The Influence Of Contemporary Christian Music On Fundamentalism: Part 2

The Influence Of Contemporary Christian Music On Fundamentalism: Part 2

The Changes In Fundamentalist Music

I spent a considerable portion of The Influences Of Contemporary Christian Music: Part 1 of this series highlighting some of the distinguishing marks of CCM today and where it has come to, in order to demonstrate that these areas are a part of the influence that CCM has had on Fundamentalist Music.

Fundamentalist Music, in a brief description is exactly what the title of it suggests. Music that has is used and/or produced by those of a Christian Fundamentalist identification. Historically this music was well defined as classical hymns, generally brought from the various denominational backgrounds that fundamentalists had come from. So, there was a wide variety of hymnody that came into fundamentalist. But we can safely say that the hymns were in keeping with the Gospel hymns of the 1800’s and the Classical Hymns of the 1600’s and 1700’s and that Fundamentalist Music in its beginnings stood separate from the progression through Gospel Songs, Gospel Music, Southern Gospel and CCM.

As the 70’s came around these various types of ‘Gospel Music’ were beginning to influence FM. This influence was subtle at first. Now we must keep in mind that Fundamentalism was the final movement ordained by God to stand against the apostasy in the last days. As part of this stand it was necessary to stand against the apostasy which had overtaken the music as well as the doctrine and practice of the church. Initially there was a strong stand taken against apostate music, from the Gospel Music through to CCM. But what came into Fundamentalism was a weakening. This was nothing new, for we see in Genesis 6 that the sons of God saw the daughters of man, that they were fair. This same regression was happening amidst the congregations of Fundamentalism. Privately, as the strength of holiness and a true communion with God was waning and the presence of the Holy Spirit in power and true changing of lives was leaving Fundamentalism, people began looking for “life” and an “experience of God elsewhere” and they began to ‘see’ this other music and taste the ‘life’ – ‘the emotional appeal’ of it.

This was largely the case in the younger generations in Fundamentalism, and as a result of this pressure was brought to bear on the music of Fundamentalism to soften and to appeal to a broader base of people. All the while there was still the maintaining of an absence of certain elements of what would be considered “wrong” music. Such things as a syncopated beat, electric guitars, overt use of harmony and the sliding of voices these things were stood against and kept out of the music. Yet all the while the music was softening and it was being pushed to boundaries within these restrictions in an attempt to inculcate the emotional experience and broader appeal whilst maintaining the appearance of a sound music.

As the 1980’s and 1990’s unfolded, men such as Ron Hamilton led the way in shaping a new sound for Fundamentalist music. Gone was the strength and militancy of the music and in its place was coming the pretty, mellow, crooning sound. The lyrics to the songs, could be argued to have had a strength of doctrine and truth to them, although they lacked the militancy against the master sins of the day and against the apostasy of the day. The lyrics were such that whilst they had a doctrine to them and the ‘Gospel’ in them, they were deliberately written so as to be fairly non-offensive. There were many songs that had a strength of ‘battle’ about them, and spoke of sin, and of grace and redemption, but the music that these songs were written to gave an opposite message of what the song was saying.

Songs such as “My Sin is Ever Before Me Lord” sung with such a pretty soft tune, it sounded more like a song out of a musical movie where a character is lamenting their bad fortune in life, than a song of repentance and redemption. Much of the music coming from Majesty Music (Ron Hamilton & Frank Garlock) was written more as performance music rather than hymnody, and whilst there may still have been a majority of the hymns of the faith being sung congregationally the specials and items were now this new sound. This fed the desire of the people to have more of this music and eventually it became the desire of the people to only sing this music even congregationally.

Why was this music now being used? Well it was following the same pattern as CCM. The music was what was bringing people into an “experience” of worship and “state or frame of mind” to have an intimate encounter with God. Then as the taste for this became stronger and the disdain for the “old” hymns grew, the congregations desired that this sort of music be sung in the congregational singing so that they might participate in this worship experience as well.

During the 1990’s there was a great battle fought over music. It has been well documented even among liberals and secular.

