Saturday, 31 August 2013

Questions About Music in Christian Worship (Part 2 of 3)


Q: If a person has musical talent, shouldn’t he/she use it to glorify God?
     While we should glorify God in all that we do (1 Cor. 10:13), worship is not governed by human abilities but by the revealed will of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). A person may be a gifted athlete or a talented chef, but dunking a basketball or baking a cake while the church is assembled for worship is not a biblically sanctioned form of worship. We should be thankful for our talents, but when it comes to offering worship to God, we must do so in a manner that He prescribes (John 4:23-24). God is not particularly interested in our physical abilities, but He is concerned about the condition of our hearts. Not everyone has musical talent, but the beauty of Christianity is that everyone does have a heart that can and should be offered to God. The Bible never tells us to sing good, but it does tell us to sing from the heart (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:15). God is not worshiped with human hands (Acts 17:25), but He is worshiped with human hearts. The purpose of worship is not to entertain ourselves or to give a few talented people an opportunity to perform, but for all worshipers to offer praise to the Lord that is acceptable to Him (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Gal. 1:10).
Q: Since the Bible doesn’t directly forbid the use of mechanical instruments in Christian worship, why wouldn’t it be permissible?
     One of the primary reasons there is so much confusion and division in the religious world is because so many people feel free to do whatever is not explicitly condemned in the Bible. The Bible does not specifically prohibit cake and coffee in the Lord’s Supper, or sprinkling infants, or having a pope, or smoking marijuana to "heighten spirituality," or a host of other things people may want to do. But the issue is not what the Bible explicitly forbids, but rather what the Bible authorizes as legitimate (and consequently what it implicitly forbids). We know what the will of God is by what is revealed in the Bible (Eph. 3:3-5; 5:17), not by what is left unsaid. How did Noah understand that pine, oak, and cedar were not to be used in building the ark? God did not explicitly prohibit these types of wood, but when He specified “gopher wood” (Gen. 6:14), all other kinds were excluded. How did the Israelites know not to appoint men of Reuben, Judah or Ephraim to the priesthood? Simply because the law specifically named the tribe of Levi and was silent concerning the other tribes (Heb. 7:13-14). When the NT specifies “singing” as the kind of music to be offered in Christian worship, what human being has the right to add juggling, dancing, fireworks, guitars or pianos to it simply because the Lord has not provided a comprehensive list of prohibitions? God will hold accountable those who presumptuously add to His revealed will (1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19; cf. Lev. 10:1-2; Deut. 18:20).
Q: Isn’t instrumental music just an aid to singing, since it helps with the pitch, tempo, and tune, it makes the singing sound better, and one is still obeying God’s instructions to “sing” even though it happens to be with musical accompaniment?
    There are essentially only two types of music: vocal and instrumental. If God had given the generic command to simply “make music,” any type of music would be in accordance with this instruction. However, instead of a generic command, the Lord specified the kind of music He desires -- namely volitional singing. Therefore, any other kind of music is an addition to what the Lord has authorized. For example, the elements of the Lord’s Supper are unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. Things such as plates, cups, and communion trays are aids which help us observe this memorial, but they do not add additional elements to the Lord’s Supper. However, even though one may reason that jam or peanut butter or syrup or lemonade would make communion taste better, these are different kinds of food, additions to the specified elements, and are therefore unacceptable. Legitimate aids to singing are those things which help to carry out the directive to sing, such as a tuning fork (for the right pitch), or a song book (for the right words), or a song leader (for the right tempo and tune). However, a mechanical instrument supplies an entirely different kind of music and is therefore more than an aid to singing -- it is an addition. Making the singing “sound better” is a subjective opinion, and many would argue that musical instruments actually detract from the singing. The bottom line, however, is not what I like or what sounds good to me, but what God has plainly stated is acceptable to Him.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related posts: Music & the Bible HistoryQuestions About Music 1Questions About Music 3

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Saturday, 24 August 2013

Questions About Music in Christian Worship (Part 1 of 3)




