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Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Music: Past and Present PDF  | Print |  E-mail
The Official Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Guidelines on the Music Debate

(Reproduced from Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, ed., Here We Stand [2005])

[If our worship is intended to be the worship of God, then a discussion of worship styles would be incomplete unless we offer some practical guidelines on the kind of music that is consistent with the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist church. During the past three or so decades the Adventist church has produced two major guidelines on music. The first one was voted at the Annual Council meeting of church leaders in Mexico City, Mexico, October 14-19, 1972. The most recent one was approved on October 12, 2004 at the Annual Council meeting in Silver Springs, Maryland, USA. These two documents provide parameters or directions for those who seek to know the mind of the world church as to what God expects from His people in our choice and use of music.---Samuel Koranteng-Pipim]

Guidelines Toward
An SDA Philosophy of Music (1972)

Voted, That the following guidelines/or a Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Music be adopted:

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has come into existence in fulfillment of prophecy to be God's instrument in a worldwide proclamation of the Good News of salvation through faith in the atoning sacrifice of God's Son and of obedience to His commands in prepara¬tion for our Lord's return. The lives of those who accept this responsibility must be as distinctive as their message. This calls for total commitment by each church member to the ideals and ob¬jectives of the Church. Such commit¬ment will affect every department of church life and will certainly influence the music used by the Church in fulfillment of its God-given commis¬sion.

Music is one of God's great gifts to man and is one of the most important elements in a spiritual program. It is an avenue of communication with God, and "is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth" (Education, p. 168). Dealing as it does with matters of eternal conse¬quence, it is essential that music's tremendous power be kept clearly in mind. It has the power to uplift or degrade; it can be used in the service of good or evil. "It has power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures; power to quicken thought and to awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of ac¬tion, and to banish the gloom and foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort" (ibid., pp. 167-168).

Those, therefore, who select music for the distinctive purposes of this Church must exercise a high degree of discrimination in its choice and in its use. In their endeavors to meet these ideals, more than human wisdom is needed. Turning then to revelation for guidance, the following general prin¬ciples are revealed:

The music should

1. Bring glory to God and assist us in acceptably worshiping Him (1 Cor 10:31).

2. Ennoble, uplift, and purify the Christian's thoughts (Phil 4:8; Patri¬archs and Prophets, p. 594).

3. Effectively influence the Chris¬tian in the development of Christ's character in his life and in that of others (MS 57, 1906).

4. Have a text (words, lyric, mes¬sage] which is in harmony with the scriptural teachings of the Church (Review and Herald. June 6, 1912).

5. Reveal a compatibility between the message conveyed by the words and the music, avoiding a mixture of the sacred and the profane.

6. Shun theatricality and prideful display (Evangelism, p. 137; Review and Herald, November 30, 1900).

7. Give precedence to the message of the text, which should not be over¬powered by accompanying musical ele¬ments (Gospel Workers, pp. 357-358).

8. Maintain a judicious balance of the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual elements (Review and Herald, Novem¬ber 14, 1899).

9. Never compromise high prin¬ciples of dignity and excellence in efforts to reach people just where they arc (Testimonies for the Church, 9:143;Evangelism, p. 137).

10. Be appropriate for the occasion, the setting, and the audience for which it is intended (Evangelism, pp. 507-508).

There is much that is spiritually uplifting and religiously valid in the music of the various cultural and ethnic groups; however, the musical tastes and practices of all should conform to the universal value of Christ-like character, and all should strive for oneness in the spirit and purpose of the gospel, which calls for unity rather than uniformity. Care must be exercised that worldly values in music which fail to express the high ideals of the Christian faith be avoided.

The above principles will serve as effective guidelines in the choice and use of music for the varied needs of the Church. Certain musical forms, such as jazz, rock, and their related hybrid forms, are considered by the Church as incompatible with these principles. Responsible persons involved in the Church's broad-ranging music ac¬tivities, either as leaders or performers, will find little trouble in applying these principles in some areas. Certain other areas are much more complex, and a more detailed discussion of the factors involved follows.


