Contemporary Christian Worship music is spreading across all denominational lines, and when it enters a church it brings more than a change in music. It brings a worldly philosophy of Christianity and a gradual lowering of all standards of morality and doctrine.
The late Gordon Sears, who had an evangelistic music ministry for many years and ministered with Rudy Atwood, was saddened before his death by the dramatic change that was occurring in many fundamental Baptist churches. He warned: “When the standard of music is lowered, then the standard of dress is also lowered. When the standard of dress is lowered, then the standard of conduct is also lowered. When the standard of conduct is lowered, then the sense of value in God’s truth is lowered.”
Frank Garlock of Majesty Music warns, “If a church starts using CCM it will eventually lose all other standards” (Garlock, Bob Jones University Chapel, March 12, 2001).
The late Ernest Pickering gave a similar warning: “Perhaps nothing precipitates a slide toward New Evangelicalism more than the introduction of Contemporary Christian Music. This inevitably leads toward a gradual slide in other areas as well until the entire church is infiltrated by ideas and programs alien to the original position of the church.”
We can see the fulfillment of these warnings on every hand. Consider some examples:
AKRON BAPTIST TEMPLE, AKRON, OHIO
Akron Baptist Temple was founded in 1935 by Dallas Billington. From the 1940s to the 1960s it had one of the largest Sunday morning crowds in the nation.In September 1960, during a Sunday School campaign, it averaged 6,000 in attendance, and was dubbed “the World’s Largest Sunday School” by Elmer Towns. In those days it was a typical Independent Baptist church, very conservative in music and dress, committed to the King James Bible, and aggressive in evangelism, particularly through the use of promotionalism to draw big crowds. Upon the death of Dallas Billington in 1972, his son Charles assumed the pastorate. In 1996, Dallas’ grandson Dallas R. Billington became pastor, and took the church in a contemporary direction.
Today, the Akron Baptist Temple is an emerging church with a “traditional service” called The Temple and a raunchy contemporary service called The Bridge. The church offers a smorgasbord of worship “experiences.” It’s all me and my tastes and my choices. How 21st century! How 2 Timothy 3:3-4! In The Bridge a loud rock & roll band plays 7/11 (seven words sung 11 times) contemporary worship music in a darkened auditorium. The service is advertised as “creating an environment where people who are seeking God, can do so in a non-threatening, comfortable way.” It is all about “experiencing God.” It’s amazing how all of these “non-traditional, think outside the box” churches use exactly the same language and exactly the same type of music and exactly the same philosophy and exactly the same clothing and tattoos and piercings. There is, in fact, less difference between them than there is between “traditional” churches. They aren’t thinking outside the box. They are merely fitting into the contemporary box, which someone else invented, and which they unthinkingly but gleefully stuff themselves into. They think of themselves as following the beat of a different drummer, but they are actually walking lockstep to the rhythm of this world.
HIGHLAND PARK BAPTIST CHURCH, CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE
Highland Park Baptist Church is the home of Tennessee Temple University. It was pastored for decades, beginning in 1942, by Lee Roberson, and until the 1990s was a very conservative Independent Baptist Church. The school required very modest, sexually-distinctive attire. The music was sacred but certainly not boring. The congregational song services, often led by the associate pastor J.R. Faulkner, were exciting and uplifting. The only pulpit Bible was the King James. I attended Tennessee Temple in its hay day in the 1970s, and in those days there were 4,000 students and the church ran as high as 10,000 on Sunday mornings. Roberson led the church out of the Southern Baptist Convention and they learned how to support independent faith missionaries directly. By the 1970s, Highland Park Baptist Church was giving half of its income to missionary work, supporting hundreds of church planters throughout the world. Its annual missions conferences hosted 100 missionaries.
