by Leke Alder
The foregoing leads us to the tendentious issue of whether a Christian can even do “secular” music. Must a Christian sing only gospel? Should a Christian perform only “Christian” songs – “songs that glorify God and edify his people”?
Truth is, many of these artistes being young are merely dealing with the challenges of growth and maturation – a rite of passage into adulthood. They get into experimentations, like we all did and do. Only theirs is amplified because they’re in public glare. And then there are the challenges of fame itself. Fame is lonesome and it has major consequences. If not well managed it generates distortions. Michael Jackson for example had an identity crisis. He seemed lost and searching for meaning and purpose. He suffered from anguish of soul. In seeking to ameliorate loneliness some resort to booze, drugs and sex. And we seem to accept these excesses as part of the package. They’re stars after all, they can do no wrong. Thus we are complicit in that which we condemn.
It is hard to minister to those you condemn. Yet Christ died for all. There ought to be specialized ministry to stars, those in the public glare and those battling with fame. If we can have specialized fellowships for over-40s, widows, singles and executives why not one for the stars! They need a confidential system. They need a spiritual figure they can confide in, someone who’s not judgmental. They need to be able to talk about their fears, their challenges, their struggles, without feeling condemned. And they need to know their secrets are safe. Perhaps our pastors should consider such mentoring programs.
Many of the great musical talents started out in church. Many were in the choir. Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Tonex, Beyoncé, Fantasia, Chris Brown, Usher, Jessica Simpson, Diana Ross, R. Kelly, Kate Perry, John Legend, Aretha Franklin, Avril Lavigne, Faith Evans, Anthony Hamilton, Brandy, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Price, Little Richard, D Banj, Waje, Banky W, MI, Faze, Chidinma, Praiz, J. Martins, Tiwa Savage, P-Square, Sheyi Shay, Harry Song, Don Jazzy, Flavor, Masterkraft, Yemi Alade, Selebobo, Wizkid, Jesse Jagz, Wande Coal, Korede Bello… They all had their roots in church. Incidentally Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was the son of a reverend gentleman – Rev. Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti.
Now, here’s the irony. The Church discovers the talents but abandons the talents as they make way through the world. Satan then moves into the space abdicated by the Church and he soon destroys many employing concupiscence and other vices. He even introduces some to Satanism. And when he has wasted these young lives he sends their corpses back to church for burial!
The controversy over secular or non-secular music is so unnecessary. There are three genres of music introduced in scriptures – music focused on God (what we now call Gospel), martial music and social music. Martial music was employed by the army in the time of war. The psalms are God focused, and even when they talk about human troubles, struggles and inadequacies they still end up appealing to God. The end-all-and-be-all of the Psalms is God. The psalms are what we’ll call rap today. They even followed the production pattern of today’s rap music. After David had written the lyrics he’d call a producer – the “Chief Musician” who set the words to music. One such producer was Jeduthun aka Ethan (see opening notes of Psalm 39). David did all classes of music – worship, dance and instrumentals. He used to play soothing instrumentals for King Saul’s depression.
But then we have the musical compositions of Solomon too. He was a second-generation musician, philosopher and poet – kind of like an ancient Bob Dylan. He inherited his father’s lyrical skills. He wrote the Song of Solomon popularly known as Song of Songs. It’s a matrimonial love song, a bit explicit actually – “You’re so beautiful my darling, so beautiful, and your dove eyes are veiled by your hair as it flows and shimmers… Your smile is generous and full, expressive and strong and clean. Your lips are jewel red, your mouth elegant and inviting… The smooth, lithe lines of your neck command notice – all heads turn in awe and admiration! Your breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle, grazing among the first spring flowers” (SS. 4:1-5). Imagine a Christian artiste writing these lyrics today…
Of course the Song of Songs has figurative application. It can be used to illustrate the love of Christ for his bride, the Church. But the truth is, when Solomon wrote the song he had no figurativeness in mind. He just wrote a love song. He wrote it as a man, a mere man. He didn’t know, and couldn’t have known that the Church would emerge centuries down the line. The Church was God’s secret. It is an intercalation. Solomon didn’t write with the Church in view. It’s almost as if God is telling us, it’s okay to be human, to have feelings, to have emotions… And it’s okay to write about those feelings and put them in song. God is not against emotional expression in song.
