For Music

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine, Greg Gilbert, posted a blog on the 9Marks site called Against Music. The title was more an attention grabber than a statement of Greg’s attitude toward music in general. He was cautioning Christians against becoming spiritually dependent on music in their relationship with God. He wrote:

The bottom line, I suppose, is that it would do every Christian well to do some honest heart-searching about what makes them feel “close to God.” Can you feel close to God just by reading or saying the words, “In Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”? Would you be able to function in a church that’s great in every way except the music? If not, you probably need to give some thought to whether your spiritual life is dependent on something it should not be dependent on.

I was asked to post a response, which I did here. Greg then followed up with another post, which ended with a group of insightful questions that help us discern whether or not we’re viewing music appropriately in our corporate worship. Some of the questions he asked were these:

Do you need music playing in the background for the reading of Scripture to affect your emotions?
Do you desperately look forward to the next conference you’re going to attend because you know that, finally, you’ll be able to feel close to God again?
Do you tend to feel closer to God when you’re alone with your iPOD than you do when you’re gathered with God’s people in your church?
Do you feel like you just can’t connect with other believers who haven’t had the same “worship experiences” that you have? Can you only connect with other believers who “know what it feels like to really worship?”
Is your sense of spiritual well-being based more on feeling close to God, or knowing that you are close to God because of Jesus Christ?

    Greg makes it clear, especially in his second post, that he’s not against music. I wanted to pick up on that thought and tell you why we should be for music. When we get too concerned about the negative effects of music, we can unintentionally stifle the good effects God intends for music to have on our souls. So here are a few thoughts about why God so often connects music and worship.

    Music is meant to affect us emotionally. Some times I’ve thought it was more “spiritual” or pleasing to God if I could be affected without music playing. But that’s not the point. Of course music isn’t essential to expressing or stirring up strong feelings towards God. But that doesn’t mean music is irrelevant or unimportant. God intended for music to speak to our emotions so that we would not only think right thoughts about him, but also have deep affections for him. Music can make us feel joyful, reflective, sad, or peaceful. When the effects of music are skillfully combined with Scriptural realities and lyrics that magnify Christ, those truths often become more vivid and alive to us. That’s one of the reasons revivals from the Great Awakening of the 18th century to the Charismatic outpouring of the 1970′s have always been accompanied by a fresh outpouring of songs. God uses music that changes from generation to generation to spread the unchanging Word of the Gospel.

    Music helps us meditate on Scriptural truth. Biblical meditation involves turning over specific truths in our minds so that they might sink into our hearts and affect our wills. Well-written music is a great tool to accomplish that end. It enables us to slow our words down without getting bored or sounding like we’re drunk. It allows us to enjoy repeating phrases. It aids in memorizing God’s promises. And it does all this in a way that we can find delightful. “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting” (Ps. 147:1).

    Music enables us to express our unity in the Gospel. Throughout history Christians have reaffirmed and declared their unity of faith through reciting creeds like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. We’re affirming the truths around which our faith is built. But reciting what unites us is meant to go hand in hand with singing about what unites us. Singing together is a physically engaging statement that we are committed to the same cause, and redeemed by the one Savior.

    Music draws out differing emotions from the same lyrics. Too often the music we sing on Sundays sounds the same, comes from the same century or decade, or only relates to a limited age bracket. The highs and lows of human emotion, the diverse aspects of God’s character, and the varying responses we should have to God are squeezed into a narrow emotional bandwidth of triumphant praise, traditional conservatism, sappy sentimentalism, or bland commercialism. God has given us music as a way of encouraging and expressing the wide range of responses that are appropriate for the holy, merciful, compassionate, all-powerful God we worship. That’s why we should give thought to arranging songs, and be able to benefit from singing Holy, Holy, Holy with an organ, a rock band, or no instruments at all.

    As usual, the thoughts I have on this topic far exceed the time I have to write them on this blog. If you can suggest more reasons why music is a good thing when we gather to worship God, please leave a comment. The clearer we are on the reasons God wants us to use music in our public praise, the less likely we’ll use it for the wrong reasons.

