Below is an email response I recently sent to someone who was concerned about our playing Johnny Cash (and other “secular” music) during our greeting song. I hope you find my response gracious, but I’m sharing it with all of you because I hope you find it helpful…
My name is Amos Groenendyk, I’m one of the pastors at Heartland Vineyard Church and the one who picks the music for the greeting song.
I appreciate deeply your desire to bring glory to God! I think that’s our primary purpose in life, and God’s intention for all creation! I’d love to talk about this more sometime in person if you want to discuss it further. Emails can be easily misunderstood, and I don’t mean to offend you in anything I’m saying.
I’m not sure that we will agree on this at the end of the day, but I do acknowledge that there is room for disagreement. And I hope this issue doesn’t become one that causes division in the church (like so many other issues can) or causes you ongoing frustration. The Vineyard, in particular, is both beautiful and messy because we allow for so much theological disagreement. Our statement of faith is very broad and so we find people with everything from Baptist to Pentecostal to Catholic backgrounds in our church.
In fact, what you bring up is an age old debate in the church that goes back at least 1800 years (and probably even back to the letters of Paul). The primary questions being “what are the lines between what we would label Christian and secular music? Or are there lines?” “Can only art with Christian themes bring God glory?” Or more broadly: “Can only activities like praying, going to church, and reading the bible be done as worship?” For instance, after the reformation some Protestants were building churches with elaborate stained glass, others were knocking out stained glass and replacing them with plain windows because they believed that only the cross should be on display. In 1750 some Protestants would only sing songs out of the Bible (Psalms) others were writing new hymns based on bar tunes (like John Wesley).
I grew up in a house that only listened to “Christian” music. We only went to “Christian” concerts. And I was pretty judgmental of people who listened to what I called “secular” music. My views have since changed.
I now believe that nearly everything is redeemable and almost everything (that’s not sin) can be done in worship. I’ve also come to realize that most of the labels I put on Christian/Secular were my own religious attempts to make myself feel superior to others (without mincing words, I was a self-righteousness Christian hypocrite).
Perhaps one of the strongest indications in the Bible of God’s intent for all of creation (including human creations that you wouldn’t otherwise think of as “holy”) is in Zechariah 14:20:
“On that day HOLY TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar.”
While this describes the New Jerusalem, in the Vineyard we believe that the Kingdom of God (which the Bible talks about symbolically as the New Jerusalem) is breaking into the present. In fact, you might say that one of our tasks as Christians is to claim new ground for the Kingdom.
But you find the same theme laced throughout the Bible. In Genesis 1, God commands Adam and Eve to “fill” the earth. You see in subsequent chapters the development of culture, agriculture, etc. It seems God meant more than children. Then in Psalm 24 it says “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there-of.” In other words, it all belongs to God…even the culture, music, and ALL other human contribution.
In Colossians 3:23, Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Implying that worship can (and should be) done in whatever we do. Whether it’s hoeing a garden, riding a bike, or writing a song. (Not just tilling a “Christian” garden, riding a “Christian” bike, or writing a “Christian” song).
This doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for a Christian to listen to/watch anything she/he wants. It requires incredible discernment, especially in a world that continuously perverts so much of what God intends for good (sex, money, power). Paul says, “While everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial.” We need the Holy Spirit in this!
I try to practice this discernment myself, especially for what gets played on a Sunday. I avoid songs about sex, drugs, and violence.
I’m only scratching the surface; this is a really complicated issue. I have two primary motives in choosing the type of songs I do.
1) Evangelistic: when visitors hear songs they know (and wouldn’t expect us to play in church) it brings their guard down…and hopefully does a little bit to reverse their perceptions of Christians that we are judgmental, closed-minded, and hate fun. A significant value of the Vineyard is that we are committed to “culturally relevant mission” or in other words “missionally minded.” This reflects our value.
2) Playing secular music is not just a concession for me, it is an exclamation: God lives outside the Christian bubble! What is good and beautiful and glorifying to him is not limited to what can be bought at a Christian book store, listened to on Christian radio, or experienced in a liturgical church service. In particular, I believe what happens during these songs (that create a particular kind of atmosphere) is worship. We have God’s people going around giving hugs, talking like friends, enjoying each other! I think God looks down with pleasure when he sees this happening!
I apologize, that’s a lot coming at you. At the end of the day, I’m not going to tell anyone they should listen to “secular” radio, but I would suggest that it’s a matter of personal conscience and requires discernment and wisdom. Concerning Sunday morning, I’m doing my best to insure that the particular songs do not pervert, but rather celebrate the things God deems good/beautiful. Or…in some cases, lament the things that he laments (as you find in the Psalms).