Music, Worship, and Spiritual Gifts
Biblical Guidance for the Choir Director
|Copyright © 2004, 2006 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
O sing to the LORD a new song, For He has done wonderful things, His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him. (Psalms 98:1)
Itís all on your shoulders, you have just been assigned as the new Director of Worship in your church. It is your responsibility to select the music for worship, the number of songs, the volume of the music, the style, whether to use tape recorded sound tracks or live instruments (or no instruments?) including drums, should there be solos, should there be a formal choir or just small worship song teams, and should the church use amplification equipment? Only now are you coming to recognize that all these decision points could become divisive issues in the church.
This article is meant to provide those who design the music ministry at the local church with the biblical foundation to drive the decisions they make regarding the use of music in worship. When the music director has made each choice based on the Scriptures, the music director will then be able to explain the biblical basis for the philosophy he has chosen for the music ministry at the church. In this way, by sharing with the congregation the reasons from the Word that drove the strategic framework from which the music ministry was implemented, the congregation will be able to become unified, supportive, and like-minded around this subject.
Without such a common biblical grounding, the congregation will remain uninformed. Without genuine information available the void will be filled with personal opinion, suspicions, rumors, and ignorance causing dissent and fracturing the unity of worship. And we are called by the Word to be unified in our doctrine and like-minded in our fellowship--not by divesting ourselves of convictions or by remaining non-conversant about tough topics, but by rallying around a joint understanding of the Word by means of shared Bible study.
Therefore, please make use of this article as a guide or outline to generating your own systematic theology of music from which you can apply that theology and extract your plan or roadmap for the use of music in your church. Then, please share that roadmap with the congregation, celebrating your unity in the Spirit around the Word of God.
Why Do We Worship Together?
Before we explore music, spiritual gifts, and choirs it is necessary to understand why we worship as a congregation. At the time this article is being written there are a mind-spinning array of theories in the bookstores and on the internet about why we worship. Virtually none of those that I have seen were derived by extracting the theory from the Bible, and few bother to even attempt to apply "proof verses".
Worship, the word itself, has two meanings. These same two meanings are found in both the Hebrew language and in the Greek language. Worship means:
1 Corinthians 14 teaches us that every aspect of communal (corporate) worship is to be done to "edify" one another. Every word, song, or prayer uttered during a "worship service" is supposed to deliver a verbal message that causes the hearer to understand God, His Word, and the necessity of obedience. So then, we serve Christ (worship) by verbally edifying one another in the church service.
Romans 12 teaches us that all of life is supposed to be worship: serving other believers is serving Christ, our Master. Use of our spiritual gifts to build up others is our reasonable service of spiritual worship, whether it is by teaching, giving, helping, or simply showing mercy.
All the speaking offices of the church are for the purpose of "equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). Why? Because teaching is what causes us to "attain the unity of the faith" and "the knowledge of the Son of God".
Even the "communion service", the breaking of bread, is designed to cause us to remember that Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins (1 Corinthians 11:24,25). This too, arguably the most emotion laden of all worship services, is rooted in instruction and knowledge.
Regardless of the type of service you find described in the Scriptures, coming together as a church to worship is founded on the principle that worship is all about teaching, instruction, exhortation, and edification. Worship (serving Christ through verbal edification) is to be done with emotions, weeping, crying aloud, joy, and even fear; but the purpose of corporate worship is not the glorification of an emotional response, it is the glorification of God and what He has done for man.
Although verbal edification (instruction) is the bedrock of New Testament corporate worship, there are a multitude of other facets of worship to consider. All are valid and all are to be applied to corporate worship, however, they must all serve the purpose of worship, which is edification.
Music and song must subordinate themselves to or be compatible with all these facets of congregational worship. But most especially to edification.
"What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (1 Corinthians 14:26)
When you assemble as a church, let all vocalizations be done for edification.
Music as a Spiritual Gift
Every person on the planet has some musical ability. They can sing (badly, perhaps, but they can sing), and many can play instruments with various amounts of skill. Almost everyone has the capacity to hear and appreciate music. And most can even make up their own short jingles or apply new lyrics to old tunes. To have a natural ability is not the same as having a Spiritual Gift. This is no different than the concept that all parents are obligated to be teachers of their children and that all believers are called to evangelize the lost, whether or not they have the spiritual gift of teaching or evangelism. All Christians have obligations to sing, to teach, and to evangelize, but that does not mean that we all have the spiritual gifts of music, teaching, or evangelism.
Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. We do not have them to please ourselves, to feel good about ourselves, to lift our own spirits, or to experience personal joy or self-satisfaction. "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. Ö Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. Ö But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 11:1,4,5,7)
A spiritual gift is given so that the bearer of the gift is obligated to employ this skill for the common good of the church. And since all things that occur in the assembled congregation are for verbal edification (1 Corinthians 14:26) all spiritual gifts used in the worship service are to be verbally edifying to the hearers.
We may say, then, that the spiritual gift of music is given so that the bearer may use it to verbally instruct (edify) the assembled believers. These gifted musicians are not the only ones who have musical ability, but these are the ones to whom the Spirit has granted both musical skill, biblical insight, and the desire to employ the gift for the edification of all. The person will serve the others assembled and will not serve themselves.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-5)
Are you spiritually gifted with music, or are you merely talented? One test you might use to differentiate between natural talent and spiritual giftedness is to determine whether you sing or play to be admired or whether you sing and play to instruct others in the things of the Lord. Selfishness is the opposite of love and makes any spiritual gift or any natural talent to be of no use to the body (1 Corinthians 12:5).
The one spiritually gifted in music will seek to call attention to Christ, to the Word of God, and to the need of the sinner to repent and will call the righteous to praise God. They will seek out others with this spiritual gift and will encourage them, will instruct them, and will invent ways in which these others can serve with their voices even if that means giving them preference in special music.
The one who is talented but selfish (and perhaps even lacking the spiritual giftedness of music) will demand center stage, will seek to be heard above all others, will seek to be "the one" who performs all the special music and solos, and will work to freeze out or push aside others who desire to use their musical skills in the service of the church. By contrast, the one who is truly spiritually gifted will find little patience within themselves for jealousy and ambition.
Indeed, those who are musically talented but seek their own selfish attention instead of putting others first (as if they were more important than themselves) are little more edifying to the church than noisy clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,
making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-21)
Prophecy and Music
A two thousand year old doctrine of the church is that the canon of Scripture is closed. This means that no more Scripture will ever be written in the remaining history of the world. The Word is a completed literary work. It is the Word of God, and is able to instruct us into all righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
No matter how uplifting a piece of music is or can be, it will never be of the same authority or impact as Scripture. No hymn, regardless of how old it is, and no chorus written in the past year is equal to Scripture. In fact, all music, all hymns, all choruses, all spiritual songs, must be examined carefully against the Bible to determine whether they accurately teach what the Word itself teaches. And if they do not teach in sound compliance with the Word, they need to be rejected as unbiblical teachings (Titus 2:1, 1 John 4:1).
Of some confusion to many musical artists is that many song lyrics have been recorded in the Bible. Most of the Psalms are of this nature. Were these simply good songs that became popular and over time became recognized as Scripture because of their popularity?
Scripture is Scripture because it was delivered by a prophet of God. All Scripture is "breathed out of the mouth of God" through the human mouth of the prophet. And no prophet ever spoke using a message that he created himself, using his own will and his own mind (2 Peter 1:20,21). The prophet was not permitted to say one word in error when he uttered the expression, "This is what the Lord says." (Deuteronomy 18:18-22). Therefore, is it true that all the Psalms were also written by prophets of the most high God?
Most everyone is aware that King David wrote many of the Psalms. And we know that David was a prophet, a man with whom God spoke directly through revelations and visions (1 Samuel 23:1-4; 2 Samuel 2:1, 5:19, 21:1, 1 Kings 8:18, Mark 12:36). Therefore, when David "wrote" the Psalms, he was writing under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Mark 12:36). These were not ordinary songs, but Scripture breathed out of the mouth of God.
Many other Psalms were written by Asaph, the choir director under King David. Surely Asaph was not also a prophet, was he?
Moreover, David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals; and the number of those who performed their service was:
Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah and Asharelah; the sons of Asaph were under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied under the direction of the king.
Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun with the harp, who prophesied in giving thanks and praising the LORD.
Of Heman, the sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel and Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti and Romamti-ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, Mahazioth.
All these were the sons of Heman the king's seer to exalt him according to the words of God, for God gave fourteen sons and three daughters to Heman. All these were under the direction of their father to sing in the house of the LORD, with cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the direction of the king. (1 Chronicles 25:1-6)
We know without a doubt that Asaph and David were genuine prophets of God whose spiritual songs and Psalms were authoritative Scripture and were accepted as such even in their own age. Consider the account of King Hezekiah who used Davidís and Asaphís Psalms in worship.
