Is Christ the bright and morning star or is the pastor the superstar?
I walked into the City of David parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Lagos, for the very first time and was surprised to hear the choir playing the theme song from the blockbuster movie “Mission Impossible III.” Don’t get me wrong; the choir was excellent. But you start to wonder if you are not actually at a pop-concert as opposed to a church.
Newspring Church in Anderson, South Carolina (U.S.A.) even upped the ante. It was reported in the news that they started a church-service with the song “Brick House” by the Commodores. Part of the lyrics of the song goes like this: “The clothes she wears, the sexy ways, make an old man wish for younger days. She knows she’s built and knows how to please. Sure enough to knock a man to his knees.” How in heaven’s name can anyone think such a song is appropriate in a church of all places? But then churches are no longer what they are supposed to be.
According to The Telegraph, Pastor Sunday Adelaja of Embassy of God, Kiev, Ukraine encourages his congregants to “shake their booty and praise the Lord.” Reporting on one of his services, the newspaper observes that: “As ‘Pastor Sunday’ prepared to make a grand entrance, the choirgirls shook their pompoms, the disco lights started to flash and a fanfare sounded. The lights cut out, and Mr. Adelaja emerged from a shroud of dry ice. Children holding flags of the world wafted round him and the choir bellowed ‘Sanctus!’”
What exactly is happening here? Is it a worship service or a rock concert? Is Christ the bright and morning star or is the pastor the superstar? I daresay some churches have gone astray.
In the single-minded pursuit of size and numerical growth, new-generation churches have re-configured the church-service into a show-business where men come to be entertained on Sundays for the “gate-fee” of an offering. The thinking is that by spiritualising popular music, the church becomes more attractive to unbelievers.
The danger in this approach is that the modern church becomes increasingly worldly. The playing of secular music in churches does not facilitate the conversion of the lost. Indeed, music is never used in scripture as a means of reaching the lost. Instead, music is primarily used as a means of reaching God, because the Lord inhabits the praises of his people. (Psalm 22:3). However, God is not likely to be reached through “urban contemporary gospel.” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24).
God’s mechanism for reaching the lost is through preaching. Jesus directs his disciples to: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15). He does not say we should go into the world and organise beautiful concerts. But while the gospel may no longer be preached in many churches, we certainly strive to play good popular music that is very attractive to the people.
House on the Rock, Lagos takes great pride in organising a musical extravaganza every year called “The Experience.” According to their own public relations department, the concert is “the largest musical concert in Africa with attendance of over a quarter million;” featuring some of the biggest names in music internationally, including Don Moen, Ron Kenoly and Kirk Franklin. “Give Jesus a wiper.”
Christian pop and rap
Is it appropriate to recast popular secular songs into Christian ones by changing the lyrics? I don’t think so. Worldly music is inappropriate for conversion into “gospel” music. Jesus says: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6). James asks rhetorically: “Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” (James 3:12).
There is a spirit who holds the copyright to every song we sing. Changing the lyrics does not change the copyright. This means a worldly song cannot be converted into a godly song. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego refused to bow down to a god worshipped “in symphony with all kinds of music.” (Daniel 3:14-18).
Rock music, for example, is naturally wild; designed to stimulate the flesh. This makes it inappropriate for worship. Indeed, the rock of the rock-star is not the Rock of Ages. Moses says: “Their rock is not like our Rock.” (Deuteronomy 32:31).
Rap music is basically vulgar and fleshly. At its most fundamental, it is characterised by foul language, and videos glorifying pimps and “bitches.” These types of music cannot be converted into spiritual music because of what Jesus calls the “good fruit” principle: “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18). Rap music puts emphasis on the drums. Spiritual songs, on the other hand, emphasise the melody as opposed to the beat. (Psalm 33:2; Isaiah 51:3). Indeed, the bible makes no mention anywhere of drums.
Christian songs should be “new songs;” not re-worked popular songs. The psalmist says: “He has put a new song in my mouth- praise to our God.” (Psalm 40:3). He enjoins believers repeatedly to: “Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.” (Psalm 149:1). “Sing to Him a new song; play skilfully with a shout of joy.” (Psalm 33:3).
If church music appeals to the world then it must be unacceptable to God. Jesus says: “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15). The world is not interested in music that genuinely glorifies the Lord. Therefore, so-called Christian artists like Amy Grant and DC Talk end up laundering their lyrics in order to give it “cross-over” appeal.
After the children of Israel were carried into captivity, the Babylonians requested them to sing for sport. But they refused to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. (Psalm 137:4). Observe that it is the Lord’s song and not the world’s song. It is not even Israel’s song. Christian songs are supposed to be unto the Lord and not unto men. The Psalmist says we are to sing praises “to the Lord.” (Psalm 9:11). Christian music should glorify God, as opposed to entertain men.
Saturday night fever
We pastors play church a lot. We have gifted musicians who are singularly unspiritual. We hire them for a fee. As long as they play good music, they are acceptable in the beloved. Our church-musicians play in discos on Saturday night and in church on Sunday morning. We are particular about how well they play and not too fastidious about their anointing.
But God is not impressed and he would not be mocked. He says: “Away with your hymns of praise- they are mere noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is. I want to see a mighty flood of justice- a torrent of doing good.” (Amos 5:23-24).