God Gave Rock and Roll to You

11 01 2010

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It was a rather informal gathering with John Schlitt and Bob Hartman, just two guys from Petra on vacation, doing some performances along the way.  Between songs, Schlitt told about an incident where some staunch Christian told Hartman that rock and roll is of the Devil.  During the telling, Hartman visibly wilted.  The thing happened years ago, and yet it still lingers painfully.  He didn’t have to say that it hurt him, because there was no hiding it.

“What’s wrong with getting excited about praising Jesus?” Hartman said, plaintively.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  Rock music may not be of the Devil, but discouragement certainly is.  Criticism comes easily.  Traveling the world to sing about God sounds glamorous, but it’s really just a lot of hard work and a huge inconvenience.  It means being away from home for months at a time, and only being at home just long enough to produce a new album and hit the road again.  The kind members of Petra gave so much to bring us encouragement through music.  In return, they were told that their contribution, their way of praising God, was of the Devil.  This was surely an undeserved cut.

I can imagine singing worship music in church and being told to stop because my worship was of the Devil.  What I might say in response could easily be of the Devil.  What right does any Christian have for blaspheming God in that way?

“As the Ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window.  And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.” (2 Samuel 6:16)

Now, not all music in the Christian rock genre is genuinely religious.  Some of it lacks anything even remotely related to the faith.  However, if that claim could be made against anyone, it certainly would not be Petra.  They were the forerunners of contemporary Christian music, revolutionizing the way we looked at worship, and their purpose was at once deeply reverent and thoroughly syncopated.  If this accusation could be leveled against them, then it could be leveled against anyone.  Clearly, the statement is a broad generalization not based in an objective assessment.  Either that, or the slander against God was intentional.

Is rock music worldly?

“…I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.  But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” (2 Samuel 6:22)

That Christian rock bands are held in high esteem by lowly teenagers or us ordinary folk is no reason that the typically religious among us should despise them.  They are not worldly for their choice in style.  Hymns were once the popular music style.  They were converted from old beer-drinking songs.  The tunes were the same, but the words were different.  Gregorian chants and even the music of the Old Testament were of the popular style of the time.  Style is nothing.  Some people figured out a new way to do music, and some people deemed it to be more advanced and more enjoyable.  Our elders heard it and plugged their ears.  Okay, so it isn’t for everyone.  That doesn’t make it evil.

The sense of evil is often a gut reaction rooted in nothing more than fear.  When has this fear ever been from God?  People fear change.  They fear the unfamiliar.  They even fear new technology.  When music changed, many Christians refused to change with it, and they even made their stubbornness a facet of their own doctrine.  It wasn’t enough to say that they were unaccustomed to it.  They had to make the outrageous claim that it was evil.  When technology marched onward, the Amish held to their old ways, fearful of the new.  They rejected mechanized agriculture.  They rejected the use of electricity.  It wasn’t enough that they were paralyzed by their fear of new ways, but they incorporated this fear into their faith, as though that fear were a tangible real problem and not just a matter of their own maladaptation.  We who saw the value in the new way of doing things are condemned as being worldly.

We need not fear anything but God.

We ought not condemn the ministry of others, unless it genuinely contradicts the law of our Lord.  I thank God for Christian rock.  I thank God for Petra.  I take joy in the day that such enthusiastic, energetic music entered my life and gave me encouragement when I was trapped between the head-splitting mundane church music and the nearly Satanic roar of secular rock.  When Christianity splits through the Iron Curtain, do we insist that the Chinese believers not worship in a pentatonic scale?  When Christianity breaks out in a revival in Africa, do we tell them to do away with their drums and dances, to stand still and sing the strophic verses written by people half a world away, long since dead and gone?  No, we should not.  Neither should we expect our own culture to worship according to someone else’s style.  Music is a language.  When we insist that the older style is more sacred, we force our church services to be held in an old, out-dated language.  We held our masses in Latin, a language that no one understands.  We rejected that dead practice long ago and for good reason.  If the faith is to grow and thrive, then it must be alive within us.  We must not be afraid to worship God in the purest, sincerest, rawest way.

We must worship God in our own language.  We must sing his praises like we mean it.  We must rebuke anyone who dares condemn us for honestly praising God.

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