by Linda Clough
A starting place for discussing the issue of contemporary music. Three Biblical principles of God-centered worship.
The use of contemporary music in worship is not a new issue of debate. Church leaders, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, had extremely different viewpoints concerning the use of music in the church. Deciding on appropriate types of music for worship services has been an ongoing struggle. Where do we find the answer for such a controversial subject?
Although the Bible does not specifically state what types of music should be used in the church, it does give principles to guide our choice of music. Colossians 3:16-17 and Ephesians 5:17-21 are especially pertinent for the singing of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” in the New Testament church. These verses supply the basis for all we do as Christians, including the style of music we use.
Three Biblical Principles
Glorifying God in our music should be a priority. The music we use in church should not be based on our need for an emotional uplift, although we benefit emotionally from the music. Neither should the purpose of the music be to perform or to lift up ourselves. Worship is not about people; it is about giving God what He deserves. He is worthy of our praise, exaltation, and honor. In worshipping Him, He deserves our best. This type of worship leaves no room for mediocrity or randomness. Music that exalts man in word or style is inappropriate for worship.
Worship is not about people; it is about giving God what He deserves.
A Spirit-filled musician seeks the will of God in deciding what types of music should be used in church. Music that is guided by the Spirit will not focus on the emotions and desires of the person. This is not to say that people are not ministered to through music; however, it should not be the primary focus. If church music glorifies God and is Spirit-filled, the music will also edify and minister to the people.
Scripture also gives instruction concerning the mind and the thoughts upon which we choose to dwell. Philippians 4:8 tells us to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, excellent, virtuous, and praise-worthy. We cannot fill our minds with doctrines and words in our music that are Biblically unsound and, at the same time, maintain a correct concept of God. We become what we sing. The words of our songs indoctrinate our minds.
Church music should glorify God, be Spirit-filled and consist of sound Biblical doctrine. These criteria will supply the basis for determining what type of music is appropriate for worship.
Where does contemporary music fall when compared to this standard? First of all, contemporary music cannot be placed in a bundle and marked right or wrong. The dictionary meaning of contemporary is “marked by characteristics of the present period: modern, current; simultaneous” (Merriam-Webster). All music has been labeled contemporary at some point; therefore, in the strictest sense of the word, we cannot conclude that contemporary music is wrong.
The real controversy deals with the words and music of contemporary songs and how these songs are performed. Since the words present the message of the song, they must be considered carefully. Are the words scriptural? Do they cause people to focus on God or themselves? What are the words portraying or teaching? Do they exalt God or man?
Words are only part of the picture. We must also take a look at the actual music of the song.
Many contemporary songs have excellent words which magnify God; however, the words are only part of the picture. We must also take a look at the actual music of the song. Here are a few questions we might ask about the music based on the previously cited verses.
- Does the music glorify God or man?
- How do people respond to the music — in worship or simply an emotional high?
- Are the words subdued or covered by the music that accompanies them?
- What thoughts does the music bring to mind?
- Is the congregation more interested in watching the performers rather than thinking about God and focusing on worship to Him?
- Does the music point people to Christ or just make them feel good because they have attended church?
The performance of the contemporary song is also vitally important. A song may be scriptural and contain music that complements the words, but it may be performed in a way that draws attention to the performers themselves. It must be understood that God expects our best in worship just as He required the best in sacrifice. The music of the Old Testament temple was ordained of God and extremely organized. However, man’s best was not for the purpose of exalting himself but for worshipping God. When the performance of a song exalts the performer rather than God, the song is used for the wrong reason.
The music we use in church should not be based on our need for an emotional uplift.
Contemporary music involves various aspects. None of these elements are evil in themselves, but the danger is in drawing attention to man rather than glorifying God. Although God chooses to use man to minister to others, we must remember that we are only His vessels.
Should contemporary music be used in church? Examine the music through God’s Word, allow His Spirit to guide you, give God your best, and seek to honor and glorify Him above all else.
About the Author
Linda Clough is a wife, mother, grandmother, and music instructor in Lewisburg, PA. She ministers through music at New Columbia GMC. She holds a MEd from Clark Summit University. You can connect with her on Twitter @lsclough or on LinkedIn.