Moreover, King Hezekiah and the officials ordered the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with joy, and bowed down and worshiped. (2 Chronicles 29:30)
Finally, consider the prophet and king named Solomon. That Solomon was a prophet is told us in 2 Chronicles 1:7-11, 7:12, and it is for this reason that his words have become Scripture. Old Testament Scriptures then tell us that Solomon also wrote spiritual songs along with his inspired proverbs.
Now God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore.
Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.
For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was known in all the surrounding nations.
He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.
He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creeping things and fish. Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29-34)
Since the canon is closed and the Bible is completed, we can no longer expect prophets to be writing new Scripture. Therefore, we know that any songs written in the past 2000 years are not themselves of the same nature or authority as the Bible or the Psalms. Instead of attempting to create new doctrines or new revelations of theology, modern song writers must commit themselves to accurately retelling the truth of Godís Word. And Godís Word must be used to judge the truth of the songs written in modern time.
Therefore, it is the duty of the spiritually gifted Director of Worship and Choir Leader to examine every song carefully. Song lyrics must be as carefully studied, examined, tested, and even edited for proper doctrinal content as any sermon prepared by the pastor. Those lyrics that do not instruct the congregation more perfectly in the way of the Word and righteousness are not edifying, no matter how pretty the tune may be, and must be put aside. If the songs sung in worship teach falsely, or espouse untruths, or praise God improperly, or assign to Him unbiblical attributes, the song leader must exercise his authority and his responsibility to remove that song from the worship service. Discernment in this aspect of worship is obligatory.
The Instructive Nature of Songs
When you assemble as a church, let all vocalizations be done for edification (see 1 Corinthians 14:26). Does this really include music? Is music really given us as a mechanism for teaching?
"What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (1 Corinthians 14:26)
Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. (1 Chronicles 16:9)
Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with a skillful [edifying, instructional] psalm. (Psalms 47:6,7)
Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. (Psalms 105:2)
Let my tongue sing of Your word, For all Your commandments are righteousness. Let Your hand be ready to help me, For I have chosen Your precepts. I long for Your salvation, O LORD, And Your law is my delight. (Psalms 119:172-174)
Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked, Who forsake Your law.
Your statutes are my songs In the house of my pilgrimage.
O LORD, I remember Your name in the night, And keep Your law. This has become mine, That I observe Your precepts. (Psalms 119:53-56)
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-21)
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. (Colossians 3:16)
It is often wrongly said that music in worship is nothing more than a means of praising God, or perhaps, eliciting emotions from others. Most surely this is in error. Song is another way of teaching Godís Word. So we sing Godís Word, all His commandments. We sing edifying and instructional psalms. We sing about all Godís wonders, not just some of them. When we come to church we come prepared to share the Word in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. His Words are our songs.
This lack of understanding about the nature of song and music in the worship service is perhaps why in recent years we have seen so many poorly constructed "praise" choruses which contain juvenile, if not faulty theology. We have stopped singing about all the Law and the whole Word and the deep truths contained therein and have focused more on the "I praise" songs. Not simply praising God for all He has done for us, but too often praising ourselves that we praise Him. Should we not consider a return to the command of Scripture that tells us to let the Word of God reside in us richly as we teach each other by using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?
It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today; A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness. The LORD will surely save me; So we will play my songs on stringed instruments All the days of our life at the house of the LORD. (Isaiah 38:19,20)
This passage from Isaiah is one I find most touching. It is part of Hezekiahís appeal to the Lord for an additional few years of life. Here he mentions that the living pass along to their offspring the knowledge of Godís faithfulness, and one mechanism for doing so is through the use of song. Your songs instruct the next generation regarding God, His ways, and His faithfulness to men. A worship director must ask himself, "Do the songs I place into the order of service fulfill this need to faithfully instruct the congregation and the next generation about all the wonders of God; is His Word my songs?"
Songs as Tools for Evangelism
In some cases God uses these songs of instruction and praise as the means for the salvation of the lost.
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; (Acts 16:25)
Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written,
"THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME."
Again he says, "REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE."
And again, "PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM." (Romans 15:7-11)
Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. (Psalms 96:1-3)
Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O LORD, And I will sing praises to Your name.(Psalms 18:49)
When preparing music for the church assembly, a wise worship leader will also consider what spiritual songs of Godís deeds convey to the unbeliever His grace and power. As it was in the days of Paul and the church at Corinth, so it is today, there are going to be unbelievers attending the worship services. What do our songs convey of Godís salvation, our sin nature, and His amazing grace?