Music in the Worship Service.
Worship should be the primary and eternal activity of mankind. Man's highest end is to glorify God. As the worshiper comes to the house of God to offer a sacrifice of praise, let it be with the best possible music. Careful planning of every musical clement of the service is essential so that the congregation is led to be a participant and not a spectator.

The hymns used for this service should be directed to God, emphasizing praise and utilizing the great hymns of our heritage. They should have strong, singable melodies and worthy poetry. The pastor should take a keen interest in increasing the quality and fervor of congregational singing. "Singing is sel¬dom to be done by a few" (Counsels on Health, pp. 481-482). Christian experience will be immeasurably en¬riched by the learning and use of new hymns.

Where there is a choir, meaningful anthems chosen from master composers of the past and present, sung by dedi¬cated and well-prepared musicians, will add much to the service and assist in elevating the quality of worship.

Instrumental  music, including organ or piano, should harmonize with the lofty ideals of worship and be chosen carefully from the best materials consistent with the ability and training of the player. The instrumentalist responsible for accompanying con¬gregational singing has an especially great responsibility to set the right standard in all his contributions, be they preludes or postludes, offertories or other voluntaries, or accompaniment of hymns. He is in a unique position to raise the level of worship music in his church. If in the service there should be vocal solos or other special music, preference should be given to material with scriptural texts and music that is within the singer's range of ability, and be presented to the Lord without display of vocal prowess. The communication of the message should be paramount.

Music in Evangelism.
Music used in evangelism may also include gospel music, witness music, or testimony music; but there should be no com¬promise with the high principles of dignity and excellence characteristic of our message to ready the people for the second coming of Christ. The music chosen should

1. Direct the hearer to Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

2. Prepare the way for the presen¬tation of the message from God's Word, or continue its appeal, evoking a re¬sponse from the hearers.

3. Be played and sung by those whose lives are consistent with the message they bear.

4. Be a vehicle for the deep impression of Bible truth, which will inspire a positive change in the life.

5. Be presented in a carefully planned, orderly manner.

6. Be simple and melodic and presented without emphasis on personal display.

7. Give precedence to the preaching of the Word, both in emphasis and in allotment of time.

8. Maintain a balanced appeal to the emotion and intellect and not just charm the senses.

9. Be understandable and mean¬ingful in content and style for the largest possible cross section of the audience.

Music in Youth Evangelism.
In the field of youth witnessing, most of the above suggestions apply. Considera¬tion also needs to be given to certain aspects that are unique to this area.

Young people tend to identify closely with the music of the contem¬porary youth culture. The desire to reach these youth where they are with the gospel of Christ sometimes leads to the use of certain questionable musi¬cal idioms. In all these idioms, the element which brings the most problems is rhythm, or "the beat."

Of all me musical elements, rhythm evokes the strongest physical response. Satan's greatest successes have often come through his appeal to the physical nature. Showing keen awareness of the dangers involved in this approach to youth, Ellen G. White said, "They have a keen car for music, and Satan knows what organs to excite, to animate, engross, and charm the mind so that Christ is not desired. The spiritual longings of the soul for divine knowledge, for a growth in grace, are wanting [i.e., lacking]" (Testimonies/or the Church. 1:497). This is a strong indictment of the way in which music may be put to a use that is in direct opposition to God's plan. The pre¬viously mentioned jazz, rock, and re¬lated hybrid forms are well-known for creating this sensuous response in mas¬ses of people.

On the other hand, we have many traditional folk-music idioms which have been respected as legitimate branches of the musical stream. Some of these are acceptable as vehicles for expressing the Christian witness. Others, which might find acceptance in a Christian secular atmosphere, may be inappropriate for bearing the Saviour's name. Still others may fall completely outside the Christian's ex¬perience. It must be clear, then, that any form of "folk" musical expression must be judged by the same general principles as all other types discussed in this document.

"Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God's ideal for His children" (Education, p. 18). Those who strive for this high ideal and who lead in youth witnessing will find guidance through prayerful study of music by the aid of the Holy Spirit.

In addition to the problem of rhythm, other factors affect the spiritual qualities of the music:

Vocal Treatment. The raucous style common to rock, me suggestive, sen¬timental, breathy, crooning style of the night-club performer, and other distor¬tions of the human voice should be avoided.

Harmonic Treatment. Music should be avoided that is saturated with the 7th, 9th, llth, and 13th chords as well as other lush sonorities. These chords, when used with restraint, produce beauty, but when used to excess distract from the true spiritual quality of the text.

Visual  Presentation.  Anything which calls undue attention to the performer(s), such as excessive, af¬fected bodily movement or inap¬propriate dress, should find no place in witnessing.

Amplification. Great care should be exercised to avoid excessive in¬strumental and vocal amplification. When amplifying music there should be a sensitivity to the spiritual needs of those giving the witness and of those who are to receive it. Careful considera¬tion should be given to the selection of instruments for amplification.

Performances. The primary objec¬tive in the performance of all sacred music should be to exalt Christ rather than to exalt the musician or to provide entertainment.

Music in the Home.
1. Music education and appreciation should begin early in the life of the child through (a) The introduction to great hymns and gospel songs in the informal happy experience of family worship; (b) The establishment of right listening habits through home audio equipment, which includes carefully selected music; (c) Attendance with the family at music concerts with standards conforming to those outlined in this document; (d) The proper example and influence of parents.

2. Family singing and participation in family music instrumental ensembles should be encouraged.

3. Experiments in writing poetry and song compositions might be en¬couraged.

4. A home music library of wisely selected materials should be estab¬lished.

5. It must be recognized that Satan is engaged in a battle for the mind and that changes may be effected imper¬ceptibly upon the mind to alter percep¬tions and values for good and evil. Extreme care must therefore be exer¬cised in the type of programming and music listened to on radio and TV, especially avoiding that which is vulgar, enticing, cheap, immoral, theatrical and identifiable with trends in the counter culture.

Music in the School.
1. In prepar¬ing and presenting music for religious functions, school administrators and teachers should work with the students in a way that will uphold the musical standards of the Church.

2. Witnessing and folk-music groups going out from campuses should receive sponsorship and guidance from those appointed by the administration, be they music-faculty members or others.

3. Directors of radio stations on Seventh-day Adventist campuses and those who are responsible for the selection of music played over institu¬tional public-address systems should choose music that is in conformity with the philosophy of music as expressed in this document.

4. Music teachers in school en¬sembles and in private teaching ac¬tivities should make positive efforts to teach music literature that may be used in church and in soul-winning activities.

5. Because one of the primary objectives of school music- appreciation courses is to teach discrimination in the light of divine revelation, instructors in these classes on all educational levels are urged to include information in the art of making qualitative value judg¬ment in the area of religious music.

6. Efforts should be made by the local church and conference to close the culture gap. To this end the trained music personnel of the schools should be used in musical training and activities so that the lofty ideals of worship be effectively promoted.

7.   Musical   presentations   in Seventh - day Adventist educational in¬stitutions should conform to the stand¬ards of the Church. This applies to local talent as well as to visiting artists, ensembles, and music on entertainment films.


Music "rightly employed, is a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes to inspire and elevate the soul" (Educa¬tion, p. 167).

The Seventh-day Adventist life-style demands that the individual Chris¬tian exercise a high degree of discrimination and individual respon¬sibility in the selection of secular music for personal use, solo, or group perfor¬mance. All such music should be eval¬uated in me light of the instruction given in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, breth¬ren, whatsoever things are true, what¬soever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." He will also keep in mind the warning given by Ellen G. White in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 497:

"I was shown that the youth must take a higher stand, and make the Word of God the man of their counsel and their guide. Solemn responsibilities rest upon the young, which they lightly regard. The introduction of music into their homes, instead of inciting to holiness and spirituality, has been the means of diverting their minds from the truth. Frivolous songs and the popular sheet music of the day seem congenial to their taste. The instruments of music have taken time which should have been devoted to prayer. Music, when not abused, is a great blessing; but when put to a wrong use, it is a terrible curse."

