Thoughts on music in worship, part 2
This is the second of three posts on the place of music in worship. Andrew Dionne, a member of the pastoral staff of Christ the Word and former intern at Church of the Good Shepherd, received his doctorate in music composition from Indiana University before attending Covenant Seminary where he received his M.Div.
Andrew's posts are adaptations of a series of sermons he preached at Christ the Word in the fall of 2004. The first in the series is available here.
Tim and I encourage careful consideration of these posts by those who wish to see the music and worship of their church rise above cultural elitism without falling into the idolatry of pop-culture emulation.
1 Chronicles 25: The Foundation of All God-Pleasing Music?
Music is a sensitive topic in the church--that is why the elders have asked me to preach on the topic. My intention in addressing this topic is not so much to change our worship--it is currently reverent and biblical. Rather, I hope to change our thinking on worship.
Don't get me wrong, there are a few changes that I hope to accomplish: we will be drawing from a wider range of musical styles in our worship: contemporary as well as ancient; we have seen and will continue to see the addition of a few other instruments in worship; we'll need to think about the use of instrumental music in the service.
Because music is so loved and passionately followed; and many of us have strong opinions and have had truly bad musical experiences in worship, we must make sure we are not sinfully holding to unbiblical ideas about worship music. Have our opinions been shaped by biblical principles or have our opinions been formed by personal preference and a desire for vindication?
Music is like politics--one can quickly form opinions without testing them by God's Word. For example, how many of us are for the war in Iraq simply because it is being led by a Republican president. Likewise, how many of us have formed our doctrines of worship based more upon the bad musical experiences we've had rather than on biblical principles.
There are certain foundations that are absolutely essential in order to form our thoughts on worship music.
Previously we thought about the power of music--for good or evil. As we take up this theme again we consider about the importance and prominence of music in the life of the Church.
We reject many things simply because we associate them with unbiblical practices. There are those churches who feel free to open up worship to anything. The NY Times recently ran an article about new emerging churches; the article was titled "Hip New Churches Pray to a Different Drummer." Here's an excerpt:
At Ecclesia in Houston and Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, Calif., artists in the congregation paint during services, in part to bring mystical or nonrational elements to worship, said Chris Seay, 32, pastor of the four-year-old Ecclesia, which draws 400 to 500 people on most Sundays.
Clearly, this painting business is idolatry and, most likely, these folks are worshipping to drums and guitars. So, we make the association between idolatrous painting and contemporary music, and start saying idolaters worship with guitars and drums or guitars and drums lead to idolatry. The article goes on,
At Spirit Garage in Minneapolis, in a small theater, congregants can pick up earplugs at the door in case the Spirit Garage Band is too loud. At Solomon's Porch across town, a crowd of about 300 takes weekly communion ''house party''-style, chatting with plastic cups of wine and pieces of pastry before one announces, ''Take and eat the body of Christ."
Again, Spirit Garage belittles the glory of the Holy Spirit of God. So, we make the association that those who use loud, band music have improper and weak view of the glory and grandeur of God. So, we condemn contemporary expression or loud music. And most likely those who are milling about with their plastic cups of wine and pastry are listening to contemporary music. We will grasp at straws in order to find something to condemn those things we don't like rather than the idolatry we should rightfully and strongly oppose. No doubt, their worship is irreverent and idolatrous, but there are fundamental elements even in their worship that can and should be used to the glory of God. The wrong use of something does not negate its proper use. Because the Israelites danced and sang before the golden calf in their idolatrous worship, we should not dance and sing in our worship of God, correct?
There are those who make such arguments...
They say we should place severe strictures on the style and instrumentation of music we have in our worship. For example, many say we should only use our voices in worship--no lifeless instruments:
Reg Barrow--who is president of Sweet Water Revival Books and a pastor in the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton (which traces its history to the Scottish Covenanters of the 17th century) mentions "the judaizing heresy of the use of musical instruments in public worship." He borrows his ideas from John Calvin who said the following: "...musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. ...Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us...is far more pleasing to him."
Elsewhere, on a Canadian church's website, I read the following, written to argue against using instruments in worship: "A mechanical instrument of music cannot worship God. Only with our voices can we sing praises to God. God does not wish to be worshipped with a lifeless instrument. ...We can not practice instrumental music by the authority of Christ, because Christ has nowhere authorized it, and because of this we will not have God."
This writer boldly claims that God does not wish to be worshipped with lifeless instruments...yet, at Christ's triumphal entry if the disciples of Christ had not been singing his praises, God would have made the lifeless stones cry out in His praise! The whole creation--filled with lifeless and soulless things--are telling of the glory of God and declaring the work of His hands!
