Worship in Spirit and Truth
Part One: Biblical Principles of Music in the Church
Introduction: A Brief History of Music in the Church
Historic Reformed theology has always understood the second commandment’s prohibition against idolatry to be more than just forbidding pictures of God, but, fundamentally, dealing with worship; God MUST be “approached” ONLY on His terms (Jn 4:24). In attempting to delineate what God Himself requires in true, spiritual worship, the Reformers listed several “ordinary” elements: the proper administration of the “sacraments,” prayer, with thanksgiving, the reading, hearing and preaching of His divine Word, and singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Most Christians understand and accept prayer and the centrality of the Word and sacraments; however, WHAT we sing and HOW we sing to the glory of God has often been a source of controversy and concern.
The early Puritans and Presbyterians advocated exclusive psalmody with no instrumental accompaniment. As the Reformed church entered the 17th and 18th centuries, “man-made” hymns were introduced, especially in the revivalist era of the 19th century. By the latter end of the 20th century, Christian music had become a multi-million dollar industry, and “contemporary” styles now dominate most evangelical worship. However, if we want to truly honor God in worship, we are going to have to spend some time looking at our roots; how do we know that what we do is what God wants?
Singing as an Element of True, Spiritual Worship
Singing is a divine requirement: the Scriptures both command and give us divinely approved examples of God’s people singing to His glory and majesty (Col 3:16, Eph 5:18 etc). Both archeologically and Biblically music goes as far back as we can trace civilization, (Gen 4:21, ISBE, pg 582ff). The Israelites sang to God as a form of praise and worship (Ex 15:20-21, 1 Samuel 10:5, etc) well before David, who of course is most closely associated with liturgical singing, composed the majority of the Psalms and instituted formal Levitical singing in the tabernacle worship (1 Chron 15:16-24, 16:1-7, 1 Chron 25:1-7, etc). After the exile, Ezra recruited 200 singers for the rebuilt temple (Ezra 8:18-20). From what we can glean from archeology, music was not restricted to formal temple worship but practiced by the synagogues, which sang various Psalms and hymns as a part of their regular services.
In the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn after the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26); possibly the “Great Hallel” (Psalms 113-118) of the Passover tradition. Paul and Silas were singing hymns in prison at Philippi when an earthquake occurred (Acts 16:25). Paul urges the Christians of Ephesus and Colossae to give thanks to God in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Thus, singing was assumed as a natural part of Christian worship even before there was explicit command to do so; Paul even mentions in passing that in the church of Corinth, “Everyone has a psalm” (1 Cor. 14:26).
Furthermore, the New Testament contains many instances of early Christian hymns: e.g., Richard C. Leonard, Ph.D., notes that Luke quotes several hymns in the beginning chapters of his Gospel; in addition to the Gloria in Excelsis mentioned above, he includes the Magnificat or Song of Mary (1:46-55), the Benedictus or Song of Zechariah (1:67-79) and the Nunc Dimittis or Song of Simeon (2:29-32). Although spoken in the story of Jesus’ birth, we know from church history that the early church very quickly sung these words in worship. Paul quotes what may have been another song, “Awake, O sleeper,” in Eph. 5:14. Other passages in Paul’s letters appear to be early Christian hymns (c.f., Phil 2:6-11, Col 1:15-20 and 1 Tim 3:16). The Hosanna hymn of the crowds at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:9, based on Psa. 118:26) became part of the historic Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
The music of the first century world, however, differed from modern concepts. Too often, when discussing music in worship, many of us make unwarranted assumptions because we think we already “know” what “singing” is and therefore sometimes read back into the Biblical text concepts that are simply not present. We then reason from these flawed premises and create unnecessary controversies, erroneous conclusions or internally inconsistent theologies.
In so far as we understand the development of music, the ancient world did not use melody and harmony quite the same way we do today. Many of the musical techniques we take for granted were unknown in the ancient world. While the Greeks and Romans had developed sophisticated methods of sculpture, painting, mosaics and other arts, no one knows for sure how they played music or how they sang. The best “guess” of scholars is that the early church probably took their view of music and singing both from Hebrew and Greco-Roman cultural models. Dr. Leonard, notes that it had the following elements;
- Monophony, the use of an un-harmonized melodic line — although ornamentation and instrumental accompaniment could create a primitive form of harmony.
