Holy & Free, Part 4 – Music in Worship

(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)


Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

August 10, 2003

Holy & Free, Part 4 – Music in Worship

Selected Scriptures

I approach this morning’s message with some fear and
trepidation because there is no greater area of opinion driven by
emotion that can be discussed than music. The only other area I
have found that people can be more touchy about is to talk with
them specifically about how they are raising their children. In
addressing this topic, I will be doing so first from the stand
point of the use of music in the worship of God. I will make some
comments here and there about the application of the basic
principles we will be learning to wider application, but it will
be next week that we will specifically tackle "secular"
music and entertainment. If you simply keep in mind that
Christians are to be Christians full time, then you should be
able to make application of these principles to any circumstance


Everyone has an opinion about what is and is not good music.
This is usually based on their preferences in style. There are
very few that have studied music enough to give careful critique
of what makes up truly good music and what is just popular noise.
The criteria for judging music, like all other forms of art, has
degenerated in our time into a question of individual taste
regardless of how decadent it may be or what it may lack in form
and balance. People often identify themselves with their
preferred style of music to such a degree that any criticism of
that style is taken as personal criticism of them.

When it comes to the use of music in the worship of God, the
problems actually compound. One of the great misconceptions about
worship is that many equate worship with the music and not with
the rest of the worship service. They then judge the worship by
whether they like the style of music or not.

Scotty Smith, a pastor in Franklin, Tennessee, brought out
this point in an article in Worship Leader magazine entitled, Are
we worshiping worship more than we worship God?
He gave two
sample dialogues about people responding to styles of worship. In
the first, a change in music format resulted in the following
comment by a parishioner. "Oh, it’s great! We don’t sing
many of those old, boring hymns anymore. We are into some of
those really neat choruses. We even got rid of the pipe organ and
replaced it with a rhythm section – you know, a guitar, drums,
bass, and the most incredible rack of synthesizers you have ever
heard! We have a blast every time we worship now. By the way –
have you every lifted your hands when you sing to the Lord? It’s
great! It makes me feel so good. I could never go back to that
old way of worshipping. You should visit one of our worship
celebrations. You’ll be glad you did."

Another church also made some changes resulting in the
following comments. "Well, finally we have awakened to
real worship! We got over our fixation with those mindless
choruses, and are once again thinking when we sing. I was so
bored with those little ditties they called music. And our pastor
is, at last, dignifying the pulpit by wearing a collar and robe.
It makes me feel so good to see him each Sunday now. I actually
look forward to worship each Lord’s Day now that we have made all
of these wonderful changes. And we also installed kneeling
benches in our pews. It makes me feel so warm and close to God
when we read The Apostle’s Creed while on our knees. You ought to
worship with us. You’ll really like it."

Two completely different styles of worship, but both advocates
have the same problem. The topic is the worship of God, but all
their comments are based in themselves. What they like. How they
felt. What they enjoyed. Tragically, this has become normal.
People may claim the Word of God is their top priority, but what
they really want is their "ears tickled," as Paul warns
in 2 Timothy 4. Their true interest is "what is in it for
rather than "what am I giving to God."

If God is not the center of your worship; if He is not the one
filling your mind and heart; if what He has done is not the
reason for your emotions; then do not kid yourself. What you have
is religious exercise, not worship of the Creator of the
universe. True worship is not passively waiting for some emotion
to fill you while those up front entertain you. In true worship
you must be active. It takes work to block out all the stuff you
have been dealing with and concentrate on the Lord. There is
labor involved in keeping your mind focused on the message
preached and to consider how it applies to your own life. True
worship means that you are putting God back into His proper
position as the center of your life and the reason for your

Yet, the very reason for most of the debate about music in
worship is because people are focused on themselves, not on God.
The arguments go back and forth about hymns verses choruses;
organ and piano vs guitar and synthesizer; choir vs.
"worship team," etc., but those arguments revolve
around style, not substance. The debates get heated because
people are arguing about what they want rather than what is
honoring to God. And what honors God? Praise given from a humble
heart. Let me put it this way, if I may use John Halpin as an
example since he tends to disparage himself in his ability to
sing. There would be more true worship if John did a solo making
a joyful noise from his heart than there would be if we had some
popular vocal artist whose thoughts were on their honorarium and
their next gig.


