Thursday, February 16, 2006

Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs

Last week I wrote a number of posts on the improper application of genuine truth. In that regard there is another area I would like to comment on; the sometimes contentious area of music in the church. Over the years I have heard people advocate all sorts of things when it comes to music. Some believe you can actually define a godly musical beat and that anything that smacks of syncopation has escaped from the abyss. Others operate as if only hymns that are more than one hundred years old are proper to sing in church, even though some of these same people listen to very contemporary Christian music when they drive in their cars or relax in their homes. Then there are those who will sing only the very latest music no matter how trite and self-absorbed the lyrical content. And then there are the "psalm singers," some of whom allow instrumental accompaniment and some of whom do not, but no matter, each tend to be convinced in their own minds that they are a cut above ordinary Christians when it comes to the worship hierarchy, singing as they are the inspired text.

What are we to make of these things? Is there a godly music that Christians should sing? What is appropriate in church and when it comes to music in general?

My own thinking is that first emphasis should be placed on the lyrics. What is being said? Is it true and right and honoring to God? No one would argue that we cannot put the psalms or other portions of the Scriptures to music. Indeed we should and it is often a great way to help us memorize the word of God. But there is no biblical reason why we need to restrict the words we sing to the words of the biblical text. The Bible itself speaks of speaking to one another with "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19) and no amount of exegetical gymnastics can properly interpret that to mean "psalms, psalms, psalms!" However, the passage does alert us to the need of singing truth whether we are speaking about the triune God or about our relationship to him. What we say matters! We are to speak and sing the truth in love at all times.

In terms of the music itself this is largely a matter of personal taste and tradition. This is not to deny the common sense observation that some musical forms do not fit the message we are seeking to convey. There is happy as well as sad music, beautiful as well as sensual music, majestic as well as light and airy music. If we are going to glorify God in our songs, the words and the music must be in synch with one another. But having said that, what appeals to one person or group may not appeal to another. When it comes to music many people tend to have very strong likes and dislikes and there is nothing inherently wrong with that as long as they do not absolutize their particular musical tastes and insist that everyone conform to their preferences.

It is important to remember that God is a God of variety. Just look around at the natural world he has made. Birds, for instance, come in a huge variety of sizes and colors and each has their own distinctive song. If this is true of birds, how much more of those who are made in the image of the Creator himself. Music is a wonderful gift of God. Without a doubt he is the greatest musician of all and he has given human beings the priviledge of being able to appreciate and use this gift in his service. It is a tragedy when music divides Christians. We all need to expand our musical repertoires and learn to enjoy the array of gifts that God has given to his people.

10 comments:

Deborah said...

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless Your heart
I'll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus

King of endless worth
No one could express
How much You deserve
Though I'm weak and poor
All I have is Yours
Every single breath
I'll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it
And it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus

I'm coming back to the heart of worship,
And it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it
And it's all about You,
It's all about You, Jesus

Deborah said...

Thank you for putting to words what I have been thinking for quite sometime. I have heard and sang many contemporary "scriptural" songs over the last 20 years and have thrown out much of what I deemed as "anointed" music whenI realized the lyric message was not pure doctrine. Music can be powerful and can touch the flesh and the soul and make people think they are having an encounter with God, and that their faith is being built by this "encounter" of praise and worship music. I realized that praise and worship is not an event but rather a heart attitude toward God; not something we "do" but something we have.

I have read and heard so many comments and teachings about the evils of music - the beat being the manifestation of animalistic or satanic origin to the sound being too contemporary, therefore worldy. Words are the most important; words say what the heart is speaking. Whether a hymn or pslam is written in older english; written by men and women from a "gentler" era does not make the song any holier and purer than a psalm or hymn written by a contemporary man or woman. Many christians believe this and I understand why. I wonder if these people know that a lot of the lyrics to these hymns were written to bar songs from the turn of the century. Is this generation of christians not holy enough to write lyrics to hymns and psalms? Proper application of truth certainly does matter. Improper application has caused fear within the church regarding music, and some wonderful songs to the Lord have been banned because of when they were written.

Improper application of truth has caused many undiscerning christians to build a god in their own image. No doubt. Unfortunately for some, their only teaching comes from hymns, whether of the older kind or contemporary.

