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Christian Electronic Dance Music – the Future Sound of Worship
. . . or a Capitalist’s “honey pot”?
It was an event we desired to be a part – a yearning to experience the supernatural presence of a Supreme Being, and to share that experience with a gathering. We yearned to affirm our passion for music, to dance and share our Joy. So on May 25, 2011, my daughter and I, as D-D-Praz, embarked on a five day journey across the United States to participate in what was advertised as the “the world’s largest Christian dance music event.” The host was GodsDJs.com, an ambitious social networking venture to promote the fastest-growing, alternative genre of Christian music – Electronic Dance and DJ, the nuevo Christian “rave.” The event was GodsDJs’ third “Future Sound of Worship” occasionally referred to as a conference, held annually in Rochester, Michigan. Many of our most-respected, international producers involved in this movement had shown their support. The theme of this event was “Digital Spiritual Warfare,” and in lieu of that theme, there were overwhelming extra-ordinary occurrences which, despite our determination, could have prevented us from attending.
We began our adventure from Western Colorado on Amtrak, stopping for a day before the conference to explore downtown Chicago. On the morning of the event, a series of “misadventures” began. First we were unable to secure the rental car we’d reserved online, so we instead booked two coach seats on the train leaving for Detroit that afternoon. With the “extra” half-day, we toured the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the U.S. – a must see for any Chicago adventure. While admiring the incredible views from the 103rd floor of the tower, one of two elevators was shut-down. Before we knew it, the line to leave the observation deck of the tower had grown to over an hour’s wait! We could have missed our train and the conference . . . so we made our appeal before God and man and were immediately given VIP status and placed “first in line” for the elevator leaving. Once on Amtrak, our commute quickly became its own little “party train” with dozens of college students returning to school. Five times in all, the train stopped to “boot off” the most drunken and disorderly of them. By the time the train arrived Detroit, it was an hour and a half late. Our final misadventure was a taxi ride, only seven miles from our motel to the conference. That taxi took almost an hour, as our driver could not find the address, trusting a faulty GPS and turning around twice, merely a half mile from the event.
Yet we safely made it – Hallelujah! – and only missed the first two entertainers!! WAIT. . .
. . . did I say that: “entertainers”? Were we even at the right event, a large worship event or a conference as intimately referred?
Having participated in many spiritual and worship music conferences over the years – we can state that this event in no way resembled a conference on any theme, either Christian Electronic Dance Music or spiritual warfare. There was no exchanging ideas or stratgizing this ministry. The event was merely a concert of DJ’s, no different than would a local church host for its own youth group. Consistent with any localized event, the majority of the meager 35-40 attendees and performers (still there) originated from this very neighborhood, a niche among the most wealthy and pretentious residents of the Detroit area. We even learned that the only promoted “featured guest performer” was a friend of one of the organizer’s brother.
The event, however, did emulate a typical American Christian gathering. There were references to a God and named Him Jesus, banners and announcements to proffer prayer, and a few attendees repeated their Baptisms and made allegiances to serving Christ. A booth was set up to represent a peripheral ministry called “Life Challenge”, this niche’s own detachment from the nationally successful “Teen Challenge” ministry. There was even a presence like a Spirit of Worship, corporately “lukewarm” at best, but genuine among a few individuals. It is a rare treat when the actual featured artists or speakers can genuinely usher in a move of the Holy Spirit. So we stayed behind after the event helping “clean up,” hoping to meet who at this event might have such an anointing. What we discovered was alarming.
Before continuing, we should clarify the purposes of music in Christian ministry, and describe the genuine movement of Christian EDM in global evangelism. Music (or dance) in Judeo-Christian religion has been a source of dissention and been hotly debated for thousands of years. The earliest record of such can be found in 2 Samuel 6, where King David is described as radically dancing to intense music in celebration of the Ark of the Covenant being brought to the City of David (Jerusalem). During this intense praise, David somehow loses some of his clothes. One of David’s wives later confronts him, and accuses him of dancing inappropriately. Since then, the dissension among Christians about music has intensified. The debate raises issues like which instruments (if any) are appropriate for worship, what or whose voices can sing (if any), or what time or key signature should be used. For the past few centuries to present, the focus of this debate remains on what type, or genre, of music and whether more progressive and contemporary styles are appropriate for Christian gatherings.
D-D-Praz is resolved on this issue, and we believe ALL genres of music can be appropriately employed in Christian ministry. We are, however, very selective in discerning what we qualify as “Christian.” It is imperative to differentiate music that is used for evangelism, from that which is used for an individual’s personal relationship with God; or that which is used to edify the Body (or Bride), from what is appropriate for corporate Worship. Once segregating these “categories,” then we apply the Scripture, the infallible Word of God, as a standard. So what does God tell us?
Two of the fastest growing global trends in Christian music are Gospel House and Christian Electronic Dance Music (EDM). By the very nature of these rhythmic music styles, wanting to dance is a natural tendency. Very little is actually said in the Bible about dance, except that in all its references with music, people are compelled to dance with music when praising God and rejoicing. (2 Samuel 6, Psalm 149, 150). Translating the Aramaic language used by Jesus and most of his disciples, the same word for “praise” is used for “dancing” – it’s most literal meaning is simply “to rejoice.” Christians should be encouraged and compelled “to rejoice” in what the Lord has done when together. There is no literal condemnation or God-given command explicitly found in the Scripture against dancing as a form of praise or worship, either individually or corporately. In fact, as was the case with David, his response to his accusing wife was “hey, this is between me and God”!!
