Question & Answer

Contemporary Christian Music


Some fifty or so years ago, dairy farmers discovered the playing of soothing music encouraged cows to produce more milk. Since more milk meant greater profits, farmers began installing sound systems inside their dairy barns. One major dairy producer capitalized on this innovation by advertising “Milk from contented cows.”

Oddly enough, the sweet strains of music very often produce an entirely opposite reaction among Christians. Instead of contentment, hostile disagreements over selections in worship music have become a leading cause of congregational infighting and even church splits! To our shame, there are believers who sulk and fume from their pews if their particular brand of musical tastes is not satisfied. Studies and surveys in churches are showing that music ministers are among the most stressed in Christian ministry.

Musical tastes are as varied as church members themselves. There are those who love the old hymns while others much prefer a more contemporary flavor. Some music ministers have attempted to appease everyone by blending the old with the new. Other churches offer two separate worship services each Sabbath—one being traditional and the other a contemporary service. Still, there are churches that tenaciously cling to old-fashion tradition. I know of a local pastor who is fond of bragging, “You won’t hear any contemporary music in our church! We remain true to the old hymns!” What he fails to realize is that even the old hymns were “contemporary” when they were first written! In contrast, I once attended a church in which the music was played at an ear-splitting volume resembling that of an armored vehicle crossing a minefield.

There are those who argue the old hymns are a tangible link to our past. This is certainly true, for these hymns have surely withstood the test of time. Many of the old hymns, too, are rich in Christian doctrine. The lyrics of Charles Wesley or Martin Luther, as examples, give magnificent instruction in sound Christian theology.

But can we not make similar statements favoring contemporary Christian music? Yes, we certainly can, for there are some wonderful Christian artists glorifying the name of Christ Jesus with their talents. Should we deny their musical contributions based solely upon the fact that their songs are fresh and new? To do so sounds rather legalistic and since when has unbending legalism brought honor to God? Far too often we allow our own personal taste in music to become the standard for what music is glorifying to God. Instead, we should allow, even promote, Christian freedom and grace in musical preferences.

People are always asking if drums or keyboards or, yes, if electric guitars belong in the church. All musical instruments are, in themselves, neither good nor bad—they are amoral. So the question is this: Does a style of music edify believers while bringing honor and glory to Christ Jesus? If so, then what difference does it make if the accompaniment is provided by a piano or a guitar? Perhaps Ephesians 5:19 is the answer to this issue in that it promotes worshipping the Lord and encouraging other believers in three different “styles” of music, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”

If you have a question about church policy or procedure, let us know! Every quarter we address these issues in our “Question and Answer” column, and we would love to hear from you! E-mail us at [email protected]