- Ornamentation, the use of enhancements suited to the skill of the performer.
- Rhythm— Semitic music does not use the regular beat of modern Western music but has a more complex pattern of time structuring.
- Improvisation, the practice of composing the music in the process of performing it using skills acquired through a long period of training.
- Antiphony—groups answer one another in statement and response; e.g., the Psalms (Psa. 24, 118) suggesting that the congregation, as well as trained musicians, were involved in the musical responses of the service.
The best understanding of how the early church (and the synagogue) actually sang is probably closest to what we call “Gregorian Chanting.” Though Gregorian chanting itself has evolved over the centuries, the form of music here is apparently a direct link to the kind of music both Jews and early Christians used in worship. Thus “singing” as required in both the Testaments and as practiced in the early church is completely different from what we do today; this point will become important later on in this study as we attempt to apply Biblical principles to contemporary concerns.
Instrumental Music in Worship
Instruments have a controversial history in Christianity; since the Hebrew Scriptures were the authority for teaching and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17), one must assume that the first century church accepted the elements of worship as taught in the Old Testament. Without going too far afield, Reformed Christians should agree that unless an Old Testament precept is specifically over-turned by New Testament teaching (such as on the “ceremonial laws”), the underlying principles remain valid and binding according to their general equity (cf. WCF 19:4). And while not wanting to debate with the “no instrumental” music brethren, the onus is on them to demonstrate from the New Testament where the many commands, precepts and principles of Old Testament instrumental music are over-turned. Often, the argument is offered that since we do not have in the New Testament positive commands to use instruments in worship; therefore their use is forbidden. However, this argument is implicitly a Dispensational one and can therefore be rejected. The Scriptures of the early church was the Hebrew Bible as specifically modified by the Lord Jesus and His apostles; therefore, the better hermeneutic is to assume that EVERYTHING in the Old Testament remains valid UNLESS it is replaced or changed in the New.
The lack of positive commands to use instruments in the New Testament may be the result of nothing more than that instrumental music requires trained musicians; and the early church most commonly consisted of a small collection of households without the necessary resources. Often these churches were under persecution. Originally, we know from surviving documents that the church did not meet in buildings but gathered outside the city for worship. From what we know from archeology, the synagogue generally did not use instruments for a similar reason.
Furthermore, musical accompaniment in the sense we know today is a relatively late development in the history of music. Rather than helping the congregation to sing the melody (and fill out the music with harmony), instrumental music may well have served as a counter-point or interlude to the chanting; thus desirable but not strictly necessary. Think of this by analogy with a situation very common today; ideally, most churches want SOME form of musical accompaniment but if they have no one who can play the piano, they can still sing every Lord’s Day; the accompaniment is a blessing, but not a necessity.
Arguments from silence are always “suspect.” However, they do cut both ways; the “no instrumental” brethren argue from silence in pointing out that there is no positive command for having musical accompaniment. The “instruments are lawful” brethren argue that we have positive commands from the Old Testament that the New Testament does not specifically overturn. The “no instrument” brethren then can point to the early church not using instruments as evidence in their favor. The “instrumental” brethren can then point out that this could have been for pragmatic reasons rather than theological principle. We can go round and round on this issue; however, since most Christians today accept that SOME sort of instrumental accompaniment is lawful and appropriate, let us move on.
Dr. Leonard, notes that the early church mainly sung the Psalms in worship monophonically, i.e. “plain chant.” In the later Middle Ages additional voices were introduced, with such devices as counterpoint (a different simultaneous melody) or organum (a sustained tone over which others sang the melody).