The Christian will not sing songs that are incompatible with the ideals of truth, honesty, and purity. He will avoid elements that give the appearance of making evil desirable or goodness appear trivial. He will try to avoid compositions containing trite phrasing, poor poetry, nonsense, sentimentality, or frivolity, which lead away from the counsel and teachings found in scripture and in the Spirit of Prophecy.

He will consider music such as blues, jazz, the rock idiom, and similar forms as inimical to the development of Christian character, because it opens the mind to impure thoughts and leads to unholy behavior. Such music has a distinct relationship to the permissive¬ness of contemporary society. The dis¬tortion of rhythm, melody, and harmony as employed by these styles and their excessive amplification dulls the sen¬sibilities and eventually destroys the appreciation for that which is good and holy.

Care should be exercised when using a secular tune wedded to sacred lyrics, so that the profane connotation of the music will not outweigh the message of the text. Moreover, the discerning Christian, when selecting any secular music for listening or performing which is not included in the above categories [blues, jazz, rock, etc.] will subject such music to the test of the principles given in the general principles outlined in this Philosophy of Music.

The true Christian is able to witness to others by his choice of secular music for social occasions. He will, through diligent search and careful selection, seek out that type of music which will be compatible with his social needs and his Christian principles.

"There must be a living connection with God in prayer, a living connection with God in songs of praise and thanksgiving" (Evangelism, p. 498).

[The above guidelines was voted by Official Action of the Autumn Council of the General Conference Committee, October 14-19, 1972, Mexico City, Mexico. NOTE: Punctuation slightly altered.]

A Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Music – Guidelines (2004)

VOTED, To approve as guidelines the document, A Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Music, which reads as follows:

A Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Music - Guidelines

God has woven music into the very fabric of His creation. When He made all things “the morning stars sang together and the angels shouted for joy.”—Job 38:7 The book of Revelation portrays heaven as a place of ceaseless praise, with songs of adoration to God and the Lamb resounding from all.—Rev 4:9-11; 5:9-13; 7:10-12; 12:10-12; 14:1-3; 15:2-4; 19:1-8

Because God made humans in His image, we share a love and appreciation for music with all His created beings. In fact, music can touch and move us with a power that goes beyond words or most other types of communication.[1] At its purest and best, music lifts our beings into the very presence of God where angels and unfallen beings worship Him in song.

But sin has cast blight over the Creation. The divine image has been marred and well-nigh obliterated; in all aspects this world and God’s gifts come to us with a mingling of good and evil. Music is not morally and spiritually neutral. Some may move us to the most exalted human experience, some may be used by the prince of evil to debase and degrade us, to stir up lust, passion, despair, anger, and hatred.

The Lord’s messenger, Ellen G White, continually counsels us to raise our sights in music. She tells us, “Music, when not abused, is a great blessing; but when it is put to a wrong use, it is a terrible curse”.[2] “Rightly employed, . . . [music] is a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes, to inspire and elevate the souls.”[3]

Of the power of song, she writes: “It is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth. How often to the soul hard-pressed and ready to despair, memory recalls some word of God’s,—the long-forgotten burden of a childhood song,—and temptations lose their power, life takes on new meaning and new purpose, and courage and gladness are imparted to other souls! . . . As a part of religious service, singing is as much an act of worship as is prayer. Indeed, many a song is prayer. . . . As our Redeemer leads us to the threshold of the Infinite, flushed with the glory of God, we may catch the themes of praise and thanksgiving from the heavenly choir round about the throne; and as the echo of the angels’ song is awakened in our earthly homes, hearts will be drawn closer to the heavenly singers. Heaven’s communion begins on earth. We learn here the keynote of its praise.”[4]

