Is it sinful to be joyous?
Christian life is a life of joy, of abundance! “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” Jesus said in John 10:10, referring to His faithful followers. If you are a faithful disciple of Christ, His life is given to you! The plenitude of His life is yours. His Spirit is given to imbue and subdue any aspect of your heart and as a result, of your experience.
The second “fragrance” of the fruit of the Spirit is the joy (Galatians 5:22). Being redeemed through such an expensive price, being predestinated to the glorious perfection of Christ and to His life eternal and enjoying His presence along the way, the true believer in Christ is the most joyous and the happiest person on earth! Because of this, the apostle Paul insisted: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Not even the tribulations can overshadow the joy of God’s children: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings” (RSV Romans 5:3b). Isn’t it marvelous to be a partaker of such an experience?
This promised abundance of God has attracted many Christians with the passing of time! And it is more than legitimate to be so. “And ye are complete—liberally supplied—in Him” (Colossians 2:10). Why live in sorrow and distress, weeping along the path of life, when God prepares “a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: …” and “my cup runneth over.” (Psalm 23:5). The expression of such joyful living is beyond words, reaching the realm of song, with the mouth “filled with laughing, and the lips with rejoicing!” (Job 8:21). In heaven everything sings the glories of the Almighty; and the redeemed ones on earth, belonging to the same heavenly family, should rejoice in like manner!
The charismatic offering
The charismatic movement appeared on the Christian stage in the second half of the last century, tapping into this marvelous approach: “Let’s rejoice in the Lord! Let us joyfully proclaim His power and His grace! Celebrate His victory and His reign!” And we should agree that it makes perfect sense!
Evangelical churches broadened their platforms; plenty of room was made available in the chapels to provide space for bands and groups with their instruments. The choirs of the past were no longer so attractive to the taste of the younger generations of believers. Technologically, five singers/players of instruments could “cover” in intensity (sound level) several times the volume of a 200-member choir!
And above all, the “touch,” the impact was considered totally “superior.” Hundreds, thousands were flooding to churches! It seemed that the blessings of heaven were poured on earth; such a revival, such an effervescence was conquering the Christian world! More of singing, more of rejoicing, less rules, less of the Word, and everything was running like a charm! Even the Catholic church, so many centuries perceived as a conservative religious institution, changed the line. At the second Vatican Council, it was decided that “music… should maintain and strengthen its role in the liturgical celebrations, considering the proper liturgical character as well as the sensitivity of our time and the musical traditions of various parts of the world.”1 Pretty positive and respectful, isn’t it? And what was the result? Liturgy was brought outside the cold walls of the churches, onto the streets. Young musicians with their bass guitars and drum sets showed up, accompanying the charismatic priests! It seemed that the church had awakened, and crowds of people joyfully followed the change!
Is this the way?
But for any sincere Christian, some questions may necessarily arise. How is it that the narrow path became suddenly so popular, and so wide? And we are talking now mainly in the evangelical ranks, although it may reflect in the Catholic experience as well. Is this the true, expected revival foretold in the Bible? How would the “sensitivity of our times” influence the worship, and in which degree? What about if the “musical traditions” of some “parts of the world” are deeply rooted in idolatrous and spiritualistic religions/practices? How are such traditions to be accommodated in the worship of a living God? The Lord has told us that by fruits we may understand the realities around us (Matthew 7:16). What are the fruits of this new movement? Is it coming from God, and therefore leading back to Him, or is it a subtle and delusive device of the archdeceiver?
At these questions the answers were and are each time more perturbing.
Let us try a short analysis:
First, any true revival is based on the evident work of the Holy Spirit of God. It includes a deep examination of the heart in the light of God’s Word, accompanied by a visible return to Him. It includes a reformation in life, habits and tastes, as signs of true repentance, by the indwelling of the Spirit in the reformed hearts.
And yes, as a blessed consequence only, it produces an immense joy and a sweet peace in the heart! How could it be anything other than that? “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31.) The restored heart thrills with happiness: “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance!” (Psalm 32:7.) “I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High” (Psalm 9:2).