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    15 Responses to For Music

    1. Jeff Locke February 21, 2008 at 1:23 PM #

      Bob,

      Thank you for your thoughtful post. I have benefited from your discussion here as well as your contributions on the 9Marks blog. Music certainly is a gift of God, and that is most clearly seen when the gathered church has the chance to sing His praises in celebration of what He’s done for us in Christ.

      You relisted the questions that resulted from your discussion on the 9Marks blog, and the first one sticks out to me especially: “Do you need music playing in the background for the reading of Scripture to affect your emotions?” I would add to this question, whether the tendency in many churches (including my own) to play music during prayer is beneficial. I am certain that it can be, but I’ve seen it become somewhat of a habit. I wanted to ask you about this. Do you think there is danger of us becoming dependent on music during prayer and Scripture reading? On the other hand, could it become a distraction, drawing our attention away from prayer and God’s Word?

      The last thing I want is to be a naysayer! We must be thankful to God for music, for it is His gift to all people and especially to His church. Thanks for drawing my attention to this good gift of the Father (He is good!). I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on this particular issue. Thank you for being faithful with what the Lord has given you, and please continue to serve Him diligently.

    2. Bob Kauflin February 21, 2008 at 3:14 PM #

      Jeff,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Yes, I think there is a danger of us becoming dependent on music to move our emotions during prayer and Scripture reading. A couple things we can do to minimize that. The first is obvious – don’t play music behind every prayer or reading of Scripture. The variety will help people see that while music can be used to complement and support the word, it’s not essential. The second way we can reduce an over-dependence is to play music that is truly supportive and not distracting. I’ve heard instrumentalists reflect what’s being said in a transparent way. I’ve also heard musicians play loudly, with too much variety, or aimlessly. I think people often react negatively to instrumental accompaniment because it’s not done well. But I think there’s biblical support for the ability of music to affect the way we hear the spoken word (1 Chron 25:1; 1 Sam. 10:5-6; 2 Kings 3:14-16).

    3. Jeff Locke February 21, 2008 at 3:55 PM #

      Bob,

      Thanks. That’s really helpful. Those passages of Scripture help put things in perspective. Whether to accompany prayer or Scripture reading has been a question in my mind as a worship leader, but I’ve never had this kind of biblical basis for such accompaniment. Thanks for being willing to share your insight.

    4. Daniel Baker February 22, 2008 at 9:29 AM #

      Bob,
      The discussion further highlights the need to tackle the Psalms at WorshipGod08.

      Greg Gilbert is obviously tapping into a real phenomenon of a generation that can’t imagine time passing without ear buds. Yet, the danger of over-reacting is always with us.

      What encourages me in music is the pervasive place it has in the Scriptures, whether it is the song of Moses in Exo 15, the 150 chapters of Psalms–replete with specific references to a variety of instruments and emotions–, Jesus singing a hymn with his disciples, or the continual songs that are raised in the book of Revelation. That assures us that in every era of redemptive history, music has a place.

      While God never reveals the answer to the question we all wonder–why did you create music?–I think one answer is that it completes an emotion in a way a spoken truth cannot. Greg’s point about being affected by simply reading or saying Eph 2:17 is a good one, but misses that music helps us to take this theologically and evangelically charged idea and help it take flight in our souls.

      We should surely be able to quietly and extensively meditate on the text and allow it to drip down into the darknesses of our sinful and unconfident hearts; but, neither should we miss that our souls are made to powerfully express what moves them. And few things allow us to powerfully express emotions–emotions rooted in truth!–like music. Why else did so many of us want to write songs for our brides in those early days of courtship? Saying it just wasn’t enough.

      Greg is right that music should not be a substitute for actual spiritual life. It is, no doubt, a kind of sacred stewardship that leaders and musicians and worship leaders need to use well, for noble purposes, for the intent of giving voice to the new songs of salvation that God is working in our hearts, all that his name might be magnified above all others.

