THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN WORSHIP
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 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.
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (NASB).
The trouble with many songs you hear nowadays is that somebody forgot to put them to music.
This story is from an old-out-of-print book entitled English Hymns:
There was once a difficulty in Rev. Dr. Samuel West’s congregation in the old New England times. The choir had declined to proceed with the music. So the shrewd clergyman introduced the services with the hymn “Come, We Who Love the Lord” and asked the congregation to begin with the second verse” “Let Those Refuse to Sing Who Never Knew Our God.”
Music can be one of the most divisive and controversial issues in Christian worship. Most of the time the controversy centers on the taste of music. “Music often touches people’s root, their emotions.” Why is it that music creates much controversy among Christians? For one thing music confronts the whole person—mind, heart, and will. Music demands some type of response. Music instructs the mind, inspires the emotions, and challenges the will.
- A BRIEF HISTORY OF MUSIC AND WORSHIP
It is evident from numerous references in the Old Testament that music played a significant role in the Hebrew culture. According to tradition, Jubal, the son of Lamech, who was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe (Gen. 4:21), was the inventor of music.
The OT is replete with music in worship. David was known not only for being a mighty king but also a great musician. Most of the Psalms were written by King David as a form of worship. David’s exuberance of spiritual joy is evidenced in his many Psalms of Praise. David allowed the Levites to use all kinds of instruments in their worship when he became the king of Israel.
The close of the OT era was characterized by apostasy, idolatry, and unbelief. This apostasy was evident in their singing. The joyful songs of Moses and Miriam, Deborah, David, Asaph, Chenaniah, and Solomon were heard no more. Musical instruments were seldom used in synagogue worship. Religious music became formal and mournful. The decrease of spirituality was followed by wholehearted singing. Musical worship was forsaken by the laity, and synagogue singing was restricted to the ritualistic chanting of the priests.
Music has played a significant role in the history of Christianity. Christian singing was seen in the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ (Mk. 14:26). Paul and Silas sang and worshiped the Lord in a Philippian jail (Acts 16:25). In several passages from his letters, Paul made mention of music (1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). There is overwhelming evidence that the first century Christians used well-known hymns in their worship.
The third century sources of worship are few in number, the most important of them being The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome (ca. A.D. 220) and the Didascalia of the apostles. The scarcity (paucity) of records of worship during the third century is best understood against the background of a hostile culture.
The situation changed during the Middle Ages because of the Christianization of the world by Emperor Constantine. Music began to be used as a medium of worship during this time. The medieval Church produced songs that are still in use today (“Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”). Nevertheless, the freedom of corporate singing in the church was short-lived.
By the turn of the fifteenth century, the singing of hymns by the laity in the church was banned. The Council of Constance in A.D. 1415 ordered the burning of John Huss at the stake also decreed: “If laymen are forbidden to preach and interpret the Scripture, much more are they forbidden to sing publicly in the church.”
One of the achievements of the Protestant Reformers was the restoration of congregational music. The earliest protestant hymnbooks were published by the Bohemian Brethren, (who later came to be known as the Moravian Brethren) in 1501 and 1505 respectively.
Martin Luther was a lover of music. His influence on music in worship was revolutionary. Luther was well trained in music. He wrote and composed music that was the favorite of the common people of his day. His works were so effective that one of his enemies wrote, “Luther’s songs have damned more souls than all his books and speeches.” Luther’s specialty was in choral music. His hymns were marked by a simple melody, a strong harmony and a stately rhythm.
John Calvin’s contribution to the restoration of music in the church was the Psalms as opposed to hymns. He felt that hymns were artificial (manufactured) whereas the Psalms were inspired of God. At first, Calvin advocated singing in unison as opposed to Luther who endorsed singing in parts. Calvin was against the use of instruments in music. He contended that accompanying instruments in worship is worldly, but later he changed his mind.
- CONTEMPORARY MUSIC AND WORSHIP
There is a great challenge facing the contemporary church in the field of music and worship. This challenge has occurred because of the demands of the changing culture. The introduction of contemporary music as opposed to traditional has received much criticism. What some of the critics are not aware is that Luther, Bach, Charles Wesley, and Isaac Watts’ songs, which have become traditional today used to be contemporary in their time. They also received similar criticism, but they did not give up, because they wanted to reach the unchurched people in their culture.
