Most people I know listen to some form of CCM. Usually, when I have found myself in a debate with others who like their CCM, there is a fierce backlash towards me and my view. When such an integral part of their life is challenged as being unbliblical and worldly…well it’s hard to take and easy to justify. When I finally decided to draw the line with my own music and leave all CCM behind, being tired of the spiritual struggle, it drastically changed my life. For a long time before that decision, I don’t think I really wanted my life to be changed that drastically…even if God was asking it of me. I liked my music. I felt cool, calm and collected. It was more about me, really, and not about what would be pleasing to God. I didn’t want Him to increase. I wanted “me” to increase. (John 3:30)
I have been asked by a friend, “Would the older music of Steve Green, Twila Paris, and Larnelle Harris still be considered CCM? It has been something I have been wondering about and I wasn’t sure if they would still fit in that category.” And this is exactly where my struggle had been rooted as a young woman in college. This was my answer…
Contemporary Christian Music is a very large genre of Christian music which has its origins in trying to draw “seekers” (i.e. unbelievers) into listening to music they like, but yet give them a gospel message through it. You might say, “What’s wrong with that?” It is wrong because it is being like the world to win the world. It’s cult-like to “sneak up” on people with what your real beliefs are, or it’s simply cowardice not to be up front about who you are. But really, we know that even if there are no unsaved people around listening to the music, most Christians would still listen to their CCM! So that motivation is bogus in my view. Another reason for listening to CCM is that some might say it is simply taking their own musical abilities and talents and using them for God’s glory. That might be true, but as you will see later in the article I have a hard time believing that God’s glory is the only motivation. The term CCM can be very subjective and encompass a wide variety of Christian music. The short answer to the question is “yes.” The older artists like Steve Green and Twila Paris do fall under the category of CCM. Actually they were a big part in the beginning of the Contemporary Christian Music movement. Without them there wouldn’t be a CCM movement in a sense. Their music does have that underlying purpose of trying to sound like the world in order to win the world. So I would put them under the umbrella of CCM.
I understand the dilemma, though. The older music is pretty tame really. And some of the music may even be considered godly music. I think of songs like “Symphony of Praise” and “My Redeemer is Faithful and True.” Really nice, Scripturally based lyrics with a bit of a beat. (By the way, the old argument that I was given in high school that, “all music with a beat is sinful”, or the later argument, “some types of beat are sinful”, is just ludicrous because all music has a beat and differing kinds of beats. That argument never gave me any basis for leaving my music, and it made a lot of other teenagers laugh and scoff at the notion. It was just not a logical argument.) In my opinion, listening to CCM is not an issue determined by a formula, but rather it all comes down to a matter of one’s own conscience. We are admonished over and over in Scripture not to violate our own conscience or another’s conscience. (Romans 14) We all know what bad music sounds like. And we ought to know what sound is pleasing to God. With some CCM it’s a no-brainer, and it’s easy to see the worldliness in it. Other songs seem to be harder to discern. Some songs seem so uplifting and all. I do think that it is possible to find songs that are classified as CCM that are acceptable for a Christian to listen to. However,… (here comes the rub!)…here is the struggle that I had personally with the milder forms of CCM….where do you draw the line? When does it become too worldly?
I love music! And before I changed my mind about CCM (and other issues in conservatism) I very much enjoyed listening to CCM as a daily thing. My parents did not approve. In high school, I hid my music from them. I was happy to leave home to go to Baptist Bible College in Springfield, MO and have more freedom in that area. And as a typical college student (a music major), I was encouraged at my college to listen to the CCM and to perform it. Actually, I was pretty good at it. So to me, there was a whole world of CCM that I loved. I went to concerts and bought the latest CDs. In high school I was listening to Twila Paris and Steve Green and Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman. In college it became 4Him and Point of Grace. Ironically, it was by going to the concerts that it became obvious to me as a Christian that this was not pleasing to God. It was extremely loud and showy. It was obvious that the focus was on the performers, no matter how many times they cried or pointed to heaven or raised their hands. So I tried Southern Gospel music. It was better, and at least it had its roots in the church. I went to their concerts too, and even worked at a couple of the concerts. But the problem was still the same, just in a different style of music. Probably the “best” concert I ever went to was The Cathedrals, but even they were pretty showy.
