Grace Reformed Church In Rapid City SD
Music During Worship
Does it matter what kind of music we use in worship? Is it simply a matter of taste and culture? Would it be wrong to use drums or an electric guitar in a worship service? The argument is often made that it really doesn’t matter what style of music we use in worship, as long as the words are okay. The appeal is often made to Martin Luther, who allegedly borrowed tunes from the secular world around him. In fact, it is alleged that the tune of “A Mighty Fortress” was a bar song that Luther borrowed. Most historians agree, however, Luther did not borrow music from the world of entertainment, and, as a matter of fact, he himself wrote the tune to a Mighty Fortress.
There are an increasing number of churches today that offer two worship services, one featuring traditional hymns, and the other featuring contemporary music. Why do modern churches feel the need to use contemporary music? Here are some of the common answers to this question: “Because this will excite us, and we will feel the Lord more.” “This will attract the modern generation.” “Traditional hymns are dreadfully boring.” “I tried my best to inject feeling into the worship, but it was like squeezing a shriveled orange for the last drop of juice, only to be disappointed when nothing came. Worst of all, I kept thinking what the pastor said, that we would spend eternity engaged in worship. I couldn’t think of a more dreadful prospect.”
How we answer the question of music during worship depends in part on our view of worship. If we believe we are free to worship God in any way we want, as long as we are sincere, then we are not going to think it matters much what music we use; but if we hold to the regulative principle, that Scripture must regulate what we do during a worship service, then we will approach the issue of music very differently. I am going to argue that just because we are free to listen to all kinds of music outside a worship service does not mean that anything goes during a worship service. Just because we are free to do certain things outside of worship (like drama and dancing) does not mean we are free to do those same things inside of worship.
The first point to be made is that the purpose of music during worship is not entertainment. There is nothing wrong with listening to music for entertainment. It is one of God’s good gifts to us; but the purpose of music in a worship service is not entertainment. It’s there to help us sing for the Lord’s listening pleasure. All things exist for His glory and pleasure (Revelation 4:11).
There are many professing Christians who think they have not worshiped God unless the music moved them. What these people fail to realize is that just because a certain song excites or moves us (even to tears) does not necessarily mean we have worshiped God. There are many unbelievers who are deeply moved (even to tears) by beautiful music, but that doesn’t mean they are spiritually alive!
The Bible teaches that we must be “moved” first and foremost not by a melody but by the words we are singing! “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). There is nothing wrong with having beautiful and enjoyable tunes, and there are many tunes we especially like, but it must be the Word of Christ that fills our hearts with thanksgiving and praise to Christ as we sing. As Augustine said, “As often as the song delights me more than that which is sung, so often I confess that I sin grievously.”
Most churches today argue that as long as the content of our songs is biblical, then it doesn’t matter what kind of music we use. Yet those same people recognize that not every kind of music is appropriate for every occasion. They would not say that circus music is appropriate for a funeral, or that the Barney song is suitable for a wedding march. It is appropriate, however, for a children’s program! Everyone recognizes that there is different music for different occasions. We have music for dancing, for funerals, for military parades, for birthday parties, for a peaceful evening at home, or music to pump up the crowd at a basketball game. There is different music for different occasions. When Saul was oppressed by an evil spirit, David used the harp, not the drums, to soothe Saul!
So the question is this: what kind of music is appropriate for the occasion of public worship? What kind of music should we have in the presence of a consuming fire? To be sure, we are to worship God every day, in every area of our life, but when we are called into the royal court for worship we must do so with music appropriate for the occasion. As John Calvin pointed out, “There is a great deal more latitude in regard to that which a peasant does in the fields than that which he does when he is invited into the royal court.” I can crank up the tunes at home and get out my air guitar and dance around the living room, but that would not be appropriate if I were invited to the White House. Therefore, as Calvin argued, “There is a great difference between music which one makes to entertain men in their homes and psalms which are sung in the church in the presence of God and his angels.” Calvin hired musicians to compose tunes that were fitting for congregational singing on the Lord’s Day. Here is what he told the musicians: “There must always be concern that the song be neither light nor frivolous but have gravity and majesty.”
Does this mean that drums and electric guitars are wrong in a worship service? What about African culture? We must grant that in some cases music is a matter of cultural preference; however, even African worship services, if they are to please God, must be characterized by music that is appropriate for public worship. The bottom line is that the music must not dominate the service, but rather serve to help the Word dominate the service! The music must make it easy for the congregation to focus on the words they are singing.
The issue is not classical music versus rock ‘n roll. For example, I love the soundtracks from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings – both of which are classified as symphony music, but such music would not be appropriate for a worship service – for the simple reason that it would make it very difficult for the congregation to think of the Lord instead of Yoda and Frodo during worship!
When people say things like, “we must have modern music or we won’t be able to keep our young people,” they have missed the whole purpose of music. Nowhere does the Bible say that music is to be used to keep our young people. Was it music on the Day of Pentecost that converted the 3000 souls? Has God changed His method of adding people to His church and keeping them in His church? Music style is not one of the marks of the church; yet how many people put up with unbiblical preaching simply because they like their church’s praise band?
The real question is not how to make worship more exciting, but how did Christians come to a point where they perceive Bible reading, preaching, prayer, singing, sacraments, and benedictions boring? Has the modern church become like the Israelites who grumbled about manna?
Peter Masters summed it up quite well: “God is no longer the infinite, almighty, holy God, Who sees and searches every heart. He is merely a chum or pal … enjoying our entertainment-based culture. He is no longer to be feared; no longer to be given reverence. With this new God, Moses would not need to remove the shoes from his feet, nor the apostle John fall at His feet as dead. This revised God does not mind how we worship him, and so we need have no inhibitions or qualms about anything that we do in His presence” (Worship in the Melting Pot, page 119).