Secular Music and Culture in the Church

Secular music in the church, is there a place for it? How about as part of the “worship” experience?

If a church plays one secular song to illustrate a point in the message or to kick off a service i.e., (www.newspring.cc), is that heretical? Is that “watering down” the gospel or becoming a “shallow church.” 
What about the topic of engaging culture to reach some for Christ? Is it right to engage the culture or are we supposed to be separate and against culture? 
First, Yes, there is a place for secular music in the church: Someone may ask, “Where’s the biblical basis for such an act?” 
Let’s start with Acts 17:28, “For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.(We could also go to Numbers 21 and other Scripture but that’s for another time). Here the Apostle Paul quotes a popular secular poet to illustrate a point.  Why did Paul do that? How could he? Why did he feel he needed to do that? It’s clear to me that Paul was speaking to a NON-Christian audience. He was engaging their culture for the purpose of opening their ears and hearts to receive the message of Jesus Christ.
Today’s secular poets are the musicians of the world. They pull and tug at hearts of people by the music they write and play. They have tremendous influence. I’d put a lot of money on it that you listened to some secular music today. No one can deny the power of today’s secular music. It is as powerful and alluring as the old poets Paul spoke of.
Why didn’t Paul just “Preach The Word!?” 
Because Paul knew how to engage culture to open up hearts and minds for the life changing message of Jesus Christ so he could MORE EFFECTIVELY preach the Word! That’s why more churches should do the same. To more effectively preach the Word. Not play a song to just play a secular song, but with purpose it’s a powerful tool!
Paul said, 1 Cor 9:20 “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 
1 Cor 9:21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 
1 Cor 9:22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 
1 Cor 9:23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. “

Don’t misconstrue what Paul is saying, he is not saying he did all that to be “cool” or to be “flashy” or to “water down” the gospel or for the sake of “easy believism”. He did all that FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL. He engaged culture where appropriate for the very purpose of the gospel! This is where so many pastors and churched people miss it in my opinion. Many churches are into building walls and keeping culture out…make no mistake James tells us we are not to be polluted by the world (James 1:27). We should use culture not be used by it.

Paul’s example is to engage culture for the purpose of WINNING SOME TO CHRIST. If that means we play a secular song to engage non-Christians and get their attention in order to do as Paul did and share the good news of Jesus Christ more effectively then we will do it. We will follow the example of the greatest soul winner next to Jesus and become all things to all people in order to save some.

Here’s how I see it. Paul refrained from using his Christian freedom in order to “serve” the culture in order to save some. He could’ve said, “I’m a Christian, culture is bad, I don’t want to be polluted by it, I better make no reference to it and keep it separated because these people will see no difference in me. I can’t ‘stoop down’ to their level I must show them a different way by being totally and utterly different.”

My guess is some of you reading this say, “Exactly!” But, you’re wrong. How do I know? Because that’s not what Paul did. The same guy that engaged culture and quoted poets is the same guy who said we should be holy, sanctified (set apart), ready for God’s use. Wait a minute, sanctified means set apart so there you go, we should not be doing anything with the culture right? Wrong! Sanctified means set apart FOR GOD. Not set apart to be set apart. It means set apart for God’s service. For His use. That is what Paul was, sanctified and as a sanctified Christian Paul quoted secular poets in order to save some. He was being used by God to reach into culture while still being sanctified.

Too many churches are of the “us four and no more” mentality. Holy Huddles It seems they say, “We have the good news, we’re in, we’re ‘elect’ and we’re sitting on this until you come to us and engage our “christianese culture”. Then when you’ve understood the 5 points of Calvinism and you are an “elect” one you may enter with the secret handshake (a.k.a ‘right hand of fellowship’). Most people would say today, “sounds like a cult to me.” And we wonder why American churches are declining and why pastors are hitting the “eject” button from their churches….lately, some very prominent ones. My opinion is because churched people are not interested in reaching out very much. They’re very comfortable being Christians (if that can be said of one who does not reach out) and ignoring Matt. 28:19 and the Great Commission….which says paraphrased (Go get ’em!). This discourages pastors and they fail to keep the foot on the gas pedal of outreach and before long they are preaching to the choir and singing a sad song.

When I read the gospels it is clear Jesus was on the move. He didn’t just sit in a synagogue and exposit Scripture and wait for the “elect” to come to him. He went out after them. He got out into the culture and was with the culture, “a friend of sinners.” Accused of being a “drunkard, hanging out with the ‘cultural crowd.” Was Jesus “watering down” the message? Was He being “shallow” by being with those “riff raff?” Jesus was all about reaching out.

When Jesus was with the woman at the well He didn’t yell, “Unclean, Unclean” even though as a Jewish Rabbi and according to the “church code” He should have. He met her right where she was and explained who He was. When Jesus was with the woman caught in adultery He didn’t yell “Unclean, Unclean” even though as a “Pastor” He should have. Or, when Jesus healed a Roman Centurion’s servant…a betrayal to the Jewish “churched” crowd– healing the servant of a Roman occupier, an oppressor of our “churched culture” how could this Jesus do such a thing? Jesus didn’t yell “Unclean, Unclean” at this Roman Centurion. He healed his servant.

Jesus wasn’t into building walls and keeping culture out. He was into building bridges and opening the hearts of the culture he lived in. My hope is for more churches that can do the same. Not churches that when a secular song is played people yell, “Unclean, Unclean” but a church focused on a Jesus ministry, reaching the lost, engaging culture like Christ and like Paul all for the purpose of saving some.

Some may say, “What about Discipleship?” What about “Lordship?”  That’s next, after engaging them the work of discipleship begins. There is a huge cost that I look forward to writing about next.