      Having said all of this, if we answer “yes” to any of Greg’s questions then we should indeed take a hard look at our spiritual vitality.

      Thanks!
      Daniel Baker

    5. Alan February 22, 2008 at 11:16 AM #

      Bob, thank you for the good points you made in short time. You have a been very helpful to me as I move from a childhood of only conservative music into a realm of wonderfully uplifting music and text found in modern spiritual songs. One thing I’d like to add regarding music is that I’ve found it to be able to reflect the character of God in it’s beauty, balance, orderliness, power, majesty, tenderness, stillness, movement etc. So often I hear a text that is complemented by a tune that enhances my view of the message. One song that comes to mind is “The Glory of the Cross”. The interlude between the 2nd chorus and 3rd verse always has the effect of drawing my spirit to the power and grace of the glory of the Cross. The Lord is most gracious to give us the gift us music to help us worship Him as we should.

      Alan Sherban

    6. joel deichman February 22, 2008 at 12:03 PM #

      Bob,
      All this is very good and makes me more aware of planning the music on Sunday that it not be done to please us but to please Him. However, I am concerned about the churches with choirs. We never seem to touch on that, or if we have I’ve missed it. Is not choir relevant or is it something that is old hat? Choirs seemed to be important in the O.T. but little is mentioned of it in the N.T.

    7. David Guion February 22, 2008 at 1:29 PM #

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for continuing this “against music” and/or “for music” dialogue. It’s a valuable discussion.

      Obviously, the New Testament is replete with references about believers praising the Lord by singing. For example, (and I recognize that none of these verses will be new or unfamiliar – perhaps just a reminder of some foundational texts.)

      Matthew 26:30 “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives”

      Acts 16:25 “But at midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God”

      Romans 15:9 “For this reason I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name”

      1 Corinthians 14:15 “I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding”

      Ephesians 5:19 “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”

      Colossians 3:16 “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 hearts to the Lord”

      Hebrews 2:12 “In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You”

      Hebrews 13:15 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name”

      James 5:13 “Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing psalms.”

      I’ve heard music called “the language of the heart.” The Lord has indeed used the vehicle of music to stir the mind, will and emotions of believers for centuries by means of astonishing lyrics and with dynamic, arousing melodies and harmonies.

      The wonderful thing about this “against music” and/or “for music” discussion is that it has brought the following question back to the front-burner of my own heart…

      “Is Jesus enough?”

      Thanks again, Bob. What you do “matters” in the kingdom!

      Have a blessed weekend.

      David Guion

    8. Bob Kauflin February 22, 2008 at 3:33 PM #

      Joel,

      You asked about the place of choirs. Since God hasn’t given us clear direction in the New Testament, it seems to me that we evaluate them the same way we evaluate other forms of music. Do they help people magnify the glory of God in Christ? Do they contribute to wholehearted singing from the congregation? Are they a means of showcasing human talents or serving the church? I don’t think Scripture specifically speaks against the use of choirs, but neither do I see explicit commands that we should have them. Every church is free to determine what best serves their church each week and over the long haul.

      Feel free to follow up.

    9. Luke February 22, 2008 at 9:40 PM #

      Bob,

      I appreciate your perspective on this issue. I posted this reponse to Greg’s post quoting you at the 9marks site…I’d like know your thoughts on this (this is a partial quote from my post):

      Jonathan Edwards, for me, was the greatest help in reading his “On Religious Affections.” In part 1, Section II, point 9, Edwards has this to say:

      “And the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.”

    10. Bob Kauflin February 22, 2008 at 11:37 PM #

      Luke,

      Great quote from Jonathan Edwards. I agree wholeheartedly. I think his comments on singing also encourage the use of creative, moving, skillfully played music to accompany our singing.

