Music in worship has been used since the times of the Early Church. For centuries, Christians have found music to be a tool that one can use to glorify God and to worship him. Not only this, but music in worship can enable a worshipping assembly to fulfil the commission that Jesus gave the church which was to proclaim, teach, build community, serve and pray. In his book Worship in Spirit and Truth, John M. Frame states that, “Scripture plainly teaches that God’s people are not only to speak, but also to sing, the truth of God…” [1996:111] One can see from reading scripture that we are told to sing for joy to the Lord, and to make music in his name. There is, then, biblical backing as to why we use music in worship. Adding to this, Frame goes on to explain that, “Music is closely related to the spoken word. Human speech has a kind of natural music about it: rhythm, timbre, and pitch play important roles in verbal communication… in one sense, then, all language is musical.” [1996:111]. Music enables a worshipping community to fulfil the commission that Jesus gave the church in many ways. Even from the Bible itself, we are told how music serves this commission: in praise (Pss. 8; 147-150) in thanksgiving (Pss.50:14; 100:4), in supplication (Ps5:1-3), in confession of sin (Ps.51), in confession of faith (1 Tim. 3:16), in lament (Pss 6; 10; 137), in pronouncement of blessing (Pss. 4:6; 80:3, 7, 19; 86:16) and teaching (Ps.1; Col. 3:16). So, in order to see fully how music enables the worshipping community to fulfil the commission that Jesus gave, it is important to break the commission down into sections and see how music helps these different areas.
Firstly, one part of the commission that Jesus gave was to proclaim. We have already seen from scripture that the Bible says that music can be used to proclaim the Gospel to people. Music enables us as a worshipping community to practically apply this concept to our lives and the lives of others. Music can proclaim the word of God through many ways. The “Call to worship” is one example of how music is used to proclaim. This may be done through an organ voluntary, or the choir singing an anthem. Often with the music, some liturgy is shared or read out, which encourages a readiness to listen to God’s word as it is being proclaimed. Even the liturgy or the words of the anthem, or the musical piece which the musician is playing can directly and indirectly proclaim God’s word to the assembly. The singing of hymns also proclaims the Good News. The Bible teaches us that we should sing hymns that proclaim what God has done and is doing. Talking about the feelings in the Psalms, Vaughan Roberts tells us that, “The objective reasons for those feelings are always given, namely the greatness of God.” [2002:75]. Indeed, Psalm 150 tells us to make music to God with a plethora of instruments. This surely approves the statement that music is able to proclaim God’s word to people. Proclamation is also evident through the music of speech and singing. This falls under the category of witness. One scholar, Harold Best suggests that, “worship and witness are seamlessly knit…” [2003:80]. If this is so, our music through singing should reflect a witness of a combined assembly singing and making music for the Glory of God as one joint act. This is primarily demonstrated through corporate singing, an ensemble praying and a choir singing an anthem together.
Music can also enable a fulfilment of the commission through teaching. From Colossians 3:16, we see that through our singing and making music, we can “teach and admonish” people. R. Kent Hughes observes that, “In our setting, we understand music to be the servant of preaching… Likewise, instrumental music is often based on apt hymn tunes and their association with well-known texts…” [2002:167] Music, whether it be through an instrument or through singing and speech has the ability to teach us. Practically, music is put to both scriptural song (Songs which are lifted from scripture) and non scriptural songs (songs/hymns which are in line with scripture, though not directly the words of scripture). Built upon this, the actual music that is written in relation to the words can vary dramatically. Music should always reflect the words of the text to which it is being written on. Through this, the gathered assembly are able to understand more of God’s word. R. Kent Hughes says, “The music leader must work with a hymnal in one hand and a Bible in the other. Are the lyrics biblical?” [2002:169]. Hughes asks a very good question here. Music is only able to serve the commission if the lyrics are scriptural and the music reflects this. If they aren’t then the music will do nothing to fulfil the commission that Christ gave the church as far as the teaching part of it goes.
Maybe an obvious thing that music does is to build community. This isn’t unique to Christianity. We can see through life how song and music help build relationships to other, whether it be national anthems, football songs or cultural folk songs. In our Christian worship, music is to build up the church. Frame explains that “Jesus promises a special blessing – indeed, his special presence – upon hip people when they are gathered in his name” [1996:30]. Not only this, but singing encourages us. As Vaughan Roberts writes, “Our singing should be one form of our ministry of God’s word to each other. We all need to be built up in our faith… So, when we sing, we are not simply a collection of individuals praising our God. We are a community addressing one another.” [2002:78] It is indeed true that we are a community addressing one another when we sing, and this music builds on that community. Psalm 95 talks about the collective worshipping God as opposed to the individual. This can be expressed through different styles of music and how music is sung (in unison, in a round, or harmony).
It is less obvious to see that music also fulfils the church’s commission through the act of serving. We have already discussed that music serves the preaching of the Word. However, there are other means by which the music can serve. One way is by providing music of reflection in times of communion, collection and prayer. It requires thoughtfulness, skilfulness and wisdom to choose suitable music for these occasions in worship. Music can enable worship in these times. Some churches even sing hymns in these times, and it is true that hymns and songs can be prayers set to music. Activities with the elderly and children may include music which serves them such as children’s songs, or meditative music to bring an elderly person into a state of mind where they can freely worship. Music can also be used to help disadvantaged people and the disabled. We read in the Bible how music can serve by bringing rest bite to those who have a disability. Music also serves an act of worship in a church service by linking different parts together and by drawing lines between different aspects of the service. Many churches do this by linking the hymn choice to the sermon. This is typical of Reformed tradition. Music serves by preparing one’s mind for the sermon, and then after the sermon, helps digest what has been said through the medium of music.
Finally, music also serves and enables through prayer. It is a vital fact to mention that silence can also be music. When we are silent before God, we are fulfilling the commission of the Church to draw close to God. On the other hand, music can put us in a position to prayer whether it by singing along, or by letting music fall as a background noise while we spend time with God. Frame says that music, whether it be silence or audible music can help in all aspects prayer [1996:102]. Music in prayer can link to the section on serving, whereby contemplative music may stimulate the brain, whether it be in the young, elderly or disabled, and can bring stillness to the soul. Lastly, music can often be put to the Kyrie in worship, or any sort of confession, rededication and blessing.
In conclusion, our music in enabling us as a worshipping assembly to fulfil the commission that Jesus Christ gave the church should ultimately bring us to a closer relationship with God. We have seen from this essay that music encroaches on all aspects of the church’s commission, and so, when used in a proper way, and to effect, it helps us as an assembly, not just to fulfil a commission, but to serve God. If we worship God through our music on Sunday and it effects us positively, then it is true to say that the rest of our week will be influenced by it. It is dangerous to undermine the value of music within worship, and equally so within the commission of the church. If we do value music’s use, then we as a worshipping assembly will be in better position to fulfil the commission from Jesus Christ himself gave in order that his kingdom might grow.
BEST, Harold M, Unceasing Worship, Intervarsity Press, Illinois, 2003.
FRAME, John M, Worship in Spirit and Truth, P&R Publishing, New Jersey, 1996.
CARSON, D A (Editor), Worship by the Book, Zondervan Publishing, Michigan, 2002.
ROBERTS, Vaughan, True Worship, Authentic Publishing, Milton Keynes, 2002.
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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Wow, that’s fascinating and I totally agree with article
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