Music Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Music

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"He who sings prays twice" (credited to St. Augustine). Music and song amplify the words of prayer and praise by giving them wings. It is difficult to conceive of Christian worship without music. Chants and hymns, psalms and canticles, cantatas and masses, organs and trumpets — Christian faith, anchored in the faith of Israel, floats on the chords of music. While a few more gnostic sects and denominations have repressed music and instruments as somehow taking away from the purely spiritual, the church has always accepted it as one of God's greatest gifts and the epitome of praise. Christians have seen music as an echo of the "music of the spheres," the eternal concert of praise in heaven.

In Scripture

"Jubal . . . was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe" (Gen. 4:21).

"Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: `I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea'" (Ex. 15:1).

"To the sound of musicians at the watering places, there they repeat the triumphs of the Lord, the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel. `Then down to the gates marched the people of the Lord'" (Judg. 5:11).

"Then an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand, while David was playing music" (1 Sam. 19:9).

"David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their kindred as the singers to play on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise loud sounds of joy" (1 Chron. 15:16).

"It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, `For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,' the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud" (2 Chron. 5:13).

"The priests stood at their posts; the Levites also, with the instruments for music to the Lord that King David had made for giving thanks to the Lord — for his steadfast love endures forever — whenever David offered praises by their ministry. Opposite them the priests sounded trumpets; and all Israel stood" (2 Chron. 7:6).

"Your solemn processions are seen, O God, the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary — the singers in front, the musicians last, between them girls playing tambourines" (Ps. 68:25).

"O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it" (Ps. 98:1 - 7).

"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25).

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God" (Col. 3:16).

"The twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, `You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created'" (Rev. 4:10 - 11).

"And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth" (Rev. 14:2 - 4).

Points to Ponder

With music, human beings exercise their calling as image-bearers of God by harnessing the very sounds of creation for God's praise. It begins with the human voice, to which is added poetic words and the rhythm of nature. Then people discover all kinds of creaturely elements, from wood to metal, animal skins to reeds, to fashion a staggering variety of instruments to add to this praise. Music is a way of taking the cacophony of creation and cultivating it into a "new song to the Lord."

Psalms At the heart of the Old Testament stand the psalms. The very word means "music," whether sung or with instruments. It is clear from the ancient introductions appended to many of the psalms that they were meant for singing in worship, and the antiphonal nature of the literary structures shows how they were often meant for choral singing. The psalms remain today the bedrock of the church's singing.

The premier musician of the Bible is King David It is important to note that the premier musician of the Bible is King David, who was also a great warrior and statesman. That his musical skill is featured so prominently despite his other accomplishments shows the importance of music in Israel. David also organized the musical elements of Israel's worship, overseeing and no doubt underwriting its vast musical repertoire (1 Chron. 15:16).

Temple worship employed most of the kinds of instruments we use today: strings, wind, percussion, and brass. Scholars say that Second Temple Judaism employed whole orchestras with a minimum of twelve and as many as thirty-six instruments. But it was no mere cacophony; the goal was always unity, and it was thought that the more unified the playing and singing, the more fitting and glorious the praise (2 Chronicles 5:13).

Singing must have been also a prominent aspect of early Christian worship There is little mention of music in the gospels, but in Acts we find the inspiring scene in which Paul and Silas sing hymns of praise to God in the night while in prison in Philippi (Acts 16:25). Paul mentions Christian song in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, indicating that singing must have been also a prominent aspect of early Christian worship. The psalms he mentions were likely the biblical psalms, while hymns were early Christian texts put to music (possibly Phil. 2:5 - 11 and others), and spiritual songs were likely an ecstatic, Spirit-inspired form of music.

Heavenly worship In Revelation's visionary pictures of heavenly worship, music and song also play a prominent role, as angels, living creatures, and saints all sing exuberant songs of praise to God and to the Lamb.

Throughout history, Christian liturgy was often sung rather than merely spoken. This has several advantages. It slows down the words and gives them extra resonance and meaning. Music and song in a liturgical setting also allow the worshipping congregation to participate in worship rather than leaving it to the leaders. Among the Reformers, John Calvin especially advocated singing the psalms in worship (following the monastic tradition), inspiring a movement that spread through worship.

Contemporary church worship In contemporary church worship, music and praise have become nearly synonymous, with "praise bands" and a "praise and worship" liturgical style. While this music can often be emotionally stirring, it sometimes lacks the cohesion and biblical grounding of music that is embedded in the liturgical movement itself.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.