Many Americans believe that our culture is decaying and that moral decline presents the greatest danger we face. Writers and speakers from different positions on the philosophical or political spectrum have commented with dismay upon this decadence, and preachers have given many sermons on it. Hardly anything can serve to verify for the public mind the authority of the Bible more than the cultural decline of our country over the past 35 years. Actually, the downward slide began much earlier than this, but the rapidity of the descent has greatly increased since the middle 1960s. Truth without righteousness has led to the darkening of the mind. Darkened minds have perverted truth. Perverted truth has brought moral weakness, which has given way to sexual immorality and perversion. Now we see more and more the fruit of "a reprobate mind" that acknowledges no God or moral law and allows for every kind of cruelty, wickedness, and evil. Romans 1 has been illustrated before our eyes.
The Bible calls the moral decay that results from unheeded and then rejected truth "corruption." In the Hebrew of Deuteronomy 31 and 32 the word for "corrupt" in the phases "ye will utterly corrupt yourselves" and "they have corrupted themselves" is a word that has the idea of decay. Moses was given a song to teach the Israelites that would serve as a warning against the cultural and spiritual corruption that comes when God and His Law are neglected. "For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands" (Dt. 31:29). Believers in the true God must always be concerned about cultural corruption because at its root it is rejection of divine authority. But believers are also interested in saving souls, and so many in our times have been willing to forget about the culture in order to bring sinners to the church. This strategy is a great mistake and has denied many ministries the blessing of God.
Evangelicals have widely accepted the idea that if cultural corruption is resisted by churches, the unsaved we are trying to reach will be "turned off" by our antiquated ways and unwilling to listen to our message. Isn't there a way to preach the gospel in language and with trappings acceptable to modern man? Years ago a Christian youth movement used the slogan "Anchored to the Rock: Geared to the Times." Cannot the church be geared to the times while still anchored to the Rock? If we gear the gospel to the times, we can end up floating downstream with the flow of cultural decadence. It is like trying to win as many souls as we can before we all go over the falls of societal collapse. This scenario is acceptable to some Christians, but it does not represent the will of God for His church. We ought to preach the gospel and uphold all the rest of God's truth at the same time. The churches should seek to preserve people from corruption as well as damnation. Most, however, are doing everything but this.
In no area are evangelical churches going along with cultural decay more than in the field of music. More and more supposedly orthodox churches today are inviting people to come and hear their "contemporary" music. Actually the style called "Contemporary Christian Music" can be more accurately defined as rock'n'roll. Some of it is hard rock; some is soft rock; some is "rockabilly"; some is 1950s or 1960s rock; but all so-called CCM is rock music.
When pressed about this issue, young church musicians admit that the genre is rock, but they argue that musical style is a neutral medium; that only the words convey a message. Of course, no true artist will say that his art conveys no message. Every serious painter or composer believes that some philosophy or statement is being communicated through his art. The creators of the rock'n'roll style of music always claimed that their songs expressed the revolutionary themes of a new generation: rebellion against authority and abandonment of sexual restraints. Not only have the originators of this style defined its message in this way, but also the best analysts of cultural decline have recognized this as the meaning of rock.
In 1987, Professor Allan Bloom at the University of Chicago wrote what the Chicago Tribune said "may be the most important work of its kind by an American since World War II." The Closing of the American Mind deals in depth with the role of higher education in the current cultural decline. A whole chapter early in the book is given to "Music." Professor Bloom observes,
Nothing is more singular about this generation than its addiction to music. . . . Today a very large portion of young people between the ages of ten and twenty live for music. It is their passion; nothing else excites them as it does; they cannot take seriously anything alien to music. . . . Rock music is as unquestioned and unproblematic as the air the students breathe. . . . But rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire. . . . Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse. . . . The inevitable corollary of such sexual interest is rebellion against the parental authority that represses it.
The professor convincingly links rock music to the elements of societal upheaval that have nearly destroyed the moral structure of our culture in the past 35 years. Rock music is the anthem of the revolt against God.
Judge Robert Bork's highly acclaimed book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, brought the former Yale University law professor and U.S. Court of Appeals justice to the forefront of public discussion. In his book, he repeatedly refers to the role of rock music in our society's problems. He says in the Introduction that the rock songs of the 1960s were among the "harbingers of a new culture" that overcame the old and took over the country. Later in the book he says that this music joined with other factors that "intensified the rebelliousness of the young."
Portable radios became widely available so that youths could choose their music without parental supervision. No longer must they sit in the living room with their parents and siblings to listen to the radio together. The music they now listened to was rock and roll, which their parents hated. It would be difficult to overstate the cultural importance of that music. Visiting Yugoslavia in that era, Irving Kristol learned that the regime banned rock because it was subversive of authority. In a personal communication he remarked that rock and roll is subversive of all authority-that of Western democracies, bourgeois families, schools, and church as well as communist dictatorships. Those in the rock business understood very well that the music's subversion of authority was a large part of its appeal to the young.
Anyone who has read Bork's book or Bloom's bestseller understands the corrupting character of rock music. Why then do churches use it?
The changes that have come in society with the changing of the times have to a large degree been simply new stages in our corruption. This is why it is important for the churches to maintain rather than revise their moral and behavioral standards. If the definition of Christian living changes every time society moves its moral boundaries, the so-called Christian of tomorrow will be living the way a so-called sinner lives today! It is capitulation to corruption that has caused churches to back away from Bible-based standards. In order not to appear "negative" or "judgmental," some pastors skip over certain Scripture passages. Thus they become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Recently, a very famous evangelist lamented on television the fact that his most successful crusades over the years had produced no visible effect on the moral decline of his country. The reason for the sad truthfulness of this observation is the general unwillingness of evangelicals to resist the corruption of our society from an unswervingly Biblical standpoint. Extreme examples of the decay, such as legal abortions and assisted suicide, are protested by some when enough non-Christians share their moral outrage, but these same evangelicals and Fundamentalists are often involved in other ways in the very corruption of society that has produced the extremes. Certainly every church ought to stand in every community as an institution that resists cultural decay.
"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men" (Matt. 5:13).
First published in Frontline, January-February, 1999
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