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Spiritual Songs

July 8, 2007

There are many times that God says significant things in passing. One of those instances is in Ephesians 5:19. Here, while speaking of a Spirit-filled life, the Bible tells us to speak to ourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and to sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord. The point is to speak to ourselves, to sing and to make melody; but in passing, the Bible tells us something about music. The Word says psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. I want to key in on the term spiritual songs.

If God uses the term spiritual to describe songs, then there must be songs that are spiritual. Now, in the world we like to live in, you can have spiritual songs, neutral songs, and unspiritual songs. But in the world God created, the one since ruined by sin, there are only two options. Christians must realize that we live in a world of antithesis. The sooner we understand this, the easier it will be to have biblical discernment. When God said he would put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), he showed us what the battle of every age would be–spiritual vs. unspiritual. God vs. the Devil. Christ vs. Satan. The Christian vs. the cosmos.

This principle can be clearly applied to music. Our music is either spiritual or unspiritual. It serves Christ’s purposes or Satan’s. It loves God, or it loves the world. It worships God, or it worships the god of this world. As I develop this theme, I will explore and attempt to identify worldly music. Music that worships the things of this world. Those things are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).

Categories: Music, Voegtlin
  1. July 8, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    I look forward to any more articles on this theme of sound, godly music that glorifies the Lord.

    You might appreciate this post on my blog: The Lord Is My Song

  2. July 9, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    I like the distinctions you pointed out. Christ vs. Satan, Christian vs. the cosmos. There really is no middle ground. It is either the narrow way or the broad way. Thanks.

  3. Anvil
    July 10, 2007 at 5:57 am

    So are you saying that we can either worship God with say “Stars and Stripes Forever,” or it serves Satan’s purposes?

  4. July 10, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Anvil, there is no neutral ground anywhere.

    Can patriotism serve Satan’s purposes? It most certainly does at times. Can we be both patriotic and faithful? Yes.

    But the song is not neutral.

  5. Anvil
    July 10, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    I’m not sure that I buy the argument that there can be no neutral ground anywhere. Are colors good or evil? How about tastes? Or sounds? What about meat? What about chairs? Are chairs in a bar more evil than chairs in a church?

    Assuming for the sake of argument that “Stars and Stripes Forever” is not neutral, is it evil, or is it good? Or can it be either depending on the situation? I certainly would not consider it a “spiritual song,” at least in the sense of worship music. However, if it’s not a spiritual song, then it would seem we cannot use it even when being both “patriotic and faithful.”

    What about the tune to “Deutschland, Deutschland Ãœber Alles,” (the German national anthem from the time of Hitler), more commonly known to American church members as “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken?” Is that tune intrinsically good? How do you know that? Maybe it’s intrinsically evil, and we are misusing it.

    A few of you mentioned earlier that you like banjo music. I guess then that this music must also be spiritual, though I think I could count on one hand the number of “Great Hymns of the Faith” that would be compatible with a banjo, at least when the banjo is being played like it is intended to be played.

    I realize that this is a deep topic that cannot be easily hashed out on a blog, and that you guys have just gotten started. However, given the argument made by this first post, it would seem that some secular songs can be considered “spiritual songs.” If they are not, then by this argument they must be anti-spiritual, and we cannot then use them for any purpose at all. If they are, how do you judge them to be spiritual?

  6. July 10, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Anvil, Jesus said that if we aren’t for him, we are against him. That eliminates neutrality. Until we clear that question up, the rest of your questions are moot.

    No doubt, we can find all sorts of ridiculous illustrations to point out and to say, “is that intrinsically good or intrinsically evil?” But the fact that we struggle to explain does not mean it can’t be.

    Neutrality is a theology. But it is an immoral theology. Every square inch (as one theologian said) of this earth is claimed, every square inch a battleground.

    But those who subscribe to the theology of neutrality will not be able to see the Lordship of Christ in red, orange, chocolate, middle C, pork, lazy boys, or bar stools.

    I suppose we could flutter all day about dust bunnies and carpet strands, about grass blades and oak leaves, about venetian blinds and bookshelves, about keyboards and mouse pads. The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. And the whole earth is full of his glory.

  7. July 10, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    I understand what Anvil is saying here- but I think there are flaws in both his “neutrality” argument and Jeff’s dichotomy of spiritual vs. unspiritual.

    There is music that is not neutral, but is not appropriate or useful in the worship of God. To illustrate, take an example of language (borrowed from my friend Todd Mitchell):

    Does the Bible anywhere tell us which of these is serious and which is flippant?

    A.) Dude, like, my sin totally bugs me like a booger flicked on my windshield!
    B.) The horror of my sin fills me with remorse more painful than I can bear.

    Now, ask yourself- is example A inherently evil? Or, is it possible that what would be wrong is the method of communication used as a means to communicate repentance and mourning?