By the time of the Reformation, there was a great revival of psalm singing by the entire congregation replacing the choral “performances” of a specialized, highly trained “elite” as had been common in the Roman church. However, to make it easier for the congregation to join in singing the psalms, the Reformers recast the Psalms into a metrical structure and introduced rhyme. Possibly, due to a reaction against the many unbiblical innovations of Romanism, they also rejected instrumentation. The goal was to produce psalms that could be sung without expert musical ability. However, this required altering the biblical text, destroying the Hebrew parallelism.
The Genevan Psalter (1542) became the standard in the Reformed churches of Holland, England and Scotland with many tunes still in use today (e.g., the “Old Hundredth,” or “Doxology”). Now notice how the Reformers, while decrying the use of instruments, changed the FORM of “singing” from the “primitive” Hebrew and Greek Church to bring it into conformity with 16th century cultural values. Chanting was dropped (mostly because it was too difficult) and replaced by a form of “singing” that was unknown in the ancient world. One wonders by what authority, the Reformers discarded ONE musical style approved by divine example (the Lord Jesus did not sing as we do but “chanted”) and adopted a NEW musical style unknown until recent times? At the same time, they regarded instrumentation a “human innovation!”
The Anglican Church however developed its own slant on singing the psalms, the “Anglican chant;” a non-metrical form of singing where the first portion of a line is sung on a sustained pitch with harmonic support, with the final syllables resolving in a short series of chords. This had the advantage of preserving the Hebrew parallelism of the psalms, was similar stylistically to the older “chanting” of the church (sort of a “half-way” between ancient chanting and modern singing); but again, was suited more for trained choirs than for congregational singing. One only has to visit a traditional Anglican worship service and struggle to join in a psalm that does not follow modern music conventions to appreciate just how difficult this kind of singing is (however, for what it is worth, it is a most beautiful way to “sing”).
It was only in the 18th century with Cowper, Watts and Charles Wesley (and others) that man-made hymns with full instrumental accompaniment became the norm in Protestant churches. Following the example of the earlier Reformers who rewrote the Psalms to make them easier to sing, the next generation took the logical step of trying to make “David sound like a Christian” and therefore started a trend of essentially rewriting the psalms to fit the theological sensibilities of both the poets and the congregations. The hymn writers therefore ignored or actually removed those aspects of the Psalms they found offensive such as the many imprecations. Thus, the Christian church now felt “liberated” from God’s inspired hymnbook and began to offer to God in song what appeared good in THEIR eyes.
Inadvertently, the Reformers had opened the door to modern, pietistic, saccharine and sometimes-irreverent hymnology, when they recast the Psalms into meter form, destroying the structure of the inspired words. The 19th century, revivalist Victorian church then took the next step by putting “Christian” words to popular music with sentimentality ruling. The modern broad evangelical church now routinely adapts worship to the styles of modern music making some “worship” music indistinguishable from what one can hear on a “Top Forty” radio station.
The Psychology of Music Col 3:16, Eph 5:18-19
Though we have in the Old Testament specific commands to praise God with various instruments, He did not choose to record for us inspired melodies. Yet even those who insist in singing only the Psalms assume a melody of some sort; melodies that are the direct result of two-thousand years of musical innovation and development. I am not aware of any “exclusive psalmodists” who insist that Hebraic chanting is the only way to sing. However, if we allow that uninspired tunes are lawful, one could conclude that the musical STYLE (i.e., the melody, tempo, rhythm etc.) is unimportant and that the only emphasis in worship music must be on the content. The music to which we sing these words therefore would be a matter of personal or cultural taste. Hence, the heavy beat of hard-rock music would be inherently no less “godly” than the soft, lilting melodies of traditional hymns and psalms. Thus, the Reformed Christian could no more legitimately criticize the worship music of broad evangelicalism than he could criticize whether one wore a blue or a brown suit to church.
