Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 3, 2005
Music in Worship, Pt. 2
Review – Message & Style
This morning we will finish the message from a couple of weeks ago about the place of music in the worship of God. Let me quickly summarize the previous message before going on this morning.
Music is a very touchy subject and this seems to be especially true when it comes to the type of music that is used in church. The major reason for this is that most people are more committed to their selfish opinion than to humble worship. In addition, a large portion of people wrongly tend to equate the musical part of the service as the worship rather than simply an aspect of worship. We then evaluate the quality of the worship depending on our enjoyment of the music. Arguments go back and forth about the form and style of the music rather than the substance of worship.
We must remember to make a distinction between form and content. Music itself is not worship, but it can be either a great enhancement or detriment to it. 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.
Some claim that there are certain sounds that are evil in themselves. In the middle ages, the scholastics referred to the “devil’s chord.” Yet the Scriptures describe all sorts of sounds, even discordant ones, that are used in the worship of God. The Psalms invite worshipers to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” There is no such thing as a “devil chord” or a sound that is in itself inherently evil. All types of sounds including loud and soft, clear and noisy, simple and complex 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 in itself which is non-moral, and can be used for good or evil.
Some have argued that certain instruments are evil because of their association with evil things. Yet the organ, now considered a “sacred” instrument, was first used in the Roman coliseums while Christians were being murdered by various methods. In the Bible we find all sorts of musical instruments used in praising God. These are the instruments common to the middle eastern cultures, with many also used in pagan rituals. Musical instruments are no different than our tongues. They can be used to bless or curse (James 3:10).
Some have also said that certain rhythms or beats are inherently evil because they play up to evil emotions. Yet, just as there is no “devil’s chord,” there is also no “devil’s beat.” Jesus taught clearly (Mark 7:15f, etc.) that 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 (21,22).
The problem is not in the sound, but in the evil hearts of men. We must be careful that we do not lay responsibility for evil at the door of things instead of at the door of man’s heart where it belongs. Certainly we must be cautious because evil men do take sounds and arrange them for evil purposes. There are also ignorant people that are oblivious to the power of music and simply want the style that pleases them without consideration of the form’s effect on the message. Good lyrics can be lost in inappropriate music and poor lyrics and heresy can be promoted through the use of a pleasing tune.
CAUTIONS FOR MUSIC IN WORSHIP
The “Z Factors”
This brings up the cautions we must have in music for it is powerful. As I mentioned before, 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,” because 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 is that “Music often hides rather than reveals truth. It is prone to enchantment, not communication.”
Related to this caution is the next one. Contemporary choruses have reduced corporate singing to mindless babble, making light of the Scriptural injunction: I will sing with the mind also (1 Cor. 14:15). Now this has not occurred in a vacuum, but is something that has evolved over the last hundred years or so (showing once again that evolution is not improvement, but a deterioration – sorry, I could not resist the jab at the foolishness of the common concept of evolution). Modern choruses trace their roots to the refrains of the gospel songs and spirituals of the camp-meeting revivals of the early 1800’s. These were patterned after the form of folksongs of that time which were stanzas alternating with a repeated refrain. A good portion of the hymns in our new hymnal are in this style. In late 19th century revivalism, the stanzas would often be dropped and the refrains or “choruses” would be sung alone from memory. The hymnal was not needed for that. The next logical step was to omit the stanzas completely and simply write the refrain or “chorus” as was common in youth rallies of the 40, 50 & 60’s.
Now there are some very good new hymns being written that show deep contemplation of God and the Scriptures. Some in our new hymnal include; A Communion for Christmas by Margaret Clarkson (©1986), I Cannot Tell by Ken Bible (©1996), and Praise the One Who Breaks the Dawn by Rusty Edwards (©1987). The problem is that the vast majority of music now being written has little thought in it. They tend to be short, simplistic choruses that are theologically shallow. A cartoonist captured this well. He drew a fellow with a guitar standing next to the pulpit saying, I want to teach you a chorus that I feel has deep theological meaning. The first line is “Praise the Lord, Hallelujah. Praise the Lord, glory to His name.” We repeat that eight times and then…”. It is not that repetition cannot be used, Psalm 136 certainly demonstrates that, but that so many of the modern choruses are repetitious and they are often also mindless.