As Seventh-day Adventists, we believe and preach that Jesus is coming again soon. In our worldwide proclamation of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12 we call all peoples to accept the everlasting gospel, to worship God the Creator, and to prepare to meet our soon-returning Lord. We challenge all to choose the good and not the bad, to “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”—Titus 2:12, 13

We believe that the gospel impacts all areas of life. We therefore hold that, given the vast potential of music for good or ill, we cannot be indifferent to it. While realizing that tastes in music vary greatly from individual to individual, we believe that the Scriptures and the writings of Ellen G White suggest principles that can inform our choices.

In this document the phrase “sacred music”—sometimes referred to as religious music—designates music that focuses on God and on biblical and Christian themes. In most cases, it is music composed and intended for worship service, evangelistic meetings, or private devotion and may be both vocal and instrumental music. However, not all sacred/religious music may be acceptable for an Adventist. Sacred music should not evoke secular associations or invite conformity to worldly behavioral patterns of thinking or acting.

“Secular music” is music composed for settings other than the worship service or private devotion. It speaks to the common issues of life and basic human emotions. It comes out of our very being, expressing the human spirit’s reaction to life, love, and the world in which the Lord has placed us. It can be morally uplifting or degrading. Although it does not directly praise and adore God, nevertheless it could have a legitimate place in the life of the Christian. In its selection the principles discussed in this document should be followed.

Principles to Guide the Christian

The music that Christians enjoy should be regulated by the following principles:

1. All music the Christian listens to, performs or composes, whether sacred or secular, will glorify God: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”—1 Corinthians 10:31 This is the over-riding biblical principle. Anything that cannot meet this high standard will weaken our experience with the Lord.

2. All music the Christian listens to, performs or composes, whether sacred or secular, should be the noblest and the best: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is right, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”—Phil 4:8 As followers of Jesus Christ who hope and expect to join the heavenly choirs, we view life on this earth as a preparation for, and foretaste of, the life to come.

On these two foundations—glorifying God in all things and choosing the noblest and the best—depend the other principles listed below for the selection of music by Christians.

3. It is characterized by quality, balance, appropriateness, and authenticity. Music fosters our spiritual, psychological, and social sensitivity, and our intellectual growth.

4. It appeals to both the intellect and the emotions and impacts the body in a positive way. It is wholistic.

5. Music reveals creativity in that it draws from quality melodies. If harmonized,[5] it uses harmonies in an interesting and artistic way, and employs rhythm that complements them.

6. Vocal music employs lyrics that positively stimulate intellectual abilities as well as our emotions and our will power. Good lyrics are creative, rich in content, and of good composition. They focus on the positive and reflect moral values; they educate and uplift; and they correspond with sound biblical theology.

7. Musical and lyrical elements should work together harmoniously to influence thinking and behavior in harmony with biblical values.

8. It maintains a judicious balance of spiritual, intellectual, and emotional elements.

9. We should recognize and acknowledge the contribution of different cultures in worshiping God. Musical forms and instruments vary greatly in the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist family, and music drawn from one culture may sound strange to someone from a different culture.

Seventh-day Adventist music-making means to choose the best and above all to draw close to our Creator and Lord and glorify Him. Let us rise to the challenge of a viable alternative musical vision and, as part of our wholistic and prophetic message, make a unique Adventist musical contribution as a witness to the world regarding a people awaiting Christ’s soon coming.

[These guidelines were approved and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Annual Council on October 13, 2004.]


[1]“It [music] is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth” (Education, p. 168).

[2]Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 497. She also states that in the future, “ just before the close of probation,” ‘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. 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” (1 SM 37).

[3]Education, p. 167.

[4]Education, p. 168.

[5]We acknowledge that in some cultures harmonies are not as important as in other cultures.