Attracting those who have been turned off by the church, or those who are unfamiliar with Christian style of worship, calls for dramatic changes. Music in most churches occupy about forty (40%) percent of the entire service. Music therefore, plays a major role in a worship experience.
Contemporary churches that ignore the important role which music plays in reaching people will continue to decline. This does not mean that traditional music should be eliminated or abandoned completely from public worship. Alternative contemporary services should supplement liturgical services, not displace them.
Music in worship is closely connected with culture. Popular music (pop music) has had influence on the church and Christian music through the rise of choruses. Choruses have created a virtual revolution that is lauded by some Christians as a return to biblical worship. However, others see it as a “sellout to commercialism and entertainment.”
Calvin Johansson expresses a negative view of choruses when he writes:
Exclusive use of choruses tends to produce a people who have the same depth of spirituality as the music they sing. The result is a faith, which lacks depth, is simplistic, pleasure-oriented, emotionalistic, intellectually weak, undisciplined, and prone to the changeability of feelings. The end result of nothing else but chorus singing is immaturity.
However, others disagree vehemently with Johansson’s conclusions. The fact that a chorus is simple does not make it intellectually weak, emotionalistic, and undisciplined. The advocates contend that choruses like gospel music and other forms of music should not be excluded from worship but incorporated at the appropriate places in worship.
- CONTEMPORARY MUSIC AND CHURCH GROWTH
Perhaps one of the clearly observed marks of many fast growing churches is the shift away from traditional hymnody toward contemporary music. Herb Miller states, “Americans prefer bright, happy, cheerful music” (How to Build a Magnetic Church, 1987). He goes on to say that when music is upbeat, visitors get a feeling of liveliness and creativity, rather than solemn sameness.
Choruses, which Johansson has severely criticized, are considered to be on the top of contemporary music. This was in the 1980s, but today the top of the chart Christian music is the Contemporary praise and worship. The lyrics of these choruses speak directly to God rather than singing about God. Research has confirmed that one out of every four Southern Baptist churches uses praise choruses and other contemporary songs in their worship every week. In the same research, it was discovered that as high as 84.6 percent of Southern Baptist churches use choruses and other contemporary songs in their worship occasionally if not regularly.
White asserts that,
The philosophy behind the music in growing churches is that the musical tastes of the individuals being targeted for outreach should inform the music of the worship service. It is not that hymns are discarded. Most recognize the worth of traditional hymnody, but in growing churches, traditional hymns are supplemented with contemporary forms of music that offer praise to God in a way that reflects contemporary tastes in music.
Unfamiliar hymns and old organs make younger people sleepy. John Bisagno writes:
Longhaired music, funeral dirge anthems, stiff-collared song leaders
will kill the church faster than anything in the world. Let us set the record straight for a minute. There are no great, vibrant, soul-winning churches reaching numbers of people, baptizing hundreds of converts, reaching the masses that have stiff music, seven-fold amens, and steady diet of classical anthems. None. That is not a few. That is none, none, and none.
Churches that have embraced contemporary music styles in their service are convinced that unchurched guests do not demand that worship should be reduced to less than fully praising God. The problem that worship leaders have to deal with is what is contemporary music? Contemporary music differs from one context to another. For one church, it might be a bluegrass or country western, for another Bach might lead the way.
According to White, studies by the Recording Association of America have disclosed that classical music amounts for only four percent of all albums sales in the United States. Glenn Nielson even says that only two percent of Americans listen to classical music.
While the love for classical music has waned, the sale of popular, rock, and rap music has soared to seventy percent. According to research conducted by Kirk Hadaway on Southern Baptist Churches, one of the strongest church growth principles he discovered was “the relationship between church growth and the quality of music. A full 90 percent of large growing churches consider their music program as superb or good, as compared to 78 percent of plateaued churches and 53 percent of declining churches.” Hadaway advises pastors, worship leaders, choir directors or ministers of music to plan music with all seriousness because music enhances church growth
Subcultural worship music cannot be the bulk of what we sing if we hope to offer a welcoming, inclusive worship material from an entirely new genre of worship music, music that is meaningful and engaging to Christian and non-Christian cultures alike. We need cross-cultural worship music, music in a variety of popular styles that is attractive to both Seeker Bob and saintly Bill.
A strong music program generally includes three elements: 1. Planning and spontaneity. 2. Balance and variety; and 3. Quality and depth. Having seen the important role music plays in the worship of God, let us always come before the presence of God with music in our hearts and thanksgiving on our lips for God inhabits the praise of His people.
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