Most Reformed Christians would find this conclusion unacceptable. However, without divine example or specific instruction, how does one discriminate between music that glorifies God from that which does not? Many Christians are perfectly willing to make this discrimination, but the standard they are using is often their own personal tastes-something the Westminster Standards specifically forbids under the doctrine of the Liberty of Conscience. God simply does NOT allow us to bind other men’s consciences to rules that we establish based on our own personal preferences. The Reformers separated from the Roman Church for this reason and sacrificed much to purify the church from the “doctrines of men.” So is there an objective, Biblically based standard by which one can determine whether or not the music itself is to the glory of God? Granted one can avoid this question by simply singing the Psalter to 16th century bar-room tunes and leave it at that. But if every area of life is to be brought to submission to Christ, surely we can lawfully take dominion over the music we use to worship the Living God?
We can perhaps find a solution to this by stepping back a few paces and examining the role, which music plays in our lives and thoughts. The Biblical reference to the origin of instruments in Genesis 4:21 strongly suggest that music was inherent in the human condition and manifested itself in human society within a few generations. Music by its very nature is emotive; communicating emotions more powerfully than any other medium; i.e., joy, despair, compassion, intimacy, as well as awe, worship, and praise. Consider this; though we have no explicit commands to “sing” until the Psalms, God’s Word assumes that music, both singing and instrumental accompaniment are a normal part of life and an acceptable form of worship (i.e., Miriam). The incidents in the Hebrew Scriptures show that music (especially instrumentation) is usually associated with the expression of some strong emotion; i.e., joy, thanksgiving, deliverance, funeral dirges, coronations, marriages, etc. Thus, music, even in the Scriptures, is closely associated with emotion
We can also illustrate this connection between music and emotion from modern culture; every modern film or television show is dependant upon the music to communicate the emotion of the narrative. Now clearly, this may be done appropriately or tastelessly; just consider those “heart-touching” long-distance commercials where the music subtly plays on your emotions creating feelings of nostalgia and loneliness and associates them with a certain long distance carrier. Otherwise, sane, responsible and intelligent people can find themselves tearing up just because the music in the background reaches us in a way that pure “reason” could never hope to do. It appears something inherent within the human condition that music affects our emotions on a biological level.
Many research studies have demonstrated how certain types of music have different psychological and emotional effect on its hearers. There appear to be SOME universal principles that apply to all music in all cultures; in other words, for music to have the desired emotive and psychological effects, it must follow basic, unchanging rules. Granted, within those “rules” there is a wide variety of “styles” that individuals may find either more or less palatable or desirable. For example, there is a considerable stylistic difference between classical European music of the 19th century and modern Country Western or Rap-but that is also because the different styles generate DIFFERENT emotions; i.e., Rap is music about despair, anger, frustration; Country Western music communicates the trials and longings of the rural working class. But notice that when a Black “gangsta” or a Southern “Red Neck” goes to a movie, the underlying sound track is neither C & W nor Rap but fully instrumented, formally written, “classical” music. Each ethnic group might have its own personal tastes individualized for their social class but both are STILL motivated, influenced and emotionally affected by the more “classical” music.
Thus, individuals may have a “preferred” musical style that affects them powerfully and personally; i.e., the music we sang as children or teenagers, or was popular in our home can have very meaningful associations in our own lives; but these “personal” associations are distinct from the objective qualities of the music itself. As the techniques of music developed over the centuries, just as in every other technological advance, greater understanding of the underlying dynamics allowed us to harness the power of music more effectively for a desired end.
If then, music is about emotion, a way of expressing emotion and sharing that emotion with others and there are objective principles that facilitate one emotional response over another, therefore, there are objective standards by which we can evaluate that music as either appropriate or inappropriate for worship. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; thus, the fundamental question becomes “does this music glorify God” as well as “does it facilitate the hearer to enjoy Him?”
Some people enjoy a certain “style” of music in worship BECAUSE it has those strong psychological associations mentioned earlier; but simply because a person “likes” that style does not necessarily make it appropriate or EFFECTIVE for worship. The living and true God is the majestic, holy, righteous Sovereign King over Heaven and Earth and therefore the music ought to generate “feelings” of awe, reverence, respect, for His nature, being, and purposes. As an example, think of the “national anthems” that countries choose to represent their national identity; the tunes are NOT happy, snappy, musical “fluff” but are written because they give the words a sense of dignity, majesty, and respect.
