One of the most unpleasant, but necessary, things that I, as a shepherd of the flock have had to do over the years, is draw lines in the sand regarding such questions as to what is acceptable worship music and what is not. This has at times made me unpopular both in the local assemblies as well as at home. The pressure is always there and I have to both respond to it as well as be answerable to the decisions I make. I don't take the task lightly
Who Said 'Why Should the Devil have all the Best Music?'
It has been claimed that William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, once famously asked: "Why should the devil have all the good music?" That was over a century ago, before pop, rock and metal took music to levels of utter degeneracy, so I wonder what he would have made of the music that floods the air waves today? That saying, incidentally, has not just been attributed to William Booth but to Martin Luther, John Newton and Isaac Watts too, but the truth is none of them ever said it. This misquotation was spread by Larry Norman and the CCMers, rock musicians trying to justify their kind of satanic music by pinning the claim on various believers of the past.
Rev. Rowland Hill
The actual source of both the misquotation and misattribution was from a sermon given in 1844 by Rowland Hill, pastor of Surrey Chapel in London:
"Reverend Hill did NOT say, 'Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?' — what he actually said was, 'The devil should not have all the best tunes.' Reverend Hill's message was not a 'call' to copy or bring the 'devil's' music in the church. During the time Reverend Hill preached his message, in England, church music had fallen in both quantity and quality, which is certainly not the case today. His message was a 'call' for Christians to write, compose and produce quality Christian music. It was NOT an appeal for Christians to sing the 'devil's' music for the Lord. (Lowell Hart, Satan's Music Exposed, pp. 169-170) (V.J. Charlesworth, Rowland Hill, p.156)"
The Messianic Community and the World's Music
With the record set straight (and my apologies for having wrongly quoted William Booth in the past), the question remains as to whether the Messianic Community (Church) should imitate the world's music, a question I have wrestled over during 40 years of personal discipleship and 30 years in the ministry itself both as a pastor and as an international overseer, having as I have had the watchcare of thousands of souls.
Is Changing the Lyrics Enough?
I'd like to take Reverend Hill's actual question and ask a couple more of my own. Here's the first:
Can music - and I am here speaking about the sound of that music or tune rather than the words written for it - can music written for and consecrated to, the devil, ever be used, with new Christian lyrics?
Lyrical Accord and Doctrine
There is little or no debate usually over lyrics (other than those which are tediously repetitive) - though there may be some grey areas - lyrics are usually plain and Messiah-honouring enough, though doctrinal accuracy is obviously important too. But when it comes to simple praise, declaring whether you are worshipping Yahweh or the devil doesn't take a rocket scientist to discern. So in 90 per cent of cases there is no debate over the lyrics.
The Music of Rebellion
When I consider rock music - its loud, disconsonant, brazen, exhibitionist, egocentric and angry sound - there is no doubt in my mind that this kind of 'noise' is dedicated to the devil. No question about it. It is the music of open rebellion and glorification of the ugly and grotesque. And in my experience in deliverance, those believers still drawn to it usually have unresolved spiritual issues to deal with still. Such music feeds the flesh in a particularly destructive way that can only give glory to the universe's self-acclaimed agent and instigator of chaos and destruction.
Glorification of Man
What about less offensive but nevertheless secular music written to glorify the flesh in a less obvious up-in-your-face sort of a way? There are many ways to approach this type. Though not an absolute rule-of-thumb, because the devil is a clever old sod, beautiful, stirring music that was designed to glorify man and man-made philosophy (such as communism) and is well-known as such, probably isn't suitable for ecclesiastical use on at least two counts:
1. It was created in the first place as anti-Elohim (God) and is therefore a mockery of Him; and
2. By association, it can destabilise those new or weak in the emunah (faith).
Transforming the Communist International?
Let me give some examples. I had once though to apply the Reverend Hill's formula to the Communist International, a stirring piece of music, that is the rallying call of the antitheistic communists who seek world revolution and the extinction of Christianity. I never did get around to it, and that was probably a good thing as it might have upset a lot of believers who had escaped the murderous persecution of communism in Eastern Europe, China and elsewhere. At the very least, the use of such music could blur distinctives and create confusion. Therefore in this we must be wise.
From Urmelodie to Horst Wessel Lied
What about the nazi Horst Wessel melody? If you want to get lynched by an anti-nazi mob, go ahead. If communism had been defeated in 1945 and nazism been victorious, you would probably have got lynched for setting the Communist International to Christian lyrics. It's a problem of association. And yet, ironically, the Horst Wessel melody was not written by a nazi. It was a traditional Austrian melody to which nazi lyrics were set. In other words, the original composer had not dedicated it to fascism. Even more interestingly, before the nazi's hijacked it, it was also used as an alternative melody for the hymn, How Great Thou Art! It had also been used in the old Imperial Navy song, Vorbei, vorbei, sind all die schönen Stunden and as the anthem for the Imperial Cruiser Königsberg. But it is even older than that, hearkening back to 1865, to a Vienese folk tune by Peter Cornelius known as the Urmelodie. The histories of some tunes are highly complex.
