January 5th, 2016
Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent a man in response to his questions about our church’s music.
…Since we are so passionate about allowing the Bible to be our guide for faith AND practice, we try to have a Bible-first mindset about our music, rather than a culture-first mindset. Therefore, we might be considered traditional in our music choices (i.e. hymns), but it is not for tradition’s sake. We believe that God created music as more of an emotional tool of communication (i.e. people were often moved by music in the Bible, or they conveyed certain emotions through the Psalms rather than stating them outright). The hymns are our main vehicle for communicating doctrine-rich, truth-saturated music (cf Col. 3). We believe that spiritual songs–old and new–ought to feed the spirit more than the flesh. Although our flesh might come to enjoy certain styles in music, we are intentional about not starting with what our flesh wants and adapting spiritual lyrics in order to accommodate people’s musical tastes.
Hymns are more timeless than most trends in music in that they have withstood the test of time, while other songs have not. Because we would rather not use the church as a testing-ground for new things, since they are not time-tested, we will tend to lean away from newer, trendier music. As the church is to be a stable bastion of truth in a world that is given to constantly-changing trends, we want even our music to be a reflection of something that is timeless rather than trendy.
That’s NOT to say that we avoid all new music. On the contrary… our special music groups will often sing newer songs that are doctrine-rich and truth-saturated. In recent decades, it seems like there has been a
shift away from shallow, repetitive music toward better, richer content. I appreciate any music that causes me to think great thoughts about God–not through the emotion of the music (i.e. the cadence, rhythm, volume, etc), but through the content. This mindset comes from worshiping God “in spirit and in truth.” God seems to indicate through that verse that worshiping Him in Spirit is to primarily be accomplished through his truth. Songs that focus on Scriptural truth–when people focus correctly on the truth–will produce true worship in us. By contrast, I’ve been told that music is used as an emotional tool first–to get people feeling good about God–and from that good feeling they can then search God’s truth out on their own. While that may be true, it is more of a pragmatic approach than we try to convey in our truth-first model of emphasizing hymns. 1 Cor 12 seems to indicate that when God’s people in a church setting are focused on truth, selflessly serving God by edifying others, by being in unity on the truth, that a guest can enter into that kind of truth-focused church, and be “convinced of all” that “God is in you of a truth.” So, the truth is the focus, and not the emotion.
These are just a few of the random philosophical thoughts about music. As a music leader for so many decades, I know you have your own convictions on the topic. I am not trying to convince you in any way about anything that is right or wrong–I’m just trying to portray our church’s reasons for why our music is as it is.
We are NOT perfect, by any means, and there is PLENTY of room for improvement (namely in yours truly!). But because we serve a worthy God, we try to be excellent in our music choices. I just sang a concert with a community choir, and the classical-style of music is at a certain “peak” of excellence that is strived for even in secular circles. As passionate as they are about “Gloria,” for a human audience, I, too, want to be as passionate about music for the greatest audience: our Lord.
His response was encouraging: “I am totally with you in your music belief,priorities and positions…Most churches have gone to, what we call, the ‘flavor of the day’ thinking that that ‘must grow the church because those other churches are growing using the same guitar driven 7-11 songs’…Thank you so much for your words, and know that I am in agreement and continue to pray for your ministry.
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