A common excuse made by laymen and church leaders alike is that they are not musicians and therefore cannot explain what makes a song godly or ungodly. They feel that the Bible does not have specific guidelines on the subject, so they just go by what they like or do not like; what feels right or feels wrong, or what the majority says. May I say that I feel as inadequate as the next person to give musical advice? But I have studied this subject, not only because music is my calling, but I feel deeply that music to the Lord must be holy or it is an affront to His holy nature. I believe that there are churches that are missing God’s best by preaching a conservative, Biblical doctrine from the pulpit, and allowing worldly, unholy music on their platforms. Over the years there were times when I did not want to accompany or perform certain songs because I knew they contained elements that were displeasing to the Lord. When asked to explain my reasons, I found it difficult to explain within minutes the Biblical principles that had taken hours of study. Several times they disagreed with me telling me I was imposing my opinion on them and my preferences. This was quite untrue. To be honest, I like a wide variety of music. Many times, the song I was objecting to actually appealed to me. I like many types of music. I, too, am drawn by some of the world’s music. But, what I like and what I allow myself to listen to and perform are two different things. God’s opinion is the only one that matters, so His principles are the ones I use. Col. 3:1-2 “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

People asked me over the years to give them an easy-to-understand guideline regarding godly, musical principles they could apply to their music. I knew it had to be easily understood by the non-musician, so I took the major points that I had learned and created Musical Checkpoints for the Christian. I did not write it with a great amount of detail or proof for each point because it is meant to be simple. Those details and proofs can be found in the books and video series mentioned in the article and in other Christian sources. Further scientific and medical proof of the effects of music can easily be researched by those truly interested in it. The bibliography in the back of the book, Music in the Balance, is a good place to start. However, for those truly interested in my philosophy of music, I will attempt the following:

“Music is the use of sound to move the human soul.” Christopher Hogwood

“Musical rhythms affect both our hearts and our brains. One road to arousing a range of agitated feelings-tense, excited, sometimes sexual-is thru pronounced and insistent rhythms, . . . artfully used to heighten the sexual tension….drumming may produce these powerful effects by actually driving the brain’s electrical rhythms.” Psychology Today

“…music is not just a special part of life; it represents life itself. From it we receive inspiration, excitement, and emotional enrichment. With it we create, communicate, and express who we are.” The Music Within You, by Carol Merle-Fishman and Shelley Katsh

Music affects us in 3 ways: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. We can respond with movement, external and even internal (the heart and the brain). We can respond with feelings. And we can respond in our spirit. Feelings, even though they are not actions, are experiences. Psychologists tell us that experiences help form character. Since this is true, music has the ability to affect our character. Prov. 23:7 “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”. Some portion of our character is a result of the music we listen to. With that in mind, it naturally follows that the Christian ought to be careful of the type of music he listens to and performs since we are to be “conformed to His image” and our characters are to become more and more like Jesus.

Music is a form of communication. It can communicate without words. Unfortunately, many Christian musicians feel that the music itself is innocuous and that it is only the words that determine the music’s morality or immorality. On the contrary, the words merely reinforce what the music is already saying. Music devoid of words still communicates as many feelings as a person can imagine. Since some feelings are wrong for the Christian, it follows that some music is also wrong. The authors of the book, Music in the Balance, make a significant point with this analogy: If artists can create beauty or carnality with color and canvas, and writers can create blessing or blasphemy with vowels and consonants, then musicians can also create spiritual or sensual music with notes and rhythm. In other words, it is not just the words in music that determine its characteristic. The music alone is capable of evoking feelings of sadness, triumph, drama, sensuality, mystery, happiness, patriotism, humor, nobility, playfulness, worship, tension, reverence, horror, tranquility, etc. Try watching a movie without the accompanying music and you will immediately realize the difference. Music is a major factor in producing the appropriate feelings. Therefore, certain combinations of notes and rhythms are capable of producing God-honoring music and the opposite. The world recognizes this. It is time Christians realized it, also.

