Music and Contemporary Confusion!
The other day I was driving and passed a church building with their marquee in the front. As has come to be common practice, the church was inviting passersby to attend their Sunday worship services. It read something like: Traditional Worship, 9:00; Contemporary Worship, 10:30.
Has this matter ever concerned you? This particular church is divided, with one group worshiping God in a “traditional” way and the other group worshiping God in a “contemporary” way. This suggests that the “traditional” crowd is not contemporary, up-to-date, serving the Lord in a present-day manner. It suggests that they are old in perspective, old-fashioned, and out of date. In contrast to this, the “contemporary” crowd is able to relate to the younger generation. Multiplied churches, denominations, and groups face the same dilemma.
We find this state of affairs quite sad. Why would it need to be this way? Can’t God’s people agree in their musical choices and go on with unity? (Obviously, most of these people are not truly God’s people, but you do see the point we’re making here.) We must remember what Paul said:
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)
When we have a division in a group of people because of choices in music, is this really an expression of completeness and do they really have the same mind and the same judgment?
Let’s offer a few pointers in our musical choices that may help to foster unity before the Lord.
First, we might ask about the source of the more modern or “contemporary” worship style. Generally it would be the younger generation that insists on this form of music. Why? Did they just initiate a liking for this form of “contemporary” music—or was there another reason? And did the older generation just conclude that the older styles are more in harmony with Scripture—or could there be another reason?
Surely it would be that these young men and young women have been listening to something similar to this on their radio, on their computer, on CDs, etc. They have imbibed the false worship of megachurches or other compromising denominations or independent churches. Because they have become accustomed to this compromising music, they would tend to insist on having this form of worldly music on Sundays as well! There should be a better way to choose our musical styles!
Second, one step in the right direction would be to ask what early New Testament worship was like, some 2,000 years ago. It is quite true that they did not have four-part harmony or the types of songs that arose in America during the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. But surely we can do a better job of capturing the kind of music found in the early body of Christ. While that music might be described as a form of chanting, we can come to see that it is very different from our music today. It must have been greatly different from the loud and pounding music that some insist on in our day!
Third, New Testament scholars and early church historians almost unanimously agree that the early Christians didn’t use musical instruments in their singing. This arose hundreds of years after the first century. The early believers sung a cappella. Paul, in the New Covenant writings, was able to say, “. . . speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). The melody that they made was by the instrument of the heart! The apostle adds, in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Once again we see that the early believers sung these songs and hymns. There is no indication at all that they “played” an instrument along with their singing. If we were to adopt this primitive practice, we think that much of the controversy of the present day could be largely eliminated. Much of this controversy is associated with whether to use a piano and organ or whether to use guitars and drums! Without these instruments, there could be much more harmony. Let’s not be so wedded to “what we like” that we are willing to do something that in the least is questionable and could very well be opposed to the revealed will of God!
Fourth, when we eliminate instrumental music, there is no need for trained instrumentalists. It would be much easier to capture the spirit of the early Christians where anyone could participate without professional training (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26). When all of the instrumentalists depart, there would be a lot less pride and boasting. The prideful elevation of performers would also be gone.\
Fifth, we should also eliminate the use of choirs and highly-trained singers. Probably all would agree that the early Christians didn’t have these kinds of performers. In those days, singing and praying were forms of worship and were not considered “performances” or “entertainment.” Probably the early followers of Christ would have been grieved to think that their praise to God would simply be forms of entertainment, and even accompanied with clapping! As the Hebrew writer put it, “Through Him [Christ] then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (13:15).
Sixth, we might say a word about the content of the singing in our day. Somehow we have “devolved” into a place where the lyrics of the songs and hymns are superficial. God may even be looked on as a “pal” rather than the exalted Lord of Glory, the Creator of all things, and the Judge of the living and the dead! We should have a high degree of reverence and fear in our singing instead of a careless regard for our speaking to God Almighty! Yes, there is a place for intimate communication with God, and some of the available songs are of this nature, but even this must be in the highest taste.
Seventh, we should be very concerned about the truthfulness and accuracy of what we sing. The Lord Jesus said, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23). If there is any falsehood or false theology in the words of the songs or hymns, we should immediately reject them and refuse to sing them. It might be a shock to most people to realize that many of the songs they sing are inaccurate and not in harmony with the truth of Scripture. Probably many of them reflect the sentimentality and false views of the writers and singers of the nineteenth century (and later). Search the Scriptures to determine whether the songs you sing are in accord with the truth of God’s Word.
