Music in Corporate Worship
- Saturday, June 02, 2007
Previously, we looked at the relationship between music and worship in general. Now we want to better understand the place of music in congregational worship.
Some authors have stated that music used in public worship should be God-glorifying. While well-intentioned, that statement is just vague enough to be unhelpful. When is music God-glorifying? How should music function in our times of corporate praise? Here are some thoughts.
Music should serve the lyrics. God is a speaking God. While communication happens on many levels, the Word is always central in God's dealings with us. We see this in the placing of the Ten Commandments in the Ark of the Covenant, and in the description of Jesus as the Word of God made flesh. So music should serve to emphasize and heighten the impact of the Word. Joyful words should be accompanied by joyful music. Words of repentance and awe are appropriately sung to music that is more somber. In general, music is effective when people in the congregation are more affected by the truth than the tune. (Of course, that implies that we're singing songs that have solid content!)
Music should serve the context. As an emotional language, music can prepare hearts to receive the Word of God. 2 Kings 3:1-16 provides a powerful illustration of this. Music can also give opportunity for people to respond emotionally to something that has just been said. Music can provide smooth transitions between segments of a meeting and can also give support to someone who is speaking. Movie producers are well aware that most scenes in a film can be made more moving with appropriate music. The same can be true in our public meetings. This approach only becomes manipulative when the emotions aroused are contrary to the context or the truth, rather than supportive of them.
Music should be relevant and edifying to the group. Assuming that the music we choose for corporate praise serves the words and the context, our next concern should be that it edifies those who are present. This means that the music must say what we want it to say. We shouldn't present complex classical music to children, or rock music to an older congregation. It also implies that the music should never overpower the words. Notwithstanding our relativistic post-modern culture, God still deals in truth, not simply experience. However, God is not against experience. Music is meant to stir our emotions. We don't have to fear strong emotions when they are a response to truth, deepened by their association with music.
God-glorifying music should be varied. From complex to simple, from modern to baroque, from short to long. Obviously, in a local congregation, the range of variety will be limited to the giftedness of its musicians. But stylistic variety makes possible a broader range of responses to God, opens our eyes to the greatness of God, and enables people of different backgrounds, preferences, and experiences to worship God wholeheartedly together. Those are worthy goals for anyone who leads congregational worship.
Speaking of those who lead worship, next time we'll begin to take a look at public worship and the musicians who lead us. What kind of musicians should we be looking for? More importantly, what kind of musicians is God looking for?
For His Glory,
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