—And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery (Mat. 19:9).
—Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
—For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Rom. 1:26-27).
—And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all…There is one body (Eph.1:22-23; 4:4).
—And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19).
—A woman is not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet (1 Tim. 2:11-14).
Passages like these are hotly debated, denied, and derided by those who either cast them against other Scripture or subjugate them to current cultural expectations. Those who desire to accept verses like those above as simple truth are often thought to be ignorant or, worse, dangerous.
The same book reveals the person and sacrifice of Jesus. It reveals the nature and attributes of God. It tells us where we came from and where we are going. It speaks of grace and faith. We accept these truths at face value. But when we come to passages that go against the grain of popular opinion (in or out of religion), cultural mores, or religious orthodoxy, we somehow attempt to say they do not say what they say they say. Jehoiakim’s scribe’s knife and his brazier fire did not eliminate truth (Jer. 36:23). It actually intensified the message against him (36:29ff). The number of academic degrees, religious followers, or oratorical skill will not change the truth of Scripture. It is what it is. Our role is to humbly submit to it or forever beat ourselves against it. May we love and revere God enough to always do the former.
People who have rejected the teaching that singing in worship must be without the addition of mechanical instrumental music have appealed to culture, to the permission of silence, to aesthetics, to emotion, to tradition, to preference, and the like. As we examine Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, seeing the imperatives in each place (“let the word of Christ richly dwell within you”—Col. 3:16; “be filled with the Spirit”—Eph. 5:18) and the participles that reveal how to obey the imperatives (Eph.: “speaking…singing…making melody…giving thanks”; Col.: “teaching…admonishing…singing”), we rightly say that God specifies what He wants and through such excludes what does not fall within these categories. No one will successfully build a case for Divine authorization or approval, and church history will have turned centuries of pages before it is even found introduced in Christian worship.
Having said that, we have at times failed to step back and look at some of our own attitudes toward the music portion of our worship that may reveal some deficiency in our musical offering to God. As a musical instrument may drown out, overshadow, or become the central feature of worship music, so may our own minds and attitudes. How?
- Being distracted by the age of the song (it’s too old or too new)
- Being distracted by the pitch of the song (it’s too high or too low)
- Being distracted by the pace of the song (it’s too fast or too slow)
- Being distracted by the notes of the song (the song leader is leading it wrong)
- Being distracted by who the song leader is or his appearance
- Being distracted by how many verses are sung (too many or too few)
- Being distracted by the aesthetics of the song (thinking about how it sounds more than what it says)
- Being distracted by our own ability (proud of how good we sound or so embarrassed at how we think we sound that we keep quiet or fail to speak, teach, etc.)
- Being distracted by the person/people next to us (concerned about what they think of us rather than what the message of the song is)
- Being distracted by our familiarity with a song (frustrated that we don’t know it or knowing it so well that we sing from memory without engaging the heart)
- Being distracted by matters outside the song (people-watching, thinking of other things, etc.)
Though I’ve never heard it said, have we constructed a theology that believes the only sin in our worship in song is adding an instrument to it? If we refuse to sing, sing with improper attitude, sing without heart and mind engaged, and the like, do we believe we are OK since we did not add to what God authorized.
In Matthew 15:9, Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes for worshipping God in vain due to their “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Context reveals the specifics of their wrongdoing. But that word vain means “pertaining to being without any result; to no avail” (Louw-Nida; “to no end,” BDAG). Review the examples of distraction above. Can those render worship in song with no result, avail, or end? Absolutely! Perhaps we need to emphasize within our own assemblies how equally necessary it is to be worshipping God “in spirit” as it is “in truth” (cf. John 4:24). The bottom line of this whole matter of church music is striving to please God in our worship. That is not limited to a single issue or somebody else’s issue. It is as individual and personal as each of our own relationship with God.
Disclaimer: I clearly recognize my own fallibility and potential short-sightedness on this and all matters. Please be assured that the following is written with deepest love for the Savior, the saved, and the lost sinner. Prudence, wisdom, and Christ-like love should characterize all such discussions as these, and that is my intention.
- There is wisdom in an evangelistic congregation looking for more psalms, hymns and spiritual songs written in the late 1900s and the 2000s.
- Our congregations need to be seeking talented people to write words and music for new songs that connect in melody and wording with those living today.
- The songs in our songbooks (other than those directly quoting Scripture) are neither inspired nor infallible. To note any archaic or befuddling words, lyrics, or tunes is not inherently sacrilegious.
- Proper respect should be maintained for members, old or young, who love and are edified by our older songs.
- Proper respect should be maintained for members, old or young, who love and are edified by our newer songs.
- “Newer songs” do not automatically equal spiritually inferior or unscriptural songs. “Older songs” do not automatically equal spiritually superior or scriptural songs. Of course, the opposite is true of both types of songs.
- It is neither wrong to sing every verse or omit one or more verses of a song. A few songs make less sense, however, if verses are omitted.
- Greater attention should be paid to the “horizontal aspect” of our singing; As our singing is to “teach and admonish one another” (Col. 3:16), we must be sure that we pay attention to this dimension of congregational singing.
- As always, our task is not to judge the worshipfulness of anyone else but to be sure we are constantly striving to worship in song in spirit and truth, with understanding (John 4:24; 1 Cor. 14:15).
- It’s just as wrong to refuse to sing as it is to add to the command to sing.
- While we never want to be fake or contrived in our emotions and expressions, we should give thought to what we convey as we sing in worship—enthusiasm or boredom, joy or consternation, interest or apathy, etc.
- Suggestions for improving our singing in worship does not equate to a “liberal agenda.”
- Projecting songs is not a panacea for most of these issues. However we read our songs, we must strive to focus on praising God and teaching each other.