The Bible makes it pretty clear: God wants us to sing. The canon of scripture includes an entire book of songs, mostly written by the person God described as “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22). God wants us to sing.
Psalms 95:1 and 95:2 says, “O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.” Most church services utilize music in one way or another.
Music is referenced all through the bible; not just in Psalms. It’s exciting to read how the Israelites, immediately after being brought through the Red Sea, broke out into singing (and dancing! Exodus 15). There are examples in the Bible of congregations of people singing and there are examples of people appointed as singers in service to the Lord. When music is used in true worship, it has the power to move the heart of God.
Some people say music is just used “to stir up emotion” (that’s a common argument against certain styles of music in church), but let me share with you an example from scripture that makes the importance of music in worship pretty clear! In 2 Chronicles, Chapter 5, we read about the dedication of the temple built by Solomon. Verses 13 and 14 say, “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.” Wow!! It was the praises lifted up through music that ushered in the presence of God.
As a singer, I have some personal “rules” to make my sure my ministry has the correct motives. I sing for these three reasons:
1. To worship and give praise to God
2. To share the Word of God through music
3. To edify the body of Christ
Usually, these three purposes are achieved together, but if a song doesn’t do at least one of these things, then I shouldn’t sing it. And I think the same standards should be applied to all music within the church.
Using music to praise God and to worship Him is an obvious purpose. That’s the common theme throughout the Psalms. There are also examples of music being used to share God’s word. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Teaching and admonishing come through songs based on the Word.
Then we have the concept of “edifying”. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” Here we have an instruction from Paul that there should be order in a church service (order meaning, not everybody trying to do whatever they feel like) and that the ministrations, including the music, should edify the body.
Let’s talk about this word “edify”. Edifying the body doesn’t mean just making people feel happy. Edifying the body means drawing people into sincere worship or encouraging them in some way in their walk with the Lord.
When the three motives listed above are the primary concern of musicians, then the music can be a powerful complement to the worship service, regardless of the level of talent or the style of music. (Obviously, we all have different gifts and not everybody is meant to stand up and give a solo, but I have been very blessed by some off-key singers before, because they were being obedient and singing for the glory of God.)
Speaking of styles of music, let me say this: God owns every beat, every rhythm, every note, every chord, every chord progression, every melody, every harmony, every key, every instrument; and they all can be used for His glory IF the music exalts Him, promotes the gospel, or edifies the body of Christ. That being said, in a worship service it is also important to maintain a tone of reverence. Balancing pure motives and musical style preferences with a reverent attitude is important.
For musicians who minister outside of their home church, I think it is important to be respectful of a congregations’ over-all style of worship. My roots are in Southern Gospel and the Broadman Hymnal, but I also sing and write Praise and Worship music and songs some might consider “contemporary”. If I’m going to a church with a more “contemporary” style of worship, I might sing all of the above styles of music because no one is going to be offended by a hymn. But, if I’m going to a very traditional church, I’m going to be mindful about avoiding the use of soundtracks with a more contemporary sound, UNLESS I hear from the Lord that He wants me sing a specific song.
I believe the three rules I've listed for using music in worship are important litmus tests, because so many other facets of music in worship are just matters of personal preference. I love to clap my hands when I sing with the choir or congregation (and sometimes slap my hymn book as an instrument!), and while there’s definitely a biblical basis for that, nowhere is it written that a person HAS to do that as part of their worship. That’s an area where we have some liberty with our worship.
Whether the style is traditional or contemporary, our motives must be kept in check. I’ve been in “contemporary” services where the Lord fellowshipped with His people through their offering of music. I’ve also been in contemporary services where the band seemed more interested in laying down the bass than leading the congregation to worship. I’ve heard and sung songs by Bill and Gloria Gaither in services where the presence of the Lord was so sweet and so real, but then I’ve also heard those same-type songs performed in what felt like just an entertainment act. While we should enjoy church, and we should enjoy music in church, when we set aside time to worship, a mood of reverence should be maintained, and the intent of our musical worship should be above reproach.
Let me leave you with a beautiful example of the use of music in worship: Our Lord sang. I am grateful that a friend recently pointed out to me the verse in Matthew that refers to Jesus singing. What a beautiful thought! Speaking about the Last Supper, the Bible says, “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30) Jesus concluded His time of fellowship with His disciples with a song. Meditate on that.
Thank you for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please post your comments below.
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