Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Search for Proper Church Music

The subject of music in the church has often been one of dispute that has sometimes degenerated into open war. Unfortunately, the modern so called "worship war" has largely focused on the matter of personal taste. The modern church must come to the conclusion that our personal desires in worship are absolutely irrelevant. What must drive us is a quest to determine what God desires. God has always determined how He is to be worshiped. He must be the focus.

The subject of worship music must be examined carefully. Paul described our music as "Speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). Clearly the primary emphasis is upon the content ("speaking to yourselves"). Paul writes in Colossians 3:16: "Let the Word of God dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. . ." The music style must be such that it does not distract from the content. The great emphasis on the music style today often demonstrates the diminishing of the importance of the content. The so called praise music of today is often more about us -- what God does for us; how God benefits us. Is it music that stirs us? It is often quite narcissistic.

Early church worship was patterned after the synagogue and the singing of the Psalms was the primary focus. The writing of Christian hymns began as early as the fourth century, largely to counteract the activity of heretics. With the Reformation there was a split with regard to worship music. Calvin, guided by the Regulative Principle, maintained that only the Psalms should be sung and also banned the use of musical instruments. Anything not found in the Bible was rejected. Luther, on the other hand, supported the singing of hymns. Wesley later introduced what are often called "Gospel Songs" as distinct from hymns. This style of music had a faster tempo and also contained a refrain or chorus.

Our church has largely embraced the "traditional hymnody" of the Christian church while mixing in a few of the "Gospel Songs." Traditional hymnody has a focus on the greatness of God. It is music "about" God, as opposed to contemporary worship music that is usually directed "to" God." It is content rich and doctrinally pure music. Traditional hymnody is not confined to a particular historical period. There are hymns being written today that direct our attention to God. These stand apart from most of the contemporary worship music of our day.