Worldview: How Important Are Worship Styles? Reconsidering a Musical Matter
The “worship wars” appear to be waning. “Multiple generations are becoming more accustomed to different types of church music and worship style,” writes Thom Rainer. “There is a much greater appreciation for different forms of music than in the past.”
On the one hand, this is a trend to celebrate, as an era of intense divisiveness subsides. On the other hand, this is an occasion for deeper reflection on the role of music in worship and clearer thought on stylistic issues.
Music is so deeply engrained in our worship consciousness that perhaps we never question its use, but we should. Why do we sing at church? In his book, “The Air I Breathe,” Louie Giglio writes: “I think that all music — not just Christian music, but all music — is worship music, because every song is amplifying the value of something. There’s a trail of our time, our affections, our allegiance, our devotion, our money. That trail leads to a throne, and whatever’s on that throne is what we worship — what we sing about.”
Music magnifies. Music amplifies value. Music intensifies a message. Singing, therefore, is a most fitting activity for Christian worship. Indeed, the Bible is replete with music. In the Old Testament, we read of singing and even dancing. The Book of Psalms is a sizable volume of lyrics intended for singing. In New Testament times, Paul and Silas sang while in prison. Revelation tells us that music will be forever — the saints of God will always sing a new song! Music is right for worship.
Colossians 3:16 states: “Let the word of God 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.” Paul notes specific ways in which the Word dwells: teaching, admonishing and singing. Music has a place in the ministry of the Word. It simply belongs.
Music is a medium for the message
If singing is one means by which the Word dwells, then the message and the music share a close relationship — the music is the medium for the message. Let’s be clear: It isn’t the music that dwells, but the message dwells through the music.
What does this mean for worship? The message must be the master, and the music must be the slave. Much of the confusion (and conflict!) over worship today arises from a reversal of these roles, when music becomes the master. When musical style is the most important thing, we begin to worship the music itself, which is idolatry. When style is kept in its proper place as a servant to the message, a church is better equipped to adopt a style that minimizes generational preferences and maximizes music’s main role — a vehicle through which the Word dwells.
Music is a method of mutual edification
Allowing the Word to dwell requires “admonishing one another,” which happens as we sing together. Singing is a corporate preaching of the Gospel, a demonstration of our mutual commitment to mutual edification. We’re called into one body, and nothing expresses that unity more clearly than voices raised together in song.
Congregational music is, by nature, a unifier, which makes it immensely sad when music becomes a divider. Maintaining the mutually edifying nature of music requires each congregation to discover its own style — its own unique voice. No two churches can do music the same way because no two churches have the same people singing the songs. Rather than asking, “What musical style do we like?” we should ask, “What style best fits our congregation? What is mutually edifying? What is the best way for us to sing the Gospel together?”
Music is a means of grateful response
Paul finishes his charge to the Colossians to “let the Word of Christ dwell” by saying that our teaching, our admonishing, and our singing must be done “with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Growing up, I distinctly remember my mother cleaning the house. She’s an industrious woman, so it seemed she was always cleaning the house, and our house was always very clean. As she cleaned, though, she sang, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.”
Exactly. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about letting His Word dwell in us. If His Word dwells in us, then His song will come out of us. The music will serve the message, sustain our unity, and soar with thanksgiving.