Music and Worship
Worship music is not primarily offered to man for his enjoyment, though he is invited to worship the Lord with gladness. Thus, the One who hears all and understands all music, deserves our most skillful and excellent musical offerings.
God is a unique Being, and there is a kind of love that corresponds to knowing His being, and a kind that does not. The music used in worship, and the poetry used should, through the meaning of their form, evoke appropriate joy, fear, contrition, thanksgiving and delight. Church leaders must discern between kinds of joy or kinds of fear, and know when particular music evokes those affections. When worship music is merely an exercise in self-gratification or entertainment, the emphasis is no longer one of responding to the Being of God. Who God is determines how we feel. We do not aim for a certain feeling and then pin it on God. Ordinate affection arises from the commitment to know God as He is, to submit to Him entirely, to grant Him appropriate responses, be they foreign or uncomfortable to us. This is the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom.
In any given bit of hymnody, the text will communicate less than the music. Good music may redeem mediocre lyrics, but the reverse is rarely or never true. The music of worship is not merely decorative or pleasantly distracting. It is not merely to provide ‘ atmosphere’ , or to ‘ warm people up’ for the sermon. Nor is the music of worship merely a vehicle to support orthodox lyrics with catchy, familiar tunes. Music in worship teaches, forms and affects. It teaches, in concert with the lyrics, truth about God, man and the world. It forms in that it shapes the hearers’ sentiments about God. The music becomes a kind of catechism of the affections, teaching worshippers what to feel in the presence of God. If the communicated meaning is not consonant with a right view of God, or with ordinate affection, the music becomes a form of distortion, and even deceit. Any form that trivializes holy things is properly profane. It does not have to blaspheme. It merely has to belittle, even unintentionally.
Music and Sanctification
Music has a formative effect on our loves, which are at the heart of sanctification. We can no more grow in holiness alongside trivial, sensual or worldly music, than we could grow in holiness while digesting pornography or gossip magazines. Once again, the church cannot bind the conscience of the believers regarding their musical choices, but it is responsible to teach its members that music is not amoral, and that musical choices outside of corporate worship continue to shape our imaginations, and form our affections. The music we identify with affects our characters, and moulds us.
Technology and Use of Music
Technology has fundamentally altered the way most people experience music. Music was at one time entirely participative: you either played it, sang it, or were in the presence of those who did. The music itself was the goal of the activity. You made or received the music for its beauty.
With the advent of recording devices in the early 20th century, followed by radio, TV, vinyl, cassette, CD, mp3, and audio streaming, music has become a disembodied experience, used as background for something else. Music is now mood-music for our eating, shopping, travelling, or working. It is not an end in itself; it is a means to some other end: exercise, distraction, mood-lifting, nostalgia, or to just drown out silence.
Not only has this destroyed musical literacy and judgement, it has shaped us to think about music not as a creation of God to be loved for itself and wisely used in life, but as a feel-good companion for when we want to do something else altogether. This makes us less attentive towards the meaning of music, and more attentive to ourselves.
Growing in Music Judgement
- Listen to art music. Listen to music for its own sake, particularly composers such as Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Mozart, or more recently Rachmaninoff, Hindemith, Britten, , Bernstein,
- Listen to sacred music. Find compilations of some of the greatest sacred works to become acquainted with them. Listen to the works of Eric Whitacre, John Rutter, Phil Stopford, Arvo Part, John Tavener, Henri Goreki, Morton Laurisden, Ralph Vaughn-Williams.
- For easier, background listening, consider some of the film music of Ennio Moricone, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, John Horner, Howard Shore.
- Try to learn an instrument. If nothing else, take voice lessons, and learn to read music so you can understand the hymnal better.
– David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa