Sunday, May 26, 2013

Music in Worship - OHC talk

These are my notes from my talk at One Hope Church on May 26, 2013. Audio available here.

Psalm 150
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty expanse.
Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
Praise Him with trumpet sound;
Praise Him with harp and lyre.
Praise Him with timbrel and dancing;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!
My mother was a music teacher and church choir director, so it was no surprise that I took to music early in life. One of my earliest memories of church music was attempting to play the organ during the service while my mother directed and my older brother did nothing to stop me. I was probably 3 or 4 at the time. Fortunately, it was turned off.

I started 'beginner band' after school in fifth grade playing percussion, mostly because my older brother was a drummer, making it infinitely cooler. I went on to play in band throughout middle and high school, marched in Southwind Drum and Bugle Corps, studied church music (voice) in college, and led music in local churches for over a decade. I also had the pleasure of working for the Atlanta Opera after moving to Georgia. I did my graduate internship at Nu├ži's Space in Athens, Georgia. I now live Athens, an internationally-known music city, and get to make music on a regular basis. Needless to say, music is a big part of my life.

I believe that music is a gift from God to all, like rain and the sun (Matthew 5:45). Martin Luther claimed that anyone who does not regard music "as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being."

Science about music:
  1. More soothing than Valium in relaxing people for surgery.
  2. Lullabies reduce stress levels in infants and stabilize their vital signs.
  3. Listening to a specific piece of music produces consistent brain patterns in the auditory, attention, memory, and movement portions of people's brains.
  4. People with a musical background are more likely to be able to learn a second language.
  5. Musical training prior to age 7 can have a major effect on brain development.
  6. Makes men more attractive. (Greg Hagues wonders if this can explain John Mayer...)
Music is everywhere, both intentional (what we choose to listen to) and incidental (what we hear whether we want to or not)...commercials, TV shows, movies, sporting events, on the street. Music is often used as a tool because it is closely connected to emotion.
  • Music can both reflect and affect our mood.
  • Music has a strong connection to memory and emotional recall ('that song takes me back...').
  • The Mozart Effect.
  • Use of music in marketing and retail.
  • Use of music in movies to 'set the mood.'
  • Music therapy.
Music in the Bible
Music has always played a significant role in the worship of God. Here are a few examples:
  • Genesis 4:21 (first mention of music in the Bible)
  • 1 Samuel 16:23 (David refreshes Saul with music)
  • 2 Chronicles 20:21 (Jehoshaphat appoints singers to lead the army in battle, though the army would not need to fight)
  • 2 Chronicles 29:25-28 (Hezekiah restores temple worship)
  • Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32 (songs of Moses)
  • Psalms (the hymnal of the Bible, instructions to musicians)
  • Luke 1 and 2 (Mary's Magnificat, Zacharias' Song, Angels' Song)
  • Revelation 15 (song of Moses, song of the Lamb)
  • Paul's Epistles contain several unidentified quotations that focus on the Lord Jesus and are regarded by many as early Christian hymns.
    • Philippians 2:6-11
    • Romans 11:36
    • Colossians 1:15-20
    • 1 Timothy 3:16
So what did this music sound like?
We know a good bit about the instruments used, which were especially prominent in the Old Testament:
Cymbal circa 500 BC
  • String: harp, lyre, lute, psaltery
  • Wind: trumpet, oboe, flute, shofar (not really used as a musical instrument)
  • Percussion: timbrel, tambourine, drums, cymbals
  • Voice: singing is present throughout the Bible, but the New Testament focuses on singing
    • Singing included solos, choirs, and congregations and included methods such as "call and response" between the song leader and the congregation.
    • Singing is encouraged throughout the Bible (i.e., Psalm 100:2).
    • Jesus and his disciples sang (Matthew 26:30).
    • Paul and Silas sang while in jail (Acts 16:25).
    • There was a variety of song types that were utilized (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). The people were largely illiterate and depended on a strong tradition of oral history.
How did they learn the songs?
They couldn't exactly go check out David's latest psalm on Youtube or Spotify! The earliest forms of music notation date back to around 4000 BC, but we have no notation of any form for the psalms other than the instructions found in the text (i.e., selah). Western music notation was developed in the 9th century AD and only indicated the relative pitch, which was utilized for music like Gregorian chants. It wasn't until the 14th century that rhythm was added. For that reason, the best we can do for music dating back past this point is to offer educated guesses. Needless to say, it would sound very different than what we are used to.

Biblical Teaching About Music and Worship
As we've already seen, the Bible clearly teaches that music should be a part of worship. The Bible also offers some characteristics of God-pleasing music:
  • Joy (Psalm 81:1)
  • Orderly (1 Corinthians 14:26-40)
  • Skillful (Psalm 33:3)
Much like we mistakenly refer to a building as a 'church,' we often refer to music as 'worship.' Music does not equal worship. Not all music is worship (obviously), but not all worship is music, either. Worship can take many forms, including prayer, bowing, dancing, giving, serving, preaching, and meditating on scripture. Romans 12:1 urges us " present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." Certainly this includes more than music.

