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The Biblical View On Music

There are probably few issues that have the potential to destroy the unity of a local congregation than music. Many have called music the battleground of the church and at times I believe it merits that reputation. Why is there so much conflict over this subject? Where is the unity of Christ in all of this? Is our Lord, the Head of the Church, incapable of bringing true unity over this divisive matter? I think not! 

I believe unity can be obtained in any congregation if the following criteria are met. The first being a biblical understanding of what God says or does not say on music. When I say biblical I mean just that. It has been my observation that too often personal preferences, traditions, indoctrination, and even musical education are often accepted as God’s Word. We must lay aside all of these and go only to the Scriptures for answers on this matter.

The second criteria is a willingness of the part of the believer to accept and practice what God directs regarding music, sacred and secular alike. This can only be accomplished when pastors and teachers in the church begin to educate the members on what the Bible says about music and praying that the Holy Spirit will change the attitude of the heart. 

Lets focus therefore on the first criteria. What does the Bible have to say on music. It will not be our intent to cover every passage, but rather to touch on a few representative passages. God says the following regarding music.

1) The realms of music: God records the use of both secular and sacred music

a. Secular music use covers many aspects of social life for funerals to victory songs (Gen. 31:27; Jud. 11:34; 1 Sam. 18:6; Ex. 15:20; 1 Sam. 18:10; 1 Chron. 35:25; Job 30:9 - people sang songs about Job; Psa. 137:3)

b. Sacred Music as it relates to the worship of God: God records many references to people using music and dance to worship Him; there are also numerous calls to God’s people to sing praises to Him (2 Kings 3:15; 1 Chron. 15:16-17; 23:5 2 Chron. 29:25; Ezra 3:10 and a choir of 288 1 Chron. 25:1, 7)

c. Sacred Music as it relates to the worship of Idols: God records music and dance being used to worship idols as for example in Daniel 3:4-10. It is of interest to note that God does not condemn the use of music in these incidents, but only its application to idol worship

2) The medium of music: God records and approves of the use of both the vocal (Ex. 15:1, 21; 1 Kings 4:32) and instrument music (1 Sam. 18:6). As it will be pointed out later, many types of instruments are used and none are ever condemned including drums, cymbals, and tambourines.

3) The Content of music: God indicates that there are basically three types of worship songs based on their content. (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:19)

a. Psalms: the singing of Scriptural passages

b. Hymns: the singing of Theological truths

c. Spiritual Songs: the singing of One’s Testimony or Experience

Just as God gives us much information about music, we must also acknowledge that God is silent on other aspects of music. This would indicate that in some aspects of music God leaves the decision making up to the individual Saint or the local congregation. Consider the following.

1) God does not give any commands about the medium of music. He does speak of instruments being used to worship Him and the list contains quite a variety. However He never indicates that some instruments are inappropriate nor does He indicate that some instruments are necessary for worship. Now I have to admit that because I am now in my 50’s, it is a bit hard for me to conceive of having a “praise band” as a part of our worship. Some how the thought using an electric guitar or a drum set does not set well with what I envision as appropriate for worship. However, the decision of what is appropriate is not to be left up to my judgment or opinion. Since God does not give guidelines on what is appropriate indicates that God gives great latitude to the local congregation as to what instruments it chooses to use or not use. Likewise God leaves open the option to not use any instruments at all.

2) God does not address the style of music anywhere in the Scriptures. He does address that rhythm and the keeping of a beat were a part of worship music as witnessed in the singing of Psalms and the use of instruments such as tambourines and cymbals (2 Sam. 6:5). However, God does not mention any particular style such contemporary, classical, country, blue grass, jazz, rock or any other style. Since God is silent about the style of music and does not forbid the use of music that contains a beat we can conclude that once again God leaves great latitude to the local congregation as to what styles of music they will use in their worship. Regardless of what some may preach, God never says a word about rock, classical, contemporary, country, blue grass, jazz and the list go on and on. Therefore we should not impose our person preferences on others if God does not.

