WHAT’S THE GOSPEL AGAIN? PART I

abigail-lynn-rdmJc2Os4EM-unsplash
Source

 

(This post is the first part of a series of two that take a look at the state of Contemporary Christian Music, through the lens of God’s Word)

 

I made it an unwritten rule of my own that I wouldn’t use this blog as a platform to ride on current affairs. I have always endeavored (and hopefully succeeded) to write pieces that would stand the test of time and be as true in this age as any other past or future. I know that the more ‘relevant’ and ‘timely’ any writing or piece of art is, the faster it becomes dated and even cringe-worthy to future audiences with the passage of time.

I only give this disclaimer so that you would see past my shameless latching on to the present furor around a local Kenyan artiste who was once the darling of the Christian entertainment scene and is now an embarrassment to sensible people everywhere. He has seemingly given up his confession of faith so that he may sing (tastelessly, I may add) about sex and other trivialities. He has, in essence, exchanged favor with God for popularity with the world and the devil.

“Oof! That’s a bit harsh, why would you say that?” you may wonder. “Stop judging him!” you would even say, “You aren’t God.”

Calm down calm down. I’d love if you would kindly oblige me and join me as we reason together, and see if what people consider to be ‘Gospel Music’ would be anything worth God’s time. Does it stand up to Scripture, and God’s holiness, or does it fall face flat as a sham and perhaps abomination to God?

WHAT ON EARTH IS GOSPEL MUSIC?

It’s usually best to begin things at their beginnings where possible. And it would be best for us to even know what it is we’re talking of today. If you’re from the United States, you are only too familiar with the soulful, vocally-centered, choral genre of music predominantly of the African-American community originating in the Negro Spirituals of past generations. The music named ‘Gospel’ because of the heavy-laden references to Biblical Scripture and characteristic of the Civil Rights movement. That is not what we are talking about.

The word ‘gospel’ is not a musical term, it doesn’t necessarily describe a genre of music. It is a word of Anglo-Saxon origin, and means “God’s spell – God’s word”, or rather, according to others, “good spell”, that is, good news. It is the rendering of the Greek εὐαγγέλιον (evangelion), i.e., good message[1].

It is in other words, the good news of God’s word, of the salvation available to all men in the person of Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection. It’s, if you ask me and many others, the best news in all of creation. Because it’s news that promises hope from death and meaning in life by believing in the perfect work of God accomplished by Christ on the cross.

Gospel music is should, therefore, be music that points to this good news of Jesus Christ. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t fit the bill. It should probably be called ‘bad news’.

 

Secularism vs Christianity

It is very interesting to note that traditionally (prior to the mid-20th century), there was really no sharp divide between ‘secularism’ and ‘faith’ in the arts.

What I mean, is that artists expressed themselves in whatever their preferred medium was and it was not pertinent what faith they espoused (or didn’t). If one was a sculptor, it was not essential for the art lover who admired your work to know what your faith was for them to see the beauty in what you had created.

It was not important for one who was gazing upon the elegant brushstrokes of a painting hanging in the Louvre to know whether or not the hand behind the paintbrush was an atheist’s or a deist’s. What mattered for the aesthete was the beauty in the piece, the inspiration or the story behind it, the technique and the mastery of its creator or what it made them feel. Art, even art that was strictly liturgical – that is, specifically made for religious worship – was judged on its artistic merit. Whether made for religious or secular purposes, every piece spoke for itself.

If this is the ideal set-up, I cannot judge. All that I can surmise is that the religiosity of a novel or musical composition was never an excuse to compromise on its quality. The objective measures of artistic merit applied to all that a man presented to others for consideration as art. Why then do some Christian artists churn out poor-quality art without shame, just because they have a ready audience in Christendom?

Anyways, beginning mostly in the West in the middle of the past century, a schism arose in the musical world – during the age of the rock and roll movement, funk and soul. At that time, new converts to Christianity from the Hippie movement, began a music movement that sprang up and blossomed rapidly parallel to secular music. They argued, “Why should the devil have all the good music?” And thus Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) had its birth. Prior to this time, music was just music. You wanted to sing, you sang a song. If I wanted to sing about a forest, no one was engrossed in finding out whether I believed in Yahweh or Allah. This meant that popular music was chock-full of believers as well as non-believers. To be fair though, the music of yester-year was nothing like the popular music of today. The vast majority of music reflected the predominant values of society then, which were very conservative and based on Judeo-Christian worldview. That meant that obscenity and lewdness did not feature in the popular music enjoyed by the masses. For that reason, music made by anyone (regardless of faith) could be enjoyed by virtually anyone (regardless of faith).

But things slowly unraveled, and those who sang for God increasingly found themselves singing only about God…while those who didn’t know Him could sing about nigh anything. That was because worldwide, people shed off their traditional Biblical understanding of the world, and it reflected in the Arts. Promiscuity and licentiousness were praised and even recommended, biblical values and virtues became old-fashioned and art became the pulpit for preaching libertarianism. The playing field for the Christian was now only a strip of grass, because everywhere else was now lava. We now had ‘Christian music’ and ‘secular music’.