I remember my Sunday School class which was in a fairly large church with at least 50 college students attending, we had our own organized song service during the Sunday School hour with hymns, choruses, specials, offertories, etc. And I was sometimes a part of the worship team which was a fairly new concept to me then (1996 or so). It was not a huge part that I played, but I did want to get involved with music. I was a music major after all! The music leader at church was a dynamic kind of guy, very cool, and those of us involved with the music would rehearse when we could to be ready for the worship service…remember, this was Sunday School, and just a few songs each week. Well, one Sunday, we did a song that the leader was very excited about, but the class wasn’t responding to him like he wanted. And I just remember him that day scolding everyone that they weren’t worshiping correctly and that we ought to be excited about what we are singing. Frankly, I was offended. He was looking for an emotional reaction that I wasn’t going to give him! And I wasn’t the only one who felt that way on the day. This was the beginning of my change. I casually discussed with my friends how to handle this. I didn’t want to be a part of the worship team anymore, but I liked the church overall. About that time, the Senior Saints class asked me if I’d like to play for their song time in their class. So I took that as a way out of the situation without making big waves. Every Sunday I would go play hymns for the old saints, and then I’d come back to my class for the lesson (which was excellent every week as I remember). Then I would go on to the main service and sing in the choir like any other church member might. I believe it was of the Lord because it pushed me more into hymn playing, and those folks reminded me of what traditional church people were like. I enjoyed it. Plus, it was a time of a new way of thinking for me, and I didn’t need to step into a controversy over something I really knew nothing about.
I began to back off from the “hard rock” CCM, and told myself I’d only listen to “soft” contemporary music…like Steve Green or Susan Ashton and some of Steven Curtis Chapman I really liked, but even some of his songs are pretty hard rock style. I noticed that I was rather “addicted” to the music. I’d start off listening to the soft rock stuff and I’d tell myself that I would really watch myself. After all, I’m a strong Christian, right?! But after a while I’d find myself listening to the harder stuff again. It was almost like a drug to me. I couldn’t help but listen to all of it. So then I’d back off again and begin listening to only the “soft” music. I think because there is such a wide range of music in the CCM world it was easy to move between what I would say is acceptable to that which was not. There was so much in between. Where was the line? I would do this to myself over and over. I was constantly evaluating and re-evaluating individual songs to determine if they were acceptable in God’s eyes. Then I’d get tired of that, and would just listen to what suited my fancy at the time. To make matters worse, I was also listening to secular music which probably tainted my spiritual sensitivities. (Interestingly, in my experience and to some extent, it was refreshing to my brain to listen to secular music because it was very straight forward as to what the purpose of that music was. It was the Christian music that was vague and hard to discern! Maybe this is part of the way Satan uses these blurred lines to his advantage?)
I transferred to Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, IA just before my Senior Year. And I think if I had not done that, I wouldn’t have made the change nearly as quickly. Not every student at Faith walked away with the same convictions I did, but I was so glad to find a school that taught conservative principles in Music. However, I still clung to my version of conservatism. I still liked “my music.” Even though the rules did not allow CCM in the dorms for the most part, I still listened to it in my car, and I still listened to just the “soft, acceptable” songs. I tried to at least. On the other hand, my classes in Music Philosophy and my experience there with great music groups was so refreshing to me. I was beginning to think through the issue of whether music was moral or amoral and the like. At Faith, our Chorale sang “Great is the Lord” and “Symphony of Praise” which are both old Steve Green songs. We’ve sung others that were written by CCM artists. I think in a way those songs were probably fine because #1, they were sung in a different setting that did not bring glory to one person and were not performed in a sensual or emotionalistic way…and #2 I know the director probably poured over the words and the method by which we were to perform and kind of “made it acceptable.” But I was nervous about those songs because I had seen where the slippery slope started and where it could lead. Today I would not listen to the same music if performed by the CCM artist because it would be more showy and it would lead me down a path I’ve already been. It was not until after I graduated and moved back to Colorado to work under my dad’s ministry…and even 2 years into that…that I finally was tired of constantly having to decide what music was godly and which was not. The music wanted something from me, some kind of emotional reaction, but what did God want from me? Was there nothing profitable when I listened to CCM? No, I was encouraged and relaxed and even reminded of Biblical truths. But it was worldly sounding. I knew it. My conscience was bothered. I knew James 4:4 “The friendship of the world, is emnity with God.” I was tired of the struggle! I knew my focus was not on God when listening to “my music.”