Such an experience depicted by God is contagious indeed. It is the proof of the living Gospel efficiency, of the power of God on earth! The way a former fisherman won the hearts of thousands of people in a single sermon (Acts 2), or of the Samaritan woman bringing the crowds to Jesus (John 4), testifies of this! The divine power that produces such dramatic changes in sinners’ life, is a conquering power. The impact of a righteous life makes all hosts of the enemy tremble. It energizes and brings vision and hope to the souls around it.
According to some dictionaries, charisma is a divinely conferred power or talent or even an ensemble of peculiar spiritual gifts, given to communities or persons by the Holy Spirit2. In this context, Apollos and apostle Paul were extremely charismatic persons! They were rich in spiritual gifts; God was approving their steps, they were living the gospel: therefore, their power over the listeners was almost irresistible! They did not need any other complementary power—such as music—“to attract” masses of people; they were imbued with God’s power simply in having Christ in their life. True that Paul and Silas were singing, but it was not “charismatic singing,” “liberating” the prisoners, but rather peaceful songs inspiring and encouraging them.
A charismatic life—in other words—a life filled with the gifts and works of the Holy Spirit—is a life in perfect harmony with the Word and teachings of God! And that is powerful! And as a consequence it produces charismatic preaching, charismatic music, and so forth.
The charismatic music in our days
But sadly this is not the case that we are trying to investigate now.
The charismatic movement is not taking matters in this light, and in this consists its tremendous danger. The promoters of the charismatic movement take it partially. And the result is altogether different!
Let us see. What is charisma in this other understanding? The Merriam Webster dictionary explains it as “a special charm or appeal that causes people to feel attracted and excited by someone.”3 Not too big a difference, is it? It says only “special charm,” without clarifying the source. It is defined also as “a special power that some people have naturally that makes them able to influence other people and attract their attention and admiration.” This looks clearer. If it is a power that people have naturally, not being given from God, then it does not imply any rules, nor responsibilities, nor conditions! It is about what humans have or produce! It is natural. It should not come as a consequence of an experience with God; it is not in the context of harmony with Him and His laws; it is not because of His righteousness imparted in one’s life; it is not about His power; it is only a power. And yes, the result looks similarly: enchanted, pleased, joyful audiences!
It is in this that we see the huge danger in the charismatic movement in general—and in the charismatic music in particular. Does charismatic music have power? Yes, a tremendous power. Thousands are following and appreciating it. Millions of dollars are made annually by selling Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). However, this is not the question. The questions are: Is this God’s power? Is this coming from Him, and consequently pleasing Him? If something really comes from God, then it will harmonize with all His other manifestations and laws.
In reality the huge power of the so called Contemporary Christian Music – CCM (called charismatic music as well) comes from the other fountain of power, than the power of God. And if it is not from God, it cannot be good. The only other power in existence is the evil one.
Many of the CCM musicians agree that the popularity of their music is not coming from God; their music should not be considered God’s music or sacred music. But they have invented a strange concept: that music itself is not good nor bad. It is “neutral.” Let us evaluate this ideia.
All aspects of Christian experience are positively regulated by our Creator. For instance, speaking is not neutral. Letters could be considered neutral; but when gathered together in words and sentences, they have power to encourage and comfort or they may discourage or even kill. Thus, the Lord expects us to speak “His words,” in His Spirit, when we speak (1 Peter 4:11). “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
The works we do are not neutral. The ability to do something is neutral. But exercised, The use of this ability constitutes either good works (from God), or evil ones. Every task that we do, He expects to be His works “which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Even good works, not proceeding from Him, and not done by His Spirit “are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Our thoughts are not neutral. The human capacity of thinking could be considered neutral. Exercised, the power of thinking brings forth good thoughts, inspired by God, or evil, carnal thoughts, bearing the seeds of sin. In the antediluvians God saw that “every imagination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Such thinking is not considered neutral, but evil, bringing evil consequences, “disaster…even the fruit of their thoughts…” (Jeremiah. 6:19 SCH-germ.) Therefore, He Who knows the terrible results of wicked thinking, as well as ennobling power of good thinking is gracefully inviting us: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) and “set your minds on things that are above…” (Colossians 3:2.RSV).