Some of course would rather expunge Song of Songs from the Bible if they had their way. They struggle with it morally and try to explain it away, as if the language is not plain enough. When we try to morally sanitise the Word of God we run into absurdities of reinterpretation. God is the sanctifier. He is Jehovah Mekaddishkem – the God who sanctifies. Who will sanctify the words of the Sanctifier?
The Song of Songs is unlike any other book in scriptures, but it’s in the Bible. God put it there. It is one of the “practical” books, like Proverbs (another Solomon output) and the Book of Job which talks about trials; and the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is the philosophical musing of a human in a state of human-ness. It is replete with self second-guessing, frustrations and submission to the incomprehension of this animal called life. It highlights absurdities, like the man with no heir who keeps amassing wealth. To whom would he leave his wealth, Solomon wondered! In other words the Bible was written from two perspectives: there’s the perspective from above, and we find that in the prophets, the epistles and the like; and there is the perspective from below – the human dimension – Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Job. To the extent that both perspectives make up the Bible God is not against human expressiveness. Therefore in the tradition of the Psalms, a Christian artiste can sing gospel music. In the tradition of the Song of Songs he can sing about love, feelings and emotions. In the tradition of Proverbs, he can lace his songs with practical wisdom. And in the tradition of Ecclesiastes, he can philosophize in song, like Bob Dylan, or the man in black, the late Johnny Cash. And in the tradition of Job he can write about pain, suffering, difficulties and trials. And in the tradition of Heman and Jeduthun he can prophesy through song.
To imagine that a Christian can only do “gospel” is our self-imposed limitation. It is not backed by scriptures. Yes, Paul enjoins us to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and making melody in our hearts to God (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), but that is not an exclusive list. Try and imagine a man proposing to a woman and singing a chorus!
Now here’s another truth. Lucifer didn’t invent music, God did. Nowhere in scriptures is Lucifer credited with invention of music. Lucifer perverts music, just as he perverts everything else. He’s an unrepentant pervert. His corporate mission is to kill, to steal and to destroy (John 10:10). Music is not the problem. Perversion is the problem.
But what about the nudity in music videos and the explicit lyrics of some songs? Isn’t that the bane and essence of secular music, you ask? But there are many secular musicians who don’t do explicit lyrics, and they’re successful. Just like there are many people who don’t use four-letter words and are successful; just like there are many actors who don’t do nude scenes, and they’re successful, like Denzel Washington. It’s the personal choice of the musician what he wants to sing about. To then use someone’s explicitness to tar “secular” music in general is a rather illogical and desperate attempt to permute a conviction. There are many clean rap songs. And there are music without words. Think instrumentals and instrumental jazz. Doesn’t jazz belong to the “secular” spectrum? Can a Christian do jazz? If yes, our argument against secular music is inconsistent. And how do we classify music set to movies? Aren’t they secular? Yet Christians watch movies and listen to those music. How about classical music? Handel’s Messiah instrumentals? Is it gospel or secular? And what about the national anthem? Isn’t it “secular” music? It’s not gospel, yet it’s sung in churches. Now you see the absurdities of isolationism emerging.
This is not saying a Christian artiste can’t devote himself to gospel music. It’s his choice. And gospel has its place and role. If an artiste is naturally disposed to gospel or that’s what God has asked him or her to do, let him do it and let her do it. But those are proprietary decisions. They should not be extended into collective ethos.
Culture is a powerful thing. It has a huge leverage on society. Culture is zeitgeist. It is the general beliefs, ideas, and spirit of a time and place. Culture is highly propagated through media. When the Church abdicates the culturo-media space, we might as well pack our bags and go to yonder place. A Church that abdicates cultural influence is well nigh on its way to irrelevance and generational obsolescence. The Church needs to learn to manage talent. Perhaps it’s time to consider setting up a professionally managed and independent talent agency, lest we continue to lose our brilliant talents to Satan’s agenda, or keep tormenting our young ones with manufactured guilt.
It’s time we lay the debate over secular/gospel music to rest. It’s a storm in a teacup after all.
© Leke Alder | [email protected]
Leke Alder is a strategy, branding & policy consultant and is the Principal of Alder Consulting. He is the author of the popular Jack&Jil and Illuminare series on Twitter. He tweets at @LekeAlder.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.