Q: Doesn’t the Bible tell us to praise God with various instruments of music? (Psalm 149:3; 150:3-5; etc.)
     The OT book of Psalms is set in a pre-Christian, Jewish context (cf. 14:7; 20:1-3; 147:19; etc.). As a matter of fact, it was part of Israel’s law. In John 10:34 and 15:25 Jesus quoted from the book of Psalms (viz. 82:6; 69:4) and included it in the Jewish “law.” Not only do we find musical instruments in the book of Psalms, but also animal sacrifices (20:3; 50:5, 8; 66:13-15), Levitical priests (132:9), the ark of the covenant (132:8), dancing (149:3; 150:4), and pleas for retributive justice (5:10; 10:15). Consistency demands that if musical instruments are borrowed from the Psalms, these other Jewish items must be taken as well. But Paul says concerning this law: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident ...” (Gal. 3:10-11 NKJV). To illustrate that the book of Psalms does not provide a pattern for Christian activity, compare what David wrote in Psa. 18:37-40 with what Jesus taught in Matt. 5:43-48. (NB: The recording of a statement or event is not equivalent to sanctioning it. We can learn from and be edified by the basic principles in the Psalms [Rom. 15:4] without adopting Jewish conventions). The pattern for Christian worship is the new covenant of Jesus Christ, not the book of Psalms or any other part of the old Jewish law.  
Q: Since Christians are to sing “psalms” (Eph. 5:19; Jas. 5:13), and psalms are set to music, wouldn’t this suggest that Christian singing is to be accompanied by instrumental music?
     A psalm (Greek psalmos) is simply a poetic verse that can be read, quoted, or sung. While it is possible for a psalm to be set to music and sung with musical accompaniment, the music itself is supplementary to, not inherent in, the psalm. A psalm is comprised of words. Words cannot be played on an instrument, therefore a psalm that is set to music is designed to be sung, irrespective of any potential accompaniment. Incidentally, most of the OT psalms that were set to music were simply sung with no added musical consort (cf. Psa. 7:17; 9:11; 30:4, 12; 57:9; 59:16-17; 66:1-8; 101:1; et al.). When “psalms” are mentioned in the NT as part of worship, Christians are never directed to “play” them. Rather, the instructions specify “speaking,” “teaching,” “admonishing,” “singing,” and “making melody in your heart.”
Q: Do the harps in heaven (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2) make mechanical instrumental music in Christian worship acceptable on earth?
     The book of Revelation is a highly symbolic book, and many of the symbols were borrowed from the Old Testament. A symbol is something that stands for or represents another thing. For example, “horns” (Rev. 5:6; 12:3; 17:12) represent power or strength (cf. Psa. 75:10; 92:10), “locusts” (Rev. 9:3, 7) are symbols of destruction and devastation (cf. Ex. 10:4-6; Isa. 33:4), “Babylon” (Rev. 16:19; 17:5; 18:2) stands for the oppressors of God’s people (cf. 2 Kgs. 25:21; Dan. 1:1), "trumpets" (Rev. 1:10; 4:1; 8:13; 9:14) symbolize a call to attention or warning of judgment (cf. Josh. 6:5; Neh. 4:20; Jer. 4:19; 6:1; Ezek. 33:3), etc. To take one of these symbols literally to justify a particular modern-day practice is to stretch these passages beyond their intended meaning.
     In Rev. 5:8 “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense ...” The harp figure evokes the thought of a beautiful sound (cf. 1 Sam. 16:23), and the golden bowls of incense suggest a pleasing aroma (cf. Psa. 141:2). But what do these symbols represent? The text goes on to explain, “... which are the prayers of the saints.” When prayers are offered to the Lord, without the use of a literal harp or golden bowls of incense, the prayers themselves are like a beautiful sound and a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 
     In Rev. 14:2 John heard something coming from heaven. Although the Greek word phônên means “voice” (NKJV), it can also be translated “sound” (NIV). Three times in this verse the Greek word hôs (“like” or “as”) is used as John likens what he heard to the following things: (a) it was like the sound of many waters; (b) it was like the sound of loud thunder, (c) it was like the sound of harpists playing their harps. Since descriptive symbols are clearly being used, the supposed “harp playing” is no more literal than the Lamb, Mount Zion, the 144,000 male virgins, the waters, the thunder, or any other symbol used in this chapter. The voice John heard was powerful (like many waters), and loud (like thunder), and beautiful (like harpists playing their harps). And what were the 144,000 male virgins doing? Not keeping company with a literal baby sheep or splashing in water or generating thunder or plucking harp strings. “And they sang a new song ...” (v. 3). 
     The “harps” in Rev. 15:2 are not being strummed as an offering of worship. In this highly figurative scene the “harps of God” simply represent the jubilation and triumph of God’s people in view of the harsh judgment against their enemies (cf. 2 Chron. 20:27-28; Neh. 12:27; also Job 30:31; Psa. 137:1-2).
     Furthermore, whatever might be going on in heaven does not set a precedent for human activity on earth. For example, the fact that there is no marriage in heaven (Matt. 22:30) has no bearing on the Christian in this present life. Every verse in the NT that pertains to music in Christian worship clearly specifies vocal praise.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related posts: Music & the Bible HistoryQuestions About Music 2Questions About Music 3

