addressing legalism in the Adventist Church: Contemporary Praise Music
Updated: Jan 9
I have held off on posting this for a long time because I was afraid. I was afraid of how people would react and I didn't want to deal with the backlash that my view might cause. I have reached a point in my spiritual journey, where I just can't hold this in anymore. My strength and my peace no longer come from people or even from a church body, instead, I find my purpose in Christ and in the truths of the Bible. I believe that the way we are handling the following topics in our church denomination today is doing more harm than good- especially for young people such as myself.
I realize my ideas might be radical to some readers, but instead of trying to argue with me or debate each other I encourage you to simply go to the Bible and draw your own conclusions for yourself. Sometimes we rely far too heavily on popular opinion or on "being right". The world is not such a black and white place. It's time to let it go and let some issues work themselves out privately between you and God.
For the sake of clarity, I am defining legalism as dependence on personal moral law rather than on religious faith.
Contemporary Praise Music
NOTE: for the sake of this post, I am not addressing the topic of secular music because I think that category is generally easier to distinguish as "appropriate" or not for a Christian lifestyle. Instead, I want to focus on music that is advertised as "Christian".
What does the Bible say about music?
(I could just copy-paste the entire book of Psalms, but I will refrain!)
"Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,"
"Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!"
"A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations."
"They sing to the tambourine and the lyre and rejoice to the sound of the pipe."
"Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
"Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!"
"And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."
Ah, the dreaded music discussion. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a sermon or sat through a panel discussion on music in the church, I'd be a richer girl. We love to get heated over what kind of songs we are going to listen to or play in our church programming. We also lowkey love to throw hymns at people. It seems like sometimes instead of "Bible-bashing" people, we start "hymn-bashing" them!
Clearly, the Bible says a lot specifically about music and praise and it is almost all positive... so we know we are allowed to sing and play instruments (which I doubt anyone is questioning!).
But when it comes to the style of music "permitted"... it basically says nothing.
Yes, I know there are many other verses in the Bible that people like to use in relation to the music topic, but none of those are actually directly addressing music. Many of those verses are simply saying we need to live a balanced and morally upright lifestyle (and yes we do but... that isn't the topic here). The reality is, in Biblical times they just didn't have a synthesizer and a bunch of computerized beats being generated by all the "hip" music artists of the time. Did they have "bad" music? I'm sure they probably did, although I am not a historian. I can imagine there were types of tunes used in relation to heathen and satanic practice. Either way, we don't know what a "heathen song" sounded like back then even if we can speculate.
I do want to point out the mention of some of the instruments from back in the day. The Bible verses speak of horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, and bagpipe. While it doesn't tell us how they were being played, I was in band in high school and let me tell you what the trumpet and horn can get pretty loud and energetic! But again, we just don't know for sure how they were being played. We do see the mention of a hymn in Matthew which I assume was carried out acapella style. I am tempted to research the actual Hebrew on that verse because the use of the word "hymn" intrigues me. Honestly, I think more historical information on the culture of the time would aid well to the music discussion.
I went ahead and threw in the Bible verse from Daniel for good measure. In this verse, music is being used to signal people to bow to an idol. I keep repeating myself with this in these studies, but once again we see that music itself isn't a sin, it is how we are using it. I can already hear the Adventist conservatives yelling, "Yes exactly! Anything with a heavy beat is being used for the devil!" Okay, just hold on. At the same time, the Adventist liberals are responding, "Yes exactly! Any form of Christian music is being used for God!"
I would argue that both views are wrong.
I wish I could give you a more clear direction on this one but I can't do that in good confidence. The truth is, I'm not sure what the exact style of music is the God loves "the most". What I do know is that even if I am listening to gospel or contemporary music and it has a beat, I am not offering my soul to the devil. I've heard so many debates and studies about the effects of a beat on your body, your heart, and your brain. I've been told about how you can "play songs backwards" to see if there is a message hidden from the Illuminati in it (sigh, we really get fanatical with this). I mean seriously, we have put ourselves through a lot trying to figure this issue out.
