- Christian Artists Can Glorify God and Bless the World
- Where Does the Impulse for Art Come From?
- Does More Volume Make Better Music?
- Tolkien on What is Good Art
What often passes for worship music may be missing the mark.
Beauty, truth, and goodness form the “cultural trinity.” These three virtues, working together, mimic the Creator, the three-in-one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God, three persons, unity and diversity in community, and inseparable.
Beauty and truth are not separated in God’s world and they ought not to be in human thought. God gave as much care to painting a lilly as to forming the eternal hills.
When we talk about beauty as a moral necessity, we are speaking of beauty as the highest form of virtue. Beauty has a moral value for truth (and for goodness, as well). On other hand, ugly has a moral category as well. We use the term “hideous” to speak in moral terms of things that are ugly. What is ugly is not necessarily evil, but if you add evil to what is ugly you have the hideous. On the other hand, when you add virtue to what is beautiful, you have the glorious!
God is glorious. When we say “glory to God,” we are acknowledging that God is both beautiful and righteous. All that is good comes from God; all that is evil is of the world’s ideological system, energized by the flesh and the devil. An old apostle John wrote,
Do not love the world [system] or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 1 John 2:15-16 NIV
Don’t import pop culture into the church and call it worship music
What does all this mean for our lives as Christians today? What does it mean for the church?
Too often, the church imports the ugly and hideous from the world and tries to baptize it as Christian. For example, in pop culture, much music is defined by elaborate technology and loud noise. These can become substitutes for the hard work (a thoroughly biblical concept and marker of a Judeo-Christian worldview per Genesis 2:15) of creating beautiful music that edifies.
Humans have used technology at some level, from our earliest days, and technology has often been developed by Christians to benefit humans; think of clocks, for example, or eyeglasses, or many labor-saving devices. I’m not talking about technology as a benefit, but as a short cut. An example of music technology that substitutes for true musicianship is something called “auto tune.” Wikipedia defines auto tune as “a proprietary device to measure and alter pitch in vocal and instrumental music recording and performances … originally intended to disguise or correct off-key inaccuracies, allowing vocal tracks to be perfectly tuned despite originally being slightly off-pitch.” In other words, technology becomes a substitute for disciplined practice and skill development.
Another aspect of pop music which we have brought into the church is volume. You may have experienced church services using huge loudspeakers that produce earsplitting noise.
If the worship music hurts your ears something’s wrong
I was invited by some friends to their church one Sunday morning. As we entered the warehouse that comprised their sanctuary, they gave me a pair of earplugs because the “music” would be very loud.
Speakers as big as me were producing noise so loud it hurt, and they were calling it worship. I actually used two or three pairs of ear plugs, but finally had to leave the room because my eardrums were being broken. I suffered hearing loss in a “worship service” and have not fully recovered.
Music so loud it hurts your ears is poor stewardship of the body God gave you.
I have been in gatherings where I asked the music team, Can you please lower the sound level? but they paid no attention to me. Some churches ignore neighbors who complain about the noise, until the neighbor threatens to sue them. What kind of testimony is this to the neighborhood?
A few years ago I was in Africa in a charismatic church across the street from a mosque. They had placed huge speakers outside the church facing the mosque and were blasting loud noise which they called Christian music at the mosque. What do you suppose their Muslim neighbors thought about that?
I once heard someone say the volume brings down the Holy Spirit. Can that be true? I think not. I think the volume may drive away the Holy Spirit.
Pop culture, or Beethoven?
On the other hand, some churches feature music such as Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Think about the contrast here. What did it take to produce a Beethoven symphony? Much time, and disciplined work.
What does it take to produce noise? Imitating pop culture, a few muscles to bang harder on the drums, an enormous loudspeaker to crank up the volume.
When we don’t understand the relationship between beauty and truth, between beauty and moral goodness, we simply reproduce what we hear in our culture. We add the name Jesus, and call it worship music.
Your church may have big sound systems, huge loudspeakers that makes lots of noise. But this will not disciple nations, certainly not win nations to the beauty and truth and goodness of Christ. It merely disciples nations in the ways of the culture.
- Darrow Miller