If you want to venture into contentious and acrimonious debates, bring up music in worship. The past three or four decades have witnessed much heat and, too often, little light when it comes to the “worship wars.” Contemporary versus traditional, choruses versus hymns, types of musical instruments allowed or none at all, praise bands or choirs—these are among the disagreements concerning music during corporate worship.
A good deal of the discussion centers upon the reason for having music during the church’s corporate worship. Those who favor contemporary music deem that it better connects with the culture. They see it as an evangelistic tool. And, frankly, I think a lot of churches have adopted praise teams with their contemporary music because of the “cool” factor.
If we allow Scripture to guide us, we will be hard pressed to justify music during worship as an evangelistic tool. Worship, by its very definition, is that which is done by Christians. The purpose of the church’s gathering is not to evangelize unbelievers. The purpose is to worship God. And being attractive to the world should be the least of our concerns.
Unbelievers do attend worship services of local churches, but Paul indicated that such attenders comprised a small minority (1 Corinthians 14:23). Some churches which are so enthralled with contemporary music would do well to understand that the idea is not new and has been opposed by godly leaders in the past. Charles Spurgeon, writing during the latter-half to the nineteenth century, commented: “I hardly like to hear the high praises of God sung to the tune of a comic song or of a dance. There is a certain congruity about things that must be observed, and some good music may have associated with it such queer ideas that we had better let it alone till those associations have died out, lest, while we are uttering holy words, some people may be reminded by the tune of unholy things.”
Because worship is a corporate exercise, the highest form of singing is congregational. Choirs can be edifying, and I appreciate the extraordinary time and effort which Claire and our choir give toward worship, but choirs are not essential. (Please don’t stone me!) Congregational singing, though, is essential. Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “I am afraid that where organs, choirs, and singing men and women are left to do the praise of the congregation, men’s minds are more occupied with the due performance of the music than with the Lord, who alone is to be praised. God’s house is meant to be sacred unto himself, but too often it is made an opera house, and Christians form an audience, not an adoring assembly. We come not together to amuse ourselves, to display our powers of melody, or our aptness in creating harmony. We come to pay our adoration at the footstool of the great King, to whom alone be glory forever and ever.”
I found it interesting, while listening to some sermons from a particularly large evangelical church in Cardiff, Wales, that the pastor or whoever may be preaching simply announced the hymn, the organ began playing, and the congregation sang. An American friend who was converted to Christ at that church told me the congregational singing was an incredible thing to behold. I wonder at times whether we have subconsciously relegated singing to a few talented folks. Singing is the church’s joy. Spurgeon put it this way: “Do we sing as much as the birds do? Yet what have birds to sing about, compared with us? Do we sing as much as the angels do? Yet they were never redeemed by the blood of Christ. Birds of the air, shall you excel me? Angels, shall you exceed me? You have done so, but I intend to emulate you, and day by day, and night by night, pour forth my soul in sacred song.”
“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” (Colossians 3:16).