Church Music Part 2

Church music is often called sacred music. It is given the title sacred because it is set apart from all other music. In this second post on church music I am going to discuss a few things that make church music distinct. These are just general observations and are in no way exhaustive, but they show why church music is sacred.

  1. Church Music Provides a Common Heritage

Music changes frequently from year to year, styles come and styles go, but church music has some elements that are quite constant. Sure the expressions of sacred music have changed over the years, and that is needed. However, there is something great about our music that is passed down through the generations. In other words, our music has provided a common heritage for our people. My great-grandparents and I sang some of the very same songs. Of course there are some church songs that come and go, never to be heard again (i.e. Into Marvelous Light I’m Running or God of Earth and Outer Space), but there are songs like A Mighty Fortress is Our God that we have been singing for almost 500 years. There is something to be said for the fact that the young and the old can gather together and sing songs together from memory. There will always be a need for new music, but only the church has music that can be treasured by generations of the past and the generations to come.

2. Church Music is Corporate

One of the key factors that sets our music apart is that it is written to be sung by groups of people. The sound of the coin hitting the bottom of the offering plate is not the sweetest sound to our Lord, but rather I believe that He is greatly pleased by the sound of the unified voices of congregational singing. When the church gathers and sings a song from our common heritage, the sound that follows is unmatched anywhere else. Our music is not just preformed, it is not just well written notes and melodies, it sung. It is all about the voices of the people working together to glorify God.

If you ever get the chance to attend chapel at Southeastern Seminary you should definitely take advantage of that. I quickly found that the preachers are exceptional, including some of the greatest preachers in the nation. However, it was the music that really set the chapel experience apart. It isn’t the quality on the stage that will stand out to you, but the voices of the seminarians that will really let you know you are in a special place. Obviously the crowd is primarily men, who for the most part are the gender of silence when it comes to congregational singing, but this is not true in chapel. These young preacher boys, talented or not, sing loud for the Lord. The whole crowd sings, and there is truly nothing like it. I wish everyone could hear the sound of hundreds of preachers and theologians singing loud the words, “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.” That sound is proof that our music is sacred, and that is the sound heard every time the church gathers.

3. Church Music Praises God

The most obvious distinction about church music is the worship factor. Our music is written to bring praise to God — we sing with purpose. Just look at the lyrics from a few of our sacred songs, Lord I lift your name on high, Oh praise the name of the Lord our God, bless the Lord oh my soul, how great thou art, holy, holy, holy, Jesus Lamb of God worthy is your name, etc. The words of our songs are very intentionally written to praise the Lord. However it is not just the words themselves that are worshipful, but the music itself. In Psalm 33 the psalmists declares that the Lord is to be praised with singing and with various instruments. The Lord is worthy to be praised, and it should be done with in as many different expressions as possible. Our music is sacred because it praises God.

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

-Psalm 33:1-3

 

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Church Music

Music has always been and will always be a major component of the Christian faith. The styles of that music, and even the way it is used has changed dramatically over the years, but nevertheless there has always been music. When Jesus and his disciples left the upper room after the Last Supper they sang a hymn together; Paul charges the Ephesian church to sing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs; and even in the Old Testament we have the vast collection of Psalms, some of which were written for the choirmaster. The Jewish religious system had an entire office devoted to music. Our modern churches do the same thing, the second hire every church makes after the pastor is a minister of music, song director, worship pastor, or whatever you want to call it. The point is, that music is VERY important!

Over the next several weeks I am going to be writing on the issue of church music. I am going to cover the practice of church music and the theology/philosophy that is behind it. First, I want to just point out some of the reasons why music is so important to the faith.

  1. Music teaches the theology

The first reason music is so important to our faith is that it teaches theology. I am an analytical person, which at times makes me a little less than artistic, so this first point comes from that perspective. Most people think of music in strictly artistic or even emotional terms, but we cannot limit it to just those realities. Music speaks to multiple aspects of our persons. Music is artistic, but it is also didactic.

I am not naive, I know that most people don’t learn their theology from my sermons, they learn it from the songs we sing. The lyrics, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, ” forever shape our doctrine of grace. It teaches us that our salvation comes to us not because we deserve it, but because we are wretched without His grace. Also reflect on the lyrics of this classic children’s song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.” That song has been used for many years to teach children the story in Luke 19, and you may think it is cheesy, but I come back to it every time I read teach that section of scripture. Whoever is picking the songs, must recognize that he or she is actually informing the theology of the church, whether he knows it or not.

2. Music stirs emotions

Teaching and preaching are my passion, but music does something words cannot do–it stirs emotions. A song, with or without words, can make you stop whatever it is your doing and just think, reflect, or even cry. I know it isn’t manly to talk about such things, but it is true. Only a song can take you back to “that moment” whatever it may be, only a song can make your mind be silent to hear your heart think. Think about just how different it would be to watch Rocky run up those stairs without the music in the background, or how boring Star Wars would be to watch with out the genius work of John Williams. As a communicator I am almost envious of the power that can be communicated with even the most simple song.

For this reason, music is of the upmost importance. We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and music helps us do that. Even the most intellectual, heady type person needs music to help him or her relate to God. If not, we are leaving out a vital part of our worship, and neglecting a large part of God’s design for humanity. We are emotional beings, and there are some things that can only be communicated through song.

3. Music is memorable

Thirdly, music is memorable. Think about all the songs we can quote word for word, even the ones that we haven’t heard for many years. For some reason, the lyrics to songs just stick with us forever. I can flawlessly quote almost all the worship songs from the 90’s and early 2000’s because that is the music we sang week after week in the church a grew up in. I know the words of almost all the hymns because those are the songs we sang at the first church I pastored. I will always be able to know those songs, and know them well. Church music is important because when the people leave, they may forget the words to the sermon, but they cannot forget the words to the songs. They may be able to quote the pastor on Sunday afternoon for their twitter accounts, but people can sing the songs for the rest of their lives. If we can remember the songs so well, we must be more intentional about the music of the church.