Roberson said: “In my first year at the Highland Park Baptist Church, we had one missionary. The blessings of God came down upon us, and many were saved. As we kept on preaching the Gospel at home, we were driven to a deeper concern for the rest of the world. So we began putting on missionaries with support of them through the regular offerings of the church and by special offerings on Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. We saw scores of our young people volunteer for missionary work. During my fortieth year at Highland Park , we were giving support to 565 missionaries in all parts of the world. Fifty percent of the church’s offerings went to home and foreign missions. Every need of the church was met, and every building was paid for. At home we were seeing the salvation of hundreds. People were happy and the blessings of God were upon us. Obey God! Don’t question. Don’t procrastinate! Don’t quibble! Obey God! Obedience brings manifold blessings.”
The simple “obey God” philosophy gradually disappeared, and by the 1990s Highland Park and Tennessee Temple were experiencing dramatic changes.
By 2005 the place was rocking out. In April of that year the church and school hosted a Christian rock concert featuring Bebo Norman, Fernando Ortega, and Sara Groves. It was held in Highland Park’s main auditorium. All three of these mainstream CCM musicians are ecumenical. Ortega, for example, has appeared at Billy Graham Crusades and Promise Keepers conferences. Bebo Norman has toured with Amy Grant.
Marty Tate, pastor of Peaceful Valley Baptist Church in Rising Fawn, Georgia, and two other preachers (one a TTU alumnus of the late ‘60s) stood on the sidewalk and preached against rock music and handed out tracts exposing the dangers of CCM. He told me that many of the people they encountered “were very haughty and condemning of us, all the while accusing us of being judgmental, legalistic, and all the usual stuff.” This is a dramatic change from the philosophy and attitude that prevailed in this same place just 20 years earlier.
The October 29, 2005, issue of the Chattanooga Times Free Press featured a picture of Tennessee Temple University students “worshipping” to contemporary rock music during a Wednesday evening service. The accompanying article said: “Beneath the 90-year-old stained glass at St. Andrews Center, rock music blares as worshippers in jeans and T-shirts fill the sanctuary. The weekly Wednesday night church service has all the markings of traditional worship--music, preaching and praying. But the choir and organ have been replaced with drums and an electric guitar. ‘Each generation has different styles of music, and what churches have to realize is that we’ve got to meet those younger generations’ needs,’ said Dr. Danny Lovett, who preaches at the service and is president of Tennessee Temple University.”
Where does the Bible say God’s people should use the world’s style of music? To the contrary, we are instructed to have spiritual music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), which means music that is set apart unto God from this wicked world. It means holy, sacred. See 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4; Titus 2:11-14; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:11. Lovett had recently come to Temple from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist University, which is New Evangelical to the core. Billy Graham, the Prince of New Evangelicalism, has spoken at Liberty and was praised by Falwell for his “faithful ministry.” Liberty has hosted conferences for the radically ecumenical Promise Keepers as well as for Southern Baptist church growth guru Rick Warren.
By 2008, Highland Park Baptist Church had joined the Southern Baptist Convention.
Pastor Terry Coomer, a 1970s graduate of Tennessee Temple, told me on August 10, 2010: “The last time I was through Chattanooga, I went into the old auditorium and there was a large drum set and part of it was painted black. There was a mural of Dr. Roberson and a church service in the old building blown up on the outside wall. On the other side of the wall were posters of a Christian Rock concert to be held there. People dressed in wild clothes and wild hair etc. The book store was filled with the same thing.”
NEW TESTAMENT BAPTIST CHURCH, MIAMI
New Testament Baptist Church in Miami, Florida, used to be a fundamental Baptist church. Pastor Dino Pedrone was a regular speaker at Tennessee Temple Baptist College in Chattanooga when I was a student there in the 1970s. He was a separatist then, used only the King James Bible and sacred music, had dress standards, preached against rock & roll. But that’s all gone.