Music itself is not worship, but it can be a powerful force in
true worship, or it can be its biggest obstacle. Don & Dave
Wyrtzen comment that music is form not content. Content is the
message you want to communicate. Form is the manner by which you
communicate that message. Content is what you say. Form is how
you say it. Unless the proper form is used the content will not
be communicated clearly. The form can overpower, confuse or even
hide the message.


I have read the writings of quite a few people in which they
strive to prove that certain forms of music are evil in and of
themselves. The same thing was being done in the middle ages
because form and content were confused then too. The scholastics
of the time argued that the augmented fourth (or diminished
fifth) were evil and called "the devil in music." The
result was that this type of chord was not used by church
musicians and since that time tri-tones have been used
extensively in the church. But where in Scripture can we find
even a caution against certain sounds – i.e. "Thou shall
not play too many notes together that they may not clash.
Yet consider that most of what is common to the middle east seems
a bit discordant and noisy to our ears trained in western style
music, .

What does scripture say? Psalm 33:3 tells us to "sing
unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise"

(KJV). Psalm 66:1 says to "Make a joyful noise unto
(KJV) as does Psalm 81:1; 93:4; 95:1,2; 98:6 &
100:1. "Noise" is "Teruah" or its
root, "ruah" which is used to describe the sound of
trumpets blaring, people shouting in triumph, joy or alarm and
for a war cry. Psalm 98:4 says "to make a joyful noise
unto the Lord, all the earth"
and then adds, "make
a loud noise."
This uses the word patsach which is used
to describe the sound of something breaking. I don’t think anyone
here would describe those sounds as harmonious music, yet they
are all pleasing to God. I think it should be clear that there is
no such thing as a "devil" chord or sound that is
itself inherently evil. All types of sound, loud and soft, clear
and noisy, are used to praise the Lord. It is the context of
usage and purpose that brings about any evil associated with
forms of music. It is the message conveyed that is evil, not the
form itself which is non-moral and can be used for good or evil.
This same principle applies to secular as well as sacred music.
The debate should not be about the genre of music you listen to,
though some forms lend themselves more to either good or evil
messages than others, but what is the message that is being
conveyed by both the words and the form.


Some have also argued that certain instruments should not be
used in worship. This is often because of that instruments
association in their mind with something evil. Guitars and drums
are often singled out because of their use in rock and roll and
bar room music. The argument here is and has always been weak.
The very people that would claim a guitar or drum to be evil also
claim the organ to be sacred, yet it was the organ that was used
to provide music in ancient Rome while Christians were being
killed in the coliseums. Don’t you think that association is
a little more negative? Let me add that the organs used in many
churches are those acquired after the silent screen gave way to
talking movies resulting in the theater organs being sold. Yet
those who consider the organ a "sacred instrument" are
often those who also consider the theater as evil. We best be
careful about applying guilt by association, or our own hypocrisy
will be evident.

What does scripture say? The Bible mentions quite a few
various instruments as being used to praise the Lord. There were
idiophones – things made of naturally sonorous materials. These
were things clanged together – metal most often. These would
include cymbals of various types as in Psalm 150:5"Praise
Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals."

Wood pieces beaten together – castanets – 2 Samuel 6:5 There were
things that rattled – beads placed in a gourd and shaken. Bells
were crafted for making sound. The High priest wore gold bells on
His robes while serving in the temple (Exod. 28:33).

There were various aerophones – wind instruments – pipes
(Zech. 4:12), flutes (Psalm 87:7), horns (Psalm 98:6) made from
various materials, and we wait for the sound of the trumpet of
God to announce the return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:17).

