Worship by the Book: Music

What does this mean for us today as we think about music in worship? How important is music for us as the people of God and how should we think about our worship services as they include music? I have three things for us to consider.

  1. Music must be Bibliocentric, or Bible-centered:
    1. That means music serves lyrics. We are most concerned about what the songs are saying. We are not as concerned about how they are saying it. However, there are distinct times when the method overtakes the message, or when the medium outshines the message. If the music is so distracting that you can’t understand the words, that’s a problem. Before some of you get excited and say, “Yep, all that contemporary stuff makes it too hard to understand the words.” That’s true sometimes, but it is also true of the 60 voice choir that I sang in during college. We sang one whole collection of songs in Latin and in German (sounds like a whole lot of people with sinus trouble). Singing in Latin helps nobody. It sounds nice, but if you can’t understand the words, that’s not really worship. Music should serve the lyrics.
    2. Music serves the preaching. Justin does a phenomenal job of putting song sets together that lead up to the preaching and come down from the preaching. He leads you to the word and helps you respond to the word. That is what a great worship leader is supposed to do. It becomes difficult when the preacher is saying that God is the center of the universe and the congregation is singing songs that make it sound like they are the center of the universe. The whole service is disconnected and it harms the congregation rather than helping it.
  2. Music must also be Congregation-centric:
    1. That means we do things corporately, or as a group. It’s good to gather with the people of God and sing together in worship.
    2. That also means that our worship is participatory. We may have to closely examine a few things like special music then. Is it wrong to have special music if we are supposed to do things corporately? I don’t think it is wrong all the time to have a special song sung by and individual or a group that the congregation doesn’t join in on, but many times I think it becomes a performance. You can tell it has become that some times because people clap like they would at the orchestra or any other concert. It may mean that we make a practice of saying Amen more often when someone sings, but the goal is for it not to be a performance because nothing that we do up here is for entertainment purposes. We aren’t trying to amuse you. We are trying to lead you and those are very different. Gathering and singing in the New Testament is corporate, and thus, that’s what the majority of our singing will be.
  3. Music must be God-centered:
    1. We have already established that the glory of God is the goal of life, church and thus worship, but that needs to be repeated often because we think many times that worship should be something that does something for us and thus we ask, “What did you get out of worship this morning?” The reality is that the exaltation of God is what worship is always about. The next time someone asks you, “What did you get out of worship this morning?” You should respond with kindness and grace, but with honesty, saying, “Nothing. I didn’t get anything out of worship today. I sang to God, gave an offering to God, watched someone get baptized because they were saved by God, took the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of the sacrifice provided by God and heard the Scriptures preached as ‘So Says God’. So I think God got something out of worship today, but I regret to say that no matter what he got out of our worship, it was far less than he deserves.
    2. One author has some questions to ask as we look at our music:
      1. Is God the subject and the object in the music of worship? Do text and music give us greater understanding of the nature and working of God, or is the emphasis on how we feel and what we need?
      2. Will the music contribute to building Christian community? Does the text focus on the individual believer to the exclusion of understanding that we are part of the “people of God?”
    3. John Wesley had several instructions regarding music in worship that I include here: John Wesley’s Select Hymns(1761):
      1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.
      2. Sing with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.
      3. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
      4. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow.
      5. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

Amen.

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