mike again. This time he had a shopping bag over his shoulder, and he said, "I have been where you are tonight. I have tried to make deals with girls just like many of you have. I've had the same pills in my pockets that you have tonight; and I've been so low that I didn't care if I lived or died. My life was meaningless. I had no goals to reach; and then I found the way out. Now I have peace and a reason for living. In this shopping bag is the way out." He had filled his bag with application cards for the "Way Out" Voice of Prophecy youth Bible lessons. "Now as you go back to your music and dancing," he continued, "our team will come around and sign you up for the Way Out."
Within twenty minutes our team had signed up over two hundred young people! Later, I saw Greg praying with several young men who had asked if God could change their lives the way He had his.
What an experience it was to see our youth witnessing for Him! What a difference in their music and demeanor from the music and demeanor of the other young people that were playing in the rock bands that night. I believe the youth of that city saw Jesus in our Seventh-day Adventist youth,
Adapted from a book on music being prepared by John Thurber. Used by permission.
John Thurber, long-time second tenor with the King's Heralds Quartet, is a former Youth Evangelist, living presently in Avon Park, Florida.