A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine, Greg Gilbert, posted a blog on the 9Marks site called Against Music. The title was more an attention grabber than a statement of Greg’s attitude toward music in general. He was cautioning Christians against becoming spiritually dependent on music in their relationship with God. He wrote:
The bottom line, I suppose, is that it would do every Christian well to do some honest heart-searching about what makes them feel “close to God.” Can you feel close to God just by reading or saying the words, “In Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”? Would you be able to function in a church that’s great in every way except the music? If not, you probably need to give some thought to whether your spiritual life is dependent on something it should not be dependent on.
I was asked to post a response, which I did here. Greg then followed up with another post, which ended with a group of insightful questions that help us discern whether or not we’re viewing music appropriately in our corporate worship. Some of the questions he asked were these:
Do you need music playing in the background for the reading of Scripture to affect your emotions?
Do you desperately look forward to the next conference you’re going to attend because you know that, finally, you’ll be able to feel close to God again?
Do you tend to feel closer to God when you’re alone with your iPOD than you do when you’re gathered with God’s people in your church?
Do you feel like you just can’t connect with other believers who haven’t had the same “worship experiences” that you have? Can you only connect with other believers who “know what it feels like to really worship?”
Is your sense of spiritual well-being based more on feeling close to God, or knowing that you are close to God because of Jesus Christ?
Greg makes it clear, especially in his second post, that he’s not against music. I wanted to pick up on that thought and tell you why we should be for music. When we get too concerned about the negative effects of music, we can unintentionally stifle the good effects God intends for music to have on our souls. So here are a few thoughts about why God so often connects music and worship.
Music is meant to affect us emotionally. Some times I’ve thought it was more “spiritual” or pleasing to God if I could be affected without music playing. But that’s not the point. Of course music isn’t essential to expressing or stirring up strong feelings towards God. But that doesn’t mean music is irrelevant or unimportant. God intended for music to speak to our emotions so that we would not only think right thoughts about him, but also have deep affections for him. Music can make us feel joyful, reflective, sad, or peaceful. When the effects of music are skillfully combined with Scriptural realities and lyrics that magnify Christ, those truths often become more vivid and alive to us. That’s one of the reasons revivals from the Great Awakening of the 18th century to the Charismatic outpouring of the 1970’s have always been accompanied by a fresh outpouring of songs. God uses music that changes from generation to generation to spread the unchanging Word of the Gospel.
Music helps us meditate on Scriptural truth. Biblical meditation involves turning over specific truths in our minds so that they might sink into our hearts and affect our wills. Well-written music is a great tool to accomplish that end. It enables us to slow our words down without getting bored or sounding like we’re drunk. It allows us to enjoy repeating phrases. It aids in memorizing God’s promises. And it does all this in a way that we can find delightful. “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting” (Ps. 147:1).
Music enables us to express our unity in the Gospel. Throughout history Christians have reaffirmed and declared their unity of faith through reciting creeds like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. We’re affirming the truths around which our faith is built. But reciting what unites us is meant to go hand in hand with singing about what unites us. Singing together is a physically engaging statement that we are committed to the same cause, and redeemed by the one Savior.
Music draws out differing emotions from the same lyrics. Too often the music we sing on Sundays sounds the same, comes from the same century or decade, or only relates to a limited age bracket. The highs and lows of human emotion, the diverse aspects of God’s character, and the varying responses we should have to God are squeezed into a narrow emotional bandwidth of triumphant praise, traditional conservatism, sappy sentimentalism, or bland commercialism. God has given us music as a way of encouraging and expressing the wide range of responses that are appropriate for the holy, merciful, compassionate, all-powerful God we worship. That’s why we should give thought to arranging songs, and be able to benefit from singing Holy, Holy, Holy with an organ, a rock band, or no instruments at all.
As usual, the thoughts I have on this topic far exceed the time I have to write them on this blog. If you can suggest more reasons why music is a good thing when we gather to worship God, please leave a comment. The clearer we are on the reasons God wants us to use music in our public praise, the less likely we’ll use it for the wrong reasons.