Sunday, June 20, 2010

What Kind of Music Should Be Used in the Church

I've heard some criticism of our church music. At least three different visiting preachers have said something. A visiting family member has said something in the past and a couple of church members through the years. Here's what I have heard from the preachers. First, visitors don't know these songs. They're unfamiliar to visitors. Another preacher asked why we used "orthodox" music