Music can also be used in ways that are displeasing to God, even within the church. Nebuchadnezzar used music to call people to worship his golden image (an idol), something that Daniel and his friends refused to do (Daniel 3:7). The Lord refused to hear the songs of his people when they had become greedy and refused to follow Him, care for the poor, or seek justice (Amos 5:23). Both in and out of the church, musicians receive praise for their abilities and talents. As church musicians, we must constantly work to maintain the humility described in Philippians 2 and use these talents for others, not ourselves. If we lack humility and love, we are but a "clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1). I love percussion, but I don't want to listen to a clanging cymbal by itself for very long!

Music in the Church
Music has often been a significant indicator of other changes going on within the church over the past 2,000 years. In the New Testament and early church, we see congregational (everyone) singing as a part of the Christian meeting. By the Middle Ages, though, it had all but disappeared, due in large part to the move towards professional clergy and musicians. Music became more complex and more foreign to the congregations. Around 1,000 years later, Martin Luther (1483-1546) was instrumental in returning congregational singing to the Christian worship services and is regarded as "the father of congregational song."

John Calvin (1509-1564) believed that the only thing that should be sung as part of the Christian meeting were the Psalms and other songs from the Bible, seeing "hymns of human composure" as unfit for the sacred assembly. Calvin also was opposed to the use of instruments in the meeting, viewing them as "shadows of the Law" that Christ has fulfilled, but this position should be viewed in light of his overall opposition to the trappings of the Catholic Church, including its music and instruments (i.e., large organs).

Martin Luther, on the other hand, encouraged the use of hymns and wrote many himself, a position widely viewed to be supported by Colossians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 14:26 (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs). Luther was also a proponent of polyphonic (parts, harmonies) music as opposed to the monophonic (unison) music of the Gregorian chants.

Throughout history, the worshipers of God have both sung to God and about God. They have used music for worship and thanksgiving, as is demonstrated throughout the Psalms and elsewhere. Music is also used for edification (instruction, improvement), as seen in 1 Corinthians 14:26.

So how should we use music in the church today?
Aristotle sought to help speakers be more persuasive by identifying three crucial areas to keep in mind. He called them logos (truth), ethos (character of the speaker), and pathos (ability to stir the emotions). I think this approach can be helpful in describing how music should be used in the Christian meeting.

Logos (truth)
The music must be theologically accurate. Bob Kauflin states, "Worshiping God requires knowing God, which requires truth." In a quote attributed to many, the speaker says, "Let me write the songs of a nation: I don't care who writes its laws," suggesting that music has a tremendous effect on what we think, say, and do. Austin Lovelace explained that there is a theology in every hymn text and that what we sing is more likely to be remembered (how many of you learned your ABCs by singing?). Musical devices such as repetition, dynamics, rhythm, and pitch are all used to support learning and expression.

Ethos (character of the speaker)
We've probably heard the phrase, "before they will care about how much you know, they have to know how much you care." The character of the speaker has a tremendous affect on the hearer. Let's look at this from two perspectives. First, the relationship between the worship leaders (musicians, preacher, etc.) and the congregation. If either of these groups is thought to be less than genuine and authentic, it will affect their willingness and ability to worship together and follow leadership. (I was never good at putting on the 'worship leader' persona!)

Second, this also applies to the church and the community. The music of the church should be culturally relevant. This is now a new area of research, called ethnodoxology (if you are really interested, check out this lecture by one of my former professor, Dr. Boozer...yes, that is his real name). Music in the Bible was heavily influenced by the surrounding cultures (Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.), as evidenced by the instruments used. Given our technology and access to global media, this is true of us now more than ever. The most appropriate style of music for a local church is the one that the people have to study the least to understand (even if it is hip hop)...the music doesn't get in the way. Matt Redman refers to this as the idea of windows and doors. If a lost person looks (or listens) through the 'windows' of our church, will they recognize something familiar in the music. If they do, that 'window' may become a 'door' that the person can walk through.

Much like the way we dress for church, musical style is predominantly an issue of culture, preference, and familiarity, yet churches have been split apart by it. Ed Stetzer states, "A church in consensus would rather have Jesus than the hymn, "I'd Rather Have Jesus." A church in consensus will sing of God's greatness rather than need "How Great Is Our God" as their anthem. Music will not bring unity in of itself. Worship brings unity."

Pathos (stir the emotions)
Music's affect on emotion is almost universally understood, and there is no shortage of opinions about emotion's role in the meeting of the church. God created us with emotions, and the Bible depicts a wide range of emotions demonstrated in worship. Many things that occur during the meeting affect our emotions, not just music. Preaching, taking the bread and cup, fellowship with other Christians, testimonies, children, lighting, images...all of these can evoke an emotional response. For the church, "an emotional high is no substitute for true spirituality," but emotions can be used by God to bring about change in us. If the church and/or worship leaders are properly addressing logos and ethos, then an emotional response can be expected.

In Closing
John 4:23-24
"But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

Colossians 3:16
"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
Even God's gift of music can go wrong in the church. The story behind Matt Redman's song "Heart of Worship" is certainly an example.

Let us be thankful for and not misuse this wonderful gift God has given us: music.

Additional Reading
Wikipedia: History of Music in the Biblical Period
Bob Kauflin: The History of Congregational Worship
Ed Stetzer: Ending the Worship Wars Without a Truce
Luther and Calvin on Music and Worship
Why men have stopped singing in church

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