Drums in Church-Does Jesus Play Them?


Stephen Billiter

I’ve played in drum–driven rock bands as an older teenager back in 1969-70, and we did Beatles cover songs, Jimi Hendrix, etc. I’m sure you get the picture. Lots of alcohol, drugs and all that. I even played drums myself, although my primary instrument is guitar and still is. I was baptized into the Adventist church at 29 by Lyle Albrecht in Ga., and although I began to gravitate more to praise/hymns music, I still liked the rock rhythms with drums and guitars.

In 1992 as a member of the Gladstone Park Or. SDA church, I played guitar and sang with a celebration church that was meeting in the campgrounds right next door, and we had drums; while at the same time singing in the Gladstone Park church choir, and singing lead section parts with the Oregon Pitchpipers barbershop group. Believe me, I had loads of fun and found it very rewarding (at least I thought so at the time).

I bought Christian rock albums such as Petra, Whiteheart, Phil Keaggy (who had an album that sounded just like early Beatles), Amy Grant, and so on. They all rocked and sang about Jesus, well….. sort of. Most of their songs never mentioned the Savior at all, but had feel-good lyrics, not trashy ones like classic rock, metal, hip-hop, and all that stuff.

About four years ago, I renewed my my covenant with Christ, and began studying the Bible much more seriously, and really dove into Ellen White, and it just keeps getting better and better as things began to click. Since I had begun playing guitar and singing with church groups again, I also began studying the various music styles especially the use of the drums. The pastor here who is New Theology, brought in a Sunday rock band on Sabbath evening “for the youth” ala Rick Warren style, which I did not attend, and that sounded like 2 747’s about to crash head-on at the airport (I was told later). Then a member of the group I was in wanted to bring in bongo drums and I said, “Nope we can’t do that here, the church ladies will smack you upside the head with 20 lb. Bibles!”.

However, at another one of the local SDA churches, they will play hymns sometimes with a piano only, and jazz up the rhythm to a blues style. Yep. Time to boogie down alright, those folks know how to swing in church, especially when they crank up the drums(Time to walk out….actually).

Anyway, in my studies reading Ellen White, I learned the principles of how things are linked together, an how one small, seemingly innocent step, will lead to another, and so on until complete apostasy comes. I learned that when the Bible says:

1Jn 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

1Jn 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

1Jn 2:17 And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays forever.

That it means exactly that.

So most things that are of the world, I think the average spirit-filled Christian can figure out. Other issues require more study and prayer, and it all depends upon our level of commitment to Christ; is He our Lord and Master, or is there some things we just want to hang on to out of selfish pride, and not give up? And what should we be doing that we are not doing?

When it comes to rhythms in music, I learned a few things. I learned the syncopated rock beat stresses the downbeat, as in 1,2,3, and 4 in 4/4 time, the snare drum is struck on the 2 and the 4, causing a “tension” in the rhythm.

More simply, syncopation is a general term for a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm; a placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur.” (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncopation)

"All dance music makes use of [syncopation] and it's often a vital element that helps tie the whole track together".[3] In the form of a back beat, syncopation is used in virtually all contemporary popular music.” (Wikipedia)

I remember the Beatles covered “Roll over Beethoven” that had the line; ”If ¯it’s ¯got a back-beat¯ I can use it¯.”

Scientists tell us that music not only affects our emotions, but it actually causes a multitude of physical reactions in our bodies, such as changes in hormonal levels. Certain kinds of music can coerce one to surrender his autonomy and to follow a crowd. "..it is the rhythm that controls the activities of large groups...[It] furnishes a nonverbal persuasion not only to act but to act together."(12) What is it that rock music with its driving rhythms compels us towards? Mike Quattro a well known producer of rock shows tells us. "Rock motivates you internally, gives you a sensual feeling. A girl can be turned on by the music. It releases her inhibitions. The beat of the drum has always been a factor. A girl realizes her own sexuality through the music." (Is Rock Music for Christians? http://www.cog7jax.org/rock.htm#A_)

The Heritage Singers

But you say, that does not apply to the Heritage Singers, we are Christians, we sing about Jesus, and we have a good ministry, very few of our songs rock. And I’m in general agreement with this statement. However, can we really take good Christian lyrics and marry them to “profane” rhythms and have the Lord’s approval? I don’t think so. But we may have our own approval, and that of thousands of fans.

The Heritage Singers Spirit of Praise album, and the song “Praise Him” is most definitely rock-n-roll. It has strong prominent drums in it too. So does the song “I love praising the Name of The Lord;” though the drums are more muted in this song, the bass lines stand out more. Both songs, especially the first are very danceable and would make any bar/nightclub owner happy to play them; they would just want to mute the lyrics, or change the object of adoration to the girl, or something else, as we know that praising Jesus won’t work in night clubs, but after a few drinks, they might not notice the difference anyway.