Probably Not Wise
I once wrote the lyrics of a stirring, motivational hymn to a variation the original melody by way of experiment. It can be done but, because of the horrific associations some still have of it, its use would probably be most unwise. Perhaps in a few centuries' time, both the Communist International and Horst Wessel Lied could be set to Christian lyrics and used, but I think it unlikely. There are plenty of other good melodies available.
Pop or Party Music
That's one kind of musical genre. But what of a far more prevalent type that has infiltrated and taken over the churches? I am speaking of pop music. And it's here, perhaps, that the greatest controversy is to be found because what we are dealing with is what I would call 'party music' set to Christian lyrics.
I am often accused of being biased because I am a strong lover and proponent of classical music though it's not by any means the only kind of music I enjoy. Yet this does not mean that I give carte blanche to all classical music nor does it mean that I think much classical music is suitable for worship. Quite the contrary. There is classical music which is absolutely objectionable because it was originally dedicated to humanism or to the flesh in general. Carl Orf's Carmina Burana is case in point that I cite quite often. It's classical but its lyrics, as well as its sound, are both ugly. It could never fall into the Hillian category as music recoverable for use in an assembly of Yahweh.
Types of Classical Music
So how in 'classical music' times was music for worship separated from the secular? And by secular I don't necessarily mean 'bad'. Some music is written for romance, some for dancing, some to celebrate nations - historical events like the defeat of the tyrant Napoleon in Peter Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and some are simply written as national anthems.
Transformation of the Russian National Anthem
Only yesterday I was listening to one man's top ten choices of national anthems. At the top was the Russian national anthem which is extraordinarily beautiful and moving. But what many non-Russians do not know is that Vladimir Putin re-introduced the anthem of the old Soviet Union and changed the lyrics:
The Old Soviet National Anthem
1. An unbreakable union of free republics,
The Great Russia has welded forever to stand.
Long live the creation of the will of the people,
The united, mighty Soviet Union!
Be glorious, our free Motherland,
A reliable stronghold of the peoples' friendship! Party of Lenin, strength of the people,
Leads us to the triumph of Communism!
2. Through tempests the sun of freedom shone to us,
And the great Lenin illuminated our path,
To a just cause he raised up the people
To labour and heroic deeds he inspired us!
3. In the victory of the immortal ideas of Communism
We see the future of our country,
And to the Red Banner of our glorious Motherland
We shall always be selflessly true!
The New Russian National Anthem
1. Russia is our sacred state,
Russia is our beloved land.
The powerful strength and the great glory
Are your properties for all the time.
Long live our Fatherland, land of the free,
The eternal union of brothers nations,
Given by ancestors the people's wiseness!
Long live our land! We are proud of you!
2. From the southern seas to the polar lands
Spread are our forests and fields.
You are unique in the world, one of a kind -
This native land protected by God!
3. Wide expanse for dreams and for living
Are opened for us by the coming years
Our loyalty to the Fatherland gives us strength.
So it was, so it is, and so it always will be!
Putin's Brilliant Move
It was a brilliant political move, reconciling toppled communists and the new democrats, and has tapped into a deep patriotic current. And I am all for patriotism. However, it is not a piece of music that would ever be suitable for worship, for reasons that you well know: it is never wise to blur the distinctions between religion and nationalism, the mistake of ancient Israel and of all nations in spiritual decline.
Amongst other favoutrites of this collection of anthems I was speaking about was the famous French national anthem, the Marseillaise, another strirring anthem with a catchy melody which glorifies the bloody French revolution with all its head-chopping which was the precursor to communistic movements - definitely unsuitable for a worship song, quite apart from the fact that it would probably, and rightly, upset French patriots - a problem in using any national anthem.
A Hymn and an Anthem from Germany
But what of anthems that were originally hymns, and particularly ones that are very versatile? The German national anthem, Deutschlands Lied, was high up on the list, which was also the anthem of Imperial Austria, the Österreichische Kaiserhymnen, but more importantly it was, and still is, a wonderful Anglican hymn, Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken, Zion City of Our God. There's a perfect example of an overlap of the Sacred and the Patriotic and it does not bother Anglicans in the least, in spite of it being the anthem of the enemy in two world wars. In those days nations were in any case largely dedicated to Elohim (God).
British, German, Prussian, French and American
So too was the British national anthem which was not only the Imperial anthem of Germany but also of Prussia...as is a patriotic American song, My Country T'is of Thee and the French monarchist equivalent, Grand Dieu, sauvez le Roi!. And so on. You get, I think, my point. Where do you draw the boundaries?
