Do I need to listen to Christian music to be a Christian?

By Lori Lewis

Many Lutherans today are joining with thousands of other Christians by looking to what has been termed Contemporary Christian Music, or CCM, as the medicine for the crumbling world they see around them. Some see the immorality in pop, rock, and rap music, and become convinced that the CCM world offers a viable alternative to what the secular recording industry is selling us. As one who has spent many years in the CCM field as a career, both as a DJ and a record promoter, I have been confronted with the question, "Must I listen to Christian music to be a Christian?" This question does not address the use of CCM in the Church service, but rather CCM as alternate entertainment for the Christian.

I respect the fact that those adults who suggest CCM as an alternative for teenagers, care what the younger people around them are listening to. I was convinced for a long time that CCM was the one way to reach my own generation as well as all following generations. In fact, I left the LCMS for many years, as I had come to believe that it had become irrelevant and incapable of communicating with people today. I returned to the church when I became worn out by pursuing the teachings that I was learning in CCM. I made the mistake of thinking that the CCM lyrics I was hearing represented the same teachings I had been taught from childhood. Instead, the lyrics I heard for the most part led me to self-evaluation and effort on my part to "be more spiritual". I did not see for many years that this course was leading me away from Christ, rather than making me a more mature Christian. I was overwhelmed by the Law. I continued to see sin in my life. I saw little comfort in the Gospel. CCM lyrics encouraged this kind of thinking. 

I found out that it wasn't the LCMS that couldn't communicate with today's audience, instead it was my lack of understanding of how God imparts His grace to us. If I had really understood that faith comes from hearing the Word of God and through the Sacraments, then I would have understood better that as sinners we can not of our own power do anything about our sinful condition.

I know that many parents and many youth leaders encourage young people to attend CCM concerts and give them CD's to listen too. I would like to offer a few points as to why I believe that CCM is not the medicine for the Christian today and how it is not the best alternative to it's secular counterpart. 

I will state outright that many of the artists in CCM are sincere people that truly believe they are called by God to use their talents to spread the Gospel message. The main problem is this: what is the message that is being conveyed? There is a great confusion as to just what is the focus of CCM within the industry itself.

Many promote a theology that removes the focus from Christ and instead, focuses on what the believer "must do". I have recently been conducting a survey of CCM artists asking them outright what the Gospel message is. Perhaps not due to their own fault, but rather what they have been taught, the majority of the answers do not represent Scriptural, foundational Christian truths as set forth in Luther's Small Catechism!

The CCM industry promotes artists simply based on talent, rather than on Biblical training. Throughout church history, music and theology have been closely tied together. Today, that trend has changed. Today, style outweighs content. 

One of the main problems I see with the theology of CCM is that there is great confusion over the idea that one must "do their part to come to God, then God will do the rest." Re-learning Lutheran theology was so refreshing to me as I once again saw the Scriptural truth that God through Christ has done it ALL! That as a sinner I am dead, and unable to do anything about my sinful condition! I was fooled by language that was similar to this in CCM, so at first I thought they were saying the same thing!

The thing is, I was arrogant to think that I could not be fooled in the first place. I had even pursued a college education in theology at one of our Concordia Universities at one time, but the differences of the theology I was hearing in CCM seemed subtle enough to change my understanding of Scripture. I was also deeply affected by peer pressure while working in the industry. 

There is little understanding of Law and Gospel in CCM. The theology in CCM tends to try to use the Law to motivate the Christian to a "moral lifestyle." The catechism points out that "The Law teaches us what we are to do and not to do; the Gospel teaches us what God has done, and still does for our salvation". This understanding of Law and Gospel is what led me to reevaluate my involvement in the CCM industry.

There is also great disagreement in CCM over what the role of the artist is. When CCM exploded in the early 70's, many of the original artists saw themselves as Evangelists, now many of those same artists see their calling as "ministers." Over the years I saw vast confusion in the industry because it is at heart a business, and yet many wanted it to be the work of the church. Now these early artists find it distressing that the industry has changed so much and most think that it has little to do with God.

Consider these quotes from other industry insiders:

"80% of the more pop-oriented stuff (in CCM) has little or no content or impact at all! We have become an echo of the world, not a prophetic voice."
 Chuck Girard, CCM pioneer of "Love Song" fame.

"True, the overall technical sound of this ‘product' (CCM) is more in line with the popular secular music of our day, but at what cost? The ‘Good News' being proclaimed is that ‘we can be happy all the time because we believe in God.'"
Roger Marsh, former Station Manager/Program Director for KYMS, So. CA., currently Staff Announcer for the FOX TV network and KSGN Riverside.

There are many others within the industry who would voice the same concern. We may not all see the same problems with the theology of CCM, but many artists and DJ's have been overwhelmed with the lack of God in the business. Many are concerned for the future of this industry as well and are calling for reform. 

Today many artists see themselves as ministers, while others see themselves simply as "Christian entertainers" or a combination of both. This is a confusion of the office of the ministry. While all people are given the gift of a vocation, or life's work, only some are called to the ordained ministry. There is great recognition within the industry that much is lacking in direction, and many are concerned that secular companies now have ownership of large part of the industry. This had led to great confusion among artists and other industry types. 

Many think that it is better to listen to CCM than the immoral music of the world. I contend that it is more dangerous to a Christian to be confused by the important but sometimes hard to detect theological differences than the obvious immorality that a Christian could easily avoid. It is best to be as wary of the content of CCM as much as it's secular counterpart!

Music is a great gift from God. It can be enjoyed in many and various forms. In all things one must use discernment as to the content of what is being said, or sung. This is true for CCM as well as other forms of music, religious or secular. We are to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). The emphasis of this verse is Christ, not us. The best way to do this is to be in the Word regularly and review basic teachings of the faith as we learned from the Small Catechism. No matter what the type of music, we don't want to listen to anything that would distort God's love for us in Christ!

Lori Lewis was a former Contemporary Christian Music disc jockey.

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