    Another example- you can love your wife, you can love pizza, and you can love your hound dog. But if you love your wife in the same way you love pizza or your dog, it would seem to me that there are going to be some problems.

    To reduce music to a simple dichotomy of spiritual and unspiritual seems a bit oversimplified- yet, the idea that there is music with no meaning also seems erroneous.

    Meaning can be relative to the context. Anvil says:

    Are colors good or evil? How about tastes? Or sounds? What about meat? What about chairs? Are chairs in a bar more evil than chairs in a church?

    Let’s consider colors for a moment. Is pink inherently evil? If not, do you men want to wear a suit of that color to church this Sunday? Any takers? Take sounds- we can whistle to our dog, but beckon your wife the same way, and you will learn that she sees all kinds of meaning to those same “neutral” tones- and will furthermore assign a certain morality to that meaning, I’d venture.

    So we think about “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Asking if it is “neutral” seems to me to be the wrong question. Asking if it is “spiritual” or not also strikes me as inadequate. Would such a tune be useful communicating any kind of Christian sensibility? Does the tune seem compatible with conveying an accurate, proper view of God based on the revelation of Himself in His Word? Does it help us better understand how we should relate and respond to that revelation?

    I think a problem we conservatives face in this area as is we haven’t thought enough about meaning- we aren’t serious enough to ponder what makes music good and right and spiritual as much as we want to be able to clearly identify what music is really bad. Maybe we need to back up and identify what music is most useful at honoring God and shaping our affections toward Him in an ordinate manner.

  8. July 11, 2007 at 5:30 am

    Neutrality is a wonderful self-serving myth, in my opinion. The only people in the world who think music is neutral are the proponents of Contemporary Christian Music, so called.

    Anvil, you need to ask someone who has been saved from the wicked music culture of our day the question about music neutrality. They will laugh at the question.

  9. July 11, 2007 at 9:33 am

    Greg, makes some valid points, which I intend to answer here when I have time or in next week’s post.

  10. Anvil
    July 12, 2007 at 12:51 pm


    Believe it or not, I am anything but a proponent of CCM. I am *very* traditional in my worship music — in fact, more so than most fundamental Baptist churches I have attended or visited. (I don’t like “down home”-style “worship” music, and I don’t believe it’s very worshipful, but that’s another conversation.) There is much more to music than its intrinsic meaning, if in fact such meaning exists. There is association and appropriateness (referred to by Greg above) that would serve to eliminate 98% or more of what is called CCM from our worship vocabulary, but it would also (rightly in my mind) eliminate things like “Stars and Stripes Forever,” or “Dueling Banjos.”

    As far as laughing at the question of musical neutrality, that’s fine. In the absence of biblical proof or other hard evidence, I remain unconvinced. I don’t disagree that you *could* be right, but I have seen no convincing proof. Anecdotal evidence or arguments from “obviousness” don’t count as either biblical proof or hard evidence. If music has intrinsic moral value, it must be able to be judged and evaluated objectively, and such measurements must apply universally and in a way that is measurable. Otherwise, any judgments made about it are completely subjective, and therefore worthless for anything other than personal conviction or conscience.

    In any case, I realize that this discussion is premature, and that the gentlemen from this site have only begun the discussion.

  11. July 12, 2007 at 1:23 pm


    This is something new to me that I hadn’t heard until I had my brief time at SharperIron. I actually had not heard that music was not instrincally moral from so-called fundamentalists until then and them (the SharperIron guys). I noticed too that you were normally the one subject to ridicule on there if you took that position.

    I recently laid this out to someone auditioning on trumpet at the Atlanta Symphony and the NY Philharmonic, as well as someone getting his PhD in some musical field. These guys are all over music. They don’t read online blogs and SharperIron, so they hadn’t heard about this either, but they both smiled very big (didn’t laugh) when I brought it up. Of course, smiling or laughing doesn’t give any evidence, but it did mean that they had reasons. Their contention is that for sure the world’s music is wrong intrinsically in its rhythm. I asked about particular chords and one said “yes,” some are wrong in themselves, and the other “no, we can’t judge that because music has become so complicated today.” Someone I know who played jazz piano professionally before he was saved says that the chords themselves are wrong.

    There is scientific evidence that some notes and chords themselves create unhealthy tensions in humans, irregardless of their culture or background. I heard this on the very fundamental and separatist NPR (national public radio), where they did a two hour program that I later listened to. I don’t have a link to the program, because I heard it live on radio.

    I don’t know how much more needs to be said than that Godly men, filled with the Holy Spirit, have for years taken this position, so the burden of proof really rests upon the naysayers to produce something to prove that it isn’t true.

  12. Lance T. Ketchum
    July 12, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Two words are critical to this discussion:

    Spiritual from the Greek pneumatikos (pnyoo-mat-ik-os’) meaning not carnal or worldly. In the positive sense, the word relates to that which is uniguely connected to, or connects the believer to, the realm of God’s existence.

    Holy from the Hebrew qodesh (ko’-desh) referring to something that is sacred or uniguely belonging to God or the worship of God. Something that is holy is not common or used commonly in life. It is hallowed and separated for worship alone. Once something was used in common usage, it was profaned or defiled and needed to be sanctified before it could be used again in worship.

    See post at: http://lineuponlinedmm.blogspot.com/2007/07/conremporary-worship-who-may-worship.html

  13. Sam Hanna
    July 12, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    The CCM that has infected Fundamentalism is not just the overt tunes and lyrics of Ralph Carmichael and Bill Gaither, but the contemporary sounds and snycopated beat of the Frank Garlocks and Ron Hamiltons of this world.

    True Biblical worship takes away and fleshly emotion such as the heavy 2nd and 4th rock beat that dominates almost all CCM, the feminizing of the male voices and the breaking up of the Cords. I highlighted this recently at Greg Linscott’s site and was asked to provide evidence of the “softening” of the strong tunes of the past and I did a short critique of Soundforth’s latest CD. A member of the choir of BJU promised to respond but never did. A simple test to see the changes in Fundamentalist music is to compare the BJU choirs of 30 years ago with the latest 2007 offering and the changes are startling.

    When was the last time any mainstream Fundamentalist Music Department produced/wrote hymns/musicals dealing with the apostasy of our time? I see Mr Janz’s latest venture for his “Impact Colarado” includes as part of the conference an organized trip to see the “Sound of Music.” What edification young fundamentalists are supposed to receive from watching a propaganda performance for the Catholic Church is beyond me!

  14. secretly reformed
    July 12, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    His conscience says high church music. Her conscience says gospel bluegrass. “Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind.” “Who are you to judge another man’s servant?” The answer to that is, obviously, NOBODY! One man esteemeth a particular style of music, another esteemeth every style alike..For to the Lord doth he esteem his CCM and another, being weak, is offended. How can there be two equally valid yet seemingly contradictory positions on a topic not comprimising the Gospel? Easily, for there is a position that is “weak” and a position that is more theologically correct. Whatever position is actually the most correct is irrelevant in how we are to interact with the brethren. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not, and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth.

  15. secretly reformed
    July 12, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Oh, let me add, I’m not defending ANY MUSIC that lyrically is unscriptural or comprimises the Gospel in any way..thanks!

    I’m talking about doctinally sound music of many varieties of style..

    blessings to you, brethren!

  16. July 12, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    Secretly Reformed, we don’t have liberty for false worship. If there is anything we are to judge, we are to judge worship. To prove it and hold fast to that which is good and eject that which is evil. This is not a matter of conscience. Do you understand the conscience? The conscience is nothing more than a warning device that warns based on what is fed it. The conscience is guided by the boundaries set by the law written in the heart. If neither he or she in your illustration are taught what the Bible says about music, then their conscience is not going to register any warning. The conscience is not the guide for worship, but the Bible. We worship in truth. Scripture makes many commands which apply directly to music and to worship. I have read your exact argument in Rick Warren’s book. His conscience says that hip-thrusting dancing is fine for worship. We are to regulate our worship by what the Bible says. Just because someone’s conscience says it is fine, does not make it fine.

  17. secretly reformed
    July 13, 2007 at 5:18 am

    Thanks Pastor Kent, and others…
    I am kinda working through these things, and listening to the wisdom God gave you and others is helping. In my church we don’t discuss or study these things. Southern Gospel is accepted, but not much of other modern styles. (Why I am there still, another story). I like what L. Ketchem has said about the words spiritual/holy. I guess I just see problems with the extremely precise (scripturall legal?) doctrinal position like Bro. Ross in that it seems to preclude that sort of ad lib musical worship that say a “new-born” child of God might offer on the way to work…you know…”Thank you God, for saving my soul…” (sung emphatically, if slightly off key.) I understand corporate worship would necessarily be more developed. The conscience of the child of God does need to be educated by the word of God, I agree. The regulatory principle scares me.. the bible is silent about “altar calls”, “offering plates”, among other things, does that mean they are forbidden? How do we avoid placing ourselves under law again this way?

    I’ve never read R. Warren/s book. I wouldn’t agree with “hip-shakin'”. But most IFBists wouldn’t approve of traditional Hebrew “dancin'” I’m sure you’ll help me with all this, guys.

    I sure appreciate it!!
    with love, in Christ…

  18. Anvil
    July 17, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Pastor Brandenburg,

    Obviously, we can go back and forth forever here without getting anywhere, but I had just a couple more things to mention in response to your last post to me.

