May 20, 2024

CCM: Pleasing to the Flesh?

Kids listening to music

Like many questions, this one is challenging because there is a desire to do a certain activity, and because there’s a desire that means that we’re motivated to find means to justify our actions.  We’re not coming to the item unbiased, but biased toward a position.

I believe that music is one such place where God’s people need to be a bit more careful to come at the subject without their bias if they are going to truly find God’s will on the issue.

The Background

In 2007, Nathan Rice posted a series on Music.  In Music Series: Part 6, he approached the question of whether music that was pleasing to the flesh was necessarily bad because it pleased the flesh.  In that post, he referenced a post here called Music: It’s Effect on Teens saying that I just didn’t get that it wasn’t a problem for us to use music that appealed to the flesh in our worship.

Does CCM have a beat that I enjoy? Is the music produced and written well? Do the words speak to me? YES! CCM is very pleasing to my ears, but it also nourishes my faith. It allows me to worship sincerely. It removes the barriers of music that I don’t like so I can get to that place where I worship and reflect most effectively.

He got me to respond because he didn’t fully understand what my argument was, and he attempted to reply to it, but for whatever reason I never did.

Pleasing to the Flesh

Nathan uses a straw man to make his argument.  No one that I know that uses the argument that “rock music pleases the flesh” takes it to mean “something that satisfies a need” and yet this is exactly his argument—that CCM is pleasing to his ears much like an air conditioner on a hot day pleases his flesh as eating Chick-fil-A1 pleases his stomach.

When those that do not agree with CCM use the argument “pleases the flesh” they are talking about the baser sort of flesh—the flesh that those that make Rock Music are trying to appeal to.

Music has an effect on people.  It can make you anxious.  It can cause you to want to leave.  It can have a tranquilizing effect.  The testimony of those that made rock music is that they wanted to appeal to a baser, primitive part of man.  And that’s what they’re saying when they make this argument.

The rest of his post builds on this error, until near the closing paragraph where he actually differentiates (sort of) between “flesh” and “lustful flesh.”  Even then, he doesn’t spend any serious time actually dealing with the issue at hand, because his entire argument is that those that hold this view are hypocritical.

What he needed to do was to defeat the notion that CCM uses Rock Music which appeals to the flesh.  Which would be hard to do considering the testimony against it:

  • Cheetah Magazine: “If the establishment knew what today’s popular music is really saying, not what the words are saying, but what the music itself is saying, they wouldn’t just turn thumbs down on it. They’d ban it, they’d smash all the records and they’d arrest anyone who tried to play it.”
  • John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas: “By carefully controlling the sequences of the rhythms any pop performer can create audience hysteria. We know how to do it.” They created a riot in Phoenix as an experiment.
  • Frank Zappa: “Rock music is sex. The big beat matches the body’s rhythm.”
  • Manager of the Rolling Stones: “Pop music is sex and you have to hit them in the face with it.”
  • John Kay of Steppenwolf: “One of the reasons we’re successful is that we’re able to keep the music hard and direct so that it communicates directly with the body.” 2

This is what is meant by the argument of appealing to the flesh.

Those that practiced the music, those that were behind its founding, had the intention of using the sounds—not just words—to convey the message.  And when they are told that the whole point of the music is sex, drugs, rebellion, etc. they want to have less to do with it.

So, That Means You Believe This?

Now, I do not believe that every CCM song is bad and coated in sin.  What exposure I do have to the music is that it is shallow and appeals to emotions and feelings.  When a person sings the same phrase over again 5 times with no change in content, it’s not because they are memorizing the words, but that they are attempting to appeal to emotion—they’re doing it because of how they feel.

To me, this goes back to the purposes of music.  If the point is to evoke my feelings or sing about myself, then I think we’ve missed the boat.

The other branch of CCM is that of the boyfriend song—there are many popular artists that sing songs that have been adapted by the church.  A currently famous one is “God Blessed the Broken Road” as sung by Rascall Flatts.  It’s a song about finding love, but because it mentions God, Christians pick it up.  There are others that sing of love to a “him” but never mention God or Lord.

CCM tries to sit in a popular sphere, and the point of Christian music in the church or in the home isn’t that you sing something you like—though I would doubt many would sing something they didn’t, and the fact that you like it isn’t something that disqualifies the music—it’s to sing something that brings praise to God.

Which Brings Us Back…

To my choices argument.  If I have to choose whether to sing3 a song that I know no one will mistake for praising and honoring God and one that is questionable, which should I sing?

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  1. Obviously not on a Sunday, anyway. []
  2. Taken from Christian Rock Music CCM []
  3. especially in church []

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