By: Jonathan Harris
My purpose in writing this is to express my convictions on the role of music in the church in no uncertain terms, so that everyone who reads this will be crystal clear on what I believe Scripture to be dictating. I’d like to preface this with a brief background on my experiences thus far with ministerial music, just so people know where I’m coming from, and can bring to my attention anything which may be unfairly bias in my position, and not Scriptural. My goal is to operate within Scriptural bounds, not lessening its constraints (legalism), or widening them (licentiousness).
I grew up in a fairly conservative church. I would hear hymns played on both piano and organ up until I was probably thirteen or so. The Christian music my family listened to was also fairly traditional. I would hear hymns, and modern songs with deep Theological depth and musical intricacy. My parents mainly listened to Steve Green and Michael Card with touches of older Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, and Southern Gospel Vocal bands. When I was about thirteen, my church started to incorporate worship songs played on a keyboard. At that time, I became involved with both a youth band, and a new praise team my church was starting. Since that time, the praise team has continued to play contemporary songs (i.e. God of Wonders, Shout to the Lord, etc.) as well as some traditional hymns. They now have drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, in addition to the original keyboard. The youth band took a different path, and focused its attention on copying modern Christian rockers as much as possible, with the idea that this would somehow attract youth and present the Gospel to them through the lyrics. I never did see any evidence that this idea actually worked, and dropped out of it when I was sixteen or so. In other churches I have witnessed full orchestras, choirs, rock bands, country gospel singers, and many other sub genres. All that to say, I believe I have had exposure to the majority of musical styles prevalent in churches.
In addition to playing music within the confines of the church, I have also witnessed what individuals involved in the Christian music genre accomplish, or lack thereof, in the context of the world. I’ve been to many Christian concerts (Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Chris Tomlin, Ray Boltz, Jars of Clay, Selah, Family Force Five.) and have seen both positive and negative results. I have heard a few songs that are well written, and Theologically very sound and worshipful. They cause the audience to come face to face with the reality of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Most of the results however have seemed to be negative: The Gospel generally isn’t presented (I haven’t heard it once), the music is usually sub-par (from a purely musical standpoint), the Theology is generally off (the concept of “Love” and “God” are usually skewed), and non-Christians are simply left entertained, but not convicted. Due to these issues, I haven’t seen the purpose of going to most “Christian” concerts and financially supporting them. I realize that this probably comes across as pretty harsh, but I felt it necessary to outline my personal bias on this issue before getting into what I believe Theologically. Hopefully my personal bias is the result of Theology, and not the other way around. I would definitely like to be corrected however, if I can be shown from the Word that my positions are not the result of Biblical exegesis.
I. The Purpose of Worship Music
A. Edification of the Body (1 Cor. 14:26, Eph. 4:12). Spiritual gifts are given for the building up of the church (edification, admonishing, and teaching). Music is a vehicle by which these Spiritual Gifts are expressed. The ramifications of this are far-reaching.
1. Music, in the context of the church, is not to be used for the purpose of entertainment or church-growth. Music must not be used as a marketing scheme to keep false converts comfortable, or attract unbelievers.
2. Music must be preformed by those possessing a Spiritual gift (i.e. they must be saved), otherwise the Body is not being served.
3. Musical styles can’t tear down the church.
i. If a certain style appals, i.e. If someone finds a particular style offensive (not distasteful according to personal preference), the weaker brother must be deferred to. (1 Cor. 8:9)
ii. Musical instrumentation must match the lyrics being delivered. For instance, dissonance should not be a musical quality coupled with a song of thanksgiving. The words must fit the tune. Biblical truth is enhanced by appropriate euphony.
B. Communication with God (Psalm 95:2, Psalm 71:23, Psalm 105:2). Music is used to express joy and thankfulness to the Creator. Worship music should be God-centered.
1. If the focus of our music is truly God, any effort on man’s part to “show-off,” or perform for the glory of himself, steals God’s own glory, and is therefore incorrect. (Although, I can’t be 100% dogmatic on whether clapping should be present following a musical performance, I tend to believe that we as Christians should stay on the safe side. Clapping is dangerous because it is culturally taken as a visible display of approval on the part of the performer, and not the object of the performer’s music. “Amens,” are seen as approval of the message.
II. The Characteristics of Music
A. It Must Be Consistent with the Word (John 4:24). This deals with the lyrics in songs.
1. Lyrics must not contain lies. However, the affirmative must also be true.
2. Lyrics must contain truth. If a particular song doesn’t contain lies, but doesn’t contain any Theological truth either (i.e. it’s mindless. Yes I have heard such songs), then the song must be rejected.
B. It Must Incorporate All Available Instruments. (Psalm 150:3-6)
1. This does not mean people must be forced to play their instrument. It means that all those with Spiritual Gifts, willing to serve God with them, should be accommodated.
2. A particular style (i.e. contemporary, hymns, etc.) should not be exalted to the exclusion of others. (i.e. the praise band shouldn’t be disbanded because certain church leaders prefer a single piano. Or the flip side. The choir, ensemble, organ, etc. should not be disbanded because someone prefers a rock band.)
C. It Must be Excellent (Matt. 22:37, Psalm 33:1). Music needs to reflect the best of the deliverer.
D. It Must be of the Spirit (Ephes. 5:18-19) Music must flow from a heart controlled by God.
E. Intelligible (1 Cor. 14:7–10, 19). The musical piece must be understandable to the worshiper.