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Unleavened Bread Ministries with David Eells

Musical Sectarianism

David Eells

The feedback on the music we play on our radio broadcasts has been overwhelmingly positive. It is very soothing to most and bears no resemblance to rock, pop, heavy metal, Goth, or the old apostate music with unscriptural words from the non-spirit-filled. However, if a person is religiously educated against it they would not feel good about it. I was that way when I was of the denominational mind in the first year of my Christian walk but I overcame it later when I saw the results of different kinds of good Christian music in people.

Some insist that the old hymns are the only ones that are anointed. The Psalms were not scripted music. They were done as given by the Spirit of God. Where does that leave a lot of old hymns that don't edify the brethren and have a lot of unscriptural lyrics? Had you listened to the Psalms before they were considered a part of God's Word, you might have thought the musical expression was not to your tastes too. Taste has nothing to do with anointing. The touch of ones heart to God has to do with that.

In different parts of the world the musical expression is very different but if you told them that it wasn't anointed for them because it was different, you would be wrong. We have to be careful not to create God in our own image. We can't conform Him or His widely different people to our own tastes because we insist that what touches us is anointed.

We must be careful not to judge others according to our own learned preferences. Human spirits are formed by what we hear, read and think on. That is why we must be careful what kind of religious, legalistic, criticism we let in. Personal tastes which are formed by these religious teachings can cause us to criticize others and try to put them under our own law and tastes. If the music edifies the brethren and causes them to think on the Word of God and draws them closer to Him, then it has accomplished its purpose.

Listen to the words of the old favorites and by in large you find them very unscriptural. I personally like songs with Bible verses in them. They edify and you remember the verses well that way. If you travel the world you will find all kinds of praise to God because the music pleases the people according to their differing tastes. God created music for us to be able to be caught up in worshipping Him. It is easy to sit in one part of the world and criticize someone else's tastes. That is what denominationalism is all about but we have to come out from among them and be separate and be one with our brethren. Most of the criticism we hear concerning music these days is just musical sectarianism or musical denominationalism.

As we permit people to grow in the Lord at their own rate, so we must permit some to express themselves, as long as it is scriptural; the critics give lots of opinion but no verse that fits. Paul said that we are to "learn not to go beyond the things that are written" {1Co.4:6}. God gives us this kind of advice concerning allowing a brother to grow in the doctrine of Scripture without being judged, so where does that leave someone who insists on their opinion without any Scripture. {Rom.14:1} But him that is weak in faith receive ye, [yet] not for decision of scruples. {2} One man hath faith to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs. {3} Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. {4} Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand. {5} One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. ... {14} I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. The opposite of this advice is sectarianism which will cause you to judge your brother and be driven from him. That is what these spirits do to divide. Seek peace and unity, brethren.

God be with you.

Controversy! History of Christian Music
Pastor Bob (not Heffle of Spirit 1)

Many see this as a new problem to the church and blame it on the worldliness of the 'young' people or the fact that the 'old' people are totally out of touch with reality. The debate on just how contemporary music should be in the church is an age old one which keeps recurring. The problem is that we have not learned from our past. Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (Miller, 119). This, I believe, is the foundation of our current contemporary Christian music debate in our churches.

It is the intent of this paper to show that this is not a new problem. I will do this by surveying the history of church music and by examining the beliefs and practices of the key figures in each period.

The Medieval Period

Gregory I laid the foundation for the enlargement of the use of music in the church. He developed the Gregorian Chant which modified the scales and all voices sang in unison. All musical instruments were banned during this time and only men were allowed to sing in worship.

During the end of the 14th and 15th centuries the professionalism of church music developed to a much greater extent. Only professional choirs sang in the churches' worship services and the common folk were extremely limited in what musical participation they had. This contributed to their desire to sing religious music outside the church. During this period the development of the secular Folk Song was prominent among the commoners both Christian and pagan. So, taking their example from the 12th century troubadours men like Francis of Assisi wrote simple songs of devotion and praise and these sprang up as important parts of the religious life of the common Italian people. (McElrath, 147). Even back in the Middle Ages, there was the need for the people to sing religious songs in ways that were familiar to them. Again, this is not unlike the situation today.

The Reformation

In some senses the Reformation was not only one of theological reform but also of musical freedom. This musical reformation began with John Huss (1373-1415). He opposed all polyphonic and instrumental music and only would support the singing of devotional and simple songs in unison. He stated that unison makes all men equal in worship. (McElrath, 151) I believe Huss took a step forward in the use of popular songs for the common people, but by rejecting the use of polyphony and instrumental music he took a step backward in music's overall influence on the church. The Bohemians, Moravians and followers of Huss put such an emphasis on popular praise in music that in 1504 a hymnbook was published for use by the common people.