Between the Spiritual and Profane
In a godless age like our own I do believe there is a very real need to draw sharp boundaries between the spiritual and the profane wherever possible. By way of an experiment I once wrote a hymn to an Elvis Presley tune. For one who was never seduced by, let alone remotely interested in, pop or rock, it was just a pretty melody for me, but for an Elvis fan hearing my hymn sung on the sabbath, it might cause some anxiety or confusion...or worse, stimulate the flesh. If you aren't going to write new music yourself, it is probably safer to borrow from the plethora of folk melodies, as so many hymn writers have done in the past. I think of the Swedish folk melody which became the music for the famous hymn, How Great Thou Art.
I have already spoken of rock and metal music which as far as I am concerned are straight out of the pit itself. I'll not compromise a micron there. And those 'Christians' who continue to use it show many of the spiritual symptoms of the lost and confused. Here's my problem: most of the modern stuff that passes as 'music' in the churches and assemblies could, stripped of their lyrics, be played in parties or any secular setting and not raise any pagan or atheistic eyebrows. But were you to play the melodies of Abide With Me, Händel's Messiah, or other classical hymnody at a gathering for revelry, you might provoke some heated objections. Only rarely might one be accepted, like Amazing Grace or When the Saints Go Marching In at an English football match in Tottenham or Chelsea (or any number of teams that have adapted it for their air-filled bladder-kicking game), but probably not a party, let alone one where alcohol is flowing.
The Commandment to be Holy
Here's my point. We are commanded to be holy. What is 'holy'? To be 'holy' is to be qadosh, and to be 'qadosh' means to be separated from the world and set apart to Yahweh:
"You are to be qadosh (holy, set-apart) to me because I, Yahweh, am qadosh (holy, set-apart), and I have set you apart (made you qadosh, set-apart) from the nations to be My own" (Lev.20:26, NIV).
Don't Resemble the World
That, and dozens of other scriptures like it in both Testaments, Old and New, is pretty unambiguous. What we as believers do is supposed to be holy, set-apart and separate from the way the world does things, and in such a way that the separateness is clearly recognisable. It is Satan who tries to obliterate the differences or distinctions by blurring the edges. That is as true for worship as for any other Gospel activity. We're not supposed to resemble the world.
Distinctive and Set-Apart Music
That is not to say that we should go out of our way to, say, dress so outlandishly as to stick out like a sore thumb in, for example, clothes. We are to dress modestly and not unnecessarily draw attention to ourselves. We are not, then, to dress in saffron robes and wear flood-lit sparkly turbans. But you know what I mean. In some things we will stand out more obviously - in our refusal to be obscene in language or behaviour, our refusal to be sexually provocative or immoral, etc.. And our use of music in sacred worship must likewise be distinctive and clearly Yahweh-glorifying both in lyrics and in melody. As worship becomes increasingly kicked out of society and restricted to home and assembly (church), that should not pose a problem save for those compromised liberals dertermined to bring the world into qadosh (holy, set-apart) convocations and so eradicate that separation under the mistaken belief that the Body is trying to keep people away. On the contrary - we are trying to win souls and urge them to separate them out from the world spiritually too, something the spirit of the world violently resists.
Music is Ubiquitous
This is something the flesh always finds quite objectionable. The flesh is all about eye-grabbing, sensationalistic behaviour. Today music is literally everywhere. Compared to a century ago, we listen to music far more than my grandparents did, simply because technology makes it more readily accessible. There is literally no space which music cannot go. Therefore this is an important area where believers must be heard to be set-apart to Yahweh. We cannot bring Babylon to the altar. It has to be left cleanly outside the doors of our minds, hearts, meeting places and homes.
Restoring Biblical Music
There are those who say it doesn't matter what kind of music you use so long as you are praising Yahweh with it. I can't agree. True, there are many forms of music, and these forms have constantly changed across the centuries. There are some who say we ought to reproduce as closely as we can the music of Biblical times and claim the closest is Jewish music, forgetting that most Jewish music has evolved considerably over the centuries too and reflects the cultures of the diaspora, from Spain to the Russian steppes. The oldest documents of the oral tradition are from the 9th century AD Codex Cairo, 800 years after the apostles. Yet this only contains ekphonetic writing which is not reliable for recreating the cantillation of ancient Israel. Perhaps the best work of recovering the music of the Psalms has been done by Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura whose book, if you can get a copy, The Music of the Bible Revealed (1991) is worth reading. If you would like the know how David sang Psalm 23, this is probably the closest you are ever going to get to the original:
How Psalm 23 Probably Sounded When Sung Originally
Doesn't much sound like any of the church music you hear today, does it? Someone from a more charismatic background might even dispute that this is even 'worshipful' at all because it isn't 'lively' enough. And that's just the problem. Modern man judges a lot through the flesh. Worship is not, in any case, a function of how much excitement you can generate, but of spiritual connectivity. If you would like to know more about the Messianic Evangelical position, please see our MUSIC WEBSITE