However, while reverence for God’s majesty, holiness and glory is fundamental, worship music should also engender feelings of our sorrow over our sins, joy in our redemption, and comfort in our afflictions. The inspired Psalms express ALL these emotions (and more) in the words; therefore, logically, the music used to convey the emotional content ought to fit with the “rational” content. Thus, there is a place for some music that lifts the “spirit” in celebration, thanksgiving and sheer exuberance of our salvation; remember, we are not only to “glorify” God but also to “enjoy” Him!
However, in the modern evangelical church, too often the emphasis is on what kind of music people LIKE, rather than what glorifies God. For example, some churches still maintain a “love affair” with those Victorian “revivalist” hymns with inappropriate music styles. A British friend from a very traditional, conservative English church once visited us and was SHOCKED to hear the congregation singing “carnival music!” (I was NOT the pastor). Other churches seem to “revel” in “liturgical” music that is essentially a “dirge.” Other churches sing contemporary “choruses” that both musically and lyrically, are little more sophisticated than “Father Abraham.” Some even “enjoy” hard “rock” music with a pounding beat, deafening volume and incomprehensible words.
In all the above, the fault is NOT so much the “style” of music so much as the underlying motivation; such “worship” music exists to make US “feel” what WE want to feel; regardless of whether that “feeling” is appropriate or not. In other words, Man again is worshipping God in ways that seem good to HIM, not necessarily, whether it truly honors God. Some Christians want to “rock” to the glory of God-never asking whether God wants this sort of “worship.” In other words, WE want to do what WE want to do and WE want God to be pleased with whatever WE decide to give Him.
As a counter-point, just consider the number of inspired imprecatory Psalms that deal with vengeance, God’s judgment, complaints against oppression, etc., and ask, “What modern hymn, choruses/songs even TOUCH on these issues?” Though these Psalms make up a large percentage of God’s inspired hymnbook, today the average evangelical church almost universally ignores these Biblical themes. Instead, in almost all modern churches, we sing songs about how passionately we love God, how great He makes us feel and how wonderful it is to be a Christian. We conveniently forget however that there is evil in the world that God will judge, adversity that He wants us to endure and justice He promises to provide. However, the songs we sing, and the music we sing them to, tends to focus on US, creating a warm, emotional feeling of complacency that God loves and accepts us just as we are-and therefore by implication we never have to do anything different.
General Biblical Principles of Worship
As we have seen, the technology of music has evolved giving us today the ability to ENGENDER religious “feelings” through the proper application of the psychology of music. The technology of music however, requires trained, gifted musicians who can utilize the techniques to create the “kind” of emotional context that generates the desired “feelings.” Most Christian musicians in “worship ministries” capitalize on this technology, even if they are unable to articulate it. They know that a certain arrangement of songs, with a certain kind of accompaniment (or played in a certain key) will affect the congregation in a certain way. While there is nothing intrinsically unlawful with this process, unless men have their basic presuppositions right, then the fundamental problem of wanting to be as gods, determining good and evil based upon their own standards, will only pervert that technology.
Thus, we can conclude that the “feeling” aspect of worship created by the wise application of the technology of music is a GOOD thing (when used lawfully and appropriately) but not a NECESSARY thing; in other words, God is not MORE pleased with a rich, sophisticated musical arrangement than he is with people singing the Psalms in plain chant. Think about this by way of analogy; if there are two Christians singing to God in their secret worship, and one is a classically trained vocalist and the other finds it difficult to sing in one key at a time, is God MORE pleased with the vocalist? Most of us would probably agree that God accepts equally the worship of both people (provided both offer the worship in spirit and truth).
We might well make a legitimate comparison here with church architecture: over the millennia, Medieval Christians built churches and cathedrals out of stone with incredible skill and beauty. The very architecture creates within the human psyche a sense of awe, reverence and respect; but is the worship offered in these “hallowed” places ANY MORE “true” or “spiritual” than the worship offered by sincere believers on a quiet hillside, or in a plain room? Of course not; but if we had the choice, most of us would prefer worshipping God in a beautiful sanctuary.
