Music in the Local Church

A Look At What the Bible Says about Music

“I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.” Psalm 104:33

“Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works.” Psalm 105:2

I am going into an area where even angels fear to tread! It is a subject that has caused conflict and division all of my Christian life, yet it is a very important one. I have heard great debate over the subject, there have been many books written about it, sermons have been preached about it, families have been divided over it, and Christians have left churches over it.

This will not be an exhaustive study. In fact, it will be very narrow, but I would like to deal with the subject of music and some issues relating to it. May I start out with a few axioms and disclaimers:

  • My main goal here is to glorify God, as we seek to do in everything.
  • I am not trying to be controversial, but truthful and biblical.
  • I am very mindful that all biblical churches belong to God, and therefore, His will, goals, opinions, and preferences are all that matter.
  • I am aware that you may not agree with me, although, if you don’t, you will be the first ever to do so!

Music and the Misgivings

Music, for obvious reasons, has been at the center of problems in the church for what seems like forever. I have read that there were tremendous problems when churches started singing songs other than the Psalms of the Bible. More problems came when instruments were introduced.

I will share a few of the controversies I have seen during my 35 years as a pastor:

  • Back in the '70s, any church using guitars in their services was of the devil.
  • In the '80s your church was on a “slippery slope” if you sang one of Bill Gaither’s songs, like “Because He Lives,” (which I still love to hear).
  • In the '90s you were on that same slope if you allowed sound tracks to be used.
  • In the late '90s and to this day, some think you are worldly if you project your songs on the wall!
  • Also in the '90s and 2000s, was the issue of handheld microphones.
  • I read of another music controversy, one with which you may agree. Here are two articles for you to consider: “I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday’s new hymn—if you can call it that—sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this—in God’s house!—don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need. (From a letter written in 1863, about the song “Just As I Am.”)

    “What is wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted with learning a new hymn. Last Sunday’s was particularly unnerving. The tune was un-singable, and the new harmonies were quite distorting.” (From a letter written in 1890 concerning the new song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”)
  • Now, for the last controversies while I was a pastor: which hymnbook to use (if you use one at all) how you hold the microphone, choir robes or not, scooping or slurring, breathiness, too many praise songs, not enough praise songs, music is too loud, too soft, too much syncopation, too traditional, too worldly, the use of drums, band or orchestra, a lot of songs or not enough! Now, let me go on to my next point!

Music and the Meaning

We should all want good music in our churches, and there are certain standards found in the Bible to guide us. One of them is that we should praise the Lord with our music. The Psalmist said, “I will sing praise to my God while I have my being” (Psalm 104:33b).

More instruction with music is found in Colossians 3:16b, “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” This tells me that music is for edification and encouragement. It should also be doctrinally correct.

Before anyone attacks their pastor or music director for bad music with false doctrine, one should quietly go to them and discuss it. My guess is that they would agree with you if you showed them where something in the music goes contrary to Scriptures. May I encourage everyone reading this to give his pastor and music director the benefit of the doubt if you find something you disagree with. It was probably an oversight.

Music and the Minister

It has always been interesting to me that when we want to find out what is right or wrong with certain music, we go to the music gurus who write the books. If we are dealing with music on a spiritual basis, why wouldn’t we look to the pastor or teacher of the Word of God for the answers? The pastor is the one who should set the philosophy and direction of the music program of a church.

My little philosophy has always been, “As goes the music, so goes the church.” When I was pastor, I was never willing to turn the direction of the music program over to anyone else.

The music director is the one appointed by the pastor to lead the music. His goal should always be to please the Lord and his pastor with his music. They are to work as a team. The goal is to have people drawn closer to God with prepared hearts for the preaching of the Word of God. By the way, the music director is not the “worship leader.” Worship is, or at least should be, led by the pastor.