But you say, “we don’t play in clubs and such, and our lyrics are good.” True. But here’s the dilemma. We’ve already learned that the syncopated beat causes hormonal changes, it changes behavior, it causes the mind to re-focus, or re-direct on something other than our intended purpose, and that should be Jesus.

The lyrics cannot overcome the beat and stand out prominently, even without drums, though to a lesser degree. When I stand in church now and sing the Old Rugged Cross, with piano, organ, guitar, or perhaps violins, I can sing the song with positive love feelings for my Savior, who did die for me, and in whom I trust implicitly to save me. Then my mind, my thoughts are directed to sacred and Holy things, and my spiritual well-being enjoys the blessings of God as the Holy angels sing with us. The words mean everything to me, and the instrumental style of music along with the words, compliment the song. Or the same thing can happen with a more modern praise song, such as the ones in my books (sans the drums and syncopated beat).

But when drums and the rock beat is added, there comes a change. I start to twitch and jerk a bit, and my foot taps time with the beat, if I’m a bit inhibited, that may be all the physical moves I do. But my mind starts to go in different directions now, it feels sensual, earthly. People in church may begin to “move’ rather suggestively, sensually perhaps. My mind is no longer on Holy things, it has moved to the sensual, the earthly, and the devilish if you please; and all this with good lyrics.

1John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

This scenario happens all the time, much more at Christian concerts than in most of our churches per se; admittedly at the celebration churches these things occur quite a bit more. So in other words, the rock rhythms cause an unnatural excitement, even a euphoric feeling that easily can be mistaken for the moving of the Holy Spirit. In addition, the influence of rock-based music in the church can and does influence the mind to go for secular rock as well. The youth are especially susceptible to any and all influences that come down the pike. In general, they do not have the guidance nor the direction needed to avoid the “beat.”

Let’s suppose certain people buy Christian “rock’ albums, even those with just a few rock songs. They play the music at home, they are not too careful or particular, and their children just have a grand ole time dancing to the music. These influences can add together with other ones, and the kids grow up with a taste for rock music, dancing, and eventually, they leave home and become addicted to drugs and alcohol and they hang out in bars and nightclubs dancing all night. The female gets a job as a stripper earning big bucks to pay for her cocaine habit.

All because of Christian rock? Perhaps only God in the strictest sense can foretell how all influences add up to shape the character, but we do know there is a great quantity of unhealthy influence out there because of rock rhythms. Sure the parents should have raised the kids as peculiar people;……. but they were just too liberal.

Do we love Jesus and His truth? And how much does that mean to us? Do we love the praise and attention of the world, or do we have the quiet assurance of God’s approval? Can we play and sing beautiful uplifting music without syncopated rhythm styles that may cause the mind to drift away from Christ, or to have never been there in the first place?

We know God gives everyone a free choice, in what to believe, and what to do. That’s why we love Him.

As Adventists, we accept and believe our prophet, Ellen G White. Here is her Holy Spirit-given prophecy concerning music, shouting, and dancing in church in these last days;

It is impossible to estimate too largely the work that the Lord will accomplish through His proposed vessels in carrying out His mind and purpose. The things you have described as taking place in Indiana, the Lord has shown me would take place just before the close of probation. Every uncouth thing will be demonstrated. There will be shouting, with drums, music, and dancing. The senses of rational beings will become so confused that they cannot be trusted to make right decisions. And this is called the moving of the Holy Spirit. {2SM 36.2}

The Holy Spirit never reveals itself in such methods, in such a bedlam of noise. This is an invention of Satan to cover up his ingenious methods for making of none effect the pure, sincere, elevating, ennobling, sanctifying truth for this time. Better never have the worship of God blended with music than to use musical instruments to do the work which last January was represented to me would be brought into our camp meetings. The truth for this time needs nothing of this kind in its work of converting souls. A bedlam of noise shocks the senses and perverts that which if conducted aright might be a blessing. The powers of satanic agencies blend with the din and noise, to have a carnival, and this is termed the Holy Spirit’s working (Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 36).

Clearly, the Lord’s prophet warns us of the dangers of drum-driven, syncopated rock music that is played in many churches today. I have found personally, that this type of music will lead my mind away from Jesus Christ, and into a direction that is not good for me. A careful study of the Bible will show that the hand drum, or timbrel mentioned in the Bible, was never used for worship in the sanctuary; it was used primarily for celebrations outside the temple. Cymbals, as mentioned in Psalm 150, were not used for rhythms at all, they were used to announce the beginning and ending of certain parts of the worship services. For additional information upon the instruments used in ancient Israel’s Sabbath, and sabbath days services, please see this website; http://www.drpipim.org/worship-aamp-church-growth-contemporaryissues-48/108-applause-hand-waiving-drumming-a-dancing-in-the-church.html

Note on the Heritage Singers; I do like the Heritage Singers, and I still listen to some of their music. They have a wonderful ministry, and they actually have altar calls for Christ at their concerts. However, the record does show that some of their songs are in fact rock-n-roll.