Beauty is a communicable attribute of God and therefore the pursuit of beauty whether in music, art or architecture – is a worthy goal within the context of the Dominion Mandate and the Great Commission. However, “beauty” is NEVER an end in and of itself, only something that reflects something of God. Again, by way of analogy; every man wants to marry a “beautiful” woman and every woman would prefer a “handsome” man; but the outward appearance is simply insignificant to the inner reality. Solomon put it this way; “as ring of gold in a pig’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” The Apostles Paul and Peter also specifically address the issue of external beauty being preferred over internal character (cf. 1 Tim 2:1ff, 2 Ptr 3:1ff, etc.). However, would it not be desirable and lawful to have a mate who was both beautiful on the outside as well as the inside?
In this cursed world, often sin twists and distorts the hunger for external “beauty” as a means of self-aggrandizement, self-will, etc. However, “beauty” also generates a “feeling” in us that in and of itself is NOT, unlawful. Some sinful men value beauty in aesthetics, architecture, art, music, etc., because that is as close to the Divine as they will ever get. Christians, of course, argue that this search for “beauty” is horribly flawed if it does not lead to the true beauty of God; and subsequent humility before Him, repentance for sins, and submission to Christ.
Thus, a hunger for “beauty” in our worship may and can become a substitute for true, spiritual worship. Even the pagan Greeks understood this problem and told the story of Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection. This fable shows the very real danger of falling in love with an image. In the same way, a desire for “beauty” and the feelings it engenders in us, can seduce us from reality; not unlike the false, counterfeit “joys” of inebriation. Mild intoxication gives a person a sense of euphoria, relieves stress and makes them feel “happy;” but the feelings are FALSE. When the alcohol wears off, the real world is still there and the person must face all the same problems and trials. Some men refuse to face this reality and retreat into a world cushioned by alcohol; we call them “drunks” or “alcoholics” because they can no longer function in the real world.
In contrast, according to Jesus, Biblical worship is always in “truth;” which means facing reality in humility before God, and trusting in His providence, promises and provisions for our well-being, sanctification and ultimate vindication before Him. And false worship, no matter how brilliantly it is managed, or “beautiful” in its style, is NOT acceptable to God no matter how “wonderful” it makes us feel at the time; the “feelings” generated by false worship are just as temporary and ephemeral as the euphoria one feels drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
Worship in Spirit and Truth
What then constitutes proper, Biblical worship in Spirit and Truth? God answers that in a familiar passage to most Christians; Micah 6:6-8. Here the prophet asks rhetorically what God wants from every man. After discounting offering God “mountains” of sacrifices, he responds by saying that we already know what God expects of us; “to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God.” While in context, this passage is not specifically dealing with the question of worship, it does illustrate that God is concerned about substance, not form. He wants us to obey Him (John 14:21) to bring our wills, our plans, priorities, values etc. into conformity with His, acknowledging our sins and faults, not excusing or justifying them.
The fundamental problem that most churches have in finding true, spiritual worship is not in the various music styles but rather that sinful men want to come into the presence of God WITHOUT doing that, which is necessary to be in His holy presence. Our real problem is that we are seeking a personal feeling rather than the Living and True God. We come before God with unrepentant sin, being angry, hateful, spiteful, arrogant, lustful, deceitful, self-righteous, cruel, unforgiving, unrelenting, gossiping and slandering our brother and then think that God somehow approves of us if the music and “worship” generates the desired emotional response.
However, like the drunk who insulates his brain from the real world by alcohol, we think everything is fine and dandy because our techniques of “worship” keep reality at an arm’s length. Some churches attract Christians with “worship” techniques that promise “feelings” of comfort and complacency. Other Christians want techniques of “worship” that provide them with ecstatic experiences. In both extremes, we are in danger of substituting our feelings ABOUT God for a true, spiritual relationship WITH God. And like the drunk, eventually, one day, our whole lives WILL inevitably collapse when reality finally breaks through our false perceptions; either now in this life when God providentially brings disease, disaster, calamity to destroy our false concepts; or in the resurrection when God will judge every man for his life and works.