Music and the Messenger

Have you ever sat around and just mused over things you wished about? Here are some things I wish about:

  • I wish we could be at peace in the Middle East.
  • I wish there were no more diseases like cancer.
  • I wish I had a little more hair and a few less wrinkles.
  • I wish my grandkids would live with Mary and me in Florida!
  • I wish grocery stores and restaurants wouldn’t sell alcohol.
  • I wish Verizon, AT&T, and the other phone carriers wouldn’t use my money to transmit pornography on their cell towers.
  • I wish all Christians would tithe and give to missions.
  • I wish all Christians would send their children to a Christian school and Christian colleges, separated from the world.
  • I wish Disney World wouldn’t cater to the homosexuals.
  • I wish we had God-fearing men and women in Congress, the White House, and in the Supreme Court.
  • I wish all the members of Fairfax Baptist Temple would show up at the same time for at least one service before I die! Anyhow, I think you get the point.

Now, get ready: I wish every music composer or writer of music was a fundamental, independent, Baptist—but they are not!

Allow me to list a few songs that everyone is familiar with to get my point across. Notice who the composers are of these wonderful and classic hymns:

  • “Holy, Holy, Holy”: Reginald Heber, an Anglican Priest
  • “Crown Him with Many Crowns”: Matthew Bridges, a member of the Roman Catholic Church
  • “Blessed Assurance”: Fanny Crosby, who was an active member of John Street Methodist Episcopal Church
  • “Faith of Our Fathers”: Fredrick Faber, who was ordained in the Church of England in 1842, and then, in 1846, he quit that church and was rebaptized into the Roman Catholic Church. The original 3rd verse of this song said, “Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers shall win our country back to Thee.”
  • “Amazing Grace”: written by John Newton, who was ordained in the Church of England and later became the Priest of St Mary’s Church in London.
  • “Silent Night”: Father Joseph Mohr, an ordained Priest in the Roman Catholic Church

In all honesty, when I was pastor of the Fairfax Baptist Temple, I could never have had any of those people come and preach or give a testimony in our church, but I certainly don’t mind singing their music!

I readily admit that it would be nice if all the composers of the songs we sing were just like us in beliefs, but they aren’t! Like many other things in life we wish we had a better choice on, we sing songs written by people who do not hold all of our beliefs. The word music is found sixteen times in the Bible. The word sound is found eighty-nine times. The word song is found seventy-eight times. Guess how many times the words composer or song writer appear in the Bible—zero.

My point is that although I may have strong preferences as to which writers and composers I like (assuming their music is doctrinally correct), I can’t pretend to tell you what God says because He is silent on the matter. It is strictly preferential!

There are those who would say, “But he/she is a pentecostal, or writes or sings CCM, or is well known in CCM circles.” My first question is, “How do you know, unless you are researching CCM or listening to it!”

Remember that we are admonished to sing the Psalms (Colossians 3:16). Do you realize that the greatest song writer of all times, David in the Bible, was an adulterer, murderer, liar, and polygamist! He was a great musician himself, and wrote many of the Psalms, yet his character left a lot to be desired. For those who try to tell us who is acceptable and who is not regarding song writers, what would they have said about David?

What I recommend regarding music is:

1. Go to a good church or Christian bookstore (or website) and stock up on Christian CD’s that honor our Lord. You can put them in your car, mp3 player, home stereo, computer, or whatever.

2. Resolve to rid yourself of any music that does not honor the Lord, or that is sensual, or has a rock beat.

3. Pray for your choir, instrumentalists, and music director as they all work to prepare your hearts for the preaching of the Word of God every service.

In closing, may I say, let’s just admit that music in churches is a controversial subject and trust the pastor and music director to help in this area and follow their leadership. Let us be kind to those who disagree, wherever you stand on the subject.

Don’t try to impose a non-biblical belief on others. We can’t all have our favorite songs sung all the time, or have our own particular music philosophy practiced by everyone in the church, so let’s just allow the pastor and music director to lead the way, and be unified in our support and loyalty.

“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” Ephesians 3:21

November 06, 2012
Music Ministry
Christian Living, Music, Music Ministry, Pastoral Leadership

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Comments

Thank you for the helpful article, Dr. Calvert. Excellent insight into a historically controversial topic. Again, thank you.