Singing Praises to God--Our Duty, Our Privilege
We are told that it is only reasonable and expected that our spiritual service of worship is to present our bodies as living sacrifices while we also renew our minds to spiritual service (Romans 12:1,2). Along with serving others with our spiritual gifts (Romans 12:4-10) we are to also worship by praising God in song. In fact, we are commanded to do so, just as we are commanded to be thankful and grateful, and to exercise the joy that God has placed inside us by means of His Holy Spirit. Singing praises is our privilege and our duty.
Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped. Moreover, King Hezekiah and the officials ordered the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with joy, and bowed down and worshiped.
Then Hezekiah said, "Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the LORD, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the LORD." And the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all those who were willing brought burnt offerings. (2 Chronicles 29:29-31)
So he left Asaph and his relatives there before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister before the ark continually, as every day's work required; and Obed-edom with his 68 relatives; Obed-edom, also the son of Jeduthun, and Hosah as gatekeepers.
He left Zadok the priest and his relatives the priests before the tabernacle of the LORD in the high place which was at Gibeon, to offer burnt offerings to the LORD on the altar of burnt offering continually morning and evening, even according to all that is written in the law of the LORD, which He commanded Israel.
With them were Heman and Jeduthun, and the rest who were chosen, who were designated by name, to give thanks to the LORD, because His lovingkindness is everlasting.
And with them were Heman and Jeduthun with trumpets and cymbals for those who should sound aloud, and with instruments for the songs of God, and the sons of Jeduthun for the gate. (1 Chronicles 16:37-42)
Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones, And give thanks to His holy name.(Psalms 30:4)
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. (James 5:13)
Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; For it is pleasant and praise is becoming. (Psalms 147:1)
But let all who take refuge in You be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And may You shelter them, That those who love Your name may exult in You. (Psalms 5:11)
I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. (Psalms 7:17)
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever. (Psalms 30:12)
I will sing of lovingkindness and justice, To You, O LORD, I will sing praises. (Psalms 101:1)
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. (Psalms 95:2)
Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright.
Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. (Psalms 33:1-3)
But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, For You have been my stronghold And a refuge in the day of my distress. (Psalms 59:16)
Should your church have a choir? If so, what is the purpose of that choir? Would the church be more disposed to worship if everyone in the congregation sang every song in unison? Should choirs perform special music during which the congregation sits quietly and listens as would an audience during a secular concert? How much practice should the choir have prior to performing?
These are not simple questions to answer. Scripture does not mandate any specific answers. In fact, the use of choirs in the New Testament is never commanded nor prohibited. What you are left with is the need to apply your biblical principles in tandem with your church mission to develop a fully Scriptural approach. You must evaluate the best way to permit the spiritually gifted musicians in your church to exercise their ministries.
Consider these verses regarding choirs and their training. Who was included in the choir, who was excluded? Why? Also take note whether the choir was a permanent paid position, or a voluntary one.
Their number who were trained in singing to the LORD, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288. (1 Chronicles 25:7)
Then David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. (1 Chronicles 15:16)
For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God.
So all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah gave the portions due the singers and the gatekeepers as each day required, and set apart the consecrated portion for the Levites, and the Levites set apart the consecrated portion for the sons of Aaron. (Nehemiah 12:46,47)
For many years organs and pianos have been used in church services. More recently drums and electric guitars have found their way through the doors as part of formal worship. It is a simple task to demonstrate that strings, wind (wood and brass), and percussion were all sanctioned by God as valid types of musical instrumentation to be used during worship.
Of course it would be honest to point out that the instrumentation seems to always be an accompaniment to the vocal songs and praises of the people of God. It will be hard to find a passage of Scripture that unambiguously states that musical instruments alone were used in worship. Such an observation would probably be worth applying to modern worship as a general principle.
When the priests came forth from the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to divisions), and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and kinsmen, clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them one hundred and twenty priests blowing trumpets in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the LORD saying, " He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting," then the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:11-14)
He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad the king's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the LORD through His prophets.
The Levites stood with the musical instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.
Then Hezekiah gave the order to offer the burnt offering on the altar. When the burnt offering began, the song to the LORD also began with the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David, king of Israel. While the whole assembly worshiped, the singers also sang and the trumpets sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.
Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped. Moreover, King Hezekiah and the officials ordered the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with joy, and bowed down and worshiped. (2 Chronicles 29:25-30)
All these were under the direction of their father to sing in the house of the LORD, with cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the direction of the king. (1 Chronicles 25:6)
I will also praise You with a harp, Even Your truth, O my God; To You I will sing praises with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. (Psalms 71:22)
Sing for joy to God our strength; Shout joyfully to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, strike the timbrel, The sweet sounding lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon, At the full moon, on our feast day.