Luther, however, took a position of adapting the use of popular, secular tunes with the truth of Scripture. He also believed that there was room in the church service for the use of instruments, especially the organ, polyphonic choir singing as well as congregational singing in the vernacular. (Norman,) Luther said, 'To win popularity a song must be in the most simple and common language'. (Miller, 113) Luther got his inspiration for his music from the popular German ballads of his day. The tunes were borrowed from German folk songs. (Leupold,196) Luther was not so concerned with the associations or origins of the tunes as he was with their ability to communicate Biblical truth. (Miller, 113) Luther went as far as to say ' The devil has no need of all the good tunes for himself'. He further stated that 'For the youth's sake we must read, sing, preach, write and compose verse, and whenever it was helpful and beneficial I would let all the bells peal, all the organs thunder and everything sound that could sound'. (Miller, 114) Luther cared only to communicate biblical truth and to set hearts on fire for the Lord. Is this not the cry of those who support the use of a variety of instruments as well as musical styles in church today?

Others did not agree with Luther. Zwingli reacted against the use of any instruments that had association with the Catholic church. Calvin went even farther in his opposition to Luther's 'liberal' use of music in worship. Calvin felt that instruments were only tolerated in the Old Testament because the people of God were only infants then. He opposed the use of instruments and the singing in parts. He also eliminated any lyric not found in Scripture. He allowed only the singing of the Psalms in worship

Two strands of church music, that which is 'sacred' resulted from the reformation: Germany followed Luther in the singing of hymns and the use of instruments while England and Scotland followed Calvin's psalm only singing with out instruments. John Bunyan's attempt to introduce hymn singing into his church resulted in a split and at his death in 1691 the church finally agreed to compromise. Those who opposed to hymn singing could either sit in the vestibule or sit quietly through it until that part of the service was done. (kind of like what happens today during the choruses singing.)

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) returned from church and complained to his father that the Psalm singing was boring. His father challenged him to compose something better. And did he ever! He wrote over 750 hymns and psalms and had such an impact and influence on hymnology that he is called the 'Father of English Hymnody'. (Miller, 120-121) Watts advocated the use of hymns of human composure as opposed to Calvin's strict 'Scripture only' position.

Watts was not so readily accepted. There were those who thought he was placing his own human words above the Word of God. There were also those who felt poetry used in any sense was evil as it aroused the sensual pleasures of man and was too worldly to be used in church. Churches split, pastors were thrown out of their churches and many people were enraged over Watts hymns and their use in the church.

The funny part of all this was that even though the acceptance of Watts hymns was slow, it did happen. When hymn singing was fully embraced by the church in Europe as well as in the US, tradition set in and no other type of song should be sung in the churches but Watts hymns. It seems Santayana was correct once again.

The Wesleyan Revival

John Wesley was the spiritual father of Methodism. He preached about having a vibrant and exciting relationship with Jesus Christ. He was evangelistic and highly energetic in his preaching. His brother Charles was the musician in the family. His hymns were influenced theologically by John's Arminianism and the Anglican's churches freedom of accepting new musical and worship styles.

In relation to the Psalm singing of the old Puritan tunes, the music of Charles Wesley was considered 'pop' . Wesley's music is tuneful, with dance like melodies which were often taken from improvisatory instrumental music. (McElrath, 157) Much of his music had secular origins and influences. He adopted new melodies from the popular opera and English folk melodies. (Miller, 125) Wesley had no problems mixing the secular and sacred when it came to writing songs to communicate a biblical message.

Gospel Songs of the 19th Century

The gospel songs of the 19th century had it's beginnings in the revivalist camp meetings in rural America. The camp meeting songs were characterized by phrase repetition and choruses. (Eskew, 171) The term gospel hymn or song was popularized by the Moody-Sankey revivals in 1875 in England. D.L. Moody had been called the greatest evangelist in the 19th century and he believed that singing played a vital role in evangelism. He said: "If you have singing that reaches the heart, it will fill the church every time...Music and song have not only accompanied all scriptural revivals, but are essential in deepening the spiritual life. Singing does at least as much as preaching to impress the Word of God upon people's minds. Ever since God first called me, the importance of praise expressed in song has grown upon me".

Moody realized that he needed something new as the rural camp songs would not reach the urban people he was targeting. So he found Sankey. Moody and Sankey clothed sacred songs in a style that was indistinguishable from popular tunes. They found that this enhanced the power of their ministry.