    First, I realize that holding the position I do puts me in the position of being shot at by both traditional music fundamentalists as well as by those who fully accept CCM, both of whom, as you noted, are represented on SI. I certainly am not trying to stake out a “middle” position because that’s where I want to be, but only because it’s where I end up after examining the various arguments on both sides.

    Second, I understand that many godly men have held the “music is not amoral” position, and that certainly gives me pause, and makes me consider what I believe very carefully. However, when it comes down to it, truth is not dependent on the positions of other men, no matter how godly. Many in your camp on the KJV issue have lampooned the “Trusted Voices on Translations” pamphlet. In some ways, those doing so are correct, because our positions on issues should be based on the Word and not on the positions of other men. By the same token, arguments for the inherent morality of music cannot stand on the positions taken by other men. The position must be shown to be true regardless of what others believe.

    Third, I would like to be clear on what I mean by neutrality. I do not hold that music is neutral in the sense that it has no effect whatsoever on man emotionally or otherwise. Clearly it does, though my own anecdotal evidence (also not proof) has demonstrated to me that this effect is not universal. I have seen diametrically opposed emotional reactions to the same piece of music. What I mean is that I believe (though I do not assert as categorically true) that music is neutral morally — it is not good or evil of itself. Part of that is based on the scriptures that tell us that nothing is unclean of itself, and that what goes into a man does not defile him, but what comes out of his heart.

    Regarding the burden of proof, I respectfully disagree with you. Since I believe one way, but am essentially taking an agnostic position, I believe the burden rests on both those who assert without proof that music absolutely is morally neutral AND on those who assert that it isn’t. Both of those assertions require proof. As I stated in a previous post, arguments from obviousness are not proof. Nor is a statement like Greg’s above that it “seems erroneous” that music has no meaning. (By the way, that’s not what I believe at all — I believe that music can carry meaning, but that any such meaning is external to the music and comes from the associations, background, etc. of the hearer. I believe this because absolute meaning has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction.) Again, a statement that music has inherent meaning, apart from any associations of the listener and apart from lyrics requires the demonstration of how to measure this. (If it can’t be objectively and consistently measured, then that shows that any such determination is completely subjective.)

    I agree with you that some music can produce tension, although in what way is tension inherently evil? Tension can be produced by being under a deadline, being in traffic, etc. I don’t think you can show that either of those are inherently evil. Tension can certainly be a good thing, as in traffic it can help keep you attentive (and alive), and tension from a deadline can help you meet an obligation, though it certainly can be unhealthy (to the point of causing ulcers) to be under tension all the time. Music could certainly temporarily depict tension without being itself wrong. Listen, for example, to the opening movement of Haydn’s Creation.

    I would like to address the “experts” you quoted. If I tried to use the same type of arguments when arguing against you (on any position you hold), you would immediately point out that quoting other “experts” without proof is invalid and no real argument at all. The same is true here. Without proof, those views you quoted are just opinion. I have talked to men who understand music far better than I do, and their views on the moral neutrality are wide ranging. For every one you can produce who says a certain chord is wrong (it would be interesting to see how he demonstrates that that is true), I can show one who doesn’t believe that. That leaves us down to seeing whose expert is more believable/better. I can’t see how that is a biblical approach to determining truth.

    Finally, I don’t see how, without criteria that are objective, consistent, and measurable by any individual (even if they would require some education or advanced knowledge), that trying to declare music as moral helps us practically. If I can’t use principles to say that, for example, that chord is wrong (and why it is), how do I evaluate a piece of music (assuming the words have already passed muster) for use in worship? Certainly I can use association or appropriateness, and those are what I personally use. I think it’s a very valid judgment to say that “Dueling Banjos” is inappropriate as worship music, or that a particular song has too much of the world’s sound (association). But if I can’t look at chords/notes/rhythms, etc and using them determine that music is right or wrong, all that leaves me with is subjective opinion, and that certainly is not the same as finding God’s view on it. I can’t just say “I don’t like it,” or “that sounds wrong,” and trust that that is an accurate evaluation, nor can I say that “expert A says that chord is just wrong.” If it makes me uncomfortable, that might be an indication that I shouldn’t use it, but that in no way is good evaluation of whether or not it really is wrong.

    I realize that what I just wrote is unlikely to convince anyone who disagrees (which as far as I have seen is most of fundamentalism, both the “conservative” and “liberal” wings), and that is fine. After all, I’m not trying to present an airtight case. What I am doing, however, is attempting to show why I believe the views of those who believe that music absolutely is either moral or immoral do not have an airtight, open-and-shut case themselves. I do, however, look forward with much interest to the posts that will appear for the rest of July.

  19. July 18, 2007 at 6:07 am


    You make some very good points here.

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