Is Music Amoral?
There is a debate among Christians: is music itself amoral? To define what is meant, the question needs to be stated several ways. Is music neutral? Is sound capable of moral influence? Does music alone, with or without text, carry and communicate moral value? Does music have moral value? Does putting Christian words to any kind music make the music Christian or Godly music? Are different kinds or styles of music right or wrong?
The above questions, while appropriate to ask, are actually viewing music from the wrong perspective, or more specifically a too limited perspective. It is amazing how much of the debate centers around the opinions of people and very little is based on the Bible. Often outstanding church leaders past or present are quoted to bolster one's opinion. Each person is entitled to an opinion, but if we want to know if something is right or wrong, the only person's opinion that counts on Judgment Day is what God thinks.
By studying music in the Bible we see music from God's perspective which is a much more complete perspective that our human perspectives. Seeing music from God's perspective quickly answers the question, "Is music amoral?" It increases our understanding of what music is as well. Music is not merely a medium of communication or enjoyment for human beings. Music is a medium of communication, enjoyment, and dislike in the spirit world first and foremost, and secondarily in the human realm. The questions: "Is music amoral?", "Is it capable of moral influence?", focuses on music only in regard to its connection or influence on the human level. The more important question is, who in the spirit world is the music (not the text) communicating to and what is it communicating?
Music is not something that people invented like most things that we enjoy today. Music existed before the world was created. God tells us this in Job 38:4-7, where He says: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. (5) Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? (6) Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; (7) When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" The world was created to the sound of music! It is no wonder that today the world is bathed in music.
God is the creator of music. He enjoys music, and He sings. Zephaniah 3:17 "The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing."
In addition, God likes musical instruments as well as singing. Musical instruments will be in heaven throughout all eternity. (Rev. 14:2; 15:2)
If only the words are important in worshiping God, why have music? Why not read poems? The answer is that God enjoys hearing us sing to Him and about Him. God likes music. It is for this reason that music has had an important part in the worship of God for thousands of years.
There are a number of passages in the Bible that tell us that both God and Satan respond to music. We see that music communicates to God's Spirit. In several passages, it is instrumental music alone without words that moved the heart of God.
- God responded to the music and singing and filled the Temple. 2 Chronicles 5:11-14 "And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place: (for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then wait by course: (12) Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them a hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:) (13) It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth forever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; (14) So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God."
This passage makes special note that the musical instruments were playing the melody along with the singers. It states that when the music was played and sung that then God filled the house with His presence. God responded to the music. The music communicated with His Spirit.
- The singers led the soldiers, and when they began to sing God acted on their behalf and destroyed the enemy. 2 Chronicles 20:21 "And when he (Jehoshaphat) had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth forever. (22) And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. (23) For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another."
Here again God acted when they began to sing. God heard the music and it moved His heart to action. Music is a powerful means of communication with God.
- God destroyed their enemy, the Assyrians, as they sang and played music. Isaiah 30:29-32 "29 Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the LORD, to the mighty One of Israel. (30) And the LORD shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall show the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones. (31) For through the voice of the LORD shall the Assyrian be beaten down, which smote with a rod. (32) And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the LORD shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps: and in battles of shaking will he fight with it."
- The Spirit of God came upon Saul as the music was played. 1 Samuel 10:5-11 "After that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines: and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they shall prophesy: (6) And the Spirit of the LORD will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. (7) And let it be, when these signs are come unto thee, that thou do as occasion serve thee; for God is with thee. (8) And thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal; and, behold, I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings: seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come to thee, and show thee what thou shalt do. (9) And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart: and all those signs came to pass that day. (10) And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. (11) And it came to pass, when all that knew him formerly saw that, behold, he prophesied among the prophets, then the people said one to another, What is this that is come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?"
This is an interesting account because we see that a person can come under spiritual influence through the music that they are listening to. In this case it was the Spirit of God that came upon Saul. The music itself without words invited God's presence, infilling, and empowering. Music opens a person's spirit to have the Holy Spirit or an evil spirit influence and control their heart. It is the music, not the text that does this. Music gives "ground" or a "stronghold", or a place in our heart to those in the spirit world. This is significant because music that we are listening to can be speaking to evil spirits through the music alone.
