Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on May 9, 2016 and has been revised.
My wife and I accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior in 1983 and we began attending an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church in our town shortly afterwards. The church somewhat followed the Jerry Falwell/Thomas Road Baptist Church and John R. Rice/Sword of the Lord models of Baptist fundamentalism for those of you who can remember back that far. In other words, the church wasn’t as extreme as those in the Bob Jones III or Peter Ruckman fundamentalist camps, but it was nowhere near as liberal as the compromising “New Evangelical” churches that were also sprouting up. If none of those names mean anything to you then you definitely missed Christian fundamentalism in the 1980s.
We grew in the Lord to a degree at that IFB church, but there were also many things that were preached from the pulpit that didn’t seem to me to be in accordance with God’s Word. The messages were often VERY heavy into legalism, politics, and supporting the culture battles to “reclaim America for Jesus.” After eight years of becoming increasingly agitated and uncomfortable, we decided we could no longer sit under the pastor’s preaching. I was so distraught about the church and Christianity in general that I walked away from the Lord for 23 years, just like the dumb prodigal son. But the Lord didn’t forsake me and I returned to Him in 2014.
When I returned to the Lord, I purposely wanted to avoid the fundamentalist church scene. We attended an SBC church for one year and we’ve been attending a non-denominational church for the last six months. But I’ve noticed a lot has changed in the church while I was away. It appears fundamentalism has been pretty much relegated to the fringes while the dreaded “New Evangelicalism” is in the driver’s seat. In fact, things seem to have become so loosey-goosey that what passes for evangelical Christianity these days often makes those old “New Evangelicals” look like Bob Jones-style fundamentalists.
Don’t get me wrong. Those IFB churches had some very good teaching, but they also got very tangled up in Pharisaism. Every once in a while I’d like to take a walk down memory lane with you and reminisce about some of our experiences at that IFB church in the 1980s. I recently shared a memory about a couple at the church who objected to pork meat shreds in their egg rolls. See here. Let’s continue this intermittent series by examining how our IFB church viewed rock music and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).
When we first joined the IFB church, one of the frequent messages from the pulpit was that all rock and roll music was of the devil. The incessant, hypnotic drum beat of rock and roll was linked to the frenzied, pagan rituals of African jungle tribes (sorry, but that was how it was described) and opened up the listener to demonic influences. And those lyrics! Talk about demonic! Rock music promoted the use of drugs, promiscuous sex, and even atheism. Before I accepted Jesus, I had accumulated around 300 rock and roll LPs. Yes, 300! But I couldn’t argue with the pastor. I knew very well that the lyrics of the songs on some of the albums promoted drug use and promiscuity. At the very least, I knew the worldview that was advocated on many of those records didn’t agree with the Bible. I dumped all of those albums in a large, commercial dumpster. All 300. Ach! That was hard! I loved my rock music.
In the early 80s, singer, Amy Grant, was becoming very popular with Christians in general and with a few of our church members in particular. Grant and other pioneering CCM artists were taking rock music and adding Christian-themed lyrics. Sure, the lyrics might have mentioned Jesus and God, but the hypnotic beat was said to be of the devil and opened up the listener to all kinds of dark forces. Well, our pastor caught wind that some of the membership was listening to Amy Grant and he didn’t go for that at all. The pastor saw the spread of rock music into the church as an insidious plot hatched in the very depths of hell. Amy Grant was evil incarnate or at least the pawn of Satan. The pastor proclaimed from the pulpit that Amy Grant was more evil and more dangerous than Adolf Hitler.
[Pause for effect.]
Yes, you read that correctly. The pastor actually proclaimed from the pulpit, with quite a bit of angry passion as I vividly recall, that Amy Grant was more evil and more dangerous than Adolf Hitler! I had liked one popular Amy Grant song at the time, “El Shaddai,” which I heard on a compilation cassette tape that another church member had put together for me, but I hadn’t bought any of her “demonic” albums. But was Amy Grant really more evil than Hitler? That kind of heavy-handed fundamentalist rhetoric from the pulpit really gnawed at me. Why couldn’t Christian artists use contemporary music to proclaim a Gospel message? Were songs with drums really Satanic? It was obvious some of the opposition to CCM music was because of generational and church-culture opposition to any kind of “rock” music.
Flash forward to 2016. Contemporary songs with drums and electric guitars are widely featured in the worship music of evangelical churches throughout America. Music with a rock beat is no longer viewed as innately evil by most Christians. Sure, there’s a lot of bad and even heretical CCM music out there, but there were also some bad and doctrinally questionable hymns in the old hymn books. Most Christians these days would react with a hearty guffaw if they heard a pastor compare Amy Grant to Hitler. Young Christians aren’t aware of the great drama that took place in churches over this music issue.
As in all things, Christians must be discerning. Yes, there’s a lot of secular music out there that is unabashedly anti-God and should be avoided by Christians. But some of it is simply innocuous. Labeling ALL music that uses drums, electric guitars, and contemporary melodies as Satanic would be viewed by most Christians today as a ridiculously anachronistic attitude, and rightly so, although I know there are some IFB churches that still teach exactly that.
Note of tragic irony from 2021: The pastor referred to above pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse in Pittsford Town Court on June 2, 2021. See here.