Though disagreements over whether or not to use contemporary worship music continue in some North American congregations, many Christian commentators and liturgical scholars have pronounced an end to the worst ravages of the widespread conflict. As early as 1999, evangelical historian Michael Hamilton pronounced the contemporary faction the “winner” of the worship wars in his article subtitled “How Guitars Beat Out the Organ in the Worship Wars” in the popular evangelical magazine Christianity Today (July 12, 25—35).
(Hamilton, 1999)

A decade after Hamilton’s article heralding the triumph of praise songs, the editor of the same publication introduced a themed issue on worship with an editorial entitled “The End of the Worship Wars”

When I was in the Pentecostal denomination, it was becoming more evident that the people would rather have a “gospel sing” than hear the preaching of the Word. People could put up with singing if it was their kind of singing; but there was avoid of love for true, strong Bible preaching

Music has become the most popular method to change people’s philosophy; the inner circles of compromisers know it. They are going to use it to accommodate and promote their own heart changes. A steady stream of a nebulous diet of music after a while becomes like leaven to the mind and soul. Over a period of time, the sedative will begin to work. The philosophy will then be planted and time will tell the outworking of it in life. The war cry will be gone from the soul, and compromise will be inevitable. People will change and not even know they are changing. But the implantation has already taken place. And as the milk, the message will gradually be watered down. Yes, we will be clapping and making a joyous sound, but the heart will be void of the stand and strength of the Word of God to counteract the age. Christ may seem to be exalted in the words and pretty music, but the message chosen will separate Christ from our lives and the real living of life in this dark and evil world. Feelings will dictate actions and words. The flesh and the Spirit will be thrown together as compatible. (Spence)

This is exactly what has happened in Fundamentalist music. It has succumbed to the influence of the CCM culture, it did not succumb over night, it did not capitulate in 1 month, 1 year or even 1 decade, it took decades, but it finally was overtaken by this same spirit and philosophy that rules CCM.

Fundamentalist Music Today

FM music today is little more that another sub-genre of CCM. We could call it the conservative arm of CCM. The songs that CCM writers are writing, particularly those such as the Gettys and Stuart Townend, are being used extensively by the Fundamentalist Music ‘powerhouses’. Then their own compositions are little more than mimicries of CCM style music with a conservative coat on.

The music has become all about the experience that it is trying to bring a person into. Visual backings of music videos are being added to these songs in an attempt to appeal to that broader base of people who are desiring the same visual stimulus that they receive from the world and from their CCM. There can be no other motive behind doing such videos, for they surely do not lead a person to think more on Christ. 

I think of one particular song entitled “Bow the Knee”. This was a big hit amongst the Australian Fundamentalists and I lost count of the number of times I heard it song as a special or heard it on someone’s sound system either in their home or in their car. The whole concept of the song is that when a person is confronted with the glory of the holiness of God, they will “bow the knee” in reverence and submission. But the music is screaming the opposite, its message is one of the elevation of the flesh and of the emotions and of the self will of the heart. The song brings about a strong emotional experience which is meant to be a worship to God, yet it is truly an experience that brings the worship of my own fleshly efforts. It is like a Cain bringing of the fruit of the ground as an offering of worship. 

In a “Church Music Class” Tim Fisher makes the statement “It is important for us to understand Church Music because that is what brings us together as the body of Christ every time we gather to worship”. This new music has become the existential uniting force of neo-Christianity.

Where will Fundamentalist Music end up? Well in cases such as Pensacola, West Coast Baptist and the like it has already largely crossed over into full blown CCM, there may be a little bit of conservatism left as to how far they are allowing certain elements of the music to go, but there is little restraint now. As for the fallen last bastion of Bob Jones University (Wilds, Majesty Music, SMS etc.) they are now using CCM songs that have been cleaned up for Fundamentalism, but this will not satisfy the whetted desires of the flesh amongst the congregations of BJU churches and IB churches for the people are already listening to the un-sanitised versions in their homes. It will not be long before there is no distinguishable Fundamentalist Music at all, rather Fundamentalism in its public identification will be fully absorbed by the neo-christianity of its day.

The culture of CCM is one of the flesh. It is a music that is composed in the flesh for the appeal to the flesh and as such it does nothing more than feed the flesh. The whole concept of CCM is to provide an experience to the listener or the participator and this experience is meant to be a form of worship. This worship is as broad as it is shallow. For there is no distinct truths that guard who or what is being worshipped. One person’s concept of God is as readily accepted as the next person’s concept of God and there is no absolute to dictate otherwise. So, therefore as long as the participator has had some form of experience in their concept of whatever God or Jesus that they are worshipping then all participators have this in common and can come together under the banner of this experience. It is truly an existentialist culture.

Fundamentalist Music has been influenced by this existential culture in that it is now pursuing this same premise, let us put aside our differences and appeal to a broader base of people by coming together through a music that brings about an experience, except we will do it in a more conservative package than that of the open CCM.

Jeremy Searle

Jeremy Searle