- There is music that evil spirits do not like.1 Samuel 16:14-23 "But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him. (15) And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. (16) Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on a harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well. (17) And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me. (18) Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him. (19) Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep. (20) And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul. (21) And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armourbearer. (22) And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favor in my sight. (23) And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him."
There is music that evil spirits do not like. When that music, without words, was played the evil spirit left. This is significant because not only does music alone without words invite those in the spirit realm, it can also cause them to leave.
- Music without words invited God's Spirit. 2 Kings 3:14-15 "And Elisha said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee. (15) But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him."
Music without words invited God to speak to Elisha and to reveal His message. Music is a more powerful medium of communication in the spirit world than we as Christians often realize. Just as prayer moves the heart of God to act on our behalf, music also moves God's heart to act. Music without words, is a spirit language, that communicates in the spirit world with communication that we do not fully understand.
- God acted as they were singing to Him. Acts 16:25-28 "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. (26) And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. (27) And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. (28) But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here."
While they were singing God acted.
The fact that music communicates in the spirit realm means that music is much more than a moral subject. It is a spiritual subject. It means that music is a language or medium of communication in the spirit world, and part of music is outside the realm of full human understanding. One cannot totally evaluate the spiritual content or communication of music solely from a musical analysis and say that God enjoys it. As with other spiritual subjects, music requires spiritual discernment through the Holy Spirit's guidance.
Since music communicates in the spirit world, the volume does not change the spiritual element or communication of the music. If a rock song glorifies Satan, whether it is played loud or soft, it does not change the spiritual communication of the music.
For us to debate about music from the standpoint of personal likes or dislikes misses the point of what is truly Christian music. Music is a spiritual subject. The spiritual element of the music needs to match the words. It is possible to take music that communicates to Satan and put Christian words to it and God would not enjoy the music. For example, if a New Age piece of music that communicates to Satan was put with Christian words, we would have a wolf in sheep's clothing.
As Christians we need to spend time discerning what music God enjoys, and develop it. We need to be concerned first does God enjoy the music, and second with our enjoyment.
There are several accounts in the Bible where ungodly music was used in worship. One of those is in Exodus 32:15-20 "And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. (16) And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. (17) And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. (18) And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear. (19) And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and broke them beneath the mount. (20) And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it."
Joshua and Moses had difficulty recognizing the music from a distance as music. They described it as noise and war. It must have been something like we have today when a car goes past playing loud rock music. It sounds more like the car is falling apart than music, because the sound melody gets lost a short distance from the car, and what you hear mainly is the beat.
Another account of ungodly music is in Daniel 3:1-7 "Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. (2) Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. (3) Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (4) Then a herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, (5) That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: (6) And whoso falleth not down and worshipeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. (7) Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up."
Music was part of the worship of the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
It is important to realize that there is music that God does not like. Just because God created music does not mean that He likes all music. Some music God calls noise.
In Isaiah 14:11 in talking about Babylon, God says, "Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, [and] the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee."
The viol was an instrument with a bow. And was the forerunner of the violin family of instruments. God describes the music that they played on it as noise! God enjoys music, but He did not like Babylon's music.
God does not like all music used to worship Him. In Amos 5:21-23 God says, "I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. (22) Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. (23) Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols."
There is some "Godly" music that God will not listen to even though the words are worshiping Him. This passage is addressing their religious holidays and worship times. It was not the words, it was the music itself – the instrumental music that was noise (and God likes instrumental music). The music was so repulsive to God that He commanded them to take it away from Him.
These were sincere "religious" people, they were longing for the day of the Lord v18, but their heart, worship, and music was not right. This passage answers the question: "Does putting Christian words to any kind of music make the music Christian or Godly music?" The answer is no. We may enjoy the music but God may not.
The real question is not do others enjoy our music but does God enjoy our music, or is it noise to Him? "Worship music" in the church can be ungodly music that God will not listen to.
There is testimony after testimony that rock music is used in the worship of Satan. Here are two testimonies:
The testimony of a former Satanist high priest: "When I first became involved in the occult, music had a big influence on by life. It was not just the words but the music itself. Its affect on me spiritually was to bring me into another state of consciousness.
"The beat and style of the music used in the occult rituals is the same that I now hear in 'Christian power tracts,' 'Christian rock and roll,' 'Christian rap,' and in much of what is called 'Christian contemporary' music today." — David Pratt, Chattanooga, Tenn. (From the booklet "Ten Scriptural Reasons Why the "Rock Beat" is Evil in Any Form" p.7 Institute in Basic Life Principles.)
