Music in the Home

[Editor’s Note: This sermon was presented at the Steps to Life Camp Meeting, July 2003. The conversational style of the speaker has been preserved.]

God has made parents responsible for their children. Parents, you are responsible to feed, clothe, and house your children. You are responsible to raise them correctly. You are responsible to keep them safe. You would know what to do to protect your child if he or she ran out in front of a car, wouldn’t you? Would you just ask, “What can I do?” Of course, you would not. If your child started to drink a glass of poison or if he or she started to smoke a cigarette or started to drink a can of beer, you would not hesitate to take action immediately, because you are responsible. You are also responsible, and it is just as important, to protect your children from the music from below, whether it is a bedlam of noise or pretty, schmaltzy music, which is a mockery of Christ.

You must not hesitate to take proper action, if your child is in danger. No excuses! Do not tell your child that it is all right for him to listen to strange music as long as he wears earphones or goes to his bedroom and shuts his door so you don’t have to hear it. Teach him that he must avoid it even at his friends’ houses, and that is hardest of all. Teach him to be bold and to stand up and say to his friends, “I can’t listen to music like this. If you have to listen to it, I can’t stay.” Do whatever it takes. It shouldn’t be any harder than to say, “No, I won’t smoke a cigarette,” or “No, I will not take a drug.”

My great-grandson, Adam, went with his mother and grandfather to eat in a Turkish restaurant. While Adam was ordering his meal, he noticed that there was terrible rock music playing, so he said to the waiter, “Will you please play some Turkish music? We are in a Turkish restaurant.”

The waiter said, “We don’t have any Turkish music.”

Adam, speaking in a voice like he was some kind of royalty and expected to be obeyed, said, “Well, then, I want classical music, please.” The waiter found a radio station that had classical music, and Adam’s mother said it was the best music she had ever heard in a restaurant in all of her life. Teach your children to stand up boldly for what is right.

Musical Opportunities

Give your children musical opportunities. Acquire small, inexpensive instruments for them to have at home when they are very young. If they are interested, provide music lessons for them when they are a little older, but please, don’t force your child to take lessons. As a music teacher, I know force doesn’t work. Take your children to good music concerts. What kind of concerts? Good ones! There are a lot of bad ones; don’t go there.

What kinds of songs should our children listen to at home and in Sabbath School? Don’t give your children little repetitious ditties. They don’t need that any more than you do. Don’t use songs set to secular music. If your children happen to know the secular songs, when they sing the tune—even with religious words—they will think about the secular words. Even if they don’t know the secular words, secular music is not appropriate for sacred songs. That’s not why it was written. If the music is appropriate for the words you are using, chances are the words aren’t spiritual, either. This applies to adult music as well. You cannot legitimately mix sacred and secular music.

Teach children real songs—not entertainment. You may be surprised. Teach them songs like, “O Worship the King.” It has meaning—teach it to them. Teach them what the words mean. Make sure they understand.

Don’t downplay children’s capabilities. Teach them Seventh-day Adventist songs. Teach them to sing like the angels sing. How do the angels sing? Ellen White tells us: “Their [the angels’] singing does not grate upon the ear. It is soft and melodious . . . . It is not forced and strained . . . .” Selected Messages, Book 3, 333. Isn’t that wonderful? It should be soft singing, not shouting, not a bedlam of noise. Angels sing softly.

“Some think that the louder they sing the more music they make; but noise is not music. Good singing is like the music of the birds—subdued and melodious.” Evangelism, 510. Don’t forget that! Don’t think you have to sing loudly.

Musical Movement

The best kind of movement you can use with the children singing is to teach them some songs with signs. Do not use raucous, boisterous movement. If they need exercise, go outside and play. A religious meeting is not the place to get exercise. There are quite a few songs that you can sign with. One such song is, “Kum Bah Ya.” Another nice song with signage is, “To My Father’s House.” The lyrics say, in part, “Oh come and go with me to my Father’s house.” Children really enjoy these songs.


Perhaps you would like to make a personal, family hymnal for use in your home. Your church may have decided it is not satisfied with the Church Hymnal that is being used. Although it contains many wonderful hymns, there may be some songs that make you uncomfortable. You may not know why you feel ill at ease, but you would really rather not sing them.

A gentleman by the name of Dr. Oliver Beltz once told me that he was on the committee to choose the songs for the earlier (1941) Church Hymnal. Years later, another gentleman, John Thurber, shared with me that he was on the committee to choose the songs for the (1985) Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal. [Both hymnals are published by Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, DC.] So I have a little insight into the choosing of the songs for each of these hymnals.

Both men told me similar stories. Each said that there were times when the people on the committee wanted to include songs that they knew he would not approve. So, not notifying him, they called a committee meeting and put the songs in while he wasn’t there. Both committees did that! You can’t take either of these hymnals and think that everything in it is good.

I promise you that putting your own hymnal together is a very difficult job, but you may find it well worthwhile. I will never give anyone a list of songs and say, “These are good, use them.” I don’t believe in that, but I will give principles and ideas and as much help as I can.


If you do decide to make your own hymnal, let’s look at some guidelines to help you in your selection of songs.

1 Choose music that is worship-centered. What does that mean? Worship-centered means that you are worshipping. Who do you worship? There are only two beings in the world and in the universe to worship—God or Satan. A person chooses music that is centered towards worship-ping either one being or the other. That’s the choice you make.

2 Choose music that is Christ-centered and not I-centered. Many people have difficulty with this concept, but as you study the hymns, in time, you will get a feel for it. As you examine a song, ask these questions: Who is the center of this song? About whom am I singing? Am I singing about myself, or am I singing about Christ? An example of a song that may be a challenge to judge is the song, “Not I, but Christ.” It has the word I in it a number of times, but the message of the words is centered on Christ.

I once presented a music seminar in a church in West Virginia. A man came to the meeting primed for an argument with me. He wanted to prove to me that it is all right to sing I-centered songs. In the seminar, we were discussing a number of songs, and regarding one of them, I said, “You know, I’m quite uncomfortable with this song. Although the music seems to sound all right, the words seem very I-centered to me.”

This man said, “We must have songs about our experience.” Do we? Do you need to have a song about your experience? We all have experiences, and they are I-centered!

The devil doesn’t want me to share all these things with you. For several months prior to camp meeting, he has been pouring out his whole arsenal on me. I have nearly gotten to the end of my rope. I knew God was taking care of me, but it still had an affect inside my body. It was affecting me both physically and emotionally. Since arriving at camp, we have had trouble with the computer. It had been working beautifully when I left home. We have spent one whole afternoon trying to get the computer to work and have been on the telephone with the computer service desk for a solid hour. That’s how much the devil has been working! Do you think I am going to write a song about my experience with the computer? No! I am so happy and joyful that God is the Victor, though, that I am going to be singing, “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow,” and other songs of praise.

3 Don’t choose music that is harmful. Yes, music can harm you. It can hurt your body; it can hurt your mind; it can hurt your spirituality. Don’t choose that kind of music.

4 Choose music that will allow the angels to join in with the singing, music that is subdued and melodious like the song of the birds, as stated in the Ellen White quote cited previously. Do you have birds around your house? At our house, we feed the birds, so we are really, really surrounded with them. I love to hear them sing. We should sound like birds singing. I don’t think we could have any higher ambition than that. Birds sing softly and melodiously.

5 Do not choose music meant for entertainment. What does this include? Pop music; nightclub, crooning music; music with warm fuzzies—that’s entertainment music.

6 Do not choose music that is only emotion-based or sensual. I have had this theory for a long time, and I was so happy when I discovered it in the Spirit of Prophecy. I think that all of our talks, all of our sermons, and all of our music should include both emotion and intellect. I think if you leave out one or the other, or overbalance one way or the other, you’ll be getting into trouble.

I know of a very prominent pastor who preaches such emotional sermons. I heard him preach about heaven one time, and it was so wonderful. That sermon really affected me, but you know, those sermons don’t last very long. You go away from church realizing that it was just emotion in the sermon. There was no intellect in it at all. You don’t really remember what was in it, and you feel let down, perhaps empty, because you were not spiritually fed. That is why Mrs. White so often refers to the need of balance in our lives. [See Sons and Daughters of God, 161-163.]

7 Do not choose music with false theology. Review all the words carefully.

8 Choose songs in which the words and the music match. Don’t mix secular and sacred. Beyond that, don’t choose a real happy, uplifting kind of tune to sing about something that is very serious and solemn. For instance, don’t sing a song about Marching to Zion when the words are saying something about the love of God. It doesn’t fit.

9 Choose music that will draw each individual and the congregation closer to God.

Juanita McElwain earned her PhD in Music Therapy from Florida State University. She has taught music on all levels from preschool to college graduate. She has worked as a music therapy clinician with the mentally retarded. Her areas of expertise in research include the effects of music on brain waves and the effects of music on headache. She has given numerous seminars on the power of music, which include good and bad effects of music, rock music, sensual music, music in worship and mind control through music throughout the United States and in Europe. She and her husband are presently retired in West Virginia. She may be contacted by e-mail at: Additional articles from Dr. McElwain’s camp meeting presentations will be printed in forthcoming issues of LandMarks.