The church was renamed The Gathering Place. Today it promotes the watching of R-rated movies, recommends books by emerging church leaders who reject the infallibility of the Bible, such as Chris Seay, and feeds its youth a steady diet of rock & roll entertainment. The church’s youth program, called YouthForce Dade, describes itself on the church web site as follows:
“Rock the Universe, All-Niters, Ski Trips, Summer Camps, Chubby Bunny, Water Balloons, Break dancing, WWE Wrestling, The Book Of Ross, Worship, Bible Study, Community, Little Debbie Snack Cakes, Madden, X-Box 360, LEE ADMIRAL MAJORS!, Eating Dog Food, Samurai Swords, Paintball, Skillet, Shipwrecked, Videos, Ultimate Frisbee, Man Hunt, And Much More!”
Notice that they even have a dab of Bible teaching in the midst of the carnal fun.
Jeff Royal, who lives in south Florida, says, “NTBC was once a fundamental church, but obviously it has changed. In my view the change began about ten years ago by allowing CCM to be integrated into the services. I’ve watched it over the years. It’s sad because that’s two churches I’ve personally known to have taken this dangerous path” (e-mail, January 19, 2010).
THOMAS ROAD BAPTIST CHURCH, LYNCHBURG, VIRGINIA
The most prominent example of the changes that accompany the adoption of contemporary Christian music is Jerry Falwell and the Thomas Road Baptist Church of Lynchburg, Virginia. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Falwell featured traditional Christian music in his church and on the Old Time Gospel Hour program. He was an independent Baptist aligned with the Baptist Bible Fellowship International.
By the 1980s, Falwell had adopted the “music is neutral” position. Speaking at Word of Life in New York, he said, “Other than Heavy Metal and vulgar lyrics, it’s all a matter of taste and has nothing to do with Christianity.”
In 1985 the name of his school was changed from Liberty Baptist College to Liberty University.
By the 1980s, Falwell’s Moral Majority was made up of at least 30% Roman Catholics and in his 1987 autobiography, Strength for the Journey, Falwell called them “my Catholic brothers and sisters” (p. 371).
In 1987, Falwell took over the leadership of the sleazy charismatic PTL ministry, claiming that it was “certainly worth saving” (Strength for the Journey, p. 442).
In 1992, Falwell endorsed Chuck Colson’s book The Body, which urges Evangelicals to join forces with Catholics and Charismatics and which looks upon the Roman Catholic Church as a part of the “body of Christ.”
In October 1995, Falwell praised Billy Graham for his “long and faithful ministry” and did not have one word of warning for Graham’s great compromise, his yoking together with Rome, his praise of blaspheming modernists, etc. In 1997, Billy Graham was the commencement speaker at Liberty University.
In 1995 Falwell hosted a Promise Keepers conference. That same year a Catholic priest spoke at a PK meeting in Plainview, Texas. One of the PK directors was a Roman Catholic.
In April 1996 hard rocking dc Talk drew the largest concert crowd in the history of Falwell’s university.
In 1996 Falwell joined the SBC, and in 1999 Liberty University was formally approved as an SBC school. (Falwell is also still a part of the Baptist Bible Fellowship and speaks at their meetings.)
By 1997 Falwell was yoked with the charismatic Integrity Music to train worship leaders at Liberty.
When Catholic Cardinal John O’Conner died in May 2000, Falwell praised him: “I am grateful that John O’Connor -- a man of courageous faith -- had such a profound influence on the Catholic Church through his fifty-five years of ministry. I pray that another pro-life, pro-family minister can be found to fill his significant and substantial shoes.” Falwell said nothing about the fact that O’Conner’s false gospel has sent multitudes to eternal hell. When the Apostle Paul was asked what he thought of those who preach a false gospel, his reply was quite different from Falwell’s. Paul replied, “Let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9).
In 2001 Falwell identified himself as a “contemporary fundamentalist,” defined as “conservative in doctrine, moderate in attitude, progressive in methodology, and liberal in spirit.”
That sounds impressive and doubtless plays well to the “progressive” crowd, but in reality, he is careless about doctrine (i.e., he allowed evolution to be taught at Liberty in order to obtain accreditation), moderate rather than strict in attitude toward apostasy, progressive rather than scriptural in methodology, and liberal in spirit toward many of God’s enemies.
LANDMARK BAPTIST CHURCH, CINCINNATI, OHIO
Landmark Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, used to be an old-fashioned Baptist church with old-fashioned standards of music and dress and a commitment to the old English Bible.
In the 1990s the church took at turn away from its roots and at the heart of this change was music. In 1996 the church brought in a Campus Crusade band playing “high energy ‘50s and ‘60s rock and roll.”
In 2001, Mat Holman became the pastor. The church web site says, “Being a firm believer that church should be fun and on the edge, Matt puts all his energy into making Landmark a place where everyone belongs.”
The church now features a teen ministry called EnterRuption. “The purpose of EnterRuption is to create a relevant environment for students to bring their friends. We utilize a live band (secular and Christian music), dramas, skits and a relevant message.” I wonder if Paul’s message on Mars Hill, in which he boldly rebuked his listeners’ idolatry and demanded repentance, was “relevant”? I have a sneaking suspicion that the messages presented at EnterRuption aren’t exactly Acts 17 in nature. Somehow, such a message doesn’t fit an atmosphere geared toward “fun” and bathed in rock and roll.
The pop group Jump5 performed at Landmark Baptist Church on Dec. 6, 2003. “The music of the Nashville-based group is thoroughly modern pop, high-spirited and 100% fun.”
BETHLEHEM BAPTIST CHURCH, FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA
This church illustrates the changes that contemporary music brings. At one time this church was an old-fashioned Baptist church that believed in separation and was committed to the King James Bible, but for many years the church has been moving ever more gradually in a contemporary direction. By the time the 2002 Baptist Bible Fellowship International conference was held here the contemporary “worship team” was led by four women.
Today the Bethlehem Baptist Church has much gone about as far as you can go away from its roots in the matter of standards. In a letter dated July 3, 2003, Pastor David Stokes said: “With regard to dress and modesty issues, we enforce NO RULE on our folks. … apparel issues are really of NO CONCERN to us” (emphasis added).
If the pastor really means what he says, then it would be fitting for a Sunday School teacher to come in her bikini! Of course, he probably wouldn’t allow that, which proves that what he really means is that he has rejected the OLD strict conservative Bible standards and has replaced them with his NEW loose worldly standards. All churches draw lines in dress, but while some draw them using biblical principles, others draw them using the world’s principles. Of course, the latter group consistently labels the first group mean-spirited legalists.
Stokes also led the church to drop its “King James Only” clause from the by-laws and he now preaches from the New American Standard Version and the New Living Translation, among others.
Recently the church’s name was changed from Bethlehem Baptist Church to Fair Oaks Church.
One of the church’s ministries is Skate Night, which is sponsored by secular skateboarding companies. Thus the church is blatantly yoking together with unbelievers in open defiance of Scripture (2 Cor. 6). A description of Skate Night was given by a local newspaper: “CHRISTIAN ROCK THROBS inside the small gymnasium off West Ox Road in Fairfax, just a few decibels louder than the clacking of wheels. ... It’s Sunday night and more than 170 teenagers and young adults -- all but one of them male -- line the walls of the Bethlehem Baptist Church gym, waiting their turn to grind and swoop and dive over a maze of makeshift ramps and rails” (Washington Post, April 4, 2001).
The church testifies that it is using rock music and skateboarding to win young people to Christ, but the Skate Night web site’s gospel presentation is so weak as to be almost meaningless:
“We’re not talking about religion; we’re talking about a relationship. It’s about recognizing that you are not perfect. We’ve all made mistakes. From pimping and drug abuse to telling a little white lie, we are all in need of a Savior. He doesn’t care what you look like, what bad things you have done, or even how good you may think you are. He just wants you to know Him!”
That is not the gospel message that we see in the New Testament. There is no clear explanation of man’s sin problem. There is nothing about God’s holiness and justice, nothing about what Jesus did to become our Saviour, nothing about His death, burial, and resurrection. Nothing about the blood. There is nothing whatsoever about repentance or turning. And as for God not caring how good a person might think he is, He most certainly does. If a person thinks of himself as good in any sense, he cannot be saved. Someone might get saved through Fair Oaks Church’s Skate Night ministry, but it would be in spite of its gospel presentation and not because of it.