I have heard some music leaders and even some preachers say that hymns are too old fashioned and we need to use the music of the 21st century. Folks, a hymn that has been around and sung for 300, 400, 500 or more years has proven itself and is no longer to be judged by people, it rather is a standard that judges people. Choruses can be great when used properly, but great care must be taken to make sure they have some meaning in them before they are used in worship and are not just mindless ditties we sing because they make us feel good. There needs to be balance. One of the things I like about our hymn book are the arrangements and segues that easily allow transitions between the great hymns and modern choruses. We also strive for balance here by using both choruses and hymns through the service.
Categories of Music in Worship
A proper response to the Lord in musical worship comes only when you have the Holy Spirit controlling you (Ephesians 5:18,19), and you let the word of Christ richly dwell within you (Colossians 3:16). It is only then that with all wisdom you move forward teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your heart to God.
Psalms refer primarily to the Old Testament psalms put to music, but the term is also used of vocal music of any type. The psalms magnify God primarily by focus on the nature and work of God, especially in relation to the life of a believer. A modern psalm would be something like “O Worship the King.”
Hymns center more on songs of praise and differ from a psalm only in that they specifically praise the Lord Jesus Christ. Many scholars believe that certain scripture passages such as Col. 1:12-16 were used in this manner. Modern hymns would include songs such as “May Jesus Christ Be Praised,” “Worthy is the Lamb” and “In Christ Alone.”
Spiritual songs were probably songs of testimony that covered a broad category of any music that expresses spiritual truth. This would include many of the revival songs of the past century and modern choruses.
Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are all to be used in the worship of the Lord. Those who want to eliminate whole categories claiming they are “old fashioned,” “not relevant for today,” or “not good worship,” displays not only their arrogant ignorance, but will also severely handicap the musical aspects of worship. All categories are to be used. The key is to use them properly and not indiscriminately. Each can and should play a part in moving us toward God.
Cautions on Style
One of the great dangers of music in worship is that music is powerful and can strongly move our emotions. There are many styles of music that can be used in worship, but different people will react to different styles of music differently. A style that one person thinks is great and helps them to worship can be very offensive to another person. The greater danger here is that people quickly associate their favorite style of music with true worship and feel other styles cannot be good for worship. This is heightened if they equate that style with some sinful activity. This is why a style of music that is worshipful to one person can be so offense to another. This is the center of much of the contention in music in the church, but as I have already pointed out, it is a debate that really centers in both selfishness and ignorance.
The tension between contemporary and traditional music styles has and is causing division in churches, and both sides are selfish in the debate. They want what they want irrespective of the effect on other people, and more importantly, irrespective on whether they are actually worshiping God. I pointed that out in my earlier sermon. If you show more passion in defending your “style” of worship than in obedience and service to the Lord, or if your are more agitated by what other Christians “like” about their worship than you are grieved over your own sin and foolish heart, or if you have a greater concern about controlling or at least influencing the worship in this church than you are about being controlled by the Holy Spirit, then don’t kid yourself. You are neither worshiping God or adoring Him. You are selfishly seeking to serve yourself. I will add that over the years there have been those that have sought to prove their “style” of worship was better, but the analysis of the arguments only showed their strong desire for their preferences, not legitimate Biblical thought.
With that said, let me now work through the Biblical considerations that must be brought into evaluating styles of music and their usage in worship. I have already shown that there is no such think as a “devil’s chord” or a “devil’s beat.” It is the purpose, message and context of usage that determines any evil associated with forms of music. While the form may be non-moral, it can be used for evil by enhancing an evil message or confusing a good message.
