Music and Worship

You have all heard of the expression “if a tree falls in a wood and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? This is a philosophical question about perception that can be asked with music to.

Some of you may wake up to birds tweeting and perceive it as “bird song” others may hear it as just noise. Is the Bird singing a song or is it simply a vocalised tic or a natural defence mechanism? To quote the Philosorapter; “What if birds are not singing, they’re just screaming because they’re afraid of heights?” (I would hate to think that was true – poor birds).

Some people may hear the sound of a rushing river and relax; others will run to the toilet. When I hear death metal “music” I want to hit my head on the wall until it stops, but I can rest content listening to the Delta Blues for hours on end. Music, however it is defined, can be equally endearing as off putting. Whatever your perception, it always causes a reaction.

Recent studies have shown that when listening to music every part of our brain is engaged, you could say that as a species we were built for it. Like us, music functions as both body and soul, it is transcendent and meta-physical but can only exist within and through a medium. Even a mere memory of a song can lift us up, or bring us down. Music can promote joyful motion (Ecclesiastes 3:4) or send us to sleep (1 Samuel 16:23 and Daniel 6:18). A song can inspire armies to war and it can anthem a nation. Music evokes memories and expresses transient truths into physical reality.

The appreciation of music is unique to the human experience.

Without a human being present to define and enjoy it, Handel’s Messiah would be no different to the noise produced in a traffic jam. Both circumstances are just vibrations.

To listen, love and appreciate music is one of the unique privileges of humanity. Music is found in every culture in every country, so no wonder our instruction manual (the Bible) is full of references to it.

Music is first mentioned in scripture as early as Genesis 4:21-22 with Jubal the father of one who played the pipes (an organist for a traditional Welsh chapel goer). Moses wrote a song in Exodus 15 that Israel sung in celebration over the triumph of Pharaoh. The longest book in the Bible is the book of Psalms which contains a 150 songs, many written by King David who was a musician in King Saul’s court. In the Old Testament we have clear evidence of music prescribed by God to use in worship (2 Chronicles 29:25-28). In the New Testament Angels sang at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:13-14), Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn at the last supper (Matthew 26:30), Paul and Silas sang hymns whilst in prison (Acts 16:25), Paul teaches us to sing to God’s Praise (1 Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), in James we are also told to sing (James 5:13) and the Angel’s were singing in Heaven holding harps (Revelation 5:8-11).

Music is a huge part of the human experience so it is obvious that it should be a huge part of our worship. But like everything else we do in God’s service it must be undertaken reverently, seeking only to do the will of the Father in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24). We are not to worship God how we see fit but follow His perfect will (Cain and Abel – Hebrews 11:4).

You can see from the references above, music with instrumentation was clearly prescribed by God in the Old Testament. However in the New Testament we do not have such a command, all we are told is to sing with gladness in our hearts (Colossians 3:16).

The clear distinction between the Old and the New would imply that instrumentation in worship was a facet of the formal religiosity of Judaism and was thus made redundant in the New Covenant church (Hebrews 7:12 and 10:9). With that said, when you look at the context of the early church in the New Testament they were under great persecution and had to worship in home groups or underground, so having a ten piece band would not only be impractical but also life threatening as it would attract attention, thus (you could argue) instrumentation was omitted from practice just for that season.

It is true that the New Testament only commands singing, but neither does it condemn instrumentation, whether organ or guitar, panpipes or bagpipes. So the principle I would take from the scripture is that instrumentation is fine, but should be moderate and tasteful, with the sole purpose to encourage the church to sing with gladness in our hearts. Instrumentation should not overpower the believers praise or unnecessarily add to it. God is glorified when the saints are in one voice (Romans 15:6).

Scripture is clear, music (playing or hearing it) in itself is not worship, neither is music a tool to get us “in the mood” for God. Music is one method that enhances worship, it gives opportunity for Musicians to use their God given talents and the church to honour and Praises God together in song. All in preparation for word ministry which must remain the central and most significant part of the service, for it is only by the word of God that we are saved and edified (Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 15:2, Hebrews 4:12).

There is no biblical justification for music to be used to create an atmosphere of worship; this would be to substitute the Holy Spirit with a tinkling of the ivories. To say that you could conjure the presence of God by playing an instrument would imply a priesthood and it is a claim of sovereign control over God. To credit the Holy Spirit for creating an atmosphere that can easily be achieved at any worldly event, whether a concert or gig is simply blasphemy (Matthew 12:31). If you leave a service saying “I love that song” and not “I love the Lord” you are worshiping the vehicle of expression and not God’s revelation of Himself.

To use music to manipulate emotion or to entertain is to manipulate the church by worldly means. Marketing companies use the very same techniques to draw and entice the masses to increase sales (1 John 2: 15-17). The church is to be counter cultural (Matthew 5:13), we do not need such gimmicks and extravagances when we have Christ! (Philippians 4:19).

This now brings us to the type of music to use as a means of worship.

I am a conservative when it comes to hymn choices; I love the older hymns; Wesley, Newton McCheyne, Watts, Havergal etc. It takes significant time for me to prayerfully choose the hymns for each service, I make sure the words resonate the truth and put across more succinctly the message for the day. With that said, I am also aware that I come to these older hymnals with history on my side. Time has wiped away from memory the tripe that was also produced in their era. So I am of course not put off by contemporary hymns, as within today’s tripe there are many superbly written pieces that contain deeply profound gospel truths that will stand the test of time alongside the classics. I like a mixture of both, whatever fits best with the message – no prejudice.

I enjoy a good old fashioned hymn sandwich, but I have no biblical premise to support this position, other than it breaks up the service in an orderly way (1 Corinthians 14:33 and 1 Corinthians 14:40) and encourages times between where we can be still with God around His word (Psalm 46:10, 1 Kings 19:11-13).

The Bible teaches that the word is our authority (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and this is true in all forms of worship. So if you like a Christian song whose lyrics have been written to fit a catchy tune with endless repeated choruses and a three minute guitar solo, then enjoy it in the home or in the car. It is a pop song about our saviour – Praise God for it- but it is not a hymn. If the melody fits lyrics with clear Biblical doctrine that encourages the congregation to sing God’s praise (as commanded in Scripture) then use it for worship.

Music is a uniquely human privilege given to us as a gift from God, and when performed well in humble spirit and in good taste, for the purpose of encouraging the believers to sing words that venerate our Saviour with gladness in our hearts, then it is God glorifying and thus a truly wonderful thing.

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

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3 thoughts on “Music and Worship

  1. Interesting thoughts. We have taken to singing more hymns at the end of a service in response to the word preached rather than have all the singing up front and then leave without any real response from the congregation. Some might argue that the hymn sandwich builds people up in readiness to receive the word I guess – would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

    I do agree that it’s a serious business in choosing hymns and it takes me a while to go through the various hymn books to choose things for a service. Do you not have anyone else in the congregation who can take that role on though and leave you to focus on the word? Is it not biblical that certain people were appointed to look after the music?

    I do have to take issue with your straw man at the end though! “So if you like a Christian song whose lyrics have been written to fit a catchy tune with endless repeated choruses and a three minute guitar solo” – is a catchy tune wrong? Is repetition wrong if it’s helpful? I’m not sure they are, although I am not so keen on the three minute solo so I may agree with you on that!

    God bless!
    James

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks James. Your feedback is of great value to me. I don’t think a catchy tune is wrong, just that the word should take the lead. When it does with a catchy tune, then we have the ideal partnership 🙂 but as I said this is simply personal preference.

      Liked by 2 people

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