“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that society’s moral code has been getting increasingly relaxed throughout the years; lines have been blurred, censors have been lifted, what was once considered inappropriate is the norm. And while the world continues to regress into an all too accepting mindset, the church has been doing everything possible to try and protect the faithful. Growing up in church, I’ve heard things like, “If it isn’t God-inspired, it’s Satan-inspired”, seen news reports about book-burning campaigns, heard different preachers condemn everything from Disney films to Barbies, and as a child I was, quite honestly, afraid that anything that wasn’t explicitly holy had the potential to send me straight to hell. Romans 12:2 warns us not to adhere to worldly customs, but as it gets increasingly difficult for the youth and new believers to keep the faith in a post-modern world, in my opinion, banning everything under the sun is not going to resolve anything. Instead of focusing on the first part of the verse, we need to read it in context and truly “test and approve what God’s will is.” We don’t need to be accepting of everything, but we ought to be open-minded enough to absorb the things that can be discerned as both “constructive” and “beneficial” (1 Cor 10:23).
Paul was the writer to pen "do not conform to this world," but when you study his writings, a number of the verses we quote prove his familiarity with and appreciation for the truth and wisdom that could be encountered in secular works*. One example would be when he employed secular philosophical theory in his letter to the Corinthians. He described the church as a macrocosm of the body: a whole, created of many parts for many purposes; an idea proposed earlier by Socrates to Plato in The Republic. While Paul didn't adhere to what were considered cultural norms in his day (polytheism, promiscuity & exposure of "unfit" newborns among them) he retained the good that the world did put forth and twisted it into an even greater truth. If an idea that came through the mouth of a non-believer can be called the word of God, then why should we limit God's voice in any way?
As a Christian musician, I’ve felt antagonized at times hearing preachers and parents tell me that “all secular music is worthless.” I agree that there are, absolutely, things we should stay away from: lyrics that contradict the truth we believe, promote violence, incite fear, and mock, objectify or even exalt people; but when it comes to art, we have to be subjective, or risk missing out on messages and experiences that can influence us in a positive way. Simon and Garfunkel wrote, "Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down," Jesus said, "greater love has no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends".
“WE CAN'T CALL ANYONE'S WORDS ANY LESS TRUE BECAUSE OF THE SINFUL CHARACTER OF THE PERSON WHO SAID IT. AREN'T WE ALL, IN FACT, SINNERS OURSELVES?”
We can't call anyone's words any less true because of the sinful character of the person who said it. Aren't we all, in fact, sinners ourselves? God gave me a gift and passion for music, and I use it to praise Him in public on a weekly basis, but the songs I write on my own aren't all about Him. I've always wondered, if I chose to release my songs, would I be seen as less of a Christian for expressing myself in relation to the human experience rather than making every single song about God? Did God hate me for writing secular songs about “worthless” things like my feelings? If I went to church and played them, even in secret, would He be insulted? Because genuine art isn't something you can really do on command, it's something that you birth, something you can't keep inside that's permeated with little bits of your personality. Sometimes it's positive, highlighting the good things in life, and other times it's darker, opening people's eyes to the negative aspects of society that need to change. The real problem is that the music industry isn't so much about art anymore as it is about business. Writing, producing, promoting and selling what "works" has perverted people's minds into believing that the negative IS a positive. But even within a tainted industry, there will always be exceptions that fall through the cracks, capable of lifting someone's spirits, or inciting joy.
Most big-name artists use lights and sounds to get people’s attention, and recently churches have adopted this as their own standard. Many people have accused them of trying to imitate the world, but when I go to a show, it doesn’t matter how big the production is, if the artist I’m there to see doesn’t take the stage, I’m not interested. I believe it works the same way in worship. We use lights and sounds for the aesthetic value they hold, but what I want most is to feel God’s presence in the room. We don’t attempt to manufacture God's presence with a concert-like atmosphere, because God's presence can't be manufactured at all. God can't be summoned. He doesn't show up because we demand it, He comes because we ask- because we desire Him. Even playing a Christian song won't make Him show up any faster, it's all about the motivation of our hearts; and with all the scandals over the years in the Christian Music Industry itself, I'm hard-pressed to believe that certain Christian songs are capable of attracting the Holy Spirit at all. Lights and sounds won't save anyone, but if it attracts the common man and brings him into the house, then why not? As technology evolves, it’ll come off as almost insulting to be content with the dusty overheard projector, as if we don’t want to spend money on the best resources out there for a God who deserves the best.
After years of struggling with my so-called sinful love of secular songs, all my stressed out research led me to St. Augustine's quote, "All truth is God's truth." Psalm 33:5 says that, "God loves what is right and fair; the Lord's love fills the earth." His love and His influence can't be limited to any one genre of music because God isn't limited by anything. If He wants to give hope to somebody, to empower somebody or to remind them of their worth, He could just as easily use the Beatles saying, "The sun is up, the sky is blue, It's beautiful and so are you" as He could use Michael W. Smith to tell a little girl the same thing. Maybe God does it because He loves that girl who's too jaded by the past to see truth in anything else, or maybe He does it simply because the latter hasn't done so already. That girl was me, so I can tell you it works. God will use whatever he can to help us when we need it. The bottom line is that we need to be discerning, constantly praying for the ability to filter the good from the bad, & use what we can to obey God's command to make disciples of all nations. But the same way Paul used Socrates' words for the benefit of the church, I believe we shouldn’t limit ourselves in our fight to save souls. We can use the uplifting words of both Christians and Non-believers to inspire and encourage the world we're trying to change, and bring them into the light of God, through the love, instruction, admonition and encouragement that Jesus showed us.