“Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (vv. 3–5).
Over the past century or so, we have seen a radical change in how the church does public worship. We have seen the rise of the “seeker sensitive” model of worship, which has led many churches to stop seeing corporate worship as the primary vehicle for edifying and equipping the saints of God and instead to view it primarily as an evangelical outreach. We have also seen a change in worship music, with many churches setting aside the Psalms and time-tested hymns for praise choruses and popular music. These days, many believers will choose a church based almost exclusively on the style of music it features.
Because our subjective tastes in music vary widely, it is tempting to think that the music we use in worship is adiaphora or indifferent. In other words, many people believe that the style of music we choose is not governed by biblical principles, that we can sing just about anything we want as long as it is not vulgar. Of course, musical preferences do vary from person to person, and it is true that songs conveying biblical truth can be set to a number of different tunes and styles. However, does that mean our choices in music are adiaphora?
When we look at what Scripture has to say about music and song, it is clear that the church is given a good deal of freedom. Music remains a vital part of new covenant worship (Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:18–21); however, there are not many specific directives for our music in God’s Word. It goes without saying that the words to our songs should be sound and orthodox, but is there anything we can glean from the Bible about the style of music itself?
Psalm 150 offers some guidance here. The variety of instruments mentioned show that we have freedom when it comes to choosing the musical instruments we use in worship. Wisdom must be used here; not every instrument is a wise choice for every context. We must be guided in what is appropriate for corporate singing and for conveying the words of the tunes we use. But all of this has to be done with an eye to the power of music. Simply put, our songs will shape our theology even when we are unconscious of their effects on us. We will forget many things in our lifetimes, but we will remember what we sing in church for years to come. Since our music will help form our doctrinal understanding, let us make sure our songs are true and beautiful.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
How much attention do we pay to the songs we use in worship or the Christian music we listen to outside of church gatherings? This music will shape our theology, so we need to take care that we understand what doctrines it is teaching and how it shapes our emotions. If we are not aware of what we are singing or hearing, we will not understand how the music will shape us for good or for ill.