Leke Alder: #TheMusicIssue – Can a Christian artiste sing secular songs? (Part 1)


by Leke Alder

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”?

A few days ago, there arose a Twitter storm of apocalyptic proportions over news that a young “secular” artiste was invited to sing during a church service. The young artiste is a Christian and the song performed was from his title album, God Win. One must assume that a song titled “God Win” sang in a church setting seemed most appropriate, but these are curious times.

There are many choruses that echo the same sentiment, some using exact same words yet there were a lot of issues raised. The very notion that a non-gospel artiste had been invited to “minister” in church consternated many. And not a few were peeved that the artiste in question performed from the “altar” – a most holy place. And how can an “entertainer” be invited to minister to “the people of God”, some wondered, with righteous and not so righteous indignation. Even the Pastor was not spared. What was his motivation? There was no shortage of opinion, aspersions and castigations. And there was no shortage of exegetes misquoting scriptures. Were Jesus on Earth he would have had to up his signature command of nature to calm the storm. He couldn’t do a reprise. This was no watery issue. But lurking somewhere in the sea was the leviathan of the fundamental challenge as to whether a Christian artiste can even do secular music. It’s not exactly a new issue. The Amy Grants of this world faced that same challenge in the 80s. It’s as if someone somewhere is instigating topical conundrum in generational cycles.

An analytical perusal of the issues however shows a confliction in knowledge on many levels. The idea for example that the “altar” is “sacred” betrays a mix-up in understanding between the concept of the temple in the New Testament and the concept of the temple in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament the temple was a building. It was basically partitioned into two parts – the Outer Court and the Tabernacle. The Outer Court contained the Table, Lampstand and Altar of Incense. The congregation could enter here. The Tabernacle was in turn divided into two parts by a heavy hanging curtain – the Holy Place in which only priests from the tribe of Levi could enter; and the Holy of Holies in which resided the Ark of the Covenant. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and he did so once a year, on Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement. The High Priest must make atonement for himself before he entered the Holy of Holies. He would die otherwise. The sacrifice was his life insurance policy. And since no one can enter the Holy of Holies to retrieve his body, tradition says a scarlet rope was tied on his ankle. Small bells were also sewed around the helm of his robe. A priest in the Holy Place tended to the other end of the rope. He would drag him out by the rope in case something went wrong. If the bells stopped jiggling the priest knew something was wrong. You served God with your life as High Priest.

But something curious happened when Jesus died on the cross. As soon as he gave up the ghost the Bible says the thick curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was ripped from top to bottom. Paul would later explain to us the significance of that momentous event. He says we have boldness to enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus in consequence. That the curtain was figuratively the flesh of Jesus. And so as they tore into his flesh with those horrible lashes they were ripping apart the curtain in the Tabernacle, in a manner of speaking (Hebrews 10:19-21).

That curtain-ripping incident would usher in a new dispensation. It was a formal signification of a change in the order of priesthood, something Jesus had been working on. He had appointed apostles without consideration of tribal identity. Only Levites could be appointed priests in those days but Jesus appointed non-Levites as apostles. Jesus himself was not from the tribe of Levi. He was from the tribe of Judah yet he became our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15). Indeed, perhaps only Matthew was a Levite. We know Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1). The priesthood thus changed from the Levitical Order to the Melchizedekian Order. This Order of Melchizedek is a curious order. Unlike the Levitical Order it is a priest-king equation. It takes its name from Melchizedek, the priest-king who received tithes from Abraham in the Old Testament (Hebrews 7:1-2). Jesus belongs to this order, and he initiated us into the order (Revelation 1:6). It is because we belong to this order that we can “minister” to God though not full time priests, and not belonging to the tribe of Levi. It is why we can be priests though with secular callings. We are priest-kings. And so we have priest-politicians, priest-lawyers, priest-engineers, priest-fashion designers, priest-models, priest-footballers, priest-computer scientists, priest-accountants, priest-doctors… And of course priest-musicians.

The death of Jesus and the ripping of that curtain also changed the definition of “temple”. God was no longer confined to physical tabernacles. He franchised himself into new abodes – us! Our bodies are now the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It’s why we’re advised to abstain from sexual sin. You can’t join God’s temple to another in fornication. We are spiritual building blocks. The Bible says we’re living stones that God is building into a spiritual temple (1 Peter 2:5-9). The temple of God in the New Testament is not a physical building, it is individuals. The Holy of Holies is now inside us. It’s why the Holy Spirit dwells in us. And so a church can meet in a nightclub, museum, hotel, civic center, tent, private residence, cinema, school, etc. The building is not the holy place, it is the people in who the holy God resides. And so the notion of “altar” being a place a secular musician cannot sing from or “minister” from is fallacious. That view does not align with New Testament realities.

And we question the prevailing notion of “ministration” and ministers. Since all Christians are priest-kings, all Christians are ministers of God. But some have been given special callings, like pastors. But all Christians are ministers of God in the New Testament. And so the idea that a Christian who sings “secular” music cannot minister to God or the people of God is unsustainable. It is not in accordance with scriptures.


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”?

If we accept that music is a profession, and we must, that raises these same questions for other professions. Can a Christian do only “Christian” doctoring? Is there anything like “Christian lawyering”, or is there “Christian engineering”, or “Christian computing”? If we’re not ready to entertain these questions concerning other professions then we must lose the moral right to demand of Christian musicians to do only gospel. Will a dying Christian reject medical treatment from a non-Christian doctor in an ideological demand for “Christian doctoring”?

If we must insist Christian musicians do only gospel songs then we must extend the imperative to other arts as well. We must insist on Christian acting, Christian dance and drama, Christian fashion, Christian fine art, Christian writing… They are all creative endeavours, just like music. Should we then insist a Christian professional actor cannot participate in a drama presentation on a church stage because he performed secular dramas like Wole Soyinka’s Opera Wonyosi, or acted in Macbeth or Selma? Isn’t he equally violating God’s “altar”? Why the particularisation of musicians?

What the Church has done is place a burdensome limitation on talented young men and women who otherwise would conquer the world with their talent. On any given Sunday the vocal dexterity of the average choir member is incredulous. But it’s limited to church. These talented young men and women are living unfulfilled potentials. They cannot maximize their giftings. And when they insist on their talent paving their way in the world, there is a chorus of accusation from a puritanical mob who purport to defend the sanctity of church. Pejorative expressions like “sell out” are often employed, as if there was ever collective bargaining. It does sound like prejudice, or worse.

In the pursuit of “gospel only” policy the Church absented herself from the cultural space, but then turns around to complain about issues in that spatial dimension. The chief instigator of these controversies is none other than Lucifer himself. He understands a thing or two about music. And he understands talent management being the first notable musical talent. Some interpretations of Ezekiel 28:13 allude to that fact. The passage speaks of embedded tabrets (tambourines) and pipes in the physiology of Lucifer. Seemed Satan was a walking orchestra. Being the first notable managed talent he understands being a rebel. He rebelled. And he understands musicians losing control to fame. He lost control of himself, having become inflated with pride. He sought after worship like a star (He was). As it turns out creatures can’t handle worship. Only the Creator can. Unfortunately we worship our music stars and those among them who can’t barrier their core from the perils of creature-worship begin to malfunction. And that is now used as corroborative evidence against “secular” music by isolationists.


© 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.

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