Putting Music in Its Place

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This post is about an article from "Wheaton Magazine", a publication of Wheaton College.

What is the proper place for music in our worship?  An alumnus of Wheaton College asked that question of several Wheaton grads and put together a great article on that topic.

The article is too long to re-post here; you can read the entire thing at this link:

Wheaton-Magazine: Made-for-Worship

There are a couple portions I want to highlight.

"Most importantly, Michael says, congregational singing provides an opportunity to define what we believe. 'Worship is very much tied to the flux of theological shifts in the church. As historian Dr. Mark Noll ’68 has noted, lex cantandi, lex credendi—what we sing is what we believe. Many evangelicals are singing a lot less, which begs the question: what is it we believe?'"

That's an important idea - that we sing what we believe - one that I think we may have lost sight of a little bit. I wouldn't say we sing anything we do not believe; but I think we tend to sing only a small portion of what do we believe.  The hymnal has been a great tool over the years to help congregations expand the theological breadth of our music repertoire.  Modern praise anthems don't seem to cover as much ground as the collection of songs in the hymnal can.

"The dean emeritus of Wheaton’s Conservatory of Music says, 'The biggest error churches make is not about what style of music should be used—rather it has been to equate music with worship.'...  ...he adds, 'It is a theological error and perhaps a biblical heresy to couple up music and worship the way we have been. We’ll never get the worship issue right until we separate the two.' According to Harold, worship is not music, but a lifestyle. 'It is a supernatural action whereby I make an offering to the Lord by faith, all the time and everywhere,' he says. 'If we assume that worship requires music—i.e., if we don’t like the music, we can’t worship—then we’ve created an idol, whether it is Bach or Jamie Grace. If I count on any one style to bring me to worship, there’s something wrong. Music is just like fire: It’s a great servant and a bad master,' says Harold."

That really strikes at the heart of the style war.  We have such a tendency to fall in love with certain songs and styles, that we forget they are simply tools to help us tell God we love Him.  Now, I'm not suggesting that any and every tune is awesome, simply because it's paired with a great text.  Most of us would acknowledge that some of the Psalms have been put with tunes that are exceedingly difficult to sing.  And there are some modern songs, with excellent lyrics, that almost all congregations would struggle to sing.  In those cases, I do think the tune itself detracts from the strength of the words.  However, there are so many beautiful songs out there - from age-old hymns to songs released last week; it's a shame to place any limits on our repertoire in the name of style.

I recommend you read the whole article; it has numerous great insights.  It also offers powerful encouragement to the many of us who feel like beaten-down soldiers in the style war.  We are marching in the rain, with no sleep, little food, loaded with equipment, and not sure whether we're heading in the right direction or exactly who our allies are.  But do not despair!  Many, many church leaders are struggling in the same way.  Never forget, too, that Jesus knows what we're enduring.  When he reaches out to hold our hand, it's not out of pity, but love.  And there is power in that grasp that has overcome everything.

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Long time ago Someone wrote that a congregation should be measured by the songs they sing, not the statement of faith. If that is true then most congregations are vacation bible school mentality at best.

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