A modern take on Isaiah in the temple. Angels are worshipping Jesus.
In John chapter one of the Bible, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). There is no doubt at all that the Word, or “logos” is a direct reference to Jesus Christ himself. As a minister of music, one has to contemplate how music serves Jesus Christ himself. James Torrance said , “Jesus Christ is the leader of our worship, and leads us into the holy presence of the Father” [2009:20]. With this in mind, music should always be pointing an individual to Christ that the individual may come to him and give him the praise that is due his name. Music references in the Bible always link to making music for the Lord, “but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20). Looking at Jesus, we can take the roles he plays as prophet, priest, and king, and see how these roles come out in music as a reflection of the work of Christ himself.
Music has a profound prophetic worth in worship which is an instrument by which men and women, boys and girls are directed to Christ. The primary way in which this is done is through expounding truths of the Bible through song. In his book, James F. White states that, “Like prayer and psalms, hymns are usually addressed to God and frequently are recitals of God’s acts. But hymns add another dimension, the ability to shade our meaning by adding melody, harmony and rhythm.” [1981:140]. Indeed, music put with scripture serves Jesus as it adds a “new dimension” to our worship which connects us personally with him. Susan J. White adds to this when speaking about the psalms, “…they speak of the breadth of relationship between human beings and their God, and because they speak of it with such power and beauty, the psalms are among the best-loved elements in Christian common prayer.” [1997:58]. This can be especially seen in churches today in worship times. Often, one may see someone trying to sing the words on the screen or from the hymn book. The problem may be that they cannot actually sing the words physically, because the music is so powerful in helping that person understand who Christ is and what salvation means to them. They may be overcome by emotion, unable to sing due to welling up, thankful to Christ for what he has done for them. Surely then this is what music should do; it should help believers to move from focussing on themselves and the world to “turning their eyes upon Jesus” as the well known hymn invites us to do. As another example of how the prophetic role of Jesus is used in music in worship, one can listen to Handel’s Messiah and listen to how scripture has been lifted and put to music which calls on people to focus on Christ. This is a way in which music can serve the Word, the Word being Christ himself.
The second way in which music serves the Word is through its priestly role. This priestly role is the presence of music and liturgy in the Lord’s Supper. In the book Primary Sources of Liturgical Theology, Louis-Marie Chauvet says, “When the Apostolic gospel is proclaimed, Jesus Christ comes to his assembled congregation as its contemporary Lord. When he is present, there also His words and deeds become present and contemporary.” [2000:207]. Music in the priestly context can serve the Word by bringing all believers to the table to commemorate what the Word has done for us. In many contemporary churches, the communion service starts by a hymn or a song to Jesus. The words of the last stanza of a particular modern worship hymn summarise what music is trying to achieve at a communion service:
And so with thankfulness and faith we rise
To respond: and to remember.
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.
As we share in His suffering,
We proclaim: Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King.
(Stuart Townend, Keith & Kristyn Getty)
The particular line “We rise to respond: and to remember” sums up what music in the hymn is trying to accomplish. Music is being used as a vehicle to propel people into the presence of Christ and to get people to serve him. The hymn starts with a clear cut gospel message, lifted straight out of scripture and ends with what a believer’s response should be. This is a means by which music is serving Christ as it moves one from remembering his sacrifice and prompts them into action for him. Often one can see how music sets the atmosphere for worship in a communion setting. Music can be used in various ways due to its versatility in tone, pitch, metre, rhythm, key, and pace.
The last role that music plays in serving the Word is a kingly/shepherd-like role. We read in scripture that we are to be united in the faith, “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:19). In its kingly role, music unites believers together in the gospel, which enables Christians to worship. Music therefore is serving the Word because of this. As Christians, we have a common salvation, a common fellowship and a common practice. Music combines all these three elements together. Susan White explains, “The entire Christian community, singing in unison as with one voice, was an offering to God, the source of all unity.” [1997:49]. One can see how music has a uniting effect on Christians today. In Wales, a particular example of music actively playing its kingly role is the Welsh “Camanfa Ganu” (Welsh hymn singing festival) where Christians would come together from a wide area to join together to sing the doctrines of the faith. This still happens in churches and chapels all over Wales today. One may be quite familiar with a preacher in church saying “let’s join together to sing…” or, “let us praise God together and stand to sing…”. These invitations show how music serves Christ; the preacher recognises that the music will unite the congregation in praising God. This is one of the most effective means of bringing God’s people together.
In conclusion, music is able to serve the Word, (that is Christ), in relation to how Christ serves us. By imitating Christ’s role as prophet priest and king/shepherd, any ministry can be broken down into these three categories, including the ministry of music. Music in its prophetic role in serving the Word expounds scripture and renews truths to us. In its priestly role, it brings us to the communion table and to the High Priest himself. In its kingly/shepherd role it unites believers together. All this glorifies Christ, and so music serves the Word in order to bring glory to Him.
HARGREAVES, Sam and Sarah, How would Jesus lead worship?, Bible Reading Fellowship 2009.
VOGEL, Dwight. W, Primary Sources of Liturgical Theology. The Liturgical Press, 2000.
WHITE, James F. Introduction to Christian Worship. Abingdon, Nashville 1981.
WHITE, Susan J. Groundwork of Christian Worship. Epworth Press 1997.
Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre.
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