We'll often find that as we look at the Bible, the Republican or Democratic answers are both incorrect and equally unbiblical. So also with music, we'll often find that our strongly held opinions are somewhat incorrect or unbiblical. We must seek to be biblical, fully biblical, in all things: This is what it means to have the mind of Christ. So, let's look to Scripture to understand the importance of music in the life of Israel and the Church.
Please turn to 1 Chronicles 25.
One of the Church's greatest musicians, J.S. Bach, wrote the following words in the margin of his Bible next 1 Chronicles 25: "This chapter is the true foundation of all God-pleasing church music." Well, perhaps Bach was right; this is what we hope to find out from this passage--the foundation of all God-pleasing church music.
First, In verse 1 we read that it was David, the king along with the commanders of the army that appointed the musicians for the Temple-service. When this appointment is taking place, David is nearing the end of his life; he has already appointed Solomon his son the King of Israel, and he is seeking to put the kingdom in order. The first few verses of chapter 23 of 1 Chronicles reads, "Now when David reached old age, he made his son Solomon king over Israel. And he gathered together the leaders of Israel with the priests and the Levites." The two things David cleans up are the worship of God and the political order of the kingdom. It is significant and shows the importance of music that David first gives directions for the worship of God; David gives his first and best attention to the worship of the people of God, rather than the political kingdom--which is his comfort and reputation.
Notice also, in verses 2 and 6, it mentions that Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthen--the three main appointees--were under the direction of King David. He was, it seems, intimately involved in the worship of Israel--certainly he was writing music; he was perhaps rehearsing choirs; he was building instruments. Obviously, David was no amateur musician. When King Saul wanted a musician to soothe his soul, he could have chosen any man in the kingdom. And his choice was David--a master musician. David was a Rubenstein, a Perlman, a Bach, a Glen Gould. It is not a coincidence that David is introduced in 1 Samuel 16 as "a son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him."
There is another element in this first verse which demonstrates the importance of music in the worship of God. The saying "the commanders of the army" in the first verse can either mean literally the army commanders or it can be referring to the chiefs of the service of worship. There is a sense in which we can call all of Israel, and especially those ministering in the Temple as the army of God. So, perhaps by saying "commanders of the army" it is not so much referring to the generals but the priests and head Levites. "No doubt service for the LORD is seen as involving total dedication and careful regimentation, and since God is Yahweh of hosts, enthroned between the cherubim housed inside the tent of meeting, work associated with the tent may be considered spiritual war."
Yet, it could also mean that the leader of the armies--the army generals--had a say in the appointment of the leaders of the Temple musicians. The armies of the Lord were led by musicians, at times, were they not? We read of this musical leadership when Gideon places trumpets in the hands of the 300 men who go fight God's enemies. The walls of Jericho are besieged by the sound of trumpets, horns, and shouts. In 2 Chronicles 20, we read this: "And when he (Jehoshaphat) consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, "Give thanks to the LORD, for his lovingkindness is everlasting." There was an intimate connection between music and the army. The leaders of the army would know something about the power and practice of music. These men whom David, as the commander in chief, would know and trust could be coming together to preside over the appointment of worship musicians.
Don't these facts--the fact that David was closely involved not just in its leadership but in the actual musical production; and the fact that the commanders of the army were connected with the appointment of worship musicians--demonstrate to use the importance of music in worship of the people of God?
Second, In the second half of verse 2 we read that "the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun...were to prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals." Now to work out what this means, "to prophesy with instruments of music," we need to spend some time looking at the place of these three men in David's kingdom.
All of these men are called "King David's seers" in 2 Chronicles 29:30. Now immediately what pops into mind when we hear the word seer is someone who predicts the future. This sounds like one of the roles of the prophets, who as part of their delivering of the Word of the Lord to the people predicted future events. 1 Samuel 9:9, when Saul goes to inquire of Samuel--the prophet, we read this interesting aside (it is set apart in parentheses in my version of Scripture): "Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he used to say, 'Come, and let us go to the seer'; for he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer. Samuel just a few verse down (v. 19) says, "I am the seer." So, it is natural to say that these men--Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun--were performing some sort of prophetic function.
Now this prophesying with musical instruments by these seers or prophets of the King could mean a couple of things. Each of these men has Scripture attributed to him. If you turn to Psalm 50 and 73 through 83, we in the heading of these psalms that they were written by Asaph. Heman may have written Psalm 88; Jeduthun was either the composer or the choir director who received psalms 39, 62, and 77. In other words, the Spirit was inspiring these men to write sacred songs. We have other prophets who wrote the inspired words of God--Moses and the later prophets. Here we see Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun composing sacred song texts--together with the Sons of Korah and King David himself. So, by saying these men are "to prophesy with musical instruments" it could be referring to their composition of inspired Scriptures. Prophets who write psalms rather than sermons (false dichotomy, I know...but you get my point).
It means more than this, though. Could it be that this was music in which the playing and singing of it was performed in the power of the Holy Spirit? Was this prophetic music making?
