I recently read two very well-written posts by Joe Foreman of Switchfoot and Michael Gungor. Both articulated two viewpoints on the the often debated, and perhaps more often misunderstood, topic of Christian music today. In this series of posts, I've decided to throw my hat into the ring. Though I largely agree with both posts, my view on the subject may differ from theirs. My opinions on the subject are based on my own experiences in the industry, my theological views on worship, and my understanding of music based on my studies.
As a disclaimer, before I dive in I feel it is important for me to say that it seems to me that American Christendom has seemed to have lost the ability to agree to disagree without divisiveness springing forward. My opinions may strike some of my readers the wrong way. That is okay. Though I feel I have a strong basis for what I believe, you may possess an equally strong basis to the contrary. Our faith is based on just that... faith. Faith in God and faith in His Word is, in my opinion, an absolute pre-requisite for discipleship of Christ. That said, we are provided with an inerrant Word that is often interpreted in different ways when it comes to certain topics. And make no mistake about it, there are few topics that have caused more division in the Church throughout its history than music. So, have faith in Christ, a faith that can still achieve the kind of Unity Christ prayed for in John 17:23 even though we may not agree on every single topic in Scripture.
Sacred vs. Secular
On the topic of sacred vs. secular, one of the first questions that pops to my mind is, "What defines a song as one or the other?" Is a song sacred if it invokes the name of Jesus? If so, then Amazing Grace is a secular song. Is it a song that is written expressly for corporate singing in worship services? If so, then many of the songs in your church's hymnals (if your church even still has one) are secular. So, what is the defining factor?
Allow me to submit that there is not one. No song is sacred. To place a song in that place is to elevate it to a status that it was never meant to achieve. Songs are a medium, a vessel, nothing more, nothing less. Every song written from the beginning of time is a tool meant for a specific task. Some are intended for entertainment, others are meant for advertising, others are propaganda, still others are meant to instruct or expand a set of beliefs. "Worship music" or "praise and worship music" as it was once called is a specific medium or vessel. In my opinion, worship of Jesus Christ in the form of music is simply a prayer penned by a human in need of a Savior. We writers are fallible, one and all, and our songs are a simple means of expressing our adoration, thankfulness, repentance, or requests in a way that others can use as a launching pad for their own conversation with God. When viewed this way, the "worship song" is simply a means to an end with the "end" being the worship of and communion with God.
So, what exactly, is "sacred"? In my search for understanding I went as far as to pull out an actual dictionary... tiny print and real paper, no less! According to Webster's New Dictionary sacred means: