The Music Church People Make III

A full biblical view of music must consider the role of song and poetry. The fact that such art forms do appear in a key way in scripture is highly significant. Even though it is permissible for a believer to do whatever music he or she likes (see Part II), without going against the biblical worldview of course, Christian music is expected in the Church.

I’m not saying musicians have to stick to a quota where if they are going to do secular music they have to release at least one Christian song per year or whatever. (There is also the similar practice where unchristian artists drop “gospel” music so they can get good points in the heavenly favour ledger or they are feeling particularly grateful after a particularly traumatic experience. These things don’t affect a person’s status before God.) Music is a natural aspect of human expression so it should occur organically as a response to the experience of who God is and what he is accomplishing. As the creator of the world he is the ultimate source of all artistic inspiration. It would be odd to find silence among his own people. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Church is exhorted to do music in the New Testament. How then should music be done in the Church?

Just because we must do Christian music it does not mean all music that is made in Church is acceptable. One distinction between biblical music and a lot of contemporary Christian music is that they are theologically light if not derelict. The book of the Bible Jesus most frequently quoted was the Psalms. These ancient songs of his people were theologically and prophetically rich. Therefore when Paul instructs the Ephesians to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs that was the sort of theological depth he was looking for. Indeed, when we look early Christian hymns preserved in the New Testament such as Philippians 2:5-11 or 1 Timothy 3:16, we do find such standards.

Apart from the musical practices and sensibilities of that time, Christian music had certain features which are not often present or emphasised in today’s worship. They did not have an individualistic bent but were designed for the community and the enrichment of everyone in it. They often acted as succinct, easy to remember summaries of their faith, that is, they could be seen as early creeds. We are meant to let “the word of Christ”, the Gospel message, “dwell in us richly” through the songs we sing (Colossians 3:16.) Again this lends to the communal orientation of their songs and the desire to strengthen its members in the Gospel truth. It wasn’t just entertaining, a catchy tune you can wistfully whistle to, it was music to live by. So in the only two instances in the New Testament we are commanded to make music to the Lord, the exhortations appear among instructions concerning appropriate Christian behaviour (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16.) Spiritual music is an important part of Christian symbolic praxis, therefore a feature of the Christian worldview.

The challenge of doing Christian music today is not just doing something popular, serving both older and younger generations. Though musical diversity and contemporary relevance are both important the greater challenge is meeting the ancient biblical standards of spiritual music. Sadly more modern Christian music often does not reach that high. The lyrical content we produce today must be shaped by the biblical worldview. Our musicians do not only have to be good artists they have to be students of scriptures and its theology. It is now a given that a singer in a sufficiently expressive church will sneak in a quick sermonette as a bonus feature of their song ministration. It is fine to share what you think God has laid on your heart but is that heart inhabited by his word? That is the true measure of God’s leading. We need music that not only speaks to individuals but to and for the body of Christ. Music that represents the Gospel we have believed and refreshes us of the undying hope we have in it. Christian musicians and artists of all kinds need to execute their craft at a very high level but it must be in service of the Most High God and his Son Jesus.

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