2 Kings 3:13-16 gives us a picture of a prophet who roused his prophetic spirit by the influence of music.
Now Elisha said to the king of Israel, "What do I have to do with you? God to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother." And the king said to him, "No, for the LORD has called these three kings together to give them into the hand of Moab." And Elisah said, "As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look at you nor see you. But now bring me a minstrel. And it came about, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him. And he said, "Thus says the LORD..."
This music had the effect of moving the mind of the prophet to God's prophecy.
Additionally, after Solomon builds the Temple and the priests and Levites are bringing the Ark into it, we read that "all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, and their sons and relatives, clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them one hundred and twenty priests blowing trumpets in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves hear with one voice to praise and to glorify the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the LORD saying, 'He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,' then the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God."
The presence of the LORD comes to the people when the blasts of 120 trumpets (have you ever heard one small brass section and the volume it can make?), singers, harps, cymbals are combining into some glorious praising of God. Like Ezekiel who is caught up in the vision of God's glory and falls dead before his presence, so are the priests who could not minister after the glory of God fills the Temple. Just as in Elijah's prophetic ministry he calls down fire from heaven, so these priests and Levites prophesy and bring the glory of God into the Temple.
And what about Apostle John in His revelation? Though he does not make music, he hears the glorious, God-honoring music of the elders and creatures and martyrs which fills the throne-room of God. The presence of God is again accompanied by the songs of His people. The text of this music becomes the prophetic word we read in our Scriptures. The prophetic vision that John receives is filled with music. And what glorious music it will be...
When we read that these men--Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun--were to prophesy with lyres and harps and cymbals it means much more than they composed Scriptures. They were to accompany the revealing of the will and glory of God through the music of the Temple. They were to lift the people's minds into the heavenlies. They were to cause minds to dwell on what is right, and good, and beautiful--which is the Lord Jesus Christ.
All of this can be summed up in this: the ministry of music was so closely associated with the prophetic ministry of the Word, it is not a problem to say "prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals." Just like we can say my contractor built my house--we don't mean that he actually pounded each nail in; he was so instrumental in the organization of the building of the house, we can attribute the work directly to him. Obviously we are not discerning the will of God by listening to an instrumental ensemble and then interpreting their tones, and timbres, and modulations and melodies. But music so closely parallels and beautifies the ministry of the Word that God is pleased to have music in heaven filling His throne room and as a vehicle to promote the praises of His people. John Frame says it this way, "Music glorifies God by investing his word with the vividness and memorability that by his grace drives that word into the heart."
Third, notice that the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun were involved in this ministry. Verse 7 and 8 say that small and great, teacher and pupil participate in the making of music. And verse 7 makes clear that all of these folks were "skillful" and "trained in singing." Again, this demonstrates the importance of music in the life of Israel, in that Levitical families (including daughters, as you see in verse 5) were dedicated to this ministry. There was clearly some sort of musical training going on so future generations would have skilled and trained singers in the Temple ministry. Music ministry was given to the gifted, who had been trained for the purpose, not simply relegated to the teen-age boy who likes to play guitar. (...would that we would spend more time training our talented teen-age guitarists!)
Fourth, the very reason we sing in worship can be derived from this passage. In verse 3, we read that Jeduthun and his sons "prophesied in giving thanks and praising the Lord." This is the purpose of music--we are to give thank and praise the Lord. But,If we follow all of the references in this passage and seek to look at all the references to music in 1 and 2 Chronicles--we read of a repeating motif: "for His lovingkindness is everlasting." Turn to 2 Chronicles 7:6. 2 Chronicles 7:6 says the reason we give thanks and praise His name is that "His lovingkindness is everlasting." It has a most interesting parenthetical statement. It says: "The priests stood at their posts, and the Levites also, with the instruments of music to the LORD, which King David had made for giving praise to the LORD--"for His lovingkindness is everlasting"--whenever he gave praise by their means, while the priests on the other side blew trumpets; and all Israel was standing."
This passage is giving a reason statement for music. The reason we make music is because His lovingkindness is everlasting. The reason we do it excellently and seek to make it glorious is because His lovingkindness is everlasting. The reason there is music in the universe is because His lovingkindness is everlasting. His everlasting lovingkindness is worthy of more than prose--that which is everlasting deserves an everlasting and earth-shatteringly loud song.
And you know what makes this song so glorious: as we sing, Jesus adds His voice to ours--Psalm 22 which is the song where we read "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" is a Messianic Psalm that can easily be read from Jesus perspective. And right in the middle of it Jesus says: "I will tell of Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You." Our God is a singing God. As we praise God and give thanks to him, we are joining our voices with Jesus Christ, and enthrone God--for only He is worthy, "for His lovingkindness is everlasting." We join our voices with the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end! God sits enthroned on the praises of His people.