There were membranophones – i.e. drums of various sorts. The
"top" (Hebrew) or tumpanon (greek), which is often
translated as a "timbrel," was a piece of leather
stretched over a hand held frame. This instrument occurs in Psalm
150 as well as in Exodus 15:20 when Miriam and the women of
Israel played it and danced for joy over the Lord protecting them
from Egypt’s army at the Red Sea.

There were also various types of chordophones – stringed
instruments. There were lutes (Ps. 92:3) string stretched along a
neck attached to a resonating body – i.e. guitar, violin like).
There were harps (Ps. 13:2), which have the neck at an angle to
the body, and lyres (Gen. 31:27), which have a body with two arms
joined by a crossbar, the strings going from the body to the
crossbar. It should also be pointed out that all these
instruments were common in the surrounding cultures and were used
in pagan rituals, yet they were also used in the worship of God.

If we are going to classify things as being evil themselves
simply because evil people use them for evil purposes, then we
will have to get rid of most everything. Every kind of musical
instrument has been used by evil people for evil purposes. But
those same instruments can and have also been used to the praise
and honor of God. Musical instruments are no different than our
tongues, which can be used to bless or curse (James 3:10).
Ammonium nitrate can be used as a fertilizer to help crops grow,
or as an ingredient in a bomb to cause mass destruction. It is
not the instrument, it is what you do with it.

Now having said that it is still important to ask about the
identification that you make with certain styles of music. The
principle we have learned from Romans 14 applies to this as well.
There may be styles that you so identify with sinful practices
that you do not have the freedom to listen to it though other
people may. Don’t violate your conscience. And if you are
the stronger brother in such a situation, remember to love your
brother. You may need to be sensitive to the thoughts and
feelings of the weaker brother with you. This is also an area to
be careful of using your freedom as a covering for your own
sinful desires. Just because you have the freedom to do something
does not mean it is the best or even the right thing to do. Why
do you like that style? What is your own personal identification
with that style of music? Is this a godly identification, an
ungodly identification or something neutral?


I have also read articles in which certain rhythms were
attacked as being inherently evil. Our lives are filled with all
sorts of rhythms – clocks tick, electric motors hum, machines
clank, bees buzz, your heart beats and you walk at a pace. Again,
the context of its usage is the determining factor. Sure Hitler
used carefully calculated repeated shouting of "Sieg
Heil!" to stir up the crowds, but the same rhythm is used in
sports events to encourage the home team to put forth extra
effort to win. Alexander the Great used a march cadence to get
his troops to go great distances, but so has every other army
including the Colonial Army of the American revolution. Joshua
used a rhythmic shouting to bring down the walls of Jericho
according to the Lord’s instructions. There is no "devil’s
beat" just as there is no "devil’s chord." The
form is itself non-moral. The question is not the form, but its
usage in communicating what type of message.

In the field of what is called, "psycho-acoustics,"
which studies the effect of sounds on human behavior, there is
ample evidence showing that certain rhythms or beats used
repetitiously and played loudly tend to have negative effects on
us while other rhythms used in thematic melody lines played
softly can have positive effects. My favorite example of this was
a study subjecting plants to growing conditions that varied only
in what music was being played in the greenhouse. Those that were
subjected to classical music thrived while those subjected to
rock music died. The driving vibration of the rock rhythm was
destructive to the cell structure. But this should not surprise
us, take a group of teenagers to a classical music concert one
day and then to a rock concert the next and compare their

Consider as well that composers spend a great deal of time and
energy in trying to produce music that will move you emotionally
in certain ways. They know that the various elements that make up
music can stimulate different moods within most people. Certain
music we classify as "upbeat" and "exciting"
while others are "calming" or "serene." But
even with all this we should not label certain sounds as evil in
and of themselves, for they are not.

Paul writes in Romans 14:14, "I know and am convinced
in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him
who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean."