For it is a statute for Israel, An ordinance of the God of Jacob. (Psalms 81:1-4)
It is good to give thanks to the LORD And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning And Your faithfulness by night,
With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, With resounding music upon the lyre.
For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.
How great are Your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep. (Psalms 92:1-5)
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, With the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn Shout joyfully before the King, the LORD. (Psalms 98:5,6)
Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre. (Psalms 149:3)
Asaph the chief, and second to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed- edom and Jeiel, with musical instruments, harps, lyres; also Asaph played loud- sounding cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests blew trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God. (1 Chronicles 16:5,6)
It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. (1 Samuel 18:6)
David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, even with songs and with lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals and with trumpets. (1 Chronicles 13:8)
Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres. (Nehemiah 12:27)
How Much Volume?
How loud should the music be? Should the singers be amplified? Should the congregational song leader be amplified?
Again, we seem to have more questions than answers. Yet, again we should be willing to appeal to the principles of the Word. What is the purpose of worship? To edify the church, to instruct the congregation in the ways of righteousness, to remember the works of God, to offer praise and thanksgiving to Him. How does amplified sound assist with this purpose?
At one extreme, if the people cannot hear a speakerís words, they will not be instructed. If they cannot hear the songs of the choir they cannot join in worship.
At the other extreme, if the music is so loud from the amplification system that the hymnals vibrate and the ears ring, it is a safe bet that the congregation is simply tolerating the music and is not worshipping. In such a case, the music becomes more important than the purpose of the gathering.
A real-life illustration might help. Recently we attended a Christmas celebration at a large church that had a pipe organ. The organ pipes were stacked on three walls of the sixty foot high sanctuary. During the Christmas carols in which the 800 people of the congregation were to participate with their voices the organist provided the "accompaniment". The young organist was so consumed with his role and with the awesome abilities and tone of the organ that he played the instrument to its maximum volume. The instrument drowned out every human voice in the sanctuary to the point where no one could hear themselves or their neighbors during any carol, only the thunderous boomings of the pipes.
By the last carol the results were quite observable. The congregation all but stopped trying to sing along with the organ, though who would have noticed as one could not hear them anyway? Few could appreciate that they were praising God because they were focused on trying to will that all encompassing noise to cease. Then, at the end, the organist stood and bowed, eliciting polite applause from those whom he had deterred from the possibility of worship.
Loud amplification of either instruments or individual singers begins to defeat the true cause of corporate worship when the worshippers begin to focus on the volume or are to some extent drowned out by it. Inevitably the congregation will sing more softly and some will drop out entirely when they can no longer hear their neighbors (or in the worst cases, themselves) singing joyously to the Lord. In many instances, the best approach to amplification is to minimize it, as the worshippers will sing more loudly in an effort to fill the void left by the electronics.
Try this test at your own sanctuary. In almost every church I have ever attended, at least one Sunday School class meets in the main auditorium. I have never seen one Sunday School teacher who has been compelled to use a microphone to be heard during Sunday School. Stand at the back of the auditorium during the Sunday School lesson. If the teacher is heard sufficiently well without amplification as to be understood and intelligble, ask yourself what value is added by amplifying not just one singer, but the instruments, every member of the choir, and the song leader all at the same time? From the congregationís perspective many worship services can sound quite similar to the entertainment delivered by a Christian or secular concert with the song leader essentially playing the part of the lead performer accompanied by the congregation as the back-up singers. Do carefully consider the role of amplification in your worship services.
All things, all vocalizations, in the worship service are to be done to teach, instruct, exhort, and edify the assembled congregation. Music, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are no exception. Songs are one of the means God has ordained by which the church should be instructed in the Word. Every song, every lyric must be carefully examined with the same serious biblical scrutiny that a pastor gives the content of his sermon.
Spiritual gifts are given to believers to be used in service to one another, for the common good of the church. Selfishness, pride, and personal ambition dilute or defeat the edification that can come from the spiritual gift of music. Concentrate on putting othersí needs and interests in front of your own self-interests. This includes training others to be as skillful as yourself, adjusting the vocal and instrumental volumes appropriately to permit the congregation to worship undistracted by the music while worshipping in unison, and giving preference to others in the delivery of special music.
Music in the worship service is not entertainment. Music is a call to worship, and can itself be an act of worship. It is to be edifying and instructional. It is also a call to unbelievers to repent and be saved. It is praise to God. Above all, it is to be edifying to those who have assembled to worship.
Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. (Psalm 96:1)
See also the article: Generic Template for a "Statement of Music Theology and Philosophy."