Should Christians Listen to Secular Music?

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The beautifully chilling echoes of harmonies resound off the high ceilings as thousands of singers donned in black choir robes sing the chorus to a classic hymn.

The deep, gentle voices of monks chant age-old choruses that resemble the cold, impersonal mood of the monastery.

Rugged farmers and their wives in their Sunday best passionately croon the familiar lyrics of the hymn from memory.

This is how the church has traditionally used music. Anything outside of these depictions was considered blasphemous, sensual, and from the devil. As the Church breaks free from its legalistic past, Christians are faced with serious questions about how to glorify God without falling once again into the pit of legalism. Some believers choose to reject all secular music as well as contemporary Christian music. Others disregard values and listen to anything that they enjoy. When it comes to music, believers in Christ must evaluate God’s purpose for music and determine Biblically what kinds of songs honor Him. Here are a few ways that we can honor God with our music choices:

First, believers seeking to honor God with their music choices must first return to God’s original intent for music: worship.

Throughout church history, followers of God have used songs to express their love for God and their gratefulness toward Him (Ex. 15, Eph. 5:19, Ps. 100:1-2). Even the Psalms were originally put to music. Music is a highly emotional and expressive art form that is an outpouring of passion and sentiment. Pastor John Piper says it beautifully:

“. . . we humans have explosive souls; and the reason we do is because God is explosively beautiful and great and glorious. He is going to call out from us song and music of every kind, and we might as well just let it out and try and bring it into its deep, powerful significance with truth.”

Not only does singing glorify God, but it edifies the church and unifies it with creation, which is always worshiping God (Ps. 66:4, 19:1) (“The Theology”). Thus, music is intrinsically a part of who people are, beautifully intertwined with nature, and created for the purpose of glorifying God. Christians must consider this when choosing how to use music in today’s culture.

Second, believers must consider the deeply emotional intent of music.

At its core, singing is a raw expression of emotion, and listening to music can evoke emotional responses. For example, fast-paced music makes people feel excited or anxious, while slower music can evoke feelings of sadness or tranquility. Likewise, music can produce possibly unbiblical emotions such as immoral sexual desire, rebellion, or cynicism. Music can cause a person’s mind to dwell on things that are not pleasing to God. Philippians 4:8 commands believers to dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, [and] whatever is commendable” (ESV). Christian influencer and speaker Joseph Solomon claims that “the information that comes through music shapes our worldview.” Whether Christians realize it or not, the ideas and emotions that they surround themselves with shape their thinking and behavior. Thus, believers must be conscious of the emotional aim of music, which can have either a positive or negative influence.

Third, Christians must consider the potential of both Christian and secular music.

Worship music, of course, has incredible potential to point believers toward God, renew them spiritually, and allow them to express their praise and adoration of the Creator. The argument among Christians is whether or not secular music holds this same potential. Carly Gelsinger, writer for Relevant magazine, believes that engaging in secular art can actually honor God. If seen through the correct lens, Gelsinger claims that “great art points us to grace.” For example, even though the original intent of a secular song may not be to worship God, a Christian may hear the song and be reminded of God’s greatness. Josh Groban’s famous and powerful song, “You Raise Me Up” is a prime example of this phenomenon. In fact, many Christian organizations have used this song in a worship context. Secular music also holds the potential to create emotions that are God-honoring, such as love songs that emphasize pure passion, pop songs that promote happiness and enthusiasm, and classical tunes that portray beauty and tranquility. Even the apostle Paul used secular lines in his letters to the church, such as in Acts 17:28 (Solomon). Paul understood the culture to which he was ministering and used the medium of secular music to glorify God. Thus, when discerning how to respond to music, believers must recognize the potential of both Christian and secular music.

Fourth, when considering issues such as how to perceive music, believers must develop their personal convictions based on Scripture, wise counsel, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Christians’ ultimate goal should be to glorify God by living a holy life. Hebrews 12:1 commands believers to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” in order to run the race of life for God’s glory (ESV). Not only should Christians lay aside sin, but also “every weight”—anything that may get in the way of glorifying God. Thus, if secular music is something that distracts a believer from God, then he should lay it aside. Conversely, if secular music truly points a believer to God, then he should embrace it. Obviously, songs that blatantly blaspheme God and promote anti-biblical practices should be avoided. But secular (or Christian) music that produces God-honoring thoughts, pure emotions, and a worshipful heart should be embraced for God’s glory. Therefore, based on Scripture, each individual believer must consciously decide how to best glorify God with his or her music choices.

Carefree, a young child gleefully dances around her living room to an upbeat kids’ song.

An elderly woman reflects on the beauty and tranquility of nature as she rocks to the beat of a classical piano peace.

A couple is reminded of their love for one another as they listen to a romantic tune over a candlelit dinner.

These scenes can be just as God-honoring as the ones mentioned previously. Throughout the centuries, music has been a beautiful and useful tool for communication, worship, and emotional expression. Even though Christians have traditionally taken a legalistic stance when it comes to music, it is important to consider the original purpose, emotional intent, potential, and influence of a particular piece of music before ruling it out as sinful or dishonoring. By practicing wisdom and discernment, believers can learn how to glorify God with their use of music. At the end of time, when all believers join together in a heavenly chorus to passionately proclaim the name of Jesus, they will truly understand the purpose of song: to glorify the Creator.

References:

Gelsinger, Carly. “Why Christians Should Engage in ‘Non-Christian’ Art.” Relevant Magazine.   12 Jan. 2016

Piper, John. “Why Is Singing So Important for Christians?” Desiring God. 14 Sept. 2007

Solomon, Joseph. “Christians and Secular Music.” YouTube. 8 Nov. 2012

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway, 2001.

“The Theology and Place of Music in Worship.” Reformed Church in America. 1996

1 thought on “Should Christians Listen to Secular Music?

  1. I loved this post, Miriam! I’m heavily involved in the arts, and recently I’ve become fascinated about the idea of beauty. I think that all beauty, whether consciously or not, points us back to God, because He is the definition of beauty. That’s the purpose of all arts.

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