Know Your Bible

VOL. 8                           March 1, 2009                           NO. 6

Recent Trends in Music [3]

(Editor’s Note: I do not have access to his first two articles. Sorry!)

    For the past couple of weeks, we have considered some of the recent trends in music in the church and among brethren, with a specific interest in answering the questions about that which is called 'Contemporary Christian Music' and other songs of praise and/or any type of 'religious' music that uses mechanical instruments. I write these things in the hopes that some who are involving themselves in things that are contrary to God's will can, first, recognize that it is not acceptable to God and cease doing those things and, second, examine self to see the motives for our desire for these things to ensure we are seeking to truly worship God through our musical offerings and not just entertaining ourselves while the words we offer are meaningless.

    I am afraid many have already come to see the musical part of our worship as a source of entertainment because I have heard so many in recent years make comments about the musical part of the worship as "soul-stirring" or "awesome" or "a taste of heaven" or something similar. When I have asked these individuals who made such comments what they meant, they all made reference to the quality of the singing or the pleasurable melody of the songs being sung. I tell you with no joy - and with some fear for what it means - that not one said it was because of the words being sung at the time. I ask you: What does that say about us if we are moved more by the quality of the singing or the melody that we hear because of a certain arrangement of the notes, than we are by the words that are being sung?

    This desire for audio pleasure over spiritual worship seems to be growing. I say this because I have encountered several individuals over the past 10 years who visit with the congregation where I am working and with whom I worship but who choose to go elsewhere, and have told me [when asked later] that it was because of the singing. They never mentioned the content of the preaching or Bible classes, their treatment by the brethren, nor even that what was being done in one place or the other was not in accord with Scripture. It was the quality of the singing, apparently, that was the only factor in making their decision. Is it just me, or does that seem to be the wrong basis for decision-making?

    Friends and brethren, what is happening outside local churches is certainly influencing what is happening inside local churches. The music that our children [and we] are listening to outside the worship assembly affects what is heard inside the assembly. What do you suppose would happen when we listen to recordings of quartets and choruses who sing spiritual songs at such a high level and then we come to the worship assembly where few are musically trained? I can tell you what some will think: "Our singing is pitiful!" [This is said comparatively.] After listening to them, how could we measure up?

    Granted, some listen to these recordings to learn new songs, but I am not hearing those individuals. I am hearing from those who have been listening to those recordings and who are now complaining that our singing is not up to par [with what they have heard] and that something needs to be done about it. In some churches, it has been suggested that we need a new song book with "fresh, modern" songs to stir the masses. Others have bluntly suggested certain individuals not sing quite so loudly and others have even suggested putting small microphones near the "better" singers in the pews to "drown out" those of lesser abilities. Some 'churches of Christ' have simply set aside portions of the assembly for chosen singers [which, they are quick to point out, is most certainly not a 'choir'] to come up on stage [it might as well be] to deliver a special song during a special moment in the assembly.

    Let's go back to the Scriptures and see what exactly God wants from us, and then let us compare that with what is being sought by some brethren today in the musical portion of the assembly. Let's break down the text of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 to see what we should be doing in our musical worship.

Teaching Each Other. The text in Ephesians says, "addressing one another," and the Colossians text says, "teaching and admonishing one another." Let us note that these things are said as if the reader would assume it was the natural way of doing things. When we sing in our worship, we should be teaching and admonishing one another - helping one another to know God's ways and urging one another to righteousness - by the words we sing. It matters not what note is sung or even if the right note is sung because a note cannot teach or admonish; words can, however. It is the words that matter.

    That means we must consider the words of the songs we sing: Do the words we sing teach? Do they admonish? If we do not understand the meaning of the words, it will be impossible to be taught by them. If the words teach error, then we best not be singing them at all. If the words are confusing or ambiguous, we will be left confused, rather than edified. And while some 'poetic license' may be used by the author to make the song easier to sing, it should be limited to word arrangement, and not so much it changes the meaning of the base text or the overall message being heard.

Singing. For some, this may seem obvious, but let us not assume our every member understands the simplicity of the words written here. Not enough, apparently, is being taught about this or we wouldn't have some younger folks asking why we can't have instruments in the worship. The word in the Greek is [ado] which means exactly what is translated: sing. A lot of people want to focus on the word "psalms" in this passage, but let us note that the command here is that disciples sing. If we argue that the word psalmos demands instruments, then that would necessarily require all disciples to comply. I would have to do some quick study because I cannot play any instrument! [Not that you'd want to hear, anyway.]

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. As we might have reasoned, the songs we sing in our spiritual worship should, themselves, be spiritual in nature. We don't sing patriotic songs about our country, songs about the evils of society, or choose songs we think will elicit an emotional reaction. A psalm is, according to Strong's, "a set piece of music, that is, a sacred ode (accompanied with the voice, harp or other instrument." While some want to jump on the 'harp or other instrument' portion of the definition, consider that the context demands each disciple sing and, thus, the only instrument used here is the voice. Where God specified, all else is excluded.

    A hymn is "a religious ode," often meant to be celebratory in content. Many of the psalms praised God for His goodness and for His blessings, and such songs would qualify for being called a hymn. Spiritual songs are exactly what they sound like: songs that speak of spiritual, rather than fleshly, things. The songs we sing and the reason we sing them should be spiritual in nature. Paul, in fact stated that he would sing with the spirit and with understanding (1 Cor. 14:15) that it would be beneficial. Songs sung with fleshly motives do not in any way benefit the hearer [or singer] spiritually. Let us not forget this!

To the Lord. Here should be our guiding principle in all we do in our worship, but which is being forgotten [or already forgotten]: this is all for the Lord, not for self. We do not sing [or go to hear singing] just for our audial pleasure; we go to worship the Lord. If those words are merely for our own ears, then we are offering nothing to the Lord! This, I fear, is why many listen to the 'Contemporary Christian' music and are now seeking such musical offerings in the assembly.

    Let us do this: "Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name" (Heb. 13:15).

---Steven Harper

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