Look, we have to stop making everything so extreme. When it comes to some of these topics, the answer just isn't perfectly clear. What is clear is the fact that we need to be serving God. What is also clear is that we need to be mindful of what our actions are saying to others. I am reminded that I am supposed to be in the world but not of it. I think one way to really figure out if music is being created for the right purpose is to evaluate the artist who wrote the song. What kind of lifestyle are they portraying? What are the lyrics of the song? How do they perform the song themselves? By answering these questions we can better determine if it is music we want to use in God's house.
I think this is a good time to also mention the value of prayer and asking for guidance from the Holy Spirit. I suppose I have been assuming that we are praying about all of these issues I've been covering, but I think this one needs special attention because it just isn't as easy to understand. In times when we want to know what God wants for us, we need to ask Him to reveal it. I think we must also be willing to see other people's perspectives. Am I really criticizing a specific praise genre because I have a moral problem with it? Or is it maybe because it simply isn't my favorite style of music? Let's be careful not to play God for the sake of having things our way.
I had an experience in relation to the topic of music in church once that I will truly never forget. I was in a Sabbath program and one of the song leaders got up and started giving us a lengthy monologue on the value of hymns and how he loved them. He concluded his expose' by proudly stating, "...and after all, I like to know that I'm singing songs written by Adventists!" I would have laughed aloud except his comment was supported by several hearty, amen's.
My dear reader... Hymns were not written by Adventists!
Here is something even wilder that you might not know; the word "hymn" comes from the Greek "hymnos" and this gives some indication as to the age of hymnody. They were originally songs written in honor of the gods, leading figures, and heroes. Of course, the hymns we sing in church were obviously not written for greek gods. Over time, the music we consider a "hymn" has evolved. Actually many hymns were written by members of the Methodist congregation, specifically the Wesley brothers, John and Charles. I might also remind you that since the Adventist church in many ways was formed out of the Methodist denomination (study up on William Miller), it makes sense that we also adopted some of their music and church service style.
Another church that is fond of hymns? The Catholic church- by the 6th-Century St Benedict who founded the Benedictine Order of monks. To make things even more interesting, at one point hymns were thought of as modern and rallying. Throughout the history of the church, whenever there has been renewal, revival or restoration, new songs of worship have appeared. Gospel music itself stems from hymns and even many praise songs are re-inventions of classic hymns such as Amazing Grace.
Yes, but I want to listen to music that quotes scripture itself, you might be thinking. Well, actually many songs that are being produced by modern musicians are still quoting scripture. Here is a great list if you're curious: https://www.godtube.com/news/top-25-christian-songs-titled-after-bible-verses.html
As with many things, how you praise God is ultimately between you and Him. You cannot tell if someone is close to God or not just because they like different music in church than you do. I think it is good for church congregations to discuss what the majority wants to see in their services. Thankfully, we usually have many churches around and chances are at least one of them will play the music you enjoy and relate to. Even if there is only one church in your area, often there are multiple services and they host their own music styles.
My personal favorite Christian song? Lord, I Need You by Matt Mather. That song speaks to me like no other, and I am someone who also loves hymns (I Surrender All is my favorite hymn if you need to know). Lord, I Need You has left me in sobs countless times. It keeps me humble. It reminds me of my imperfections and it reminds me that everything I am I owe to God. All my talent, my success, or my recognition is just Him working through me. Yet even though I am utterly useless without Him, He is here for me no matter what...
Lord, I come, I confess Bowing here I find my rest Without You I fall apart You're the One that guides my heart Lord, I need You, oh, I need You Every hour I need You My one defense, my righteousness Oh God, how I need You Where sin runs deep Your grace is more Where grace is found is where You are Where You are, Lord, I am free Holiness is Christ in me Lord, I need You, oh, I need You Every hour I need You My one defense, my righteousness Oh God, how I need You So teach my song to rise to You When temptation comes my way When I cannot stand I'll fall on You Jesus, You're my hope and stay Lord, I need You, oh, I need You Every hour I need You My one defense, my righteousness Oh God, how I need You You're my one defense, my righteousness Oh God, how I need You My one defense, my righteousness Oh God, how I need You
For Jesus and me, Lord, I Need You is our song.