The Bethlehem Baptist Church paper in 2002 featured a photo of the church’s new Youth Pastor, Rob Hoerr. Bedecked with a goatee, an earring, and a P.O.D. T-shirt, this independent Baptist youth director is proudly promoting the Christian rock lifestyle.
P.O.D. is a rock band. The initials are supposed to stand for Payable On Death. The tattoo-covered band members curse in interviews, smoke, watch R-rated movies, and criticize kids “who want to segregate themselves from the world.” The group’s leader said, “Jesus was the first rebel. He was the first punk rocker going against all the rest of it” (Sonny of P.O.D., www.shoutweb.com/interviews/pod0700.phtml). In another interview, P.O.D. said, “We’re not passing out pamphlets saying ‘Get your life straight or you’re gonna burn in hell” (Sonny, Guitar World, Oct 2000, p. 78). Sonny says, “I like Slayer. I like Manson. I like music and this dark imagery” (2001 interview with Theresa McKeon of Shoutweb titled “P.O.D. The Fundamental Elements of God Rock”). He is talking about the antichrist rocker Marilyn Manson. P.O.D. guitarist Marcos says, “You know, everyone is free to rock ---. When we go on stage we go crazy. We are like four guys you should put in a mental hospital” (interview with Hwee Hwee Tan of Singapore, October 2002).
Is that the example you want your young people to follow, dear parents? I say woe unto the worldly youth directors who are leading young people in such paths, and woe unto those pastors who appoint such youth directors!
Thus we can see that Bethlehem Baptist Church has gone a long way down the road from its roots as a conservative, fundamentalist Baptist church, and music is at the very heart of the changes.
TEMPLE BAPTIST CHURCH OF DETROIT, MICHIGAN
Another example is Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan. This church was pastored by J. Frank Norris from 1935 to 1950 and by G. Beauchamp Vick from 1950 to 1975. In past days, it was the most prominent church in the Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI). Vick was one of the founders of the BBFI in 1950 and was president of Baptist Bible College. It was a conservative fundamental Baptist church that eschewed ecumenism, preached strong Bible doctrine, and promoted holy living and separation from the world. It also used only the King James Bible. Preaching in 1975 at the 25th anniversary of the founding of the BBFI, G.B. Vick said:
“It’s become fashionable to use many different versions of the Bible today. ... Listen! This King James Version, our English Bible, the Bible of our fathers and mothers, is the one that has come floating down to us upon the blood of Christian martyrs, our forefathers. It has been, I say, the one text of the Baptist Bible College, and it will be as long as I have anything to do with this school! [loud amens and applause] ... Let’s stick to the old Book.”
In those days at Temple Baptist Church it was the old Book and the old Paths, but that changed in the 1990s.
In 1990 the church got a young new pastor named Brad Powell, and he began to lead the church into a contemporary direction.
The church’s music today is described at its web site: “The PRAISE BANDS provide music for all services. The Praise Bands consist of the piano, synthesizer, acoustic and electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums.”
The church began having CCM concerts in the early 1990s, starting out with the softer rock groups. In September 1993, for example, they had Steve Camp. By October 1996, they featured Michael Card, who is radically ecumenical, working with Roman Catholic John Michael Talbot (who prays to Mary) and claiming that denominational distinctives are not important.
In February 2000 Temple Baptist Church changed its name to Northridge Church of Plymouth, Michigan, after taking a survey of the community and finding out that most people don’t like the name Baptist.
The music style of the CCM groups at Northridge Church has gotten ever harder. In September 2003, the church hosted Sonic Flood, and Charlie Hall was scheduled to be there in October. In September 2003, the church was scheduled to host Darlene Zschech (pronounced check), who promotes ecumenism and unscriptural charismatic doctrines and practices.