Yet when we consider what the Scripture says about corporate worship – a worship that incorporates multiple generations and cultures – we find a completely different tune. Nearly all references to this form of collective worship include a phrase like they “bowed down” or “lowered their heads” in worship. Obviously this is not the same pattern as what’s driven by dance music or rock-n-roll, but rather a reverent homage to the Holiness and Majesty of God. There are differences in corporate “worship” and corporate “praise”; and we should consider this when employing music for congregational worship.
Our primary criterion which defines effective Christian music for ministry is any, regardless of style or genre, which lyrically incorporates the Word of God or makes declarations to the character of God, true to what the Word teaches. Music that narrates either a personal testimony, or the testimony of another, and offers Praise and Glory for Jesus, also qualifies. There is much music targeted today for the “Christian” that we would not label “Christian music.” Occasionally a Country/Western artist loses some grip on popularity, and then releases songs referencing Jesus, or prayer, or trusting in God – just to meet some demand or broaden horizons. This does not qualify the music as “Christian” and is true, even if the artist is a Christian. If it’s not useful for evangelism, for creating moods for rejoicing, or nurturing maturity within the Body, then it’s NOT Christian music – regardless how it’s promoted; or the inspirations and intentions of the producer.
We are finding that in the U.S. too little Christian EDM, marketed as such, is appropriately Christian. Dancing to music without any lyrics, or when dancing to popular “worldly” music at a Christian event raises suspicions. How does Christian dance music really differ from that of the ungodly (Job 21)? Should there be a criterion that differentiates music “produced for God” and that which comes “from the world”? Too few Christians make effort to discern what, or why, they are really tuned in and dancing – even less likely attuned are the people who the Christian EDM movement “wants” to evangelize. In the case for non-lyrical dance music, genuine Christian EDM producers and DJs will incorporate a recognizable, nostalgic hymn or praise tune (the melody of Amazing Grace, for example), their testimony, and visual aids for bringing the focus on God. Even with all that, EDM artists must have a genuine calling in ministry with a spiritual anointing. Without God’s leading, the Christian artist becomes impotent. Several impotent and self-serving artists are hindering a genuine Godly movement for evangelism and worship within the Christian EDM movement.
It also is imperative to understand that regional, ethnic, and cultural distinctions determine what genre, or style of music, is effective in ministry. Some cultures add rice and beans in their chili, others take neither; people in some regions salt and pepper their grits, others add sugar; and some people desire to dance when being drawn into praise and worship. For these very cultural reasons, we see the Christian EDM movement having the greatest impact in many Latin American countries, and especially Brazil. In these areas are truly the largest Christian dance events and EDM ministries, where the “discoteca” has become the cultural norm for multiple generations. We hear testimonies from missionaries returning from Brazil where thousands of people are being brought to Christ, accompanied by miraculous healings and deliverances. Those led to Christ and in worship are moved by the Holy Spirit, through some DJ evangelist, at some rave – mixing in praise, testimony, and exaltations. There, the spiritual maturity and worship experiences are genuinely nurtured by a Godly EDM movement.
In the U.S. and Europe has grown a HUGE demand and popularity for secular Electronic Dance music. Based on this overwhelming demand, there is a real need for a genuine Gospel message that can reach people enslaved by the lifestyles associated with an often perverse and drug induced “rave” movement. As importantly, there is a need to nurture the immature Christian through their growth; and by cultural popularity, Christian dance music can also serve this purpose. We are excited to share that there are DJ’s and producers of Christian House and EDM recognized as having a genuine calling and an anointing to advance this “newer” ministry. Many of these artists recognize the need to unite and collaborate, globally. Several Christian dance music organizations are networked, socially, through Facebook and websites like House of Inspirations, Celestial DJ’s, Gospel House Music.com, our favorite The Master’s Groove, and some of GodsDJs (DJ Pat Allen).
Our alarming experience with the GodsDJs’ event we attended in Rochester is best described thus: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12, Luke 6). Much to our surprise, the context of conversations with those we met at the event representing that organization were an egregious preoccupation with finances and self-aggrandizement. There were false claims about representing the best artists and technology and the largest movement, or exaggerating the success of their concert in numbers and merchandise, et al. There was no glory for God. But don’t just take our word for it; you can witness yourselves by strolling the organization’s own YouTube videos posted, since that event in May.
The young members of GodsDJs.com apparently represent nothing more than a business venture, capitalizing on the HUGE demand for EDM and the overwhelming popularity of “Christian” DJ’s and their productions. Through aggressive and brilliantly deceptive campaigning, GodsDJs has expanded its network and merchandizing ability by emulating itself as the pinnacle advancement of a Christian EDM ministry. We cannot label GodsDJs outright greedy, nor disqualify it as something God could use, however. When expenses or financial gain is possible, and success and recognition comes; then the desire for gain becomes an obstruction (“spirit of Balaam” – Numbers 22-24, Jude 1). Despite the indications, GodsDJs has become an opportunity for earnest individuals to network, research, and discover a Christian alternative for praise and worship music.
SO even with misadventures and some trivial disappointment by our expectations from “the world’s largest Christian dance event;” we enjoyed ourselves, were blessed, and have continued to met others we would collaborate with on ministry projects. “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4). To know and represent the Truth is both liberating and honorable. Having fellowship with truthful worshipers is what any Christian event should aspire to accomplish, for the Glory of God.Follow @ddpraz