Does that mean I ignore "worldly" music. No. I love music. I love the mood it can set. I love how a great song can give me a pick up, like those songs that I call great driving music. The ones that evoke a feeling of sunshine and wind blowing in your hair. I love those! I love classical music. Even though there are no words, I love the moods of the various artists. I love the old vintage jazz music. Saying this though does not mean that I embrace all the lyrics. I am very discerning when it comes to those. There are many love songs that really are not love songs at all. They are sad break up songs that lament adultery. God has richly given us all things to enjoy.

God has given us the ability to know right from wrong and having someone absolutize music is leaning too closely to formalism and legalistic. Falling into legalism is easy. I have done it many times and it always stems from fear and a way to stay in control.

There is one song that sums up what you said. It's called Heart of Worship and one line....It's all about You, Jesus reminds me of who is on the throne. It is all about Him, not us. I mistakingly post the lyrics to the song before I posted my comments. Sorry.

Peace and grace to you,
Deborah

JLF said...

Prof. Wellum:

You post this on a Thursday afternoon. Interesting. Just out of curiousity, were you by any chance, in chapel on Thursday morning?

The one thing I'll say is more frustrating than anything is when people insist that we need to sing hymns because of their increased theological depth, but then they'll sing all the old hymns in keys that no-one over the age of 12 can hope to carry a tune in.

Like it's somehow glorifying to God to sing good songs poorly or to mouth the words because I can't hit the notes... Give me a simple, biblical song in a key that I can sing in any day.

Kirk M. Wellum said...

Thanks for your comments, Deborah. We can't go wrong if we remember that it is all about glorifying and loving the triune God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. This applies to music as to every other area of life.

Kirk M. Wellum said...

Ah Julian you are quite the detective. Actually, I missed all but the last song in chapel and my post just happened to be on music! But nonetheless I hear what you are saying. Instead of fussing as much as people often do about the kind of music, there needs to be more attention given to doing it well. Glorifying God calls for our very best. It is not enough to just get by, we should want to excel and present to God our focused efforts. If more thought were given to these matters we might not notice the age of a hymn but instead be lost in wonder, love and praise.

Richard said...

Hi,

At Marshall Memorial United Church in Ancaster, we have been enjoying a wide range of music in our contemporary services.

For our advent and Christmas services we played "Better Days" by the Goo Goo Dolls - performed by our band. This was before that song hit #1 on the CHUM FM Chart, where it has been the past three weeks. It just slipped down to #3 this week.

I'm subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading your future entries.

Kirk M. Wellum said...

Thanks for you comments Richard. Its nice to know that someone in Ancaster (outside of the good people at Pilgrim Baptist Fellowship) has found my weblog. I hope you will enjoy reading it and find it interesting and helpful. All the best.

Kevin L said...

" I wonder if these people know that a lot of the lyrics to these hymns were written to bar songs from the turn of the century." ~ Really, which ones? Are you just regurgitating uncomfirmed information? Look up "bar song" in musical history...it is NOT pub music, silly repeater of other's myths...check out this article which demolishes that time-honored ancient urban legend: http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/18516.htm

Anonymous said...

Do you really thinkg we can mix something worldy with something holy? Rock and roll is the devil's music, it has no place in the House of the Lord. Look up John Todd, he explains it well. Christian rock is not okay. When I became a Christian I listened to it for years thinking it was right, but then God revealed to me what it truly is, and it is just another way the devil has weasled his way into the church. Just like wiht denominations. We should be set apart from the world. Don't fall for the devil's tricks, sin is beautiful, fun and enticing. The Word of the Lord is our defense, it is sharper than a double edged sword. STAY AWAY from worldy things.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. -Colossians 3:16 KJV

God Bless

Kirk Wellum said...

I'm sorry Anonymous but I cannot agree with you about "rock and roll." All attempts to categorize music as "worldly" or "spiritual" based on the type of music is arbitrary and without biblical foundation. In choosing music the emphasis should be placed on the content of the lyrics which means that the accompanying music should not take away from but enhance the message in a way that is consistent with the culture of the musician and the congregation. But beyond that the Bible gives us a great deal of freedom.

Ultimately what appeals to one person may not appeal to another because of personal preference or because of the hangups of their own background and upbringing. Each of us must worship the Lord in faith and if we cannot sing or play a certain style of music in faith we should not. But that does not give us the right to legislate what is appropriate for everyone else. Christ has called us to freedom and we should rejoice in him.