The Beat of Just One Drum: Music in Church

In Politics, certain subjects took on a political endangering quality. Social Security has been labeled the Third Rail of American Politics specifically because it’s so charged and touching it meant death for a person’s political career. In the same way certain subjects do the same for professional careers, conversations and churches. For churches in particular, the third rail is Music: time for me to waltz on it.

You go into any Church during their service, listen to the music and note your first reaction. I don’t mean the piety of your reaction, like the part that you say “Praise God!” I mean the part of your reaction where you decide that the specific sound you’re hearing is a Good Expression of True Worship.  That reaction will clue you in on what you’re approach to music in church is.

Is there a right approach to music or is it just a matter of taste? Does Music have a place in Christian worship or is it more a distraction that what it’s worth?


Music has been part of the Church since the very beginning. Early believers, we’re talking while-the-Bible-was-being-written early, would put their confessions of Christ in a lyrical format. Scholars have long noted (and argued over) the poetic structure of even some Biblical statements which appear to be hymn/confessionals that were being used during Paul’s Day (1 Tim 3:16; maybe Phil 2:6-11; maybe Col 1:15-20).

Beside that, hymns wound up being the stomping ground for the solidification of Christian theology specifically because the Psalms were so imbued with deep Jewish theological statements mixed with expressions of the human condition. So Paul could (easily) go through the Psalms to prove that man is naturally sinful (Rom 3:10-18).  If we go back earlier, Peter based his first sermon on a prophecy from Joel and from the predictions found in hymns (Acts 2:16-40).

To decry music as unbiblical or  having no place influencing the Christian church is not only ignorant and unsupported but its flat out a contradiction of what happened historically and what should continue to happen: The Christian Church will find itself greatly enriched by a renewed focus on early hymnology and the Psalter.

Here the contemporaralists would take my words as a license to queue up all types of music into the Christian service while traditionalists strike the chord of Christian music’s true tone is in the words. The one group would argue that true worship is to be felt while the other group would decry fleshly focus and repetition in music. I’ve even seen some folk attack music that consists of promises without doing (as in “I will worship you, with all of my heart”).

Against the traditionalists I’ll say this: although the words are of utmost importance you can’t do it at the sacrifice of good music. If it were just the words, one wonders why the Traditionalists don’t simply read books from the Hymal.

The fact is The Psalter features playing skillfully with loud shouts (Ps 33:3),  praising God with lifted hands (Ps 63:4), promises to worship as acts of dedication (Ps 9:2), repetition (Ps 136) and even dancing (Ps 150:4). A Christian who denies the very real roots of unadulterated worship as evidenced by David (2 Sam 6:14) doesn’t fully understand how the love of God is more than commitment but delves into the sphere of devotion and enjoyment.

Against the contemporarilists I’ll say this: although the component of music and feeling are important they should not be the overwhelming force that carries away the singer, players or congregation. The fact is that worship must come out of a heart overflowing with thoughts of God. David danced with all his might before the Lord because the ark of God was back, the presence of the Lord was renewed among the midst of the people. He wasn’t dancing because he could, he was dancing because God is just that awesome.

Same thing with the instrument playing: the OT hymnists did it skillfully to worship God, not to engender emotions and feelings of religion in people like Nebuchadnezzar did in Babylon (Dan 2). The focus shouldn’t be in leading worship (which is a purely ridiculous concept) but for participating in worship. I’d up the ante and say that if the instrumentalists realize that the focus is on their sound and on created emotions, they should be open and willing to simply stopping and reading the words.

So in the end music matters and is vital to Christianity and its history. It can be distracting if the focus is wrong but so can anything that is vital to Christian living (preaching can become a distraction if it becomes merely a springboard for personal opinions; the breaking of bread can become a distraction if it becomes a focus on feasting instead of remembering the Lord-1 Cor 11). Therefore our approach should be historically minded, Biblically imbued and, of course, respecting the conscience of other believers (Rom 14).

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