This weekend we visited two different churches, arriving (we thought) about half an hour before the worship services were scheduled to begin. At one church the worship team was practicing; at the other,
earlier worship service was concluding recorded music was broadcast outside the building. From both, music could be heard from the
parking lot. As we approach Christmas, with carols and other seasonal music in
the air, (and as Dean and I anticipate focusing on music this next month) I got to thinking about church music.
Here are a few thoughts based on a quick search for the word "music" in the Bible (I used the New International Reader's Version, since it uses simpler language).
1. Volume In many churches, music is pretty loud. When I was about five, sitting in the front row at Historic First Presbyterian Church in East Cleveland with the rest of the children's choir, I remember huddling in the corner of the pew while the adult choir sang, covering my ears even though the songs were usually hymns sung to organ accompaniment. So loud. I empathise with those who find current church music too loud, but I confess I rather like it now. And loud music seems to have been part of worship for a very long time: 2 Chronicles 30:21 (...They praised the LORD with loud musical instruments. The instruments had been set apart to the LORD.), Psalm 98:4 (Shout for joy to the LORD, everyone on earth. Burst into joyful songs and make music.), and Psalm 47:1 (For the director of music. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. Clap your hands, all you nations. Shout to God with cries of joy.)
2. Content I tend to prefer songs that are more about God: His goodness, His saving mercy, His power, His sovereignty. Other people like songs that reflect their own experiences. Scripture (especially the book of Psalms) shows people singing about pretty much everything. I guess we should, too. Psalm 104:33 says, "I will sing to the LORD all my life. I will sing praise to my God as long as I live."
3. Audience Participation This one's pretty fun, actually, because the Bible lists lots of people who were professional worship musicians (like all those Levites who made music day and night), and it lists a number of enthusiastic amateurs (like King David). But those aren't the only people making music in the Bible. There are verses about women singing praises to God (among a number of other examples, in Exodus 15, after the Israelites escaped from Egypt by crossing the sea on dry ground, Miriam and "all the women" played tambourines and danced and sang, "Sing to the LORD. He is greatly honored. He has thrown Pharaoh's horses and chariot drivers into the Red Sea.") I'm always a little sad when I look around in a worship service and see only a few people joining the worship team to sing.
4.Purpose Is music in a worship service for the benefit of the people worshiping, or for the glory of God? (easy answer: yes) How about this from Ephesians 5:19? "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord."
Whether you sing loudly (I think bad singing adds a non-traditional layer of harmony -- but then again, I'm often the off-key singer) or quietly in your heart (or anywhere in between), the important thing is making music to the Lord. So as we're looking at music in churches this coming month, watch (and listen) for your favorites!