 

Can My Dog Be A Christian?

There are people who pose questions that may shock the socks off you. Let me inquire of you kindly, what makes a thing ‘Christian’ in nature?

Can an inanimate object be born again? If I prayed really hard for my car, could it become a Catholic or a Presbyterian or like me non-denominational? Just humor me here. If I owned a café, could I make Christian rice, or chicken…or a born-again chapati and mandazi? Can my pet parrot receive Christ and go to heaven?

I don’t want to assume that you got the above questions correct, so the answer is ‘no’, just for us to avoid doubt. Why then do we assume that just because we are Christians, for those of us who are, that our salvation automatically bleeds over into our possessions, families or businesses? Kenyans, and perhaps all humans, believe that because we named our business “Blessed Enterprises”, it will cancel out all the corruption, deceptions and tax evasion within. We believe that the appearance of holiness outwards because of Christian terminology can cover the unrighteousness within. (Matthew 23:27)

Matatu
Source

The same deception has engulfed musicians and artists who profess Christ.

They believe that by virtue of their faith, everything they sing must be holy. Many believe that because the name of God had a featuring role in the lyrical composition of the music, the song must automatically be super-duper righteous – in spite of whatever other drivel the song is about.

That is however only the beginning of the troubles. For many ‘gospel’ artistes, the question soon arises as to who the audience of their music is.

Many seem to be singing songs to prove their haters wrong – something I’m sure they saw Christ doing. Some others appear to brag about their achievements and blessings, a very humble gesture indeed.

What fascinates me the most is when singers give themselves a shout out in their own music, in the middle of their praise to God. You could argue, “Wait a minute, even in the Psalms, we are told that this and that Psalm is by David or Asaph or Moses.”

“Welp! You got me, I guess.” But I believe this is how the Psalms appear:

 

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David.

    The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    He makes me to lie down in green pastures:

He leads me beside the still waters….

And not like this:

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Yeah yeah…This is your boy David up on this Psalm. Remember me? The guy who slayed Goliath and tens of thousands. You know me.They said we wouldn’t be back, but we here for the 23rd time with another one.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures:

He leads me beside the still waters….

Jerusalem Tabernacle band in the house, Asaph give me that beat…glory to God, time to dance your clothes off. Let’s go!

 

It’s sad but true. Our gospel ministers have become musical performers no different from the world. They sometimes preach themselves more than they preach Christ. I would never finish writing this piece if all I did was point out the flaws, there are too many. For some, too much of the music is too similar to the world’s; not only in its appearance (beat, rhythm, dances, videos) but in its content as well (feel-good message, Jesus-lessness).

However, it wouldn’t do anyone much good to only criticize, because there exist genuinely creative, disciplined, gifted, worshipful servants of God in the Arts creating art that exemplifies the principles of God’s kingdom while being meritorious and praising God, and fulfilling God’s commands to edify believers and draw the lost to God.

BUT! Those who do so are the minority. And that is why the truth must be spoken – that we may turn things around. (Ephesians 4:15)

Not enough ‘gospel’ music is evangelistic. In fact, that’s the crux of the matter – not enough ‘gospel’ music is ‘gospel’. I would prefer that it was called ‘Music by Christians’. We can even subdivide our music into the following non-exhaustive list of genres to help us avoid sinning and being deceived.

  • Music by people who confess Christ as their Lord and Savior about everyday life and nothing to do with God
  • Music by people who are deceived that Jesus is the Lord of their life
  • Music by non-believers who want to tap into the Christian market
  • Music by believers of Christ that may cause believers to backslide and non-believers to stay away from God
  • Gospel music – music that preaches the good news of Christ

 

I am not without faults of my own. I am not perfect, I never will be this side of eternity. But I am not writing this as a critique based on my own holiness. I am writing as one empowered by the word of God…and so are you, Christian, to expose the lies and deceit of the enemy, especially upon the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:11). Church, we are to keep ourselves spotless and unwrinkled (Ephesians 5:27). That means we are to correct our brethren who err in their service to God (2 Timothy 4:2). We are to remove from our midst all who are aware but unrepentant and relentless in their sin (Matthew 18:15-17). We are to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). We are to be decidedly and markedly different from the world in how we do our things – not least of all in how we worship our Father.

 

It’s my hope that in the next part of this series we may be able to look at what we must do as ministers of the gospel to praise God as he prescribes and to not lead people astray. We’ll see the function of music and art, our attitude in worship, and our responsibility in it all. Remember that as a minister of God’s word in whatever capacity, you hold sway over people’s eternal destinies, I hope you are ready to answer for that.

 

Shalom.

 

 

One thought on “WHAT’S THE GOSPEL AGAIN? PART I

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s