Therefore when it comes to sacred music we must not measure it by medium or style but by the guidelines that God has given to govern worship music. 

1) The content of sacred music: all that is spoken in song should be that which is true to God’s Word (Col. 3:16). God is not pleased with songs that show little or no regard for His Word or are hollow in their message.

2) The volume of sacred music: music should never be played at level that can cause damage to the hearing of the worshipper or may cause offense to the weaker brother. God is not pleased when we do that which destroys His temple (Rom. 12:1) or cause a stumbling block.

3) The artist of sacred music: music played for or sung to a congregation should always be performed by those who know the Lord. (2 Cor. 6:14-16). Too many congregations today are bringing in groups from public high schools or local talent that though they sing sacred music, they do not know the One they are supposedly singing about.

4) The beat of sacred music: music played in the congregation should never be done in such a way that the beat of the music overpowers the message or the singer. It has been shown that the beat of music can take control of the individual violating the words of Paul to be constantly under the control of only the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). This would be especially true in a worship service.

5) The priority of sacred music: music should never dominate the church’s services by pushing out other aspects of worship that are equally important (1 Pet. 4:2). What we are seeing in the church today is too much emphasis is on the entertaining of the flesh of the believer with music and in the same vein watering down of the preaching with the purpose of pleasing those in attendance (2 Tim. 4:2-5). In other words catering to the wants of the congregation not the needs. Are numbers in attendance so important to us that we neglect our calling as pastors and teachers to instruct our congregations in the whole counsel of God?

6) The sensibility of sacred music: music should never become a stumbling block for other believers. Paul makes it clear that if having my style of music will cause another brother or sister to sin, then I should be willingly to cheerfully give it up. That is not an easy thing to do but it is the loving thing to do.

With all of this said, I have left two other guidelines for last because I believe they are the most important to unifying a congregation in music ministry and worship. 

1) The first guideline has to do with our purpose in singing. Sacred music is to minister to the lives of all believers who are present with us. Eph. 5:19 says “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Paul puts the emphasis here not the quality of our music talent for even a “joyful noise” is pleasing to the Father (Psa. 66:1), but rather on the ministry we carry out to one another as we speak the words of these songs. Paul says this again in Col. 3:16 when he tells us “in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” This is a principle that is all too often left out of our sacred music. We who are older need to willingly learn to sing the newer songs, not because we personally like them but rather that we might minister to others in the congregation. Likewise, the younger generation needs to learn to sing the hymns of the faith, not because they personally like them but rather that they might minister to others in the congregation. Too many song services in churches today are anemic because few are singing with the fervency that comes from serving the Lord by serving others.

Therefore, the music in our churches should not be about what appeals to me or what I personally like or don’t like. It is all about ministering to those who are around me regardless of their age. If I put others first, rather than my own interests, then I will be willing to learn, sing and maybe even come to enjoy musical styles that at present seem foreign to me. I do it for my brother and sister not for myself! The church in American needs to get to the point where they stop planning their musical program around what caters to the wants of the congregation and focus rather what meets the needs of the congregation. Here is the beginning of unity regarding music in the church!

2) The second guideline is just as important if our music is going to be pleasing to the Lord. We must sing to the Lord. We are to sing with “grace in our hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16), “making melody in heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). We must stop focusing on what pleases us or turns us on or what we enjoy, and focus our attention on why we are truly singing to the Lord. How many of the songs that are sung today speak of great love and commitment to the Lord but in reality are empty words because they are not reflected in our daily walks. How often as we sing our minds are a 100 miles away rather than focusing on what we are saying. In doing so we are taking away from the worship our Lord deserves.

For unity to become an important part of the congregation it has to be more about others and our Lord and less about us. I believe if we get our priorities right, than the results will meet our needs as well as we lift up our Lord together with a fervent heart and voice.