I hesitate to use the word secular in referring to non-sacred music since it reminds me of how the Amish are always referring to everyone outside of their sect as the English, with the implication, always, that while they are not being condemned per se, they are not of us which is what you must be in order to be accepted. The word secular has sometimes been given this property in Evangelical Christianity. Admittedly now and then it might fit but often it does not and that is why I hesitate with its use. Nevertheless, since it is here with us at the party, oh well. So then, what do I mean by “the gift of secular music”?
First may I be clear that I, personally, do segregate music between that which entertains me and that which I use for worshipful expressions (sacred or spiritual). And I am certain the begged questions of “what if some worship music ends up entertaining you” or some insinuated form of the question of the in-between meta will arise to which I respond that I recognize this but its vitality to the topic does not require addressing it at the moment so forgive my not pursing it in order to make my larger point (and forgive the protracted qualifier here, nothing worse than a PSA announcement before the show!).
God has granted us numerous opportunities for many dimensions of experience in this world. And as a believer it certainly is true that at no point should any of these cosmic extensions be experienced apart from the filling of God’s Spirit in our lives. However, this is where the problem lies for many. While it is true all things should be done in a spiritual state (that is, while being filled with God’s Spirit) not all things we do are spiritual in nature.
Eating is a human function, not a spiritual one. The believer is to be filled by God’s Spirit, not in order to make everything a spiritual function but in order to always be guided by God’s motives and Word. So to eat while being filled with God’s Spirit does not make food something that should be avoided because it is not a spiritual function, rather it should be an exercise guided by God’s Spirit which brings proper motivation (being led by the Spirit) and proper principle (God’s Word). And sometimes this may be greatly impacted by God’s Spirit and Word and at other times it may not be significantly impacted. Each case must be measured accordingly.
Take book reading. Many Christians enjoy novels of adventure and drama. The Bible does not forbid this. It is what some call adiaphora (ἀδιάφορα) which refers to “indifferent things” or as is often called - matters of liberty. And this is where we come with secular music.
Secular music certainly is to be enjoyed in the state of being filled with God’s Spirit which also means, as I stated earlier, being guided by God’s principles. And the first thing we see is that there is no direct prohibition against it. So the second thing we must then do is understand what principles the Bible provides to guide us. And when we search, discover and establish the biblical boundaries of such music we may take advantage of the full pleasure of secular music being offered, again always while filled with God’s Spirit. I can further this point by naming a few principles but I won't because this is not the thrust of the essay (that is, the points themselves), and so for now I will leave that to the reader to discover.
I am reluctant to name a few of the secular performers I enjoy for the sake of weaker brothers or sisters. I genuinely am concerned that such naming of these may be stumbling blocks because they may represent strong former ties associated with sinful habits. However, I do have something more modest in mind.
The other night, PBS broadcast a program that was centered around Frank Sinatra’s music. The show was to raise money for PBS but my focus was on Sinatra’s music. I enjoy most all of what he does (he did get my verbal commentary when they presented him singing My Way, but he is dead and gone and could not hear it and the cat and my dear spouse both looked at me with a certain understanding) and so I sat there watching the program with the satisfying digestion of good musical entertainment. It was fantastic, frankly (yes pun intended).
So let’s expand this to today's entertainment since we still have secular music intended for personal diversion which does not violate biblical principles. What do we do with these? Well, my suggestion is thank God for them and praise our Lord for such gifts of entertainment which help us relax, be amused, experience emotions and motivate us and so on.
Just as you would and do enjoy many secular things, music, too, is to be enjoyed through the filling of God’s Spirit and the principles of His Word. But remember, it is not sacred music and it is not intended for such uses and it is no unusual thing to understand why, when people use music designed for entertainment or some non-sacred purpose, they find it very discomforting and out of place when they are subjected to attempts to use such in sacred or spiritual contexts. Thank you, Father, for the gift of secular music (FM, no static at all).