Worship Through Music
Music is a powerful form of expression. Not only does it communicate thoughts and ideas, but it also conveys emotions and feelings. Additionally, it has tremendous "persistence". How many times have you been quietly driving in the car, and a tune start bubbling its way to the top of your consciousness? It may take a little while, but eventually the entire score, complete with words and maybe even associated visual imagery, bursts upon the eye and ear of your mind. In general, song is more easily recalled than any sermon, lecture, or class - no matter how powerful or profound the monologue may have been. Therefore, it should be no surprise that music is a vital part of the New Testament pattern for worshiping God. However, this article is not so much concerned with "Why did God choose music as a part of our divinely directed worship toward Him?", but rather it addresses the question, "What form of music did God direct us to use to worship Him?".
Accepted Forms Through the Ages
God's directions have varied through the ages as to the specific form of music that He has accepted. It appears that early musical worship, even worship during the early periods of Old Testament worship was primarily vocal. However, during the reign of king David, specific instructions were given for using instrumental music during worship. This instrumental music became associated with temple worship, which explains its later absence during synagogue worship. Although the directions may have changed in the past, we want to know, "What form of music did God direct us to use in worshiping Him?"
New Testament Direction
If one scans through the pages of the New Testament, he or she will find the following references to accepted forms of musical worship:
Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:24-25)
Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: "For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name." (quoted prophesy referring to Jesus, Romans 15:8-9)
What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. (I Corinthians 14:15)
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18-20)
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. (Colossians 3:16)
saying: "I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You." (quoted prophesy referring to Jesus, Hebrews 2:12)
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15)
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (James 5:13)
Two additional passages recorded in the New Testament also reference praising God through music, which also happens to be vocal music (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26); however, these passages refer to Jesus worshiping with His apostles during the Old Testament era, before its close at His crucifixion. Although interesting, these passages must ultimately be dismissed, because the authority of the Old Covenant has faded away (Hebrews 8:7-13; Romans 7:1-7).
What is the New Testament pattern? How did saints worship God in music? They were commanded to be involved in "teaching and admonishing one another ... singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord". This is the form of musical praise to God, as directed by the New Testament Scriptures.
What is the type of song that they used? The first century Christians sang "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs". The content should also serve to "teach and admonish". Popular songs that entertain, but fail to teach and admonish have altered the harmony of God's arrangement.
To whom should the songs be directed? Although we are to "teach and admonish one another", the ultimate object of all worship is God ("singing hymns to God", "sing to Your Name", "singing ... to the Lord", etc.) This is an obvious fact, but it seems to be frequently overlooked in practice. Music is frequently chosen that will be most pleasing to the audience. Regrettably, such choices ultimately fail to consider what will be pleasing God, and they are often decided in direct conflict with God's revealed will.
Who should sing? Everybody. All Christians are commanded to be involved in "teaching and admonishing one another". Please notice the joint responsibility. We are to each help teach one another. The choir is not commanded to teach the audience, neither is the soloist instructed to admonish the listeners. Instead, we are guided to teach and admonish one another. Admittedly, some may sing unacceptably, because they are not making "melody in their heart to the Lord". However, how can one make acceptable melody to the Lord, if he, or she, is not partaking in the joint command to sing ("singing and making melody in your hearts...")?
Is God only concerned with form and content? No. True worship always starts in the heart ("singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" - see also John 4:24). The heart is the instrument that God most earnestly desires to hear producing grateful melodies. Let us make sure that we do not sound like a "sounding brass or a clanging cymbal" (I Corinthians 13:1-3).
Admittedly, these conclusions are contrary to prevailing thought among those who would worship God today. I understand, and I am personally sympathetic to those who offer objections, since it is rare to find "a capella" music in modern worship. However, it has not always been this way. Actually, instrumental worship was not generally accepted in the Catholic church until the second millennium, and it was rejected by most Protestant denominations up through the early 1800's. Instrumental music is an addition that was arguably interjected within the last 200 years. To accept instrumental music is to accept a historically unpopular view. Although this proves nothing by Scripture, it does prove that the instrumentalist view is held by the minority in light of history, which should weaken the comfort that some feel in supposing they are in the majority.
Although modern, instrumental music is not authorized by the Scriptures, many arguments have been developed and debated, which proponents have leveraged to bolster its use. Some of the more commonly cited arguments are discussed in another article, "Answering Arguments for Instrumental Music".
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