This is really just a brief comment based on the Lord’s teaching
in Mark 7:15-23. There is nothing outside the man which going
into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the
man are what defile the man
(15). for from within, out of
the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts fornications, thefts,
murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness as well as
deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness


John Murry well states, "This principle is the
refutation of all prohibitionism which lays the responsibility
for wrong at the door of things rather than at man’s heart."

Don & Dave Wyrtzen comment "It would be much simpler
if some musical sounds were evil in themselves. Just eliminate
the evil sounds and the entire moral problem in music would be
"the morality or immorality of the
sounds needs to be located in the hearts of the composer, the
performer, and the listener, not in the music itself.

The problem is not in the sound itself, but in the evil hearts
of men. Evil people will take sounds and arrange them in a way
with the purpose of striving to promote evil. Such people
understand form and use it wisely to accent the communication of
their evil messages. Others are ignorant of form and content and
simply take sounds and arrange them in a way pleasing to
themselves but are oblivious to their effect on others or the
message that is to be communicated. For these people form and
style drive the music, not the message. It is for these two
reasons that it is extremely important that the music used in
worship be carefully considered before it is used. The Christian
must consider these factors in all the music they listen to.


The Power of Music

Chuck Fromm of Worship Leader magazine wrote a very
thought provoking article entitled, Taking Music Off the
Throne: Acknowledging the Z-factors.
The article repeated and
expanded on some of the cautions Zwingli gave during the Swiss
reformation of the mid-1500’s. Fromm calls his cautions, the
"Z-factors." Zwingli, among the three major reformers
(he, Luther and Calvin), was the most musically inclined for he
had been a professional musician. He feared so much the power of
music that he banned musical instruments from use in worship. He
even insisted that when Paul said in Eph. 5:19 about "making
melody in your hearts" he meant just that: make melody in
your heart only and not with anything else. Zwingli, like most
good musicians, understood that music can move us emotionally in
very strong ways. If it was used correctly it could enhance
worship, but if used incorrectly it could destroy it.

Fromm’s first Z-factor caution applies here. "Music often
hides rather than reveals truth. It is prone to enchantment, not
communication." If the form does not match the message, the
message is garbled or lost. And this works both ways. A good
message can be lost and a bad message can be encouraged.

Let me give you an example of the latter and then the former.
There used to be a radio station I enjoyed listening to that
played orchestral arrangements of contemporary songs. Then one
day they changed format and started playing the original versions
with the lyrics. I listened for awhile longer because I had
become accustomed to the tunes and had enjoyed them. However, the
longer I listened, the more I was able to figure out the words to
the songs. As I began figuring them out I was shocked for they
were often crass, selfish and glorifying of evil which was
opposite to the emotional pleasure I had felt listening to the
melody line. The form did not match the message.

In worship, well written and played pieces of music can hide
inane or even heretical lyrics that accompany it. Many songs and
choruses fit in this category. A good melody overcomes lousy
lyrics. Fromm’s Z-factor corollary here: Contemporary choruses
have reduced corporate singing to mindless babble, making light
of the Scriptural injunction to "sing with the mind
also" (1 Cor. 14:15). While there is some great worship
music being written today, a lot of it is either so shallow or so
repetitious that it is practically meaningless. Shallow theology
produces shallow worship regardless of how good the musical form
it is set in.

But it is not just choruses that have lyric problems. Close
examination of popular hymns also reveal theological aberrations
and even heresy. An example of this is #336 in our Hymnal. There
is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins.

This hymn is sung often in most fundamental churches. The problem
is that there is no such fountain. Christ’s blood was shed and it
spilled out on the ground at the cross so that our sins could be
forgiven. It was not supernaturally vacuumed up and placed in a
fountain in heaven where we can take a bath in it. Tragically,
there are a lot of people that believe that very thing is true
because the hymn writer’s analogy distorted truth and made
false doctrine.

