Oftentimes I have been asked if it is okay for Christians to listen to “Christian music.” The question itself is almost humorous; if Christians can’t listen to Christian music, what can they listen to? And if Christians can’t, then who can? Of course, most professing believers don’t understand why anyone would ask the question. But those who know the Bible do.
The question is whether “Christian music” is scriptural, acceptable, sinful, etc. This question is so important because it involves worship to our God, and certainly any professing Christian should want to do this acceptably in order to please God.
What is “Christian Music”?
When most people speak of Christian music, sadly they aren’t speaking of anything related to the Bible. They’re no doubt referring to the songs typically heard on a “Christian music” radio station. These are almost always songs that use mechanical instruments (guitars, keyboards, drums, etc.) and the lyrics of which speak of God, Christ, Christian values, or at least something related to religion. In other words, the lyrics purport to worship God.
Those who like this music will say it’s encouraging to listen to, particularly instead of other music which is so sinful and negative. But does this make it authorized?
What Music is Authorized?
First of all, the only Christian music is that which the Bible authorizes and identifies as such, and God commanded that Christians sing. Period. Search the entirety of Scripture and you’ll find singing as the only type of music in the church. (The Old Testament does not contain Christian worship and therefore should not be appealed to in order to authorize Christian worship.)
If we are asked, “what music does God want, require, command, accept, desire, etc.?” we can say singing. We will not mention anything else (piano, organ, drums, guitars, or any other musical instrument). We will not say you can or can’t use these things. The only time instrumental music will come up is when someone else other than God brings it up! It only becomes a topic of discussion if one asks, “what other music can we have in worship?” or “what can we get away with?” God never addressed it (silence)!
Logically, singing can be done with or without a mechanical instrument. But authoritatively, it cannot. Nowhere has God ever commanded it, asked for it, discussed it, or hinted about it regarding His church. Therefore, we can know that nowhere has God authorized it in His church.
To add instruments of music (or anything else God never mentioned: e.g., humming, beatboxing, etc.) is to do just that: add to! If we wish to do this then we need to consider Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Gal. 1:8-9; and Rev. 22:18-19, all of which warn against adding to God’s word. If we do so anyway, we will not be violating the passages that command us to sing (e.g., Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16); we’ll be violating God’s law of silence. The Bible’s silence on an action forbids that action (cf. Col. 3:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17 with 1 Thess. 5:21; Rom. 14:23 with 10:17; 2 Pet. 1:3; Heb. 7:14; Lev. 10; et.al.).
Therefore, true Christian music is “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). There are only two instruments to be used: the voice and the heart, and it’s the heart where the true melody is to be made (not “making melody with your voice”). And this can be done anywhere. Christian singing is a part of our corporate worship, but Paul and Silas demonstrated that it wasn’t limited to a corporate worship setting (Acts 16:25).
Additionally, acappella is not the proper designation for Christian music, nor is vocal. These terms are broader in meaning than what the Bible authorizes. Acappella generally means singing “without instrumental accompaniment” (dictionary.com) and therefore logically includes humming, whistling, beat boxing, etc. But these are not biblically acceptable; they do not qualify as “singing with grace in your heart” or “teaching one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” We would do well to call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways.
Application to “Christian Music”
We’ve already noted what type of music is authorized by God: singing, the main instrument being the heart. This coincides with John 4:24—we “must worship in spirit and in truth,” with spirit being the heart (i.e., meaningful) and “truth” being according to “thy word” (cf. John 17:17). Anything else is an addition to (or subtraction from).
Now let’s deal with what the world calls Christian music. There are two big problems. First, it’s almost always unscriptural in design, using unauthorized mechanical instruments. And second, it’s very often unscriptural in content. The false doctrines that these folks believe come out in their lyrics. So, the world’s Christian music cannot be considered as such by biblical definitions. It is not authorized by God and Christians shouldn’t listen to it.
Addressing the Arguments for it
Some brethren will say “What about in the privacy of my own home?” Why would this make any difference? God’s legislation for worship applies anytime and in any place worship occurs. Can we not worship in our own homes where two or more or gathered? Paul and Silas worshipped from prison with singing. This wasn’t a worship assembly of the church, but it was worship nonetheless. If the song is a worship song, then it’s still worship regardless of where and by whom it is sung.
This has caused some to foolishly claim that these songs are not worship. I wonder what the song’s author (or performer) would say to that! We’re all smart enough to discern by the lyrics whether or not a song is a worship song or not. If it isn’t a worship song, then we’re not having this discussion. It’s just like any other secular song on the radio! But if it is, then biblical legislation applies and we are not to add to or subtract from.
The next argument goes something like, “Well, I’m not worshipping when I sing it!” Then shame on you for taking a song whose intent is to worship God and selfishly using it for your own entertainment. This is no different than brethren in the worship assembly singing hymns that praise God but focusing on other things and not paying attention to the lyrics, or singing songs simply because we like them, regardless of whether the lyrics are scriptural. Similarly, there are those who disagree with instrumental music in worship solely because “I like four-part harmony.” This is not a sound argument for or against instrumental music in worship.
Probably the most popular (and honest) argument for “Christian music” is that it’s encouraging. “It makes me feel more spiritual,” or some similar response, is heard from brethren because they believe the lyrics at least sound religious, mainly in contrast to secular music. First, if the lyrics are unscriptural, which so many are, then it doesn’t matter how religious they sound and a Christian should not feel encouraged by them. Second, if God’s law is being violated by the addition of instrumental music, then a Christian should not be encouraged and should not participate in this sin.
And finally, “it’s better than all the other music.” Folks will try to justify this unscriptural worship by contrasting it with all the ungodly filth that they could be listening to instead. But this is not an either/or proposition! Yes, there is definitely a lot of immorality in today’s music; but there are plenty of songs that are not immoral. Just because it isn’t Christian doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate. If your music is ungodly, stop listening to it! But not all “secular” music is unchristian (i.e., inappropriate)! Music can be ungodly because of its lyrics or because it worships God in an unauthorized way. Both of these should be avoided by Christians! It is not difficult to understand that He expects us to worship Him as He commanded and avoid the filth of the world.
As Christians we must have authority for everything we do (Col. 3:17). Particularly when it comes to worship, everything must be according to what God wants, not what we want (John 4:24). There is no authority for His church to worship Him musically with anything other than the voice and heart. To worship with any other instrument is to add to His word; and this is true in any location (church building, home, car, concert, etc.). The best way to teach and practice this is to look only to Scripture for our authority, and always remember Who we’re worshiping!