When reading Mr. Woetzel’s writings, he contends that, “Music-is-neutral thinking evolved in Christian circles in the late 1960’s and in the early 1970’s.” Perhaps that certain formulation of this idea did, but the use of secular music to praise God goes back much farther than that.
Let’s take, for instance, General William Booth of the Salvation Army who lived in the late 1800s. A man who staunchly defended singing only music written specifically for spiritual use, he came to the point where he not only realized the usefulness of secular tunes to reach the unchurched, but even endorsed them with his immortal quote, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?”4 And so “Champagne Charlie Is My Name” became “Bless His Name He Sets Me Free,” and we ended up with the old favorite “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” from an old Confederate battle song.
But we didn’t stop there. We took such melodies as “O Sole Mio” and the theme from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and what became the German national anthem (“Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit”) and what became the British national anthem (“God save the King”) and gave them Christian lyrics. And we call it “sacred” music. There’s nothing sacred about that music! It’s only the lyrics that make it sacred. If it were the melodies, then we’d have to stop singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in church because the melody was originally from the bar song “Anacreon in Heaven,” which undoubtedly was a lot more offensive than any of the tunes named above!
If we look at the modern worship music, there are no secular tunes among them! They are written for the express purpose of worshipping God, albeit in a mode that is uncomfortable for some Christians. If the origin of the music is any indication, we’d have to toss two thirds of our extant church music.
Another link in the historical gap problem is the definition of the word “music.” Mr. Woetzel states “the term music itself is derived from muse or musa which means to think, to meditate or to contemplate.” If we take a look at the etymology of music, we find that the Merriam-Webster dictionary states the following.
Etymology: Middle English musik, from Old French musique, from Latin musica, from Greek mousikE any art presided over by the Muses, especially music, from feminine of mousikos of the Muses, from Mousa Muse"5
Now, if we were to take a look at who the Muses were, we would find that they are “Greek goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences.”6 There wasn’t really one in charge of music, per se, but it was spread around among them. Most of them dealt with poetry anyway and not so much with the ordering of sounds in a rhythmic or harmonic fashion. The one that would probably interest us most is Polyhymnia (“many songs”), who is not only in charge of the sacred hymn (or song), but also of eloquence and dance!7
The origin of our word “music” is definitely pagan and has little to do with contemplation. We need to do our research correctly before we make any sweeping statements about the origin of the word music, and especially applying them to a spiritual facet of life.
- 4. “Origins of Salvation Army Music.” The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army Website. 2003. [http://www1.salvationarmy.org/ heritage.nsf/36c107e27b0ba7a98025692e0032abaa/ a32f0fed65165da48025697e00514406? OpenDocument]. Accessed 08-04-2003.
- "5. “Music.” Merriam Webster Online. Merriam Webster, Incorporated. 2003. [http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary]. Accessed 08-04-2003.
- 6. “Muses.” Encyclopedia Mythica: Greek Mythology. Pantheon.org. 1995. [http://www.pantheon.org/areas/mythology/europe/ greek/articles.html]. Accessed 08-04-2003.
- 7. “Polyhymnia.” Encyclopedia Mythica: Greek Mythology. Pantheon.org. 1995. [http://www.pantheon.org/areas/mythology/europe/ greek/articles.html]. Accessed 08-04-2003.