Is Contemporary Christian Music A Cultural Thing?

Before there can be a discussion about whether or not anything belongs to a particular culture, we must come to an understanding of what culture is. According to Webster’s Dictionary, culture comes from the Latin cultura or the French colere and means “to cultivate” or “the characteristic features and values of a civilization or group of people.” Culture is the practice of what we believe.

If we apply this definition to those who are members of the Body of Christ, particularly those who believe and practice the Word of God, there must be Christian Culture. God has allowed me in the more than 50 years of my ministry to travel and minister in more than 35 countries, and I have found that wherever I go, Bible-believing Christians have similar standards.

Why is this true? Because the Bible teaches that there are principles of life that all Christians are to follow. In Ephesians 4:22, we learn that we are to “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt.” And Philippians 1:27 instructs us to let our “conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” Any Bible scholar will verify the fact that the word, “anastrofhn,” translated “conversation” in the KJV, means a way of life or by our definition, culture. This is because those who love the Lord and believe His Word are to adopt and practice a way of life that very practically becomes what can be called Christian Culture.

God is unchangeable, His principles of right are always the same, and they will never pass away. In His Word He has given us the principles of “a way of life” (culture) that will never change and must be applied to every area of life, including music.

How does this apply to Contemporary Christian Music? Any observer of the culture that accompanies much of CCM must admit that the lifestyle, the language, the attitude, the lack of separation and musical standards, all fall far short of what the Bible requires of those who believe “the gospel of Christ.” Even those who are involved in this genre recognize the power of CCM to control the culture of those who adhere to it. For instance, Michael Hamilton in writing for Christianity Today says: “When one chooses a musical style today, one is making a statement about whom one identifies with, what one’s values are, and ultimately who one is.”

Edward Rothstein, chief critic for the New York Times, writes that a musical style “suggests ways to think. A style even defines a musical community – a group with shared notions about music and its purpose… The shared style allows for musical communication without misunderstanding.” What both of these authors are clearly describing, perhaps without realizing it, is the culture of CCM.

It is significant to note that as World magazine reports: “Secular media companies… swallowed up more than 90 percent of Christian recording labels in the 1990’s.” If the world adopts it as their own, there must be something un-Christian about it that allows the world to embrace it. As Cal Thomas, in talking about the problems Christians face in the political realm, has pointed out in his insightful book, Blinded by Might, whenever we try to marry Christianity and the world, Christianity always loses. He says that “we try… to usher in a kingdom not of this world by using tools that are of this world,” and it doesn’t accomplish the goal that it is supposed to be seeking.

But, the CCM proponents protest, we are just using POP music to get the message of the gospel out to the world. What they fail to recognize is what communication experts like Neil Postman of New York University states in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: “The form in which ideas are expressed affects what those ideas will be.” He elucidates this idea even further when he says: “It is naive to think that something that has been expressed in one form can be expressed in another without significantly changing its meaning, texture, or value.” To apply this truth to CCM means that even Bible words change their meaning when they are set to today’s POP or rock music, thus changing God’s gospel into “another gospel.” As Galatians 1:7 says, they “pervert the gospel of Christ.” Probably without recognizing that what he was saying came from this Scripture, Robert Shaw said: “I don’t know if the church today understands the music being brought into the church. The people don’t understand the music… it’s perverse.”

Even Newsweek magazine, after noting that at CCM festivals they have “gansta-style rhymes about the Lord,” and that “the kids have the option to visit the prayer area if they’re not moshing,” comments: “Maybe the mainstreaming of Christianity has gone too far.” Evidently this worldly magazine recognizes that the culture of CCM and the culture of Christianity don’t belong together.

I have heard a number of missionaries say: “But we don’t want to impose American culture on the culture in the country where we minister.” And I couldn’t agree more! American culture is not worth much. In fact, many other countries are experiencing the same problems America is having because our country is exporting the basest areas of its culture to other countries through its movies and music. But there is Christian culture, and we do need to proclaim the Biblical principles that will lead to adoption of Biblical standards to every country in the world.

To spread the culture of CCM will only lead to an anemic, counterfeit Christianity that Steve Camp says “yodels as a Christless, watered-down, God-as-my-girlfriend kind of thing.” To paraphrase Vance Havner, an old-time evangelist: “If CCM is the light of the world, why is everything so dark?” Several CCM recordings have sold in the millions and, according to Newsweek magazine, the over-all “Christian entertainment business is a 3 billion dollar industry.” To paraphrase Vance Havner again: “If CCM is the salt of the earth, why is everything so corrupt?” I believe the problem is that the culture of CCM is not the culture, the way of life, that the Bible teaches ought to be characteristic of Christians.

But I can almost hear someone saying: “Why make a blanket condemnation of CCM? It isn’t all bad. It may be insipid and not have much content, but it isn’t all that bad.” This also relates to culture, because the worst thing that a church or a Christian organization can have is a mixture of error and truth. It would be better to go to a secular school than to go to one that claims to be Christian and then teaches evolution. It would be better to go to a secular psychologist than to go to one who prays with you and then gives you Freudian psychology. And it would be better to go to a church that you know doesn’t teach the Bible than to go to one that still preaches the Bible but then allows worldly practices to be a part of its ministry. The “Christian culture” that mixes truth and error is the worst one of all because of its inconsistency and compromise, and CCM is just such a culture.

Without realizing it, Time magazine in a special issue titled Music Goes Global, revealed one of the main problems Bible-believing Christians should have with today’s POP music, especially Christian POP which is what CCM is. This magazine says: “Musicians are rocking old traditions. Your world will never be the same…The we-are-the-world maxim is this: music is the universal language.” In other words, POP music will be one of the main vehicles the devil uses to help establish a one-world church. Could it be that the devil is promoting CCM to try to accomplish his anti-Christian goals for the world? It is certainly uniting believers and unbelievers in some strange alliances. And as John Makujina has so succinctly said in his book, Measuring the Music: “Anyone who attempts to battle CCM today will be facing not just a Goliath, but a Goliath on steroids.”

Is CCM a cultural thing? Absolutely! But I believe it is promoting the wrong culture, not the one that Philippians 1:27 says is worthy of the gospel of Christ.

– Frank Garlock, Founder and President of Majesty Music, Inc.

Contact Majesty Music for Dr. Garlock to speak at your church by calling:
or write to:
Majesty Music
PO Box 6524
Greenville, SC 29606

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