The Music Exchange

Musical evangelism?

One of the things I enjoy most about the question time at the London Music Ministry Conference is that I get some ideas for the next Music Exchange.

One question asked whether it was ever legitimate to use music in evangelism. The answer was (and is) an emphatic ‘yes’, but the one who answered was very careful to say that music can only be used evangelistically if it is accompanying a proclamation of the gospel. If there’s no gospel, there’s no evangelism.

If music is just used on its own, it cannot tell us anything of the good news about Jesus, even if we give a flawless performance. We may wonder at the beauty of God’s creation, which may tell us something of the nature of God, but all this does is give us no excuse for suppressing the truth (Romans 1). Music in itself can’t tell us of the solution to the problem of the wrath of God against those who suppress that truth. There’s a composer called J.A.C. Redford, who I’ve quoted before on this. He said: ‘While music is a wonderful gift, it makes a very poor god. It can sing of redemption, but it can’t provide it’.

Of course, the argument is that not every Christian song tells of the solution to the problem of sin, but then it would be hard to call those truth-less songs evangelistic. Evangelism needs two things: the gospel clearly taught and non-believers. It’s easy to kid ourselves that if we put on a music evening — e.g. a band night or a classical concert — the event is evangelistic. If there’s no gospel content, it’s just a concert or a gig. Much better to leave those events to the professionals in the music business. But if there is some spoken or sung content that is clear about the Lord Jesus, then get inviting unbelievers! That’s our business.

Regular church services

The best method of using music in evangelism is in our regular church meetings, because it’s in those meetings that non-believers hear us speak and sing about Jesus as we live out the gospel together. This means that we need to be singing truth-full songs, which always have a careful eye out for the unbeliever. Then we’re using music evangelistically.

This led us on to another question about how we deal with disagreements over the theology of songs. This is a tough question, because as evangelicals we don’t often sing obvious heresy. However, most of our songs aren’t direct quotations from Scripture, so we tend to sing the words written by imperfect people rather than by the perfect God.

Words of songs

This means that if we disagree with the theology of a song, we’re actually arguing about what we think the author of a song means rather than the actual theology itself. For instance, some aren’t happy about singing ‘Oh to see the dawn’ because they think that there is an unhealthy focus on the physical wounds of Jesus. Others aren’t happy singing about the idea of Jesus descending to hell in ‘You’re the Lion of Judah’. This is always one of the dangers of poetic licence — it means that we end up interpreting an interpretation. So, most arguments about the words of songs are futile, and are often very damaging, especially as arguments about songs can be more highly charged than discussions on pure theology.

The important thing, therefore, is not that we disagree, but how we disagree. We need to respect others’ differences of opinion on these matters, especially if their conscience is challenged by a particular line of a song. If you struggle with a line of a song, it’s fine not to sing it. However, it’s also important not to assume that everyone else is a heretic if they do sing it!

If there are unbelievers in our midst they need not only to be singing songs full of the truth about Jesus, but they also need to see brothers and sisters serving each other in humility and grace, whether they agree or disagree with each other.

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.