Music in the Church

Read Colossians 3:16-17

Few subjects can stir controversy and emotion as the subject of music in the church. One does not have to look far to see the wide range of musical style and philosophy. Several years ago on two consecutive Sundays I experienced the slow, sad and somber music of a Lutheran church in New Mexico and the following Sunday in a well-known church in Dallas the music for the morning was provided by a five piece pop band backing a vocalist singing from a bar stool. On the contemporary scene one can find everything from the southern gospel quartet to a full orchestra. In the midst of such diversity one can lose sight of the biblical role of music. How do we insure that our musical choices truly edify rather than simply entertain? I believe that if we would sincerely search the scriptures on this subject we can arrive at biblical philosophy of church music and thereby set the parameters for an appropriate style of church music.

Church Music must Biblical in Purpose

Verse 16 gives us a summary of music's purpose; it is first and foremost a means of instructing God's people in His truth. The imperative is literally to let the Word of Christ be at home in us. It is to become a natural and viable occupant in all areas of our lives. Church music is one means of communicating the Word of God. You have noticed that catchy jingles accompany the advertising of our day. Madison avenue knows that music is the Velcro that makes ideas stick quickly in our minds. Sadly we often miss valuable opportunities to teach by communicating error or nothing in songs that are a vacuum of spiritual truth. Luther has been credited with saying that most learn as much theology from the hymn book as from the pulpit. He was right. We must fulfill this biblical purpose. If every element of our music ministries were evaluated on this criterion alone we would have revolution!

This instructive purpose must have balance and the Bible directs us in it. Note in verse 16 that there is to be a balance between the positive aspect of teaching and the negative aspect of admonishing. Simply, teaching entails what should be and admonishing what shouldn't. There is also to be balance in the types of songs. This text indicates three; Psalms which are the Old Testament Psalms. Hymns which are songs of praise and worship addressed to God. Spiritual songs deal with other truth which include songs addressed to us or related to our experience or directly address an area of faith or obedience. QUESTION: Which of these three is most often found in your hymn book? Perhaps we need to have more balance on singing the text of scripture and less on our experience. It is refreshing that there does seem to be a renaissance praise and worship music, but again this must be in proportion to the other types of songs mentioned in scripture. The old adage still applies, "All things in balance."

Besides its instructive purpose, church music is designed for the purpose of worship. We are to be " the Lord." He delights to hear His children expressing their love and devotion in song! What better means to express our highest and dearest emotion, than when melody and lyric merge into a chorus of praise to our God. QUESTION: What percentage of the normal worship (?) service is reserved for worship? Perhaps we need to get back to scriptural purposes.

Note as well that we must sing with "grace in our hearts." God expects and demands more than external performance. He demands that the words we sing to be an authentic expression of the attitude of our heart. How easy for any of us when the hymn is familiar to mouth the words and our attention to be focused a million miles away. A careful reading of verse 17 reminds us that as we give thanks to God, as well as everything else we do, we are to do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. In essence we are do everything with an eye to please and honor Him and to do so trusting in His ability to work in and through us. God spare us from the hypocrisy of singing His songs while being consumed with our own selves and thoughts.

Church Music must be Biblical in Content

As we strive to be biblical in purpose we must strive to be biblical in content. It is shocking to see the lack of biblical fidelity in many "spiritual songs" of our day. Even a casual survey of the average Hymn book could reveal many extra-biblical and erroneous references. If we are to use music to let His word dwell in us then our music must be true to His word. Let us be courageous in examining the content of our musical material by the perfect standard of the Bible. If our repertoire contains suspect songs then they many times can be corrected or abandoned altogether. Sometimes this correction can be as simple as substituting a word or leaving out a particular stanza. A wise songleader can use such changes as opportunities for teaching as well as sensitizing the congregation to our responsibility to be biblical in all things. It also just may arouse some slumbering saint!

The first step is to devote our mental resources to the content of all of our ministry tools.
QUESTION: Just how much time and energy is devoted to musical selection with a view to the worthiness of its content?

Church Music must be Appropriate in Style

If we are careful to guard our music ministry in the areas of purpose and content the question of style becomes much easier to handle. Often excess in style is a result of looking at the style or "sound" or emotional impact apart from the above considerations. In an effort to help in this area I submit the following questions as a check list of guidelines when considering the styles that may be appropriate.

1. Is the style distinct from the world in the minds of my hearers? We must be careful of unintended associations. Should we really sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun"?

2. Does the style place a premium on the scriptural content of the song? What good is a performance if the message is hidden or unintelligible to anyone.

3. Does the style complement the message? Is it a "happy" tune with a "sad" message. Sing the opening line of "Love Lifted Me" to see an example.

4. Is the piece appropriate to the tastes of the audience? We should strive for a balance between what is comfortable and familiar with the goal of expanding the horizons of the church. Not every contemporary song is appropriate and not every appropriate song was written in the 1800's.

5. Does the style fit with the overall purpose or attitude of the service? There should be careful coordination between those who plan the service and or message and those who plan the music, both congregational and special.

6. Does the instrumental music create mental messages in the minds of the hearers and prepare the soul to receive the Word?

Jesse Waggoner
Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church

©1997 Calvary Baptist Church