Let me pose a question to you. Which is more dangerous: being on military maneuvers during a war, or being treated in a hospital in which you are unaware that the staff is substandard? Which concert would be more damaging to your soul: Marilyn Manson, Seether and Good Charlotte, or a “Christian” concert which mimics worldliness, proclaims a distorted gospel, or actually is a front for a cult group? When the danger is apparent we are on guard, but when we think it is safe we put down our guard and become subject to subtle poisons. The danger is in the content of the message, and subtle evil is just as deadly as obvious evil and therefore more dangerous because people are not on guard against it. For example, most rock groups are blatant in their message of “do whatever makes you feel good,” and Christians properly complain about it. But how many Christians complained when Debbie Boone sang the love ballad, “You Light Up My Life,” which contains the same ethical message in the line, “How could it be wrong when it feels so right”? The first criteria of caution of any musical style is the message presented. It is the message that is most easily and objectively evaluated.
Next, we evaluate the style of the music. We ask questions such as: Why does the composer use a particular type of beat and sound? What emotion is the composer trying to create in you? What do most people associate with this form and style? This is subjective, but it is still proper to consider.
Music affects our emotions primarily because we associate the form and style (particular sounds, rhythm, tempo, color, etc.), with something in our experience be it good or bad. I like the boom of thunder because I associate it with wonderful summer vacations and hearing God’s power. Other’s hate the sound because lightning scares them. I like the sound of acoustic guitar because I associate it with both home Bible studies and singing around a campfire. I am not found of electric guitar because I associate it with the excesses and distortions of Rock and Roll music which predominately carries evil messages. For the same reason I view tympany drums differently than a snare drum set. This does not make snare drums and electric guitars evil, just personally distracting if not used cautiously.
When we seek to use music to enhance worship we must give consideration to the associations most people will have with certain forms and styles. I must follow Paul’s cautions in Romans 14 & 1 Cor. 8 & 10 to be considerate of others. I do not want to offend people. I want them to join me in worship. That is why we are relatively conservative in our music and introduce new things slowly. We want to avoid unnecessary offense and give people a chance to develop different associations.
Cautions on Mimicking the World
Another caution I must make mention of here is that of mimicking the world. 2 Corinthians 6 cautions us to be separate and not bound together with unbelievers or what is evil. 1 Thess. 5:22 admonishes us to “abstain from all appearance of evil,” and 3 John 11 tells us to not “imitate what is evil, but what is good…”. This does not mean certain styles are automatically guilty because of association, but it does bring a strong caution to be careful in the style we use and why we use it. Is it a legitimate way in which God can be further glorified? Or is it to please our own ears or to make us more acceptable to the unsaved?
Some of the songs we hold as very sacred originated from very secular music. The tune for “Amazing Grace” was first a plantation love song and had no spiritual significance until John Newton wrote new words for it. Our hymn, “Hallelujah, Thine the Glory,” was first a drinking song entitled, “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum,” and the reference to being revived again was alcoholic, not spiritual. Songs of composers such as Ralph Carmichael & John Peterson are now well received, but were once thought sacrilegious because they did not follow the standard format and used syncopation. In his time, Evangelist Billy Sunday got in trouble with much of the Christian community because of his innovative song, “Brighten the Corner Where you Are.” Its form was too much like the world.
This usage of popular form for the praise of God is nothing new. Ronald Allen, professor of Hebrew at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, has shown that many of the Psalms are adaptations of forms used in the cultures surrounding them including adaptations of the forms used in the worship of the pagan gods. Psalm 93 for example is written in the style used for Baal worship and in fact covers many of the same themes used in Baal worship. The difference is that it is the God of Israel that is praised and He is shown to be far superior to Baal. In verses 1 & 2 the Lord is presented as being girded with strength and firmly established on His throne from everlasting. This is in direct contrast with Baal who only “recently” had gained his position and who could lose it at any time. Verse 3-4 declares that God is greater than all the mighty waves of the sea and floods. Baal’s greatest threat was from his rival pagan god, Yamm, who controlled the sea and water. The psalm was specifically written in the form of Baal worship in a conscious attempt to glorify the true God while debunking Baal.