Therefore, our goal in worship is NOT religious ritual or generating a religious “feeling;” regardless of whether it be the aesthetically pleasing liturgy of the “high” churches or the emotive power of the “low” ones. Instead, true, spiritual worship is about corporately coming into the presence of the Most Holy Majestic God of Heaven and Earth, giving Him the praise, honor and glory that belong to Him and Him alone. That worship then requires us to honestly face our sins and transgressions, acknowledging them before Him and then, by faith, receiving the forgiveness He has granted us in Christ. It then forces us to extend that same grace to one another; if God has forgiven us, then we must forgive one another; if God lives at peace with us, we must live in peace with one another. If God is kind and merciful to us, then we must live in kindness and mercy with one another. We can only love Him, if we love one another.
And as a result of being forgiven for our sins, and forgiving the sins of others, we can therefore rejoice in our redemption, and glory in His wondrous love even as we experience the warmth and compassion of the like-minded saints gathered with us. Every song that we sing, every verse of Scripture that we read, every prayer that is prayed and every word that is preached should lead us spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally to reverence for God and love to the brethren.
Conclusions and Applications
All of the principles we have examined should lead us to certain, practical applications in how we construct our worship services. For example, we can reasonably conclude that in singing, the WORDS are more important than the music; i.e., we have divinely inspired examples of the kinds of songs we should sing, but no divinely inspired examples of music. Worship lyrics therefore ought to follow the same pattern as the Psalms; i.e., praise for God’s character, nature and being, thanksgiving for His saving acts in history, confession and repentance of our sins, petitions for His providential care and salvation (body AND soul) as well as songs of vengeance against evil, injustice and His enemies. Jesus is the WORD of God, not the MUSIC of God
However, God has given us dominion over music as over every other area of life. We now have the opportunity to both better communicate our love for God, and engender the appropriate emotional responses in our worship of Him. The problem is that we can abuse and misuse this technology if we do not address the fundamental problem of men wanting to be as God, determining good and evil for themselves. Some Christians do not WANT to feel anything because in their sub-culture, they consider any overt display of emotion, “bad taste.” Other Christians WANT to feel ANYTHING because they live according to their feelings. Neither is a Biblical way to approach music; the Hebrews were a visceral, emotional people and the Psalms reflect those emotions. Coldness in demonstrating affection, love and hunger for God is no more acceptable in worship than is coldness in demonstrating affection for our spouses or our children.
Thus, instruments, while a good thing, are not required; neither the synagogue nor the early church had musical accompaniment. However, the Temple worship did have musical instruments that required trained, professional musicians. A basic rule of thumb might be that NO music accompaniment is better than BAD musical accompaniment. However, if we CAN have accompaniment that enriches the music, then God certainly allows it as long as it is to His glory. Think of it this way; God is NOT particularly bothered by the quality of the clothing you wear to church on Sunday, but nevertheless, you still try to dress as well as you can to honor Him, right? If you are dressing up for church because you want to impress other people then you have a problem; but most of us would agree that certain kinds of meetings require a certain formality of dress. You would not go to a funeral in shorts and a tee shirt, right? It is the same with worship and music; if we can lawfully organize the sanctuary- paint it in aesthetically pleasing colors, give it good lighting and “comfortable” seats, than we can lawfully “dress up” our music; it is all a part of taking dominion to the glory of God.
Thus, let us begin by rethinking our approach to music, and self-consciously both choose and encourage the development of worthy music that will lead us into true, spiritual worship. Let us then sing with gusto, feeling and power; but let us sing songs that actually glorify God and not just because it gives us a certain feeling. Let us create music that is appropriate to the emotions that the words are trying to convey, but ensure that the words themselves are true to revelation of the Living God.
And let us consider HOW to use the dynamics of music positively to glorify God and worship Him in Spirit and Truth; to be in awe of His majesty and glory, to be humbled by our sin, to be encouraged in our faith and trust in Him, to call down His righteous vengeance on His enemies, etc.