Music, Evangelism, and the Christian Gathering

We were recently asked for our response to this question:  Should secular music be played in ‘church’ in an effort to ‘evangelize’ and make it more ‘comfortable’ for non-believers?  Is it a part of becoming all things to all people that some might be won to Christ?  Or is it hypocritical for Christians to listen to secular music and then not want to play it in ‘church?’

Greg and I talked about it, got some thoughtful input from our kids and here is our consensus:

1.   First of all, we talked about the purpose of believers gathering together.  The principle goal seems to be the strengthening of the body of believers by fellowship by such things as encouraging words, edification to good works, common prayer, and singing, based on the truths of God’s Word, love for one another,  and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.   Non-believers may be present and may make decisions based on what they see among the body, but evangelizing is not the purpose of the church gathering together.  In fact, if non-believers are constantly present and the focus of attention, the building up of the body may be unacceptably inhibited.

2.   The distinction between secular and Christian is false and misleading.  For a Christian, everything is Christian.  That is, out of a pure love for God, but being free in Christ, we make choices about what we enjoy, whether it be music, clothes, food, activities.  If a particular song is labeled “Christian” because it mentions the name Jesus and is sung by someone who claims to be a Christian, but the overall tone is one of defeat or melancholy, is that more uplifting than singing a joyful, fun song that celebrates life in a way that God commends even if that song is thought of as “secular?”

Many accepted “Christian” songs are not based on truth, are immature, are shallow, are self-centered, or could easily be interpreted to just be a “secular” love song if heard by someone who doesn’t know it’s origin.  That being said, every song doesn’t need to be a complete Biblical treatise.  It just shows the limits of the label “Christian” in our culture and in application when choosing music.  There is certainly nothing sacred about the tunes, a case in point being the older hymns that were re-written pub songs so that they could be more easily learned.

3.   Examples of evangelizing, by everyone from Jesus to Paul, seem to be mostly that of being out in the community and meeting the non-believers where they are.  This occurred, for example,  in synagogues to talk to Jews, by wells to meet questionable women,  at places business people hobnobbed like the riverside, locations where they had unknown idols, and along open roads where dignitaries were returning to their own countries.  People were approached with the truth or came up and asked about it.

Often the discussion was entered into on a level that the non-believer could relate to, but never with the intention of making them comfortable.   On the contrary, the gospel makes people quite uncomfortable at first as it makes them admit their sinfulness and absolute need for Christ.  Greg humorously suggests that “Highway to Hell” by the group AC/DC could be useful in getting such a conversation going, a possible modern day version of Paul going in to talk to the Greeks about their altar to the unknown god  (Acts 17:23).  For the woman at the well (John 4), Jesus began with asking her for something rather normal, but with an obvious goal in mind for directing their dialogue.

4.  Finally, “being all things to all people” would seem to mean doing your best to fit in with a group, but never compromising truth.  If you are with non-believers, you may want to avoid commonly overused or easily misunderstood religious terms.  It might mean dressing a certain way or avoiding certain things that they, in their non-believing status, would be confused by.  Possibly it means letting go of some “legalistic” Christian rituals and standards that are based on man’s ideas and culture.  It doesn’t mean watering down truth or being a different personality or adopting marketing techniques.

Paul said he would be as a Jew among the Jews so that some might believe, but then he severely rebuked Peter for conforming to Jewish tradition when it involved Christian Jews and hindering fellowship with Gentile believers.  Jesus followed Jewish customs, but openly criticized those who performed just so they would look good to others.  Man made creeds have a way of complicating these issues.  Let each do as they see fit as they are being honest before God, becoming more mature in their walk,  and operating out of sincere love.

  • Great points.

  • Breanna

    Agreed!

  • Alice

    I liked your clarification of secular vs. christian. You know, we’ve always said that about movies too: we don’t necessarily care about the rating as much as the ‘spirit’ behind the movie. A ‘G’ movie can promote a lot of things that we don’t want promoted in our home. But even with that, I could cause someone to stumble by what I am free to listen to, watch or do. So, I have a responsibility before God to flow with each situation as it presents itself. I wouldn’t go so far to say that to the Christian all things are Christian – someone could really run with a statement like that:) I think we basically came up with the same consensus at our house. This was part of what we came up with and response to our friend that was asking about this.:

    I think that bottom line is that it’s a philosophy deal. What one person is strong enough and mature enough to do in their Christianity might cause another to stumble. Romans 14 is there to balance out the Corinthian scriptures. So, ya, I listen to some carefully selected secular music, but I’m not going to in certain settings for the sake of others. It’s not hypocritical. It’s wise. The idea is to not condemn anyone that you have a relationship with that you might be able to win to Christ. They might feel condemned if you don’t listen to a song that they are excited about or make a small toast with them with a glass of wine. I don’t think having a glass of wine is a sin either, but I’m going to be cautious with my freedom. One might be saved because it, but I might cause another to stumble, depending on the situation. So to do something on a corporate level doesn’t allow for that type of flexibility. There’s evangelism and then there is care of the flock; young believers are fragile. I think that you have to ask ‘who is influencing who’? I’m thinking that Paul’s admonition was to not purposefully push or offend people by your religious traditions, or on the flip side, your religious freedom. But to humbly set aside your personal idiosyncrasies, especially, when you might, because of your relationship with them, be able to win them to Christ. I seriously doubt playing secular music in the church is going to win anyone to Christ. I feel like Paul is admonishing the congregation to do this on a personal level not a corporate level. Besides that, if everyone is doing it on a personal level that would express itself corporately.

    • It seems we are thinking about the statement “to a Christian all things are Christian” differently. To be a Christian, in the true sense, means to follow Christ. A person either is or isn’t. Even if someone is immature in their walk with Christ, they are following Christ. It affects all of life and the Holy Spirit will guide in all areas of life. Saying that some choices or categories have nothing to do with being a Christian is antithetical to the concept. However, yes, though all things are permissible (as Paul says), not all is edifying; and one should not sin because there is grace. What is edifying can vary with who each person is, who they are with, where they are. While in Zambia, it was fairly acceptable to bare a breast, but exposing the knees was lewd. Even sin can be dependent on heart motive and circumstance. If I wash the dishes in the evening in order to selfishly make someone else feel bad, I am possibly sinning, even though washing the dishes is necessary. In the end, I am still a Christian. No particular act removes me from that role or is outside the sphere of it’s influence. I am always following Christ.

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