Eighth, a further change is absolutely imperative. From 1 Timothy 2:11-12 we discover that God forbids a woman from public participation over the man. He writes, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” From this inspired instruction, we learn that a woman’s place is to be submissive to the male gender. Further, a woman is not permitted to “teach” or “exercise authority” over the man. She is to be “quiet.” This addresses the matter of singing, doesn’t it. Furthermore, “the women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says” (1 Corinthians 14:34; cf. vv. 33-36). Paul reminds us that his writing on this comes from the Lord Himself (v. 37).
Today, a woman may choose to sing a solo in public meetings or churches. Surely this would be forbidden if we take Scripture seriously. Further, in our day, women may take the lead in public singing—including women choir directors. Women surely are not being submissive to the opposite gender in regard to singing; rather they are exercising authority in many ways. They are not being “quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12) nor are they “keeping silent” (1 Corinthians 14:34). Even if a woman were to insist that they don’t exercise such authority in the midst of public meetings of God’s people, many would think that they can do so away from the meetings. This would violate the very principle of Paul’s command. One other comment could be made here and that is that public prayer is to be offered only by the males and not females (1 Timothy 2:8; the Greek makes this clear).
Ninth, another point needs to be made here about singing. Singing can often be an expression of pride or arrogance. This is so on the part of the singer himself or herself. Further, people can praise the singing voice or musical talents of certain singers. This is a carnal response. People actually clap and praise the singers or musicians! Any singing talent comes from the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:7), thus we should not praise someone’s singing voice or musical talent. Whatever we have comes from God the Giver.
Tenth, it goes without mention that singing, as a form of worship to God and edification of each other, is not meant to be used as a means of entertainment. We’ve touched on this briefly above. Singing is worship and not amusement! Singing should exalt God our Creator and Heavenly Father, and it should not be a means of glorifying man. We’ve seen CDs of popular music and the covers openly lift up the singer or singers! How dare we use a form of worship as a means of human glory! As Jesus said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:44).
Eleventh, let’s make sure that when we do sing to the Lord and to others present, we do so with a sincere and loving heart. Let’s make sure that we are not walking in false doctrine but in the pure teaching of Scripture. The Lord Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, “You invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:6b). He then quoted a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:8, 9). The Lord pointed out that they had invalidated the word of God by their tradition (Mark 7:8, 13). Especially when we are overrun by false thinking, false views, and false doctrines of men, we are placing ourselves away from the presence of God. Our praise means nothing to God!
Twelfth, one brief comment about the songs we sing. For some years, I attended a local college that was ruled by a practice or tradition they claimed was reflected in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19. They contended that the early church only sung the inspired 150 psalms (also called hymns or songs) of the Old Testament (and they sung a cappella, to their credit). They refused to sing any humanly-created, written, or composed songs or hymns. I appreciated their staunch commitment to their beliefs, but personally think that their belief in this regard cannot be substantiated by Scripture. In fact, there were no songs at all in which Jesus Christ was addressed (since the Old Testament psalms do not mention Him, explicitly). They missed a rich opportunity to glorify the Lord Jesus directly by their restrictive beliefs.
Thirteenth, it might be good to mention something about the contemporary musical performers, including the singers and the musicians. If we only knew the corrupt lives that some of these men and women lived, we might be shocked and dismayed! We don’t follow this venue of music, but are aware of a couple prominent women singers who have put away their mates and married other partners—and the professing “Christians” continue to follow them! If we only knew the extent of this immorality, foolishness, and unholiness, we might be less inclined to listen to and promote these “artists”! We have reason to believe that many others who perform this form of music are also living compromising lives! Do we want to be committed to and listen to and promote this kind of singers and musicians? Hopefully, not!
We read in Hebrews 12:14a that we are to “pursue peace with all men.” Further, Paul writes, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:19). One of the ways that we can foster peace among God’s people is to settle the conflicts in regard to singing of songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. This singing has at least a dual purpose, to edify each other and also to glorify God. If we follow the observations and guidelines above, harmony within the body of Christ will be enhanced.
Too often we simply take the religious status quo for granted and are slow to change even when we know that there is no Scriptural foundation for our present practice. However, change can often lead us back to a better understanding of God’s will and a closer following of His Word. Let us pursue this! We know that change can also lead us the opposite way—which would be away from God’s revealed will. We also want to avoid this!
Be willing to discard the worldly music that has become so fashionable today and has divided millions of people! On the other hand, be willing to alter your commitment to traditional music if it has no basis in the truth of Scripture. In all things, let us glorify our God and Father who is worthy of all praise, honor, and love!