Worship is not neutral either! The ability of worshiping something or somebody, as God’s gift to humans may be considered neutral. But the moment we exercise it, it is either good, acceptable, or evil, sinful, with no third way around possible. If we worship God as a fruit of His goodness and salvation in and for us, within His conditions, it is good, and the Lord appreciates and accepts it. But if we worship any other thing/entity, that’s not neutral: that is idolatry! This is so important, that the first four commandments of God’s law regulate this chapter of our life, and hundreds of pages in the Bible clarify the Lord’s requirements and expectations of it. Even to worship God by some other means than those clearly established by Him, is totally unacceptable to Him. (1 Samuel 13:12, 13).
We may conclude that any manifestation of the faculties given by God, is either good or evil; and in order to help His dear children, God has traced clear laws and principles that regulate them, so that no one need walk in uncertainty.
What about music? Suddenly, as the charismatic CCM musicians advocate, the rules supposedly disappear. Music can come from whatever fountain, and is morally neutral, they believe. What makes the difference is only the presumably good heart of the musician, and the purpose of his singing. They assume: “Music, on its own merits, could be considered neutral from a moral point of view—it is not sinful nor holy. Its morality is determined by the reason on which is used.” (Tim Fisher: The Battle for Christian Music). As we observed above, this concept is unacceptable.
We may agree that the sounds are neutral, as they are not music. But by the way the sounds are put together in melodies, forming specific structures and rhythmical patterns, how can it be considered neutral? How does it come that all the other manifestation or “fruits” (Matthew.7:16) of the Christian are either good or evil, while music, so highly expressing the tastes, desires, emotions, likes or dislikes of his personality, is somehow claimed to be neutral?
Let us consider some ancient concepts:
“In their folly, people are deceiving themselves by thinking that good or bad music cannot exist and that music should be appreciated just by the pleasure it provides.” (Plato: The Laws)
“More than the common pleasures, music influences the character and the soul. People are affected by it: the rhythm and melody produce anger or goodness, courage and balance or counter effects or other character treats. It is proven that music has the power to transform the character, that there are melodies and rhythms which shouldn’t be permitted.” (Aristotle: Politics, 1339 a,b)
And most of all, what does the Word of God say? “When turned to good account, music is a blessing, but it is often made one of Satan’s most attractive agencies to ensnare souls.” (Ellen G. White: Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 506) “Music, when not abused, is a great blessing; but when put to a wrong use, it is a terrible curse.” (Ellen G. White: Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 497)
The power of music
The power of music itself—regardless of the lyrics—is related to the emotional response it creates in the listener. Can we say that the emotional response is neutral? Is it the same thing if the emotional response in the listener is rebellion, hatred, violence, lust–or on the contrary, peace, admiration, devotion, joy? This would signify that there is no good and no evil or sin on earth, and that everything is neutral, and this is exactly what Satan has advocated for the last six thousand years!
This is probably the greatest danger in charismatic music: its great emotional response, in the absence of a strong spiritual experience to generate it!
All music generates an emotional response. Depending on the musical genre, style, interpretation etc., the response to music will widely differ!
Charismatic music has achieved its tremendous impact in modern days by choosing rock’n roll as its model genre, together with its various related genres. Why? Because rock music was so popular in society, with millions of followers, becoming not only a cultural marker, but a culture itself! And what’s wrong with this? In order to understand, let us consider a few evidences:
In his book “Sound Effects, Youth Leisure and Politics of Rock,” Dr. Simon Frith explains that “rock is designed to have emotional, social, physical and commercial results,” and worst of all, “the rock experience is essentially erotic.”
Gene Simmons, member of the Kiss rock-band, was asked in a TV interview (Entertainment Tonight) if parents should be worried about their teenagers listening to Kiss’ music. He answered: “Parents should be worried that we run after girls – actually, this is the rock – sex, with a hundred megaton bomb: the rhythm.” Can it be even worse than that? Yes: it is the belief of Little Richard, the influential rock’n roll singer and song writer for more than seven decades, helps us understand. “My true belief,” he said, “is this: I believe that this type of music is demonic. Many rhythms of today’s music are taken from voodoo, from voodoo drums. If you study musical rhythms, as I did, you’ll know that this is true.”
