Biblical Worship

Biblical Worship: The Character of Music

By Reformation Bible Church, Darlington, Maryland
It is imperative that when seeking to glorify Christ through song, we do so Biblically, paying close attention to the messages conveyed by the words, music, and performance style, lest we dishonor God through offering praise that is corrupted.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part two of a series. Read part one

Editor's Note: This article presents the second part of a position paper on music in worship originally published by Reformation Bible Church in Darlington, Maryland. RBC's presentation of Biblical truth and call for discernment brings much-needed clarity to a subject on which there is much confusion in the church today. We thank Dr. John McKnight, senior pastor of RBC and a member of TeachingTheWord's Advisory Board, for permission to reproduce it. - Dr. Paul Elliott

The Character of Music

Music, as all communicative arts, is ideologically laden. A culture and a philosophy are behind every painting, sculpture, and every piece of music. Our personal values are transmitted through our artistic expression.

Those personal values are obvious in rock music, whose composers and performers readily affirm its twin emphases of sensuality and rebellion, two thoroughly anti-Christian themes. Even without profane and suggestive lyrics, incessant rock rhythms dull the senses and stir base passions to the point of lowering moral inhibitions. The message, gleefully touted by the promoters, is sex. Is it any wonder that Christians wince when rock music is brought into the church and re-titled "sacred". Music communicates through three media: lyrics, music and style. The physical performance of rock musicians, their words, and their music consistently communicate the same messages: sensuality and rebellion. Rock music is cited because it illustrates these facts so conspicuously, but even in less blatant forms, all music communicates its creator's values and beliefs through these three media. That is why it is imperative that when seeking to glorify Christ through song, we do so Biblically, paying close attention to the messages conveyed by the words, the music, and the performance style (lest we dishonor God through offering praise that is corrupted).

The Words

Biblical music is distinguished from all other music by its Biblical content: its words. They express the indwelling Word of Christ ("Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." Colossians 3:16), communicating Biblical truth about the persons of the Godhead and their attributes. They exclude man's religious feelings, aspirations, and ignorance. Doctrinal correctness and precise terminology are carefully guarded ("Be thou exalted, LORD, in Thine own strength: so will we sing and praise Thy power." Psalm 21:13).

Biblical music is to be sung or played "to the Lord," not to man (". . . all things were created by Him, and for Him." Colossians 1:16). While it edifies God's people, the primary purpose is not to instruct, but to glorify God. Often missed is the fact that man benefits when God is pleased. "And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord" (Psalms 40:3). Edification, rather than being an objective of Biblical singing, is a result. To that end, the words take on critical importance. Audience response and personal taste are erroneous standards by which to gauge worship music. Instead, we should look to the words of Scripture.

The Music

Although it is not for man's pleasure, Biblical music is pleasing to the ear, for that which pleases God will be in harmony with His created order. Because it is sung to God, His people strive to sing with skill and perfection ("Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise." Psalm 33:3).

Biblical music is "a new song" distinct from the music of our Christ-rejecting culture. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). It is distinctive because it seeks to glorify God: not to simply make man feel good. Biblical music is free from the distractions of worldliness such as sensual melody lines and incessantly repetitive rhythms that appeal only to the flesh. ("Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." I John 2:15). It honors Christ and, as "the Lord's song," it is out of place with any other messages or in any other context than that of His glory and work (Psalm 137:3-4). It excludes the cheap, the common and the tawdry. Rather than seeking to entertain men, Biblical music seeks the glory of God alone. That is the clear directive of Scripture.

The Performance

Biblical singing hides the musician so that the hearer beholds Christ; it is not performed to make stars out of human beings. Christ is the One made prominent. The concept of a "gospel music star" is a contradiction in terms. Christ is the embodiment of the Gospel: not man. He shares His glory with no mortal. Thus, Biblical music will not showcase man or his talent, because, "No flesh should glory in His presence" (I Corinthians 1:29).

If the audience response is "Wasn't that thrilling," or "What talent!" the performer has failed. Biblical music will lift hearts and evoke responses such as, "Isn't Christ glorious," "Aren't the ways of God wondrous!" Hence, applause following a gospel song signals a mistaken emphasis by the performer and/or a misunderstanding on the part of the hearers.


Next: Music in Worship - A Call for Biblical Discernment


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