SOUTHSIDE BAPTIST CHURCH, GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA
Consider the example of Southside Baptist Church, Greenville, South Carolina. This church was founded in September 1946. From 1965 to 1996 it was pastored by Walt Handford. His wife Elizabeth is one of the daughters of the famous evangelist John R. Rice, founder of the Sword of the Lord. It was long associated with the Southwide Baptist Fellowship. It was an old-fashioned fundamental Baptist church until the 1990s.
Elizabeth Rice Handford is editorial consultant of Joyful Woman magazine, which in the 1990s began to feature ecumenical personalities such as James Dobson and Elisabeth Elliot, both of whom have close affiliations with the Roman Catholic Church.
In September 1993, the church hosted Ray Boltz for a CCM concert.
In 1993 Southside gave up the King James Bible in favor of the NIV. In support of this move, the speaker at Southside for the Sunday evening service, September 12, 1993, was Kenneth Barker, chairman of the New International Version translation committee.
By 1994 the church had a staff member who was also employed by the extremely ecumenical Campus Crusade for Christ. In an interview with Charisma magazine in 2001, Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright described his philosophy: “I have felt that God led me many years ago to build bridges. I’m a Presbyterian . . . and yet I work with everybody who loves Jesus, whether they be charismatic or Catholic, Orthodox or mainliners. ... I’m not an evangelical. I’m not a fundamentalist.”
In 1996, Charles Boyd became pastor of Southside Baptist Church. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, both of which are New Evangelical to the core.
Southside Baptist Church recently changed its name to Southside Fellowship.
ARE THESE MERELY STYLE CHANGES OR ARE THEY DOCTRINAL?
It is good that these churches are changing their names, because they are certainly changing their philosophy of Christianity. In each case, they will profess that they have not changed anything important. Brad Powell of Northridge (formerly Temple Baptist of Detroit) claims that by following church growth guru Bill Hybels of Willowcreek, he has not changed anything of significance. For those who have eyes to see, this subterfuge won’t fly. If Temple Baptist Church was right and scriptural in its early days, Northridge Church is wrong today, and if Northridge Church is right and scriptural today, the old Temple Baptist was wrong. The doctrine and practice and philosophy of the old church and the new are not compatible. For the Bible believer, the choice between the contemporary church growth philosophy and the old traditional fundamentalist philosophy is not “both and,” it is “either or.”
The pastors who follow the contemporary church growth principles claim that they are not changing doctrine, only style. That is simply not true. Many of the so-called “style” changes are doctrinal. To allow church members to dress immodestly like the world without any reproof or correction is a doctrinal issue. To borrow the music that the world uses for sexual pleasure and to incorporate that very music into the church program is a doctrinal issue. To claim that music is neutral is a doctrinal issue. To yoke ecumenically with charismatics and such is a doctrinal issue. To say that preaching should focus on the positive is a doctrinal issue. To take Matthew 7:1 and Romans 14:4 out of context to approve a non-judgmental, doctrinally non-controversial approach to the Christian ministry is a doctrinal issue. To use community surveys for planning church policy is a doctrinal issue. To adopt a New Evangelical philosophy is a doctrinal issue.
When a church changes its “style” in these areas, it is undergoing a radical doctrinal change; and continual boasting to the contrary is mere noise without meaning and only deceives the willfully blind. There is little doubt that J. Frank Norris and G. Beauchamp Vick would consider the current “style” at Northridge doctrinal issues.
Biblical separation is rapidly fading from the agenda of a large body of former fundamentalist Baptists who are moving in the popular contemporary direction.
We believe Gordon Sears was right when he said: “When the standard of music is lowered, then the standard of dress is also lowered. When the standard of dress is lowered, then the standard of conduct is also lowered. When the standard of conduct is lowered, then the sense of value in God’s truth is lowered.”
And Frank Garlock is correct when he observes, “If a church starts using CCM it will eventually lose all other standards” (Garlock, Bob Jones University Chapel, March 12, 2001).
A word to the wise is sufficient. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:6).