A second testimony is from Stephen Maphosah, Zimbabwe, Africa:
"I am very sensitive to the beat in music, because when I was a boy, I played the drums in our village worship rituals. The beat that I played on the drum was to get the demon spirits into the people.
"When I became a Christian, I rejected this kind of beat because I realized how damaging it was.
"When I turned on a Christian radio station in the United States, I was shocked. The same beat that I used to play to call up the evil spirits is in the music I heard on the Christian station." (From the booklet "Ten Scriptural Reasons Why the "Rock Beat" is Evil in Any Form" p.7 Institute in Basic Life Principles.)
God tells us to sing a new song to Him and to rid ourselves of music borrowed from the world. In Psalms 144:7-12 a new song is contrasted with what it is not. It is not music that is borrowed from the world — from "strange children": "Send thine hand from above; rid me, and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of strange children; (8) Whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood. (9) I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. (10) It is he that giveth salvation unto kings: who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword. (11) Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood: (12) That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace:"
In this passage a new song is contrasted with what it is not. It is not music that is borrowed from the world. There is a lot of "Christian" music that is patterned after Satan's styles of music that has been justified because allegedly some outstanding hymn writer used bar room tunes for some of his hymns and is in our hymn books. If this is the case, which no one has proved, we need to reject those hymns because their music is communicating to the wrong spirit. If an outstanding Godly man makes a mistake, please don't follow him to do evil.
Another reason stated in this passage, for ridding ourselves of ungodly styles of music, is that our children will be spiritually mature in their youth, and that they will have a bright countenance. It has been discovered that music with a backbeat dulls the eyes of young people, and that when they rid themselves of that kind of music they have a brightness to their eyes. You can tell when young people are listening to music with a backbeat, because the music takes the "life" out of their eyes. Ungodly music styles are helping to create spiritually immature youth in our churches.
By ridding ourselves and our churches of ungodly music styles that are communicating to Satan and are repulsive to God, we will have young people that will be "as plants grown up in their youth." They will be spiritually mature and will be able to take a stand for Christ. Our young people will have convictions and stand firm on them. They will be like "corner stones", a firm foundation for the church in their generation. Young people who make a compromise in their music and justify it, will be more likely to make other compromises in their Christian life.
We need to commit ourselves to singing and listening only to music that is decidedly Godly music. The music that we sing and listen to is much more significant than the debate of whether music communicates moral content. Music does communicate moral content. But even more significantly than that is that music is a medium of communication in the spirit world. Some music is enjoyed by God and moves the heart of God much in the same way as prayer. Other music is repulsive to Him. Some music invites Satan to indwell a person, other music causes him to flee.
Are you making compromises in your music?
Will you turn this area of your life completely over to Jesus and listen only to music that is pleasing to Him?
Today so much of the music has a backbeat that you may be unaware that you are listening to music with a backbeat. Even some skilled musicians are not able to readily detect the backbeat. A backbeat is more easily detected in one's spirit than with one's mind. I have seen a young child discern a backbeat while an older person was not able to pick it out. The illustration is often given how bank tellers are trained with real money, never counterfeit, so that they know what real money feels like. Then when counterfeit money comes along, they immediately recognize it. The same principle applies in the area of music. A person needs to go on a music fast for at least a month. During that time listen only to music that you know without a doubt is decidedly Godly music without a backbeat. It may be good to listen only to acappella music during that time. At the end of your fast, evaluate your music library. You will be surprised how readily your spirit detects it now. Don't be too surprised if the backbeat becomes repulsive to you after your fast.
We discovered an important element for worship. We discovered this first when we were singing on the Rosedale Chorale and in various situations since then, that when we ask the Holy Spirit to speak through our singing that it might truly be worship to the Father, that more people responded, saying that it was truly worship. The same song can be worship, or it may not be depending on the musicians or singers. In one group of very Godly people that we heard sing, their music was beautiful and of high quality — one of the best choral groups, but there was something lacking. It did not minister to our spirits. Then a men's quartet which was part of the group sang several songs that were excellent, but it also ministered to our spirits. It reinforced to us that there is a spiritual communication in music. The focus of music needs to be on worshiping Jesus, not entertainment.