Again, not all were impressed with Moody and Sankey. The Scots were deeply entrenched in the Psalm singing of Calvin and had even rejected the wonderful hymn writing of their own Horatius Bonar. The Scots considered organ music to be of the devil. Someone once said that if Moody kept singing songs like he was doing, pretty soon he would have the people dancing. (Miller, 133) In the end, the music of Moody and Sankey was to have a incredible influence on the revival in Scotland and England.

The Salvation Army and William Booth

William Booth (1829-1912) had a burden to reach the common people of England who were not churched. He resigned his position as a Methodist minister and began to work among the poor in London. His work eventually became known as the Salvation Army. Unique to Booth's music was his use of a wide variety of instruments: violins, viola, concertives, brass instruments, drums and anything that would make a pleasant sound before the Lord.

Salvationists brought their instruments together and formed Hallelujah Bands' Not unlike the 'Praise Bands' today. Most of the people he wanted to reached, the unchurched, didn't know the church tunes popular at his day. So he took tunes from the local music halls. He used secular tunes and added Christian words. Booth wanted songs that were simple and in the language of the people. Songs that would stick in the minds of the people when they left his meetings. He saw thousands saved who never had never stepped foot in a traditional church.

Again, however, not all saw these innovations as positive. Many Victorian clergymen, the press and local officials saw this type of music as offensive and distasteful. Others felt that the secular tunes would remind the people of the secular words and lead them to sin. This didn't happen and the songs caught on like wildfire. Booth made this charge to his soldiers in the band: 'Music has a divine effect upon divinely influenced and directed souls. Music is to the soul what wind is to the ship, blowing her onwards in the direction in which she is steered...Not allowed to sing that tune or this tune? Indeed! Secular music, do you say? Belongs to the devil does it? Well, if it did, I would plunder him of it, for he has no right to a single note of the whole gamut. He's a thief!...Every note and every strain and every harmony is divine, and belongs to us...So now and for all time consecrate your voices and your instruments. Bring out your harps and organs and flutes and violins and pianos and drums and everything else than can make melody! Offer them to God and use them to make all hearts about you merry before the Lord'. (Miller, 136-137)

Contemporary Society

The late 1960's saw the beginning of the Jesus Movement in the US. This movement saw the antiestablishment of the culture seeping into the church. With this came the need for a new music style was free from the tradition of the established church. Music that was more experiential and subjective and that was concerned with expressing how the individual felt in his relationship with God was what was being sung during this time. Most in the tradition church thought it a fad but they were mistaken.

It has not only lasted but that grown and matured to the contemporary Christian music we have today. And the traditional church is still fighting against it. Some see it as a fresh moving of the Holy Spirit while others see contemporary Christian music as a blatant compromise with the world. Not unlike what we have experienced throughout the history of the church.

Those in favor and support of this movement see churches utilizing this musical format as the fastest growing segment of the church today. They see innovative pastors utilize contemporary Christian music in their worship services, youth services and evangelistic outreaches all with great success. In fact, even Billy Graham has utilized Christian pop singers in his crusades.

Opponents say that what appears good on the surface is a thinly veiled disguise of Satan trying to weaken the structure of the church. It shows the total lack of discernment and an embrace of all that's worldly by the church at large. They want a return to the traditional pattern of church hymnody Personally, I would like to ask = them which traditional pattern of hymnody are they talking about, but that is another matter.


It has not been the intent of this paper to come up with an answer to the contemporary Christian music problem. It has been my intent, however, to make people aware that this debate has gone on for centuries. I hope to have shown both sides of the issue, that there seems to be a pattern that develops:

  1. Separation: One form of music gets firmly entrenched in the church.

  2. Integration: Bold, creative innovators who are convinced that the old forms are outdated and not meeting the peoples needs come up with new forms of music that are culturally relevant to the common people.

  3. Conflict: At this point, there is a charge from the traditionalists that this new form of music is contaminated by the world and is a compromise to it.

  4. Renewal: Although music is not the only force in the change, it is a strong and powerful one. This part sees the acceptance of the new music and the church music is finally once again in the language and style of the common people.

  5. Traditionalized: The music which was once new and fresh becomes standard and traditional and put in the hymnbook and is now considered sacred. During this time the popular style of the people is rapidly changing and the pattern reverts back to step #1. The cycle begins again.

We need to learn from history so that we will not continue to repeat it. The church is in the world and therefore it's message must be culturally relevant. We removed the old English from the King James, we removed Latin from the service, yet we are tied down by the weight of traditional hymnody.

We need to be like William Booth and reclaim music for the Church! We need to be like Luther and say that the devil should not have all the good tunes!

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