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Saturday, 17 August 2013

Music and the Bible: A Brief History


      As music is traced through the Bible and beyond, some interesting facts come to light. A distinction can be seen between secular and religious music, and between vocal and instrumental music, but in modern times these distinctions are often blurred and unrecognized. What can we learn from history that might help ensure the kind of music offered to God in our worship is both acceptable and pleasing to Him? 
Secular and Pagan Music:
     Jubal, in the midst of a godless civilization, was "the father of all those who play the harp and flute" (Gen. 4:21). Laben, an idol worshiper (Gen. 31:19, 30), used "timbrel and harp" on special occasions (Gen. 31:27). The wicked in Job’s day would "sing to the tambourine and harp, and rejoice to the sound of the flute" (Job 21:12). Idol worship in Babylon was accompanied by musical instruments (Dan. 3:5, 15; cf. Isa. 14:11). 
Music Among the Jews:
     While singing appears to have been an important part of Israel’s worship from earliest times (cf. Job 35:10; Exod. 15:1-2; Num. 21:17; Judg. 5:1, 3; 2 Sam. 22:1, 50; 1 Chron. 6:31), the use of instruments of music was something adopted later in their history. After centuries among the Egyptians, when the Jewish people were finally delivered, Miriam and Israelite women went out "with timbrels and dances" (Exod. 15:20), and this came to be a customary form of celebration among the Jews (cf. Judges 11:34; 1 Sam. 18:6; Luke 15:25). When Saul was reluctantly anointed king, it seems that musical instruments accompanied the subsequent prophesying, or perhaps the previous animal sacrifices on the high place (1 Sam. 10:5; cf. 9:12). David was a skillful harp player (1 Sam. 16:16-23) and appears to have introduced musical instruments into Israel’s corporate worship (1 Chron. 15:16; 23:5; Ezra 3:10). There is some question, however, if this was ever approved by God (cf. Amos 6:3-5). As Solomon considered all his vain works and pleasures "under the sun" (i.e. apart from God), he included among them having acquired, in the Hebrew language, shiddâ we-shiddôh (Eccl. 2:8). This is the only occurrence of this expression in the Bible and its meaning is uncertain. While some English translations render it "many concubines," others say "musical instruments of all kinds."
Early Christianity:
     Despite what had become a common Jewish practice (except in the synagogues where no musical instruments were used), the New Testament only records Jesus and His apostles singing, with no mention of instrumental music (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:15). The church was instructed to simply sing and make melody in the heart to the Lord (Rom. 15:9; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Singing is the only kind of worship-music authorized in the New Testament (Heb. 2:12; 13:15; James 5:13), and church history attests to only a cappella music (unaccompanied singing) in Christian worship for several hundred years after the time of Christ.
Later Church History:
     According to ecclesiastical history, Pope Vitalian I introduced the organ into the worship of the Roman Catholic Church in AD 666, although it was not commonly used until much later (M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature 7:425; 8:739). Early Reformation leaders, such as John Calvin, John Wesley, Theodore Beza, John Knox, and Martin Luther, opposed the use of musical instruments in worship, primarily because they considered it a Roman Catholic innovation. By the 1800s, however, after ample protest, most Protestant denominations had adopted the practice.
     With the desire and determination to restore pure New Testament Christianity, the leaders of the early Restoration Movement rejected all human innovations, including the use of mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship. They considered it to be one of many unauthorized papal, denominational, and worldly corruptions of the simple New Testament pattern.
     Absent from the New Testament is the practice of worshiping God with musical instruments. Since it is so common-place in today’s religious world, the natural question is: by whose authority was it established? The options are: ancient paganism and worldliness, Jewish worship, Roman Catholicism, or personal preference. However, if the Lord’s revealed preference is considered and the new covenant of Jesus Christ is the basis of one’s faith, there is clearly no divine sanction for it.
–Kevin L. Moore

Originally appearing in The Exhorter (Oct.-Dec. 1999) and republished in The Summit Chronicle 8:1 (March 2008): 15 http://www.churchofchrist.org.nz/assets/summitchronicle/Summit_Chronicle_Issue8.pdf

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