Music with a pronounced off-beat causes the hips to move. Music that is on the natural beat merely causes the hands or head or feet to move which are non-sexual areas. And since some movements are wrong for the Christian, it follows that some music is wrong for him to perform or listen to. Rock musicians, by their own admission, purposely use musical techniques that are designed for a physical response. Rock music uses volume, beat, repetition, tension, and sensual singing methods. It would seem obvious, then that Christians ought to beware of these techniques and become familiar enough to recognize them. Since rock music is based primarily on a loud off-beat, and they admit they are using it for sensual purposes, then it should be obvious that godly music should be the opposite-on the beat. You can put religious words to a song with an off-beat and try to say it is then a sacred song. But the music, with its insistent carnal beat, will convince your body and mind otherwise. You cannot put spiritual words to a rock beat and expect the result to be a spiritual song! Gal. 5:9 “A little leaven [sin] leaveneth the whole lump.” The song will be carnal despite any spiritual lyrics.

Sensual singing techniques used by rock groups to achieve a sexual response from their audience are: singing very close to the microphone which gives a false impression of intimacy and sliding and scooping on or off notes which allude to the worldly philosophy that there are no absolutes and a breathy singing voice which is obviously sexual. If the world is using these techniques, then the Christian musician should not. I John 2:15-16 “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” We are to be “in the world but not of the world.”

In fact, we do not even have the same purpose for our music as the world. The world’s music is used mainly for entertainment. In contrast, Christian music is to be used to praise God, to influence the Christian, and to reflect Biblical truths. Col. 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” The Bible is full of references that our music is to be to the Lord. Since it is to the Lord, we must be sure it is holy and pleasing to Him. II Corinth. 10:18 “He who commendeth himself is not approved, but whom the Lord commendeth”. Music that glorifies the Lord will and should be a joy to the Christian, but our enjoyment is not the rule that defines what kind of music we offer to the Lord.

Musical tastes and preferences are varied and different. Our standard for worship music cannot be based on our own personal opinions or preferences because we would never be in agreement. In addition, our opinions and preferences change frequently. II Corinth. 10:12 “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” And, since our music is a tool to worship God, we should go to His Word to discover God’s tastes and preferences. Our musical preferences ought to be chosen within His guidelines. Yes, chosen! They are to be purposely cultivated so that we enjoy what God enjoys. This does not mean we will all like the same music. But within the parameters of what pleases God, there will be music that reaches every heart. Music that appeals to our spirit will transcend personal preferences and tastes.

Remember that the world’s music will without doubt reflect the world’s philosophy; a philosophy in which there are no absolutes, truth is relative, and there are no universal values or morals. In addition, the world is obsessed with the physical. On the contrary, the Christian is to be filled with the spirit. The world’s music emphasizes the physical. Christian music should emphasize the spiritual. It has been said that “imitation is the highest form of flattery”. If we as Christians are imitating the world’s music in our churches, then we are trying to flatter the world and the devil rather than worshiping God on His terms. Rom. 13:14 “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

A common misconception of many churches is to believe that a pulsating beat and a fast tempo will make the hymns more joyous, happy, and pleasing. This reflects the world’s ungodly philosophy that physical things bring joy and satisfaction. Actually, it is the melody and harmony that develop the musical mood. The tempo and beat of a song do not create feelings of happiness and joy. A song can be at a moderate tempo and still have a joyful sound to it because of the melody and harmony and lyrics used. Using a fast tempo on every song implies that a joyful sound can be artificially induced by mere speed. It also implies that the song lacks any power within itself. It is using the physical to achieve a spiritual goal. Every song has an inherent tempo of its own and increasing the tempo often reduces its spiritual effectiveness. “Jesus Saves” is truly a triumphant song and should be sung at an appropriate tempo. “Sweet Hour of Prayer” is contemplative and deserves a slower speed to deliver its thoughtful message. “Praise Him, Praise Him” is a joyful song and is best enjoyed at a quicker pace. But to sing “Sweet Hour of Prayer” at the same tempo as “Praise Him” destroys the power of the message. Be true to the hymn’s character and God will do His part. There is power in godly, spirit-driven worship music. Please read II Chron. 5:13-14 for an example of this.

Many Christians are so saturated with the world’s music that they are not offended by its sound because it is so familiar. The unnaturally loud beat, always on the off-beat, the repetition, the sensual nature of it, has inundated our world in so many areas that we are blissfully unaware of its power. Satan was originally created as Lucifer, a musical angelic being who directed the worship of God (Ezekial 28:13-19). Is it any wonder that he would be especially deceptive in this area of music? He is at his best when using subtle methods. We hear the beat in all the music around us so when we hear it at church, perhaps a little softer, a little less obvious, we are not offended. It feels familiar. We are like Lot in the middle of Sodom. When the singer holds the microphone close to his mouth and croons into it just like a nightclub singer, we are not shocked at the intimacy and sexuality it implies. It’s what everyone does. When we hear the singer or instrument slide on and off true pitches, we ignore the sensuality of it and concentrate on the message. When we repeat a musical line over and over and over, it isn’t chanting because, after all, we changed keys. It’s just setting the mood. When the singer holds a note much too long or stays up on high notes over and over, it’s not to impress us, it’s just adding drama to the moment. Rock musicians are totally aware of the power of these techniques and freely admit it, but many Christians are in denial. Luke 16:8 “….for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” In my house, we mute almost every TV commercial and some movie music because it is offensive to us. We have attempted to train our musical palettes to like good, wholesome music and we are very sensitive to the “worldly sound”. We don’t want to become accustomed to it. Listening to the wrong kind of music day in and day out will dull one’s senses to what is wrong with it. We are to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds”. That means making a conscious effort of discipline, not just riding along with what feels good at the moment. The church is not the only place where we should use Biblical principles to screen the music.

There is also a pervading “lukewarm attitude” regarding music in the church which prevents serious study of what constitutes godly or ungodly music. It seems too difficult to understand, or it doesn’t seem as important as the preaching. But we are told to “contend for the faith”. Doctrinal error preached from the pulpit would be loudly and vigorously denounced. But if delivered in the medium of music it is passively accepted. The feelings produced by worldly church music are mistaken as spiritual blessings rather than emotional responses. The music did not cause their spirit to respond to God-it just made them “feel good.” There is nothing wrong with feeling good, but it is not a substitute for spiritual blessings. John 4:24 “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”.

In conclusion, music is a powerful medium. It holds a significant place in our worship. It can be used by Satan for his motives, or by saints to lift up the name of Jesus. A Christian who uses the world’s style of music to send a spiritual message is merely “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal”. Matt. 6:24 “….Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Matt. 10:16 “….be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It’s time to be wise concerning the question of music in our churches. The question here is not about preference or style. The question is, “Does our music meet God’s standards?” It’s a matter of holiness.

Does the Bible have very much to say about music? Does God really care about music? Though this world’s masses know that music is a powerful instrument that can greatly affect our feelings and attitudes, many Christians have been indoctrinated into believing that music is “neutral,” that is, it does not matter what music we use as long as the words of the song are good.

The fact is, there are well over five hundred references in the Bible referring to music (more than references to heaven, hell or grace)! Since the Bible has so much to say about music, we should assume that music is important to God and that there are biblical principles regarding music.

God’s Character: There are those who believe that God made music merely for man to enjoy. The truth is that music was present long before man was created. When God laid the “foundation” of the earth the angels “sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

From the Bible discover how God expresses Himself with music. Concerning the restoration of Israel, the Bible tells us of God’s response: “he will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). The Bible says that “the Lord GOD shall blow the trumpet” (Zechariah 9:14). And in another reference to Christ’s Second Coming: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Satan is also musical: Many people speculate that Satan was the choir director of the angelic choir before he rebelled against God. Ezekiel 28:11-19 indicates this about Satan, saying “the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created” (Ezekiel 28:13). “Tabret” (i.e. tambourines) and “pipes” are musical instruments. Other than God, Satan is probably the next most musical being. As an expert musician & deceiver, he fully appreciates the potential of music and is able to manipulate it for his own purposes (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). With exception, Satan has perverted nearly everything that God has provided for us. Today, the world unknowingly accepts his counterfeits believing that they are the real things and “enjoy” his counterfeit happiness, love, success, teachings, gospel, etc.

It is our sincere belief that music is more than an issue about what one likes or dislikes. The real question about Christian music is not what people like, but does God enjoy our music and does He have standards for it or not?

I. THE MESSAGE SHOULD BE BASED ON SOUND DOCTRINE. (Titus 2:1 “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine”.)

A. Avoid a shallow message because you will then have to use excessive repetition.

B. Avoid a deceitful message because it will incur God’s wrath. (Gal. 1:8 “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”)

A. Avoid too much repetition in both the musical theme and the lyrical theme. Consider the cultures that use chanting or hypnotic repetition to reach demonic spirits.

B. The melody, harmony, and rhythm should be balanced. These relate to the Christian’s spirit, mind, and body. Just as the Christian puts his spirit first, then his mind, and last his body, our music should echo this. Being balanced does not mean equal amounts of each. Rather, the melody should be predominant, then the harmony, then the rhythm. Music needs a beat, but it should flow as naturally as a heartbeat and should not overpower. The melody should dominate the music just as the spirit is to dominate the Christian.

