Friday, June 10, 2011

Thoughts on Music in the Church

Last Sunday, some men in our church sat down to discuss Wayne Grudem's chapter on worship in his Systematic Theology.  Though Grudem hardly even mentions music, and does not discuss at all any of the contemporary issues dealing with music that are facing the church, it is not surprising that the conversation gravitated towards that very issue in our discussion.

I have been having some thoughts of my own recently on this issue, quite apart even from this before-mentioned conversation.  My conclusions will probably be considered radical by everyone, no matter what church they belong to.  I believe that the church of today needs to clean the instruments and musical productions out of the house and needs to go back to a much simpler worship style - preferably acapella.
But I have not come to this conclusion because I think that using musical instruments are wrong in and of themselves.  More to the point, I do not believe that the New Testament forbids the use of musical instruments in worship.  So why do I want to throw the piano off the bus while admitting its legitimacy?  Let me explain.

First, the New Testament does not forbid the use of musical instruments in the church.  Those who argue to the contrary cannot point to a single New Testament passage to support their view.  Ephesians 5:19 does not, though it is often quoted as if it did.  It simply says that we are to sing from the heart - it says nothing about musical accompaniment.  (Actually, since Paul mentions the singing of "psalms" and the original meaning of "psalm" was a song with musical accompaniment, it would seem to argue in the opposite direction so that we cannot argue against musical accompaniment from this verse.  But of course, by Paul's day, "psalm" had come to embrace a more general meaning that no longer not necessitated the original narrow meaning of musical accompaniment, so it is also simply inconclusive to argue for musical accompaniment in the church from this verse.)  In the final analysis, theirs is an argument from silence.  The hermeneutic seems to be this: if the New Testament does not mention it, or is silent about it, we should not do it.  But the odd thing about this "silent hermeneutic" is that the New Testament is itself silent about the "silent hermeneutic" and so it is a self-defeating interpretative instrument.

Stranger still, is that so many who argue for acapellla only as Biblically normative often end up resorting to the Old Testament to make their case.  What is so strange about this is that they have to get around all the OT passages that command God's people to worship him with musical instruments!  The passages that I have often heard quoted in discussions with reference to music in the church are Amos 5:23; 6:4-6.  In these passages God reprimands the Israelites for their use of musical instruments.  But in each case, a careful study of the context makes it clear that God is not saying that the musical instruments were bad in and of themselves, but rather that God's people were misusing them; specifically, they should have been repenting instead of singing.  Not that singing with instruments was wrong, even in the temple - it was just not the right thing to do at that time, given their obvious rebellion against God.  They should have been crying instead of crooning.  Some have, on the basis of Amos 6:5, tried to argue that the instruments which King David introduced into the church were against the will of God, but this is obviously false as 2 Chron. 29:25 quickly shows.

A better argument has been this: instruments belonged to the old covenant worship and passed away with the advent of the new covenant and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I say this is a better argument, for it is at least based on a sound Biblical principle - that there is a certain difference between the old and new covenants.  However, even this is questionable.  What passed away with the inauguration of the new covenant were those things that were shadows of the reality that Christ represents.  However, I simply do not see how musical instruments fit into that category.  Actually, I don't think there were any musical instruments prescribed in the Law other than the trumpet, and it was only used as an alarm.  Musical instruments were introduced after the old covenant was inaugurated (during the reign of King David, it seems), and so did not necessarily go down with the ship, when the old covenant passed away.

The New Testament simply does not say whether it is right or wrong to use musical instruments, or even what "worship style" to use.  But given the fact that musical instruments were used by God's people before the coming of Christ, and the fact that they are used in heaven after his coming (consider the book of Revelation), and the fact that the use of musical instruments does not violate a single principle plainly given to use in the didactic literature in the New Testament, I conclude that their use is legitimate and that it should be left to the decision of each local body as to what worship style should be used.

However - I think that, given our times, we should be very wary as to their use.  My personal opinion is that many churches have given up on the Holy Spirit and have substituted their worship teams and musical productions in his place.  I feel much like Martyn Lloyd-Jones did when he came to Aberavon in Wales - the church there had a stage and Lloyd-Jones told them to get rid of it.  When asked what they should do with it, he said they could use it for fire-wood!  We need to get rid of the stages and get down on our knees.  I wonder how many people rely on musical accompaniment to "worship" - whereas I doubt if true worship depends on the skill of the pianist.  Ask yourself this - if your musicians left tomorrow, how long would your church last?

I believe that we need - myself most of all - we need to get desperate for God's Spirit.  And to get there, perhaps we need to fast from musical instruments, and plead with God to send his presence in such a real way that people are not drawn to our assemblies because of our music, but because God is there.

Let me issue a final word of warning.  I'm not saying that getting rid of the choir is going to solve all the church's problems.  I know plenty of dead churches that have very simple worship services.  The result is that not only does their singing stink, their worship service as a whole is icy and dead.  In the final analysis, we can make a god out of anything, even out of a "simple" service.  We need God more than simplicity, but if simplicity helps to accentuate our desperateness, by all means - bring it on.

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