Last Thursday we saw the importance of both truth and spirit in our worship, according to John 4:24. We saw that God commands us to use music in our services (Col. 3:16).
The question then arises: What music should we use in our church services? For we must use some style or styles of music. Does God care what styles of music we use – organ or drums, piano or electric guitars, contemporary or traditional?
So let’s look at the spirit of our music in four facts about music.
Music Is an Emotional Language.
Music is a language. It is not a language of words, grammar, or syntax, but of melody, harmony and rhythm. And although there are no words, music still communicates. What does music communicate? Emotions.
Music Can Communicate Sinful Emotions.
So music is an emotional language. Scott Aniol wrote, in his helpful book Sound Worship, “[s]ince music is a medium of communication through [emotion], music can communicate the kinds of emotions that naturally represent sinful deeds. There are certain kinds of emotions that naturally accompany [fornication, uncleanness, and such like]. And just as we must avoid those sinful acts, we must avoid the emotions and moods that accompany those acts” (p. 69-70).
What kind of music has the goal of stimulating people to sinful actions? Classical music? Or, maybe… pop and rock music? There’s a reason you’re not going to hear a Mozart clarinet concerto played at a nightclub. It doesn’t communicate the kinds of emotions that people at a nightclub want to feel! They want a pulsing, sensual beat; mind-numbing repetition.
If we want to avoid sinful emotions, then we must avoid rock music! Go back in your mind to John 4:24. We are to worship God “in spirit and in truth.” So if God wants us to worship Him in spirit, and the music we are using in church communicates rebellion and immorality, what kind of spirit do we have in our churches? This is not biblical worship.
Because of these truths, I hope you can see that we don’t need merely music in our churches, but music that corresponds to biblical affections, not sinful emotions, and helps us to express them.
Music Can Communicate Godly Emotions.
Well, what emotions are we commanded to feel? Here is a partial list (mouse over the Scripture references to read the verses):
Love (I Pet. 1:22)
Joy (Phil. 4:4; II Cor. 9:7; I Pet. 1:8)
Peace (Col. 3:15)
Grief (Rom. 12:15)
Fear (I Pet. 1:17)
These are just some of the biblical affections God requires of us. And music can help or hinder us from experiencing these emotions. If we are to worship God with love, joy, and peace, let us have music in our churches and in our personal lives that feeds these emotions, and not ungodly, fleshly, sinful emotions! You see, our music must express and cause a godly spirit in our churches if we are to worship him in truth and in spirit.
Music Teaches Our Emotions.
But there is one more truth that we haven’t studied yet. It is that not only does music help us to feel and to express biblical affections, it also teaches us what affections we should experience toward God.
I stated earlier that our affections are fed and expressed in music. Often, as Scott Aniol wrote, “words are unable to adequately express what we feel. Sacred music – that is, poetry and music – provides us with the language we are lacking in the expression of our affections. So in a church service as we contemplate truth and goodness, we use music to help us take the next step and respond with our affections. We believe in the holiness of God, but when we put that truth to a fitting tune, we can express how we feel about that truth” (Sound Worship, p. 50-51).
Colossians 3:16 says that we are to teach each other with our “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” This of course refers to the lyrics of the words, but why would God command biblical words to be sung if the words were the only thing that teach? We can get good doctrinal teaching from the pulpit. Why did God command us to sing?
I think that this is because sacred songs feed and express and teach us biblical affections. The lyrics of songs teach us true doctrine; the music of songs teaches us true emotions.
And there is no more powerful combination than both the languages of music and words: true, beautiful lyrics and beautiful, stirring music – we call that a song. One 20th-century musician, E.Y. Harburg, described the power of song this way: “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” Words say, “God is good.” We understand this mentally. But when those words are set to lovely music and sung, we then feel that thought! God does not only want us to be taught with words, but with music also. It is vital for our spiritual health that we feel rightly about the truth of God – that we have the right spiritual affections toward God’s truth, and music is what teaches us.
This is why doctrinal hymns with majestic, or peaceful, or stirring music are far better for singing in church than light, fluffy songs or songs with immoral music – and I include here many 19th century gospel songs, even some in our hymnal, that are often sung in churches. We need to be taught about God’s holiness and how we ought to be in awe of Him, and how we ought to rejoice in Him, through the hymns that we sing. Why don’t we sing more songs in a minor key to help us feel appropriate grief about our sin, or about the difficulties of life in this broken world? Why do we feel compelled to sing mostly bouncy, happy music? I think it’s because we don’t understand how the music itself teaches us how we ought to feel biblical affections, whether happy, sad, or serious affections.
There are some songs – not all bad songs! – that I think communicate different message with their music and the lyrics. For instance, the first stanza of the gospel song “Love Lifted Me” has the words, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.” Very sad and dark. But the music makes you want to say, “Woo hoo!” Of course the words of the chorus of that song fit nicely with the music. But some songs, even in our hymnbook, as I said, have music that is very sappy, corny, schmaltzy, and sentimental – not good vehicles for truth about our sovereign, majestic King!
But how much worse is it when godly lyrics are accompanied by sensual, sexy, immoral music! There are two contradictory messages there – and, by the way, the message of the music will win out.
The first big idea on the purpose of church music was that God wants us to worship Him with biblical affections that are stirred up by truth and music. Here is the second big idea from today’s post: We need to sing songs in church that communicate and teach godly, biblical emotions.
There are three specific applications of these big ideas, and we will explore them next Thursday in Part 3.