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.
- 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.