We must be very careful about claiming a certain style or form is evil just because it has been used by evil people for evil purposes. God has in the past often used the same forms used to worship false gods and promote evil to bring praise to Himself. How powerful our Lord must be to use the songs of His enemies to bring praise to Himself. However, there is a big difference between taking something that may have been used for evil and changing it into something used for God’s glory and mimicking the world’s style to make ourselves more acceptable to the world or to feed our own selfish desires.
The Character of Good Music
With these cautions in mind, let us now consider the criteria by which we can judge music for its inclusion in the worship of God, or for that matter, should be listened to at all.
The first criteria by which to judge music is its theological quality. Does this song match the scriptural view of the world? Does it glorify what should be glorified and admonish against what is evil? The eight qualifications of Phil. 4:8 set the standards for making our evaluation.
1) Whatever is True. (alhqhV) If it promotes lies, falsehoods or error, then it does not pass the test. My first review of any song is for its theological content. Many songs, both old and new, fail at this point because they are written by people with little Bible knowledge. They write what they feel, not what is true. We learn a lot of our theology through the songs we sing, so if we sing songs with incorrect theology, we lead people to believe things that are untrue.
2) Whatever is honest/honorable (semna). These are things of a worthy character corresponding to truth. This word refers to honorable in the sense of dignified. Silly songs may be fun, but they are not for the worship of God, for they do nor reflect His character.
3) Whatever is just/right (dikaia ). This is the adjective form of the word for “righteousness.” That which is in conformity to the rule of God. It is what is right before His eyes. Any song must befitting of God’s standards, and we must remember that His standards are different than those of men. Men look on the outward appearance of things, but God looks at the heart. A song well played by someone whose heart is far away from Him is not worship of Him. A joyful noise sung by a person yearning for fellowship with the Lord is a great praise to Him.
4) Whatever is pure (agna). This word has the same root as “holiness.” Songs of worship are set apart unto Him. God must be the focus, not man. Examine the Psalms and you will see that mention of man within them is always in relationship to the Lord. The experience of the person may be described, but the focus is on the Lord . It is about His character and actions related to the individual. Many songs fail here because they have an “I” problem. Their focus is on man and his feelings instead of our Lord.
5) Whatever is lovely (prosfilh). This is a compound word literally meaning, “Toward to love in friendship.” Songs of worship should be pleasing and agreeable. Just because a certain sound or rhythm is not sinful in itself does not mean that it belongs in worship. Neutrality is not enough. There is a decorum that must exist.
6) Whatever is of good report/repute (eufjma). This would mean that the effect of the music on others would be to cause them to praise the Lord too. Remember, when we come together to worship we must give consideration to the effect of what we do on others. Just because you like it and it stimulates you to worship does not mean it will have the same effect on other people. They may find it offense and a hindrance to the worship of God. Let us keep Romans 14 in mind.
7) If it is virtuous/excellent (areth). Songs for worship should have virtuous character. They are morally excellent. Both the message and its form should procure high esteem for God and move people toward a deeper understanding and desire for Him. God is worthy of our best. Is that what you are giving Him?
8) If it is praise worthy (epainoV). The music of worship is not for our entertainment, so it makes no difference if the song is pleasing to our musical taste or not. The quest is for the music to stimulate us to praise the Lord for who He is and what He has done.
Let me stress that this is criteria for all music and not just what is used here in church. If what you listen to at home or in the car cannot meet this criteria, then quit filling your mind with garbage that is detrimental to your spiritual health. And lets be fair too. Adults often rightly complain about rock, rap and punk, but be aware that much of what is in pop, country, folk & jazz does not fit the criteria of Phil 4:8 either. Be selective in what you fill your ears and mind with. Don’t let some disc jockey who doesn’t care about God make those decisions for you, and neither let yourself be influenced by the choices of the ungodly even if they are your friends.
The Purpose of Good Music.
We are also to judge music for worship by its purpose. Colossians 3:16 & Ephesians 4:29 sets the pattern here. Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms [and] hymns [and] spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Eph. 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such [a word] as is good for edification according to the need [of the moment,] that it may give grace to those who hear.
