D. Church Music: Staying the Plague



There’s a plague invading American churches — a plague of ear-splitting, brain-numbing music. … The popular excuse is that it appeals to young people. … Hypnotic effect … Would your church survive if you eliminated music entirely and preached like John the Baptist? … Would your people still come, to be healed by the blood of Jesus, and to feed on the Word of Truth?

The plague diagnosed

There’s a plague spreading from one church to another in America: Electric guitars competing with electric keyboards competing with drums to see who can achieve the highest decibel level … “Choruses” consisting of few words, repeated over and over again to hypnotic effect … Impossible to hear oneself think; all that can be heard is a driving beat … People over sixty wincing in physical pain from the sound … Complaints squelched with the response: “Look how many young people are coming to church and actually enjoying it!”

Man, it’s loud

Chances are, if I were to attend your church I would have to leave before the sermon began. In my old age loud noises no longer seem merely unpleasant; they’ve become downright painful. And if your church is like many, it specializes in loud. The standard setup (as you probably know) features electric guitars and electric keyboards and rock-band-size drum sets and high-wattage amplifiers with the volume knob turned far to the right. Granted, Psalm 150 says to praise God “with loud clashing cymbals”; but that was outdoors, with no electronic amplification.

It’s not just the loud volume

Besides the volume, there are two other disturbing elements in modern church music. Many churches have replaced hymns with so-called choruses — snippets of music that repeat the same words over and over again to the point of monotony. The other element, which serves to augment the effect of the repetitious words, is a steady, hard-driving beat.

Why should these things be a problem, you may ask, as long as the words are words of praise? Maybe it just happens to be a musical style I don’t like, while other people happen to like it. Just because I don’t like it, does that mean there’s anything wrong with it?

In response, recall how a magician can hypnotize a subject by dangling a swinging, glittering pendulum before the subject’s eyes. There is a musical equivalent to that magician’s pendulum. A certain driving beat, combined with words and melodic snatches which repeat over and over again, can have a hypnotic effect. In other words, they can cast a spell. And what is a “spell” exactly? A spell is what happens when one opens one’s mind so that demonic powers can enter and take control. This obviously is not something we want to happen in church!

Sometimes you can see the hypnotic effect at work before your eyes. Have you ever noticed the worship leader who is leading the singing at a modern church service — how by about the third repetition of the chorus she is closing her eyes and drifting into slow motion, so she actually appears to be entering a trance — and it’s the same way every time? Is it really the Holy Spirit that is at work here?

The appeal to young people

So why are churches allowing this? You have probably heard the same explanation I have heard, and maybe you have repeated it yourself: “This music attracts young people! Even if they come for the music, at least then they will stay and hear a sermon preached.” And young people (and older people who happen to like the music) may say: “The music makes me feel closer to God.” And my reply would be, “Are you sure it is God you are getting closer to?”

A sign of God’s presence?

Christianity today inherits an amazing heritage of beautiful music — music of true and lasting beauty, written by great composers and poets over hundreds of years. Our God is the creator of all things beautiful, and in particular the creator of beautiful music. This modern loud, thumping, hypnotic music, on the other hand, is not beautiful. If young people today are rejecting their heritage of beautiful music, maybe that is a sign — a sign not of God’s presence, but a sign that music in worship services has become a distraction.

The John the Baptist challenge

Here is a challenge to our churches — a challenge to remove the distraction, even in churches that present only traditional music. Maybe it is time to remove music entirely from worship services and see who will show up simply to hear the preaching of the word. Maybe it is time to think about the crowds that walked miles out into the wilderness to hear John the Baptist preach. They went to a place that had no McDonald’s and no taxi service, and certainly no drums and electric guitars. And what did they hear when they got there? They were not given lectures on inclusiveness and tolerance and a “warm welcome to all.” Quite the contrary. They were told that they were sinners and they must “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John, they were met with this jolly greeting:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10)

Preaching like that, combined with no music and no coffee and doughnuts after the service, is obviously not the way to build a mega-church!

Give your church a complacency test

Here is a complacency test for your church. Get rid of the music, and see what is left. Get rid of drums, guitars, and keyboards. Let the organ and piano be silent, too. Ask God to replace the power of the amplifiers with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Get rid of the music, then see who shows up. See who hungers enough for the word of God that they will show up, even when there is no entertainment to be had. (That’s what the music has become, after all: entertainment. Am I right?)

Remove the music and see who will come for washing away of sin.

Remove the music and see who will come for healing by the blood of Jesus.

Remove the coffee and doughnuts and see who will come to feed on the Word of Truth.

When you see these people, know that they are the ones who will survive the times that are ahead.