Step into any church on any given Sunday and undoubtedly you will hear an arrangement of music and song as an integral part of the worship service. It may differ from church to church, with some churches exclusively singing out Hymnals, or perhaps the church is more modern with a full band performing the latest hits that can be heard on the contemporary Christian music scene. Regardless of the form, mode or genre, song is an indelible facet of church life.
Historically, song has always been part and parcel to the Christian experience, even stemming all the way back to its roots in Judaism. The book of Psalms found in the Scriptures, gives us insight that many of these were sung within the congregation. For example, Psalm 120 to 134 are considered “Songs of Ascents,” which were traditionally sung by pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem to attend the various feasts and offer sacrifices. As I heard it once said, that the Psalms are the Bible’s hymnal.
With song being so important in the life of the church, that its purpose must extend beyond just making us feel good or providing some type of emotional experience. I have been to many a church services, conferences and the like, that had really talented musicians and I have walked away feeling an emotional high, only to have it fade moments after stepping outside the door.
Emotionalism or enthusiasm, is not the main goal because that can easily be manipulated with certain musical arrangements, and furthermore the emotional experience can only carry you for so far until it evaporates.
There is a higher and greater design for song, or worship music, and it is not whether it gave you goosebumps or caused tears to roll down your cheek, rather what did it communicate about Christ?
Worship music is to be primarily didactic. In other words, it is meant to teach, communicate, and reinforce the truth of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We see this demonstrated in the book of Psalms where it contains a significant amount of teaching concerning the attributes of God, and we also see it in one of the earliest recorded hymns found in Philippians chapter 2:5-11. In this hymn, Paul cements the Christian understanding that Christ, though God, humbled himself becoming a man, dying on a cross, and now possesses a name that is above every name.
I remember hearing a statement, that worship music is not meant to teach theology, rather it is to draw us closer to God. Yet, how can you draw closer to God when the song isn’t clear on the God whom you are to be close to, or worse yet, presents a god that is not of the Bible.
Unfortunately we have much today that fits those categories, lack of clarity and presenting a false god. If you were to really listen to some contemporary Christian music, you will find that it can easily transition into being a song about a girlfriend or boyfriend, because the lyrics are hopelessly vague and obscure as to who the song is really about.
Now please don’t misunderstand me that I am on some crusade against contemporary Christian music. There are many contemporary songs that are God-honoring and Christ-exalting. We even sing some modern songs at Evergreen Baptist from time to time. The issue is not modernity versus antiquity (old is better than the new) as some churches might suggest, but what is the content or message a particular song communicates, that is the concern.
If Worship music is meant to teach and communicate Truth, then by very definition it must be God-centered as opposed to man-centered.
Does the worship move both heart and mind toward God? Are your affections stirred toward Him because of who He is? Is God clearly portrayed as both high and lifted up above all else including you? If answers to those questions are unclear, then there is something lacking in the worship.
I often imagine what an unbeliever, who had never darkened a church door, would think about a church worship service. Would they hear the distinct and clear message concerning God, Christ and the gospel within the song service, or would they hear something that sounds very familiar, something that is common within their world?
My prayer is that if an unbeliever were step into your church, listen to your worship service, that they would walk away and say “there is no doubt these people worship God!”