Does the music accent the message of God? Does it encourage us to live godly lives? Does it admonish us to stay away from evil. Is it a platform in which all can join in to corporately praise the Lord and give thanks to His name? Does it give grace to those who hear? If not, then of what eternal value is it? It is not appropriate for worship.
The Pattern for Music in Worship.
The Pattern for music in worship is set forth in the Psalms. Those who would write music for worship would do well to spend much time in the Psalms as well as the rest of the Bible. There is a wide variety of subjects and styles used. Some are short, others are long. Some are very personal while others are very general. Some are didactic, some carry much emotion. Some are very poetic even using repetition while others are in prose form. But the themes of all the Psalms are around God, not man. None of the Psalms are like the mindless drivel which characterizes so many of the modern choruses. All of the Psalms engage the mind.
Our desire here is to use a variety of styles as is appropriate. We have and do use a wide variety of forms and styles fitting for the themes of our services and in sensitivity to the wide variety of people that make up this congregation. I am grateful for those that have helped us accomplish this over the years. To those that might still complain because they want more of their particular style. What else can I say except grow up and quit being so self centered. The problem is in your heart, not in what we are doing here.
Does that mean that we cannot improve in the musical aspects of our worship? Of course not. I am sure there are songs we are not even aware of that could be useful in stimulating us to better worship. We desire to have more people participating both with voice and with different instruments, but all that we do here must match the scriptural injunctions.
Those who participate in musical aspects of worship need to be chosen more for their heart for the Lord and character than their musical abilities. The joke goes that when Satan was kicked out of heaven he landed in the choir loft because that can be breeding grounds for organized dissent and rebellion from pastoral leadership. Pride can easily be puffed up in those that have talent and use it in front of others. We have suffered from that in the past.
Those who help in the musical aspects of our worship services must be serious about it and work hard to present their very best to the Lord. They must demonstrate godliness and be of humble nature. The musical pieces presented here are to stimulate you to worship the Lord, not to entertain you. That is why it is more appropriate to say “Amen,” or “Hallelujah” when they conclude their presentation instead of applauding. All glory belongs to our God, not His servants.
The issue in music used for the worship of God is the same as in every other aspect of our worship. God must be the center of it, not us. He is the one who is to be pleased, not us. You are not the audience and neither I or anyone else on the platform are entertainers. God is the audience, and you are the performers. What have you brought to give to God this morning? What He wants is praise from your heart, not just your lips. You are to worship Him with your whole life, not just a song.
The issue of music in the worship of God is a matter of divine sentiment, not our own. When we bring true worship to Him from our hearts through the medium of music, then He regards that as good, pleasant and beautiful. That is why we sing.
“Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God:
For it pleasant, and praise is beautiful.” Psalm 147:1
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) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) List how many times “music” is mentioned. Talk with your parents about the music you listen to and how it affects you.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the relationship of music to the worship of God? Explain. What is the basic reason for conflict over music in worship? Is there such a thing as a “devil’s chord,” “devil’s beat” or an evil musical instrument? Why or why not? What determines the moral value of music? What is the difference between form and content? How does form affect content? Why do so many choruses seem to be mindless? Explain the differences and similarities between the types of music listed in Ephesians 5:18,19. Why do we have to be cautious about the style of music we use in corporate worship? Which is more dangerous, obvious or subtle evil? Why? What questions should you ask about a particular piece of music and its style? What is the balance between being separate from the world (2 Cor. 6; 1 Thess. 5:22; 3 John 11) and using a secular / pagan style to bring praise to God (Psalm 93)? What are the characteristics of good music – Phil. 4:8 – explain each characteristic as a criteria for choosing music for corporate worship and your own enjoyment. What is the purpose of good music? What is the pattern for music used in worship?
Sermon Notes – 7/3/05 a.m.
Music in the Worship of God, Part 2 – Selected Scriptures
Cautions for Music in Worship
The “Z” Factors
Categories of Music
Cautions on Style
Cautions on Mimicking the World
The Character of Good Music – Philippians 4:8
The Pattern of Music in the Worship of God
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