It is an undeniable truth that musicians are some of the most influential people in western society. The young and sometimes not so young, frequently dress, speak and act similarly to their favourite musicians. Concerts of the late Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley were a spectacle of false worship, with frenzied crowds, crying screaming and waving their arms before their gods. The same may be said of modern musicians such as Beyonce and Lady Gaga — the power of music spans generations. John Lennon of The Beatles once claimed that his band were ‘more popular than Jesus Christ’. However flippantly he may have meant this, his sentiments hit upon a Christian raw nerve. Music has an inherent propensity to move people, a power that can rival true religion. As this weeks lesson focuses on worship and music, we must ask ourselves the question — what is the role of music in worship?
David is the biblical character who, more than any other, is associated with music. He was a skilful musician, singer and composer. After David was anointed King, the Spirit of the Lord was with him in a pronounced way (1 Sam. 16:13). David’s music was a manifestation of the indwelling Spirit of God and those around him were aware of this. In fact, the reason that David first entered the royal household was not as king but as a highly recommended musician. David’s music was a palliative for King Saul, temporarily relieving the depression and anxiety caused by the evil Spirit that plagued him. One bible commentary says of music, ‘In trouble and agitation especially it [music] soothes and cheers. It brings a tone out of the higher worlds into the spirit of the hearer’ (The Pulpit Preacher,Vol. IV, p.311). In other words music is an agency by which heaven and earth are connected. In one of David’s psalms he also furthers this through by saying that God ‘inhabits the praise of Israel’ (Psalms 22:3). Music is a channel through which the Holy Spirit moves on men’s hearts and as such is a spiritual force in worship.
David wrote many songs of praise, contrition, thanks and dedication to the Lord. He encouraged his listeners to ‘sing a new song’ to the Lord. He believed that we should praise and thank God from our own experience and not simply sing to God from the encounter of our forefathers. David’s music touched a nation and as he led his people in worship, he also helped to keep them from idolatry.
Paul although not a composer, wrote to the Colossian and Ephesian churches about the use of music. To the Ephesians he asserted, ‘be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.’ Worship to God through song is meant to help keep us focused on God, encourage each other and give us strength to withstand trials. (I Cor 3:17 and Eph 5:19) Once again, Paul makes the link between the Spirit of God and music. For the Christian, singing psalms and hymns is prayer; for all communication with God is prayer. When we as Christian sing Christian songs, if we do not communicate with God, we are in vain, but when God hears our heart felt sentiment in song, we are indeed at worship.
It is not just Christians who use music as a form of communication with a Deity. Every religion has its music. You only have to look on youtube to find that even local gangs have songs they have composed, which contain the essence of their philosophies. While they might not be organised religion, I suggest that the lyrics and music contain the essence of what they worship and where their allegiances lie. The three Hebrew boys in Babylon were told to bow down when the music played — the music being a signal to worship. When they refused to bow down the king did not simply demand that they bow; rather, he asked the band to play again and that then the young men should worship (Dan. 3:5). Music was integral to the act of obeisance.
As a pathfinder I was taught to ‘keep a song in my heart and go on God’s errands’. There is a supernatural power in music that keeps us going. African slaves in America sang in the fields in the face of atrocities, Paul and Silas sang in prison and doors were opened, choirs have been put on the front of battlefields and the war was won. Music is a divine art form which God gave to man for His glory as a way of helping man to keep connected with God. It is no coincidence that music can move the heart like nothing else can. The atheist philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche said that ‘without music life would be a mistake.’ Although, as with much of God’s created purpose, the usage of music may have been changed, nevertheless, music’s spiritual capacity to move on men’s hearts deeply has remained the same.
The Biblical commentator, Albert Barnes, observed:
‘As music constituted so important a part of the worship of the temple, it is evident that the early Christians would be by no means indifferent to the nature of the music which they had in their churches. And as it was so important a part of the worship of the pagan gods, and contributed so much to maintain the influence of paganism, it is not unlikely that the early Christians would feel the importance of making their music attractive, and of making it tributary to the support of religion.’ (http://bible.cc/ephesians/5-19.htm).
Music is a controversial subject in the church today and many are keen to make sure that the music in our worship services is ‘tributary to the support of religion’.
If you want to start a fight in the church aisles, all you need to do is to begin a discussion on music. It divides churches across cultural, generational, conservative and liberal lines. Music preferences are taken as personally as the castigating of a family member and defended as fiercely. I do not want to enter into this debate. However, rather than simply looking at music as having a role in worship, I believe that the purpose of music is worship. Thus, music either draws us into true worship to God or into false worship. Many of our modern secular musicians are high priests ushering the unwitting masses into false worship. May we endeavour in our personal music choices and corporate worship to make sure that we always show allegiance to the one true God.
When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried Alleluia!
How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moved us to a more profound Alleluia!
So has the Church, in liturgy and song, in faith and love, through centuries of wrong, borne witness to the truth in every tongue, Alleluia!
Fred Pratt Green
Anthea Davis, a graduate of Newbold College, is a teacher living in London.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3307