    11. Alistair Hamill February 23, 2008 at 8:04 AM #

      Bob,

      Thanks as ever for your measured and helpful comments. This might be a good place to throw in an issue I’ve been thinking about for few weeks on the role of music and singing in our corporate meetings. It was prompted by John Frame’s very helpful book ‘Worship in Spirit and Truth’. In a chapter where he searches the New Testament for the different elements we might include in our corporate services, he says:

      ‘Song does not have an independent function in worship; rather, it is a way of doing many different things: praying, teaching, blessing, fellowshiping, etc.’ (p57)

      There is no doubt there is truth to this – even one of the examples you quoted above concerning the role of singing in helping us interact with the truth of God’s word demonstrates this.

      But is there a danger in reducing singing to this utilitarian role? Does it always have to be a means to some other end or can singing to God be an end in itself? In short, does singing have any independent function?

      I would love to hear people’s thoughts on this!

      Thanks,
      Al

    12. Bob Kauflin February 23, 2008 at 8:42 AM #

      Al,

      Does singing have any independent function? I think in the public meetings of the church, music and singing always have a functional, serving role. Or, as you say, a utilitarian role. That just sounds a little stark to me. We don’t sing simply for the pleasure that lifting our voices brings. We don’t play music just to admire the beauty of rhythm, harmony, and melody. We sing because it stirs up and expresses emotions towards God. But those emotions are grounded in his revealed Word to us, not in the music we’re making. Placing music and singing in their own category tends to result in art worship — valuing the gift apart from the Giver.

      So I think Frame’s perspective is right. We sing in order to accomplish other ends – praying, praising, reflecting, teaching, celebrating. But God commands us to sing because it helps us engage differently, at times even more fully, with those particular activities.

    13. glenn d. March 6, 2008 at 11:55 AM #

      I agree with Bob. This whole act of worship that we put forth is more than a simple raising of our voices. I will have to be honest though, when I have to admit that I really do love to sing, so it is made more of a good experience for me at least. This is where i believe that God has put different talents in us for different reasons. I am a worship leader at my school but if i didnt have any musical talent/a love for music then i would not want to do what i do now. So i agree, it is more than lifting our voices because we enjoy it, but it sure doesnt help if it’s your thing.

    14. Chris Campbell September 23, 2012 at 7:10 AM #

      Lol, I’m glad you said it, Glenn… Sometimes I just love to play or sing, just for the sake of the art/discipline. Now, I love my creator best I can with where I’m at, but sometimes, I just love being a part of His creation… Not worshipping it, just being a part of it.

      Growing up a “blended” Southern Baptist ;), I have a tendency to try to spiritulize everything in life. But truth is, this very night, I had a religious experience watching a John Mayer cover of the ol Tom Petty track, “Free Fallin”. It was amazing. Just John, his acoustic, and 2 buddies with their guitars. It was beautiful… Arrangement, mic placement, mix, lighting… Man. Now, John is no saint, by any means, but aside from being completely moved, having goose bumps, chills, and pretty much all the same feelings I have while in corporate worship, I just thanked God for that little gift tonight. John’s a weirdo, Tom is too, the lyrics are anything but inspiring, and there were probably better things I could have done with that time, but it’s amazing how joyful life can be when you just relax and thank God for the beauty you find… Even outside that ol time religion! :)

      Music will always mean more to some than others. Most can’t play an instrument, or even sing confidently in tune. Why would we expect them to feel as passionately as those of us who are, not just gifted or skilled, but professionals? In this light, I love hearing guys like you all talk about diversity, changing things up, avaoiding patterns, etc. The more we can all do to make a bigger deal of Christ than the band… You know? :)

      Love you guys, and stay the course!

      Joel – my church has neither the capacity or the desire for a choir, of any kind. However, I challenge any punk, modern worship kid to head to Brooklyn, climb up on stage, and stay off his knees as over 300 sinners come together and sound like angels! ;) I love the thought of imperfect, continually failing people coming together to sing praises to God. It can not only be humbling and regenerating for the singers but a great example for the worshippers not on stage! So hard to find leaders with the gifting to develop and rotate so many different aspects of musical ministry, but they do exist! Good luck! ;)

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