Today, many church services are described as traditional or contemporary, based solely on the type of music contained in them. I personally gravitate toward a more “traditional” service, I love organ music and the complexity of some of the older hymns, especially those based on Bach’s chorales. However, I have no problem worshiping when other types of music are involved, as long as the music does not distract from the words and the words are Biblical. To me, the music is a vehicle for the words and should therefore take a backseat to Christ honoring lyrics. Whether you love the music of modern praise or Southern Gospel or classic hymns, that should not be allowed to cloud your judgment on whether a song is acceptable for worship. Only serious studying into the lyrics of that song can bring about the right conclusions.
Scripture does not say a lot about music but there are a couple of passages in the New Testament that speak about the topic:
Colossians 3:16 “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.”
Ephesians 5:18-21 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
1 Corinthians 14:26 “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
I especially like the last passage from 1 Corinthians, that when we as believers come together, everything done should be for building each other up in Christ. If a hymn, worship chorus, sermon, special music, drama, or any other part of the Sunday morning service does not build the believer, it should not be included.
Getting back to music, I found a list of criteria that was used when putting together the 2008 Baptist hymnal and I think it works well as a filter for all music used in a service.
- Does the hymn speak biblically of God?
- Is it God-honoring?
- Does the hymn present a biblical view of man?
- Does the song help us to cover the depth and breadth of our theology?
- Does the hymn call us to true discipleship, service, repentance, witness, missions and devotion?
- Does the hymn speak biblically of salvation?
- Does it engage the whole person – allowing a person to express his deepest feelings?
- Does the hymn emphasize that Christ is the Christian’s Lord, Master and King? (the idea of total submission)
- Is there a balance with corporate and individual response in worship? (immanence and transcendence)
- Does the hymn speak biblically about the church, the body of Christ?
Just like one can speak without thinking, one can sing without thinking, I know that I am guilty of doing that. Let us all make it our goal to think about what we are singing and do it for the glory of God.