Our Discernment in Music (DiM) posts are the most read blogs on our website. While we are exceedingly grateful that people come here (based on Search Terms that lead them here) to find the lyrics of popular songs on Christian radio, or in hopes of finding out the intended meaning a particular song, some might leave this site thinking we have a dim view of music or singing in general. Today, I’d like to address a couple of concerns and then I’d like to take a look at the role of songs and music in Worship.
I’d like to quickly address some of the more common concerns related to me either in-person, in email, on social media, or in comments here. These points are categories of complaints/comments and none of them have been conveyed verbatim.
You just want us to go back to Hymnals? No. Well, yes and no. Yes, I’d like to return to the lyrical emphasis of teaching sound doctrine accompanied by music, even if it means we have to write 4 verses and a bridge to get there. I’d also like to see churches treat their music selections as if they were composing a Hymnal. Those hymnals were taken as seriously as their catechisms. A music leader shouldn’t have full authority to simply whip out a new song on Sunday morning and expect the Elders to “go along”. Musically… no, I do not want to go back to the Hymnals as the only form of music in the church. I don’t like monotonous speech or music, and I really don’t like having to explain the archaic English grammar or idioms found in some hymns just to sing a song that might otherwise convey an aberrant meaning.
You just want to go back to an organ and a choir? No, and I really mean that this time. Listen, there is nothing sanctified about the organ. I’ve heard the Hammond B3 used to accentuate false teachers like TD Jakes and I’ve heard them in popular pagan music, too. Nothing sacred about that musical instrument, or any other. As for having a choir, I’m ambivalent. If you do have a choir, I prefer the old setups where the choir was actually above and behind the congregation rather than in front (only a personal preference, not Law). I dislike operatic singing, though… because I cannot sing along if I cannot make out the words. I struggle truly appreciating traditional choir performances because of the archaic English and the operatic enunciation (or lack thereof) of words. Regardless of musical genre, if I cannot make out the words I just check out of the worship. I struggle as it is to not slide into critique/analysis of the audio mix coming from the sound booth.
You are limiting Creativity to only a finite list of topics. No. When we point out a song that lacks a Gospel message or a law-heavy, works-based, or man-centric theology we are not saying that every song needs to be a rewording of Eph 2:1-10 (though I’d love to hear a modern song doing that). We are also not saying that songs can only be written from the Psalms, Proverbs, or Song of songs. They don’t have to have “Bible quotes” in them. When they do, the scriptures need to be quoted faithfully and in context. No, the corrective measure we are pushing for here is that whatever the topic, whatever the goal, whomever the intended target… the emphasis of the lyric should convey both Law and Gospel faithfully to the listener. The Law convicts us of sin so that we might repent and be forgiven by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Those citing “limitations” are only being limited by their refusal to submit their music and their lyrics to the Authority of Scripture.
Music is Fitting for Christian Worship Today
While we have the Psalms and several other Old Testament songs, we needed always look to King David and the Tabernacle to justify the inclusion of music in our Worship today. I’d like to take a look at 2 encouragements from the Apostle Paul.
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
We’ve looked at this passage a number of times in the past, with a particular focus in how we are to walk the Christian walk. This passage is also directly applicable to how we conduct ourselves Worship. We are called to be living sacrifices, living forms of Worship to God. Naturally, how we worship should be a part of how we walk. Notice here that we are to put away from among us all sexual immorality and all impurity, foolish talk, filthiness, and crude joking. We should not only do this in speech, but in our songs and music as well. Before you brush that thought aside, think about what plays in your car’s radio during the week, what streams in your headphones while you exercise, and what “specials” might be playing in the megachurch you visited recently (C3 Church Leaders & Staff Video). Getting back to the passage, we see Paul encouraging us to sing songs to one another and making melody to the Lord in our hearts. The mention of getting drunk doesn’t make this a passage for how we are to act outside of the assembly, but inside, too. Remember Paul rebuked the Corinthians for using the Lord’s Supper as an occasion to get drunk! Do you think Paul would allow room for psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that proclaimed a different/false gospel? No, that isn’t even remotely within the realm of possibility. We are to encourage one another in Truth, putting away all falsehood.
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Again, we see Paul addressing these matters within the context of living godly lives of Worship and Thanksgiving. We are to put to death the fleshly, worldly things and to put on Heavenly qualities listed above, by faith through the Grace of our Lord and Savior. I come from a Puerto Rican background, so the big question from my culture is whether or not we can bring salsa or merengue music into the church as a form of proper Worship to God. These musical forms accompany a very sensual form of dancing out in the world, but does that mean the music itself is sensual? I submit to you that for some it would be perfectly acceptable and even fun to include in Worship to the God of Creation with hearts full of thanksgiving and praise. For others, on the other hand, the struggle of separating the music from the sensual form of dance, or the lustful thoughts of the heart might be too strong to bear. Pastors and elders, as the steward shepherds over Christ’s flock, needs to know His sheep. If the congregation is still fleshly and immature in the Faith, including such music would be ill-advised. I think the same holds true for Reggae, Rock-n-Roll, Electronica, and Hip Hop/R&B. That “Gospel” has become its own genre of music always leaves me shaking my head in disgust. There is so little Gospel in “Gospel Music” today my heart aches.
My point is that the music style is not the standard, the character of the Worship is. Not just the character of the individual worshipers, but the Worship itself. For if hints of earthliness creep into our corporate Worship (regardless of genre, denomination, or creed) the Worship is defiled. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. While I’ve only seen it done handful of times, it is proper for an Elder to call attention to sinful behavior in Corporate Worship. It’s indeed quite unpleasant, but necessary when rebuke is appropriate. God is not a God of confusion but of peace, and all things should be done decently and in order.
Purpose of DiM
Our goal isn’t to present a dean’s list of solid biblical Christian Music. Our goal is to equip you with the tools necessary for practicing Biblical Discernment in Music that you hear on a daily basis, including what you sing on Sunday Mornings. We only look at a small slice of the Christian Music scene, the most popular or popularized (by aggressive marketing and promotion) songs. There is a lot more out there. If you’d like us to review a song that isn’t on the top20 charts, shoot us an email and we will try to work them into DiM posts on Thursdays.
Until next time, it is our prayer that you continue growing in the Knowledge of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scriptures and that in so doing you might abound in Faith.
Colossians 4:2-6(ESV) 2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Amen. In Christ Jesus,