There are also songs with good words and themes that are not
matched musically. One case of this I can think of is "They
will know we are Christian’s by our Love."
A very good
theme taken straight from Scripture, but the tune is depressing
because it sounds like a dirge. The theme is joyful, but the form
is one of sadness. Then there are all the songs that have
wonderful God glorifying lyrics that are so poor musically that
they are never used. Great lyrics with poor music will leave a
song sitting on a shelf instead of being used to enhance our
worship of our Lord.


We need to understand that music is meant to communicate
thought and emotion. The individual words in the lyrics of a song
are neutral in themselves. It is the arrangement of them that
will communicate a message that is either good or evil. The same
thing is true with the various elements that make up music. The
rhythm, tempo, melody, harmony, volume are as important to that
communication as are the lyrics. The individual parts are neutral
in themselves, but the arrangement is done to communicate a
message, usually emotional, that may be good or bad. The quality
of the music will be in how well it communicates that message.
The moral value of the music will be according to the moral value
of the message communicated. The Christian must carefully
consider that message in light of the commands and precepts of
God’s word. We will look at this in more detail next week.

When it comes to sacred music used in worship, we must
remember that the message and form must fit its purpose for being
included in the worship service. We must consider who is present
and how we can use music to move them to the true worship of God.
The variety of styles of music we use here at Grace Bible Church
are selected for that purpose. It is not about what I or Stephen
or John or Tracy personally like, it is about how we can best
move the whole congregation to the true worship of God. That is
why we will continue to use a variety of styles. But no matter
how hard we work at picking out the right songs and putting
together the rest of our worship service, there is a personal
aspect that only you can achieve. You must come prepared to
worship. The challenging questions Scott Smith gave in his
article are well worth contemplating if you want to truly worship

Have we become those who worship worship more than we
worship God? Do we enjoy our own "forms" more than we
fear God? Do we show more passion in defending our
"style" of worship than we do in obeying and serving
Him? Are we more agitated by what other Christians
"like" about their worship than we are grieved over our
own sin and foolish hearts? Are we more resolved to control the
worship service in our churches than we are to be controlled by
the Holy Spirit in our relationships? Is it God that we adore or
simply ourselves that we serve? Let’s ponder these things, long
and hard. The glory of God is all that is at stake.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * *


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your
children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children
draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon.
Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older
Children :
Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many
times any reference to music is made in the sermon 2) Discuss
with your parents the dangers of music and how music should be
used in the worship of God.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others

What style(s) of music do you like? What makes it enjoyable to
you? How does it affect you emotionally? What style(s) do you
dislike? Why? How closely do you listen to the lyrics? Can you
sing with the song? What do you do if you find that the lyrics
promote what God says is evil? Discuss the various elements in
music and how they could be used for either good or evil: Chords
& notes, Instruments, Rhythms, volume. What is the power of
music? How much time per week do you listen to music? How much
money per month do you spend on music? What music do you consider
to be helpful in your worship of God? What styles of music are
acceptable for use in church? What styles should not be used?
Why? Can you have meaningful worship even if the music is not to
your taste? Why or why not? What is true worship and what is
necessary for it? What criteria should be used to judge if a song
should be used in church?

Study Sheets

Holy & Free, Part 4 – Music in Worship


Sermon Notes – August 10, 2003


Personal Preferences vs. True Worship

Form vs. Substance








Cautions to Heed

The Power of Music

The "Z-Factor"

Shallow Theology

Poor Music


Purpose of music:

Quality of music is based on:

Moral value of music is based on:

The purpose of music in worship

Have we become those who worship worship
more than we worship God? Do we enjoy our own "forms"
more than we fear God? Do we show more passion in defending our
"style" of worship than we do in obeying and serving
Him? Are we more agitated by what other Christians
"like" about their worship than we are grieved over our
own sin and foolish hearts? Are we more resolved to control the
worship service in our churches than we are to be controlled by
the Holy Spirit in our relationships? It is God that we adore or
simply ourselves that we serve? Let’s ponder these things, long
and hard. The glory of God is all that is at stake. –