I recently was speaking at a church about what our worship gatherings should look like,
specifically in the area of music.
It’s mostly disheartening (but a bit comforting tbh) to know that the Church has argued over musical styles for centuries.
Sadly, what is designed (in part) as a demonstration of our unity has been used down through the ages by Satan as a significant means to create division and drive a contentious wedge between believers.
A few examples are:
- the printing press was problematic because people would no longer have to memorize the Psalms
- songs other than the Psalms were written and sung; men dared to think they could use their own words to worship God.
- Luther re-wrote the lyrics to bar tunes, using them then for worship.
- some of the Puritans considered the pipe organ to be “the devil’s bagpipes.”
- choir vs. band
- drums, electric guitars, fill in almost any instrument here: _______________
- projected lyrics vs. hymn books
If you’d like to examine this more, I’d suggest downloading back issues of Christian History – “The Golden Age of the Hymns” and “Worship in the Early Church”.
A pastor I know has wisely said, “I’m so glad sheet music wasn’t contained in the Bible…” Even the tunes listed have been lost to antiquity (‘The Death of the Son’ – Psalm 9; ‘The Doe of the Morning’ – Psalm 22; ‘Lilies’ – Psalm 45, 69; ‘A Dove on Distant Oaks’ – Psalm 45; ‘Do Not Destroy’ – Psalms 57-59, 75; ‘The Lillies of the Covenant’ – Ps 60, 80).
Why is this a good thing for the Church?
Because God’s heart has always been for the entire world. His plan included not just Israel – but ultimately those from every nation, tribe, people and language (Rev. 7:9). Every culture will be represented in the Kingdom and it is fitting that every culture will bring songs of worship to the Lamb in their musical heart language as well.
What then, do the Scriptures say about the music we use?
Some have argued that since no musical instruments are mentioned in the New Testament none should be used in our gatherings. Not only does this ignore the harps in Revelation (a ten stringed instrument, with a plectrum – think 10 stringed guitar), but also creates a prohibition that God Himself never commands. God never removes a blessing arbitrarily in the Scriptures – especially in light of the New Covenant.
Musical instruments should be used to the degree they serve in the context of a local church’s people and culture. (More on that in another post)
So what does the New Testament say about music in worship?
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
“…do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Additionally, Revelation repeatedly indicates that worship declarations are carried out with a loud voice.
As highlighted above, these passages show us that the musical worship of believers is to
1. Be richly filled with the “message of Christ“…
Our songs should never be confused with mere human love songs or songs that can just as easily be sung by Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, New Age practitioners…. or even Orthodox Jews. They must clearly be uniquely Christian in their lyrical essence.
2. Sung to God and to one another….
We teach one another and we sing these songs to God. Our God is omnipresent and when we worship in song, we are not ‘rehearsing for heaven’ – we are singing to our God who is both immanent and transcendant.
Our songs should be vertical and horizontal: both singing to God and declaring His excellencies to one another. We are teaching, admonishing and exhorting one another through the lyrics of the songs we use.
3. from the heart with gratitude.
Songs of Christian worship sung divorced from heartfelt gratitude are not worship. A beautifully moving song of praise sung by a choir of agnostics, atheists, and pagans can move a follower of Christ to lift his heart and mind in worship, but is not an offering of worship by those singing. Likewise, songs sung by a believer of the realities and truth of Christ without heart engagement are as much worship as singing the ABC’s or the books of the Bible.
God can surely break through our calloused and indifferent hearts, but if they remain unengaged, we are merely singers of truth rather than worshipers of Christ.
4. Song structure / Format
The trickier bit comes when discussing the ‘format’ of the songs – the psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit (or ‘spiritual songs’ if you prefer.)
Why? They’re pretty straightforward, right?
But we’ll discuss that next time:
The music of the Church – Part II “And….and…”
Musical formats of the Church