III. THE BEAT SHOULD BE UNDER CONTROL. (Phil. 4:5 “Let your moderation be known unto all men.”)

A. As in a heartbeat, if it is too fast or too obvious, the body/music is either sick or working too hard.

B. If it is non-existent, the body/music is dead.

IV. GOOD MUSIC HAS BOTH ELEMENTS OF TENSION AND RELAXATION. If two or more of the following characteristics are in a song, it is heading in the wrong direction for a Christian. Tension builders are:

A. Rhythm, if used incorrectly, as in the driving beat of rock music, can build too much tension.

B. The Off-Beat should be used very sparingly, if at all. It causes the hips to move, rather than the hands or feet. If the moves are wrong, then music is wrong.

C. Repetition should be used sparingly. It should stop before it becomes chanting. Consider the cultures that use chanting or hypnotic repetition to reach demonic spirits.

D. High Notes can also be a source of musical tension. They are usually used effectively as the climax of a musical phrase. Using too many diminishes their effectiveness and adds too much tension to a song. Sometimes they only bring attention to the singer’s vocal abilities.

E. Loud Volume without compensating with a variety of lower volumes is another tension builder and should be used in moderation.

F. Certain Harmonies can build tension, as in those used in mystery or thriller movies.

V. GODLY MUSIC AVOIDS SENSUALITY. (Titus 2:12 “…denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”)

A. Singing too close to the microphone gives the impression of intimacy between the singer and the audience.

B. A Breathy Voice is the same technique used in nightclubs or by rock singers and comes across as physically suggestive.

C. Scooping or Sliding to a note, rather than hitting it straight on, gives a loose and cheap quality to the song.

D. Too many Rhythm Instruments in an accompaniment can make a song prurient. Our bodies respond quickly to any kind of beat. The more obvious the beat, the more physical in nature, rather than spiritual, the music is.

E. Instruments that use speakers, such as the electric bass guitar, are capable of adding a fleshly quality to the music. This is partly because of the artificially enhanced sound thru its speakers and the low notes it produces. These sounds are heard by the entire body, not just our ears.

Good, godly, Christ-honoring music will have a sound message, variety rather than too much repetition, and the melody foremost. The harmony will not override the melody and the rhythm will be under control. The elements of tension-beat, volume, high notes, and repetition will all be under control and in moderation. The notes will be true without any scooping or sliding to and from them. It will appeal to a Christian’s spirit, rather than his flesh. It will direct his mind and heart toward God and give praise to God, inspiration, joy, comfort, reproof, and instruction in righteousness.

God did not instruct us to be like the world in order to reach them. He instead said, “…be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” (I Pet. 1:15).

He does not approve of using worldly music to accomplish a spiritual goal. “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) And, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” (I John 2:15).

He reminds us to speak out against ungodly things by saying “reprove the unfruitful works of darkness.”(Eph.5:11) and “Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.” (Eph. 5:10).

He did not say we were to measure things by our own opinions or preferences but by God’s.”…but they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. (II Corinth. 10:12).

He wanted us to know that it is His opinion only that counts. “He who commendeth himself is not approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.” (II Corinth. 10:18).

Our offerings, musical or otherwise, must be pure and according to His commandments. “And Nadab and Abihu died when they offered strange fire unto the Lord.” (Num. 26:61)

As Christians and as ministers of music, we are obligated, even commanded, to “study to show ourselves approved unto God” (II Tim. 2:15). The Old Testament musicians for worship were the Levites, a separated and consecrated group unto the Lord. It was serious business. They did not take their jobs lightly. Your opinions and my opinions about music do not matter. Your preferences and my preferences do not matter. It is God and God alone we must please. We must study God’s word about music if we are to create and perform music that is pleasing to Him. Therefore, I would highly recommend the book Music in the Balance by Kurt Woetzel and Dr. Frank Garlock. I would also recommend Rock: Making Musical Choices by Richard Teck. An excellent video series is also available called The Language of Music by Dr. Frank Garlock. These sources give much more detail and background regarding the right kind of music. They are not difficult to understand, nor do they require an in-depth knowledge of music. They give Biblical principles and scientific facts that give insight into God’s preference in music. They contain easy-to-understand information that will assist you in understanding what pleases God in our musical offerings to Him. May the Lord bless you and use you as you serve Him in song and praise!