SO…I actually threw away about $200 (probably more) worth of CDs. Some of which I had just bought! I decided to draw the line much farther back than I had before. I stopped listening to any form of CCM because I knew myself. I knew I would not be able to resist falling into it again. It had become “all or nothing” for me. And that’s why I personally do not listen to Steve Green or Twila Paris or others from any subset of CCM.
I would call what I’m doing “Threshold Separation.” I can’t go into that “room” even though there may be some acceptable and beneficial things in there for me. By walking in that “room”, I open myself up to too much questionable and worldly music. So I don’t cross that threshold. I do believe that the Contemporary Christian Movement as a whole has been detrimental to the church. It has brought a worldly mentality to the church. Instead of going into the details of that (maybe in another post), I will refer you to the book reviews below.
So I cannot say that all CCM is bad. I cannot say that it’s wrong to listen to some of it. But I will not listen to it for spiritual reasons, and I encourage others to evaluate honestly whether it’s helping you or not.
That’s my story. My conscience is clear before the Lord in this area. I don’t claim to be perfectly consistent, but I am more consistent than I used to be! I hear some about the latest CCM music out there, but truly I’m out of touch with it all now. Sometimes a friend will direct me to listen to a song they like or some such thing, and I usually raise my eyebrows in amazement at how worldly a song is. In my mind, there is really no difference between this kind of Christian music and the world’s music. I wonder, “Can’t you hear the worldiness in it?” I’ve been down that road before. I choose not to even open that door.
Why I Left The Contemporary Christian Music Movement
By Dan Lucarini
This book is powerfully written from the perspective of a former contemporary praise and worship leader. It is Lucarini’s apology for the years he spent inside the CCM Movement acting as a “change agent” in several evangelical churches. He directs his criticism at those responsible for leading the CCM charge, not the average worshipper, and desires to stimulate respectful dialogue within the body of Christ. Lucarini is very effective as he documents his personal experience with the spiritual dangers, divisive attitudes, and non-biblical philosophies found within the CCM movement. His point of view is unique because he was also a rock music performer, arranger and composer before he became a believer. He answers questions such as: Isn’t music amoral? Isn’t this just a matter of personal preference and taste? Didn’t Martin Luther and the Wesleys use contemporary music in church? Doesn’t God accept us as we are? Lucarini asks the reader for a fair and complete reading of the book before any judgment is made. Take up the challenge! Read the book!
By John Blanchard & Dan Lucarini
The sub-title of the book is: “rock music’s impact on worship and evangelism.” That objective is overwhelmingly explored and answered in this book. Blanchard, who wrote Pop Goes The Gospel in 1983, and Lucarini, who wrote Why I Left The Contemporary Christian Music Movement in 2002, combine to bring a stunningly up-to-date look at the rock music scene both in and out of the Church. Every chapter is packed with quotations from the musicians themselves whether secular or CCM. It would be difficult to see how critics could defend the contemporary music phenomenon when their unbiblical purpose is exposed from their own mouths, lyrics and writings as it is in this book. The book is also filled with testimonies from disappointed saints of God who have seen their churches unwittingly turned into profane rock concerts in the name of Christian worship. This book brings much light on the “hostile take-over” of conservative churches by pastors and worship leaders alike.
It’s Not About The Music: A Journey Into Worship
By Dan Lucarini
This is Dan Lucarini’s third book. His first book, Why I Left The Contemporary Christian Music Movement, had an immediate impact on today’s worship wars. His second book which he co-authored with John Blanchard, Can We Rock The Gospel, was an even better detailed analysis of CCM and its effects on the church. This book takes a slightly different tact into the biblical necessity for right worship. Dan argues for genuine worship through sacrifice, praise, koinonia, and the “missing jewels” of prayer, Scripture reading, and the ordinances. Part II is titled “Wrong turns and cul-de-sacs,” in which he deals with the fakery going on in many circles of contemporary worship. The last of the book encourages churches to return to genuine and humble worship with little worry about what the world thinks. I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter, “Take the tube to Elephant & Castle” (a ride on the London subway to Metropolitan Tabernacle). I’ve been there and done that!
By John Makujina
I met John this month at Central Seminary in Minneapolis. He teaches in the area of Old Testament and Semitic Languages. That background prepares his thinking to enter this controversial area of the CCM musical debate. He answers the most recent defenses of CCM in a detailed way that is greatly appreciated. For example, John gives a fuller and more complete answer to the proposition that Christian music was borrowed from secular writers (especially Luther and Wesley) in the same way it is being done today. Read this before you close your mind!