If rock music—accompanied in different measures by its more than fifty related-genres—produces intense feelings of revolt, violence and sexual lusts, what does Christian-rock produce? If rock is agreed to be considered demonic music, how can Christian-rock be considered Christian? I am not referring to the lyrics. This is just about the music. The intense response to this kind of music creates a terrible contradiction: people are taken by those intense, pleasing feelings and they connect them to some spiritual words about Christ and faith—and they then presume that they are experiencing a connection with God! Was this – a closer relationship with God – the result in Christianity after the charismatic music was introduced? Did Christians study more the Word of God, did they become more spiritually-minded? The terrible reality shows exactly the opposite! Children and teenagers became more rebellious and far less interested – if not altogether lax – about spiritual things, plus the rate of adulterous affairs and divorces among Christians skyrocketed. The “form of piety” (2 Timothy 3:5) stole almost all true godliness.
This must be so sad for our Savior! To see His beloved children in such a dangerous condition, meanwhile “feeling” themselves taken “by the wings of music” to the throne of God! This is the deception: not knowing their real condition, and at the same time being lied to by music, that they are experiencing a revival and an effervescent closeness with the Lord! The charismatic music is sinning by bringing apparently the same results – feelings – with true godliness; but IN THE ABSENCE OF TRUE GODLINESS. No cross, no victory over sin, no newness of life, but still “feeling” intensively the “presence” or “joy” of God! This should be the recipe for any popular, but deceitful religion. What could be more scandalous than that? 4
“A bedlam of noise shocks the senses and perverts that which if conducted aright might be a blessing. The powers of satanic agencies blend with the din and noise to have a carnival, and this is termed the Holy Spirit’s working.” (Ellen G. White: Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 36. [Emphasis added])
Seeking to Please God
Should music then be boring, tasteless and sorrowful in order to please the Lord? God forbid! “The Christian is . . . the happiest man in the world.” (Ellen G. White: The Review and Herald, June 10, 1884)
The Christian’s music has to represent God and a personal experience with God. Such music, we may assume, will be elevating, ennobling in its effects, not debasing. It would not be an invasive agent, stirring up the passions of the flesh, but rather characteristic of one cherishing faith in Christ. It would be music in harmony with the rhythm and pulse of the entire creation, and therefore producing peace, joy, adoration for the Creator. Such music will be “a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes, to inspire and elevate the soul.” (Ellen G. White: Education, p. 167)
Knowing the Lord is Life eternal! (John 17:3) Knowing Him every day better, puts us in the position to constantly bring to Him a better gift of thankfulness, of praise! I know that in our ranks are many youth who love the Lord and devote their hearts and gifts—including that of music—for His glory! The Lord appreciates any true desire to honor Him! And as we contemplate His infinite sacrifice on the cross for us, we will be led to reconsider all the aspects of our life and worship!
“If any man’s will is to do His will, he shall know…” (John 7:17 RSV). We will know what pleases Him and what does not, and by His grace we will be made able to render unto Him acceptable worship!
“Let there be singing in the home, of songs that are sweet and pure, and there will be fewer words of censure and more of cheerfulness and hope and joy.” (Ellen G. White: Education, p. 168)
“I will accept you with your sweet savour” (Ezekiel 20:41), says the Lord, when our life, our obedience and our worship will be filled with His Spirit, with His life. What could be sweeter than the acceptance of the Lord?! And the living of such a life, “under His wings” here on earth, will continue in eternal life with Him in His heavenly kingdom, so expensively provided for us! This redemption “will be the science and the song of the redeemed throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity” (Ellen G. White: Christian Education, p. 57).
May we praise Him to the best of our abilities now, here in this world, but belonging there to Him, to His family, in harmony with His heart and with His holy angels!
1. Sacrosanctum Concilium AAS 56 (1964) 97–134. (The constitution of liturgy of Vatican II.)
3. Cambridge Dictionary
4. Ellen G. White: Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 344
Additional source material:
Paul Hummel: The Christian and His Music
Tim Fisher: The Battle for Christian Music
Lucian Cristescu: The Magic Beat