Whilst listening to Wednesday Morning 3AM and enjoying the Benedictus, I found myself pondering the question of whether or not this could be considered sacred music as neither the performers were Christian nor had the arrangement been made by a Christian.

As an Anglican, I thought it would be interesting to think about my own church's thoughts on the matter. Have any churches in the Anglican Communion made statements on whether music which is sacred (i.e. dedicated to religious purposes) is still considered sacred if performed by non-believers?

  • Very interesting question.
    – user13992
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 3:26
  • 4
    Anglicanism doesn't have a definition of 'sacred music', so this would still just come down to opinions.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 3:31
  • I defined it as music dedicated to religious purpose (i.e. the common definition of sacred) in the question. I suppose this question could be rephrased as "Can music be dedicated to religious purpose if not made for that purpose?" Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 8:41
  • @curiousdannii I edited to specify formal statements from Anglican Communion churches. I think that should be enough to keep it from being too broad/opinion-based. Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 16:46
  • Should I just delete this? Probably should shouldn't I? Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 12:01

2 Answers 2


This is similar to a perennial question raised on a couple of Email lists devoted to Anglican and Catholic church music to which I subscribe, and ultimately comes down to the definition of "sacred music". In the email lists, it was found impossible to agree on a rigorous definition, but it was generally agreed that we could identify it when we heard it. One view posted there was that music which a person believed served to enhance the connection between him or herself and the Almighty was "sacred", and that the beliefs of the lyricist, translator, composer, orchestrators or performers, were of little or no consequence if the work led to a closer relationship with the Almighty. The consensus was that whether someone involved in a "sacred" composition was not Christian was similar to the production of other items used in meditation and worship. Would it matter if the pews in the church, or the furniture used in meditation at home is manufactured by a machine, a Buddhist, or a Christian?

Some famous pieces of 20th century sacred music, in fact, were composed by people who were not particularly religious. And yet, they are masterworks, included in Cathedral music lists on a regular basis, and have brought many people closer to God. Examples include the Peter Warlock ("Bethlehem Down"), and Ralph Vaughan Williams ("Mass / Communion Service in g"; "Blest is the Man"), among others.

There is another issue here, too. Both Old Testament and New Testaments contain examples of where the Almighty chose to use people who did not know they had a relationship with him as agents of his will. In my view, "Christian" music by non-Christian is an exact parallel to this.


I know this has an accepted answer, but I would like to add this from Philippians 1

15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.

It seems that Paul was more concerned with the words spoken (they glorified God) than the heart of the speaker. The same would apply to sacred music. If it lifts the listener's thoughts toward God, then it does not matter who performed the music.

On the other hand, in many protestant services, the choice of music is made spontaneously, chosen by the worship leader as he or she attempts to draw the congregation into worship. I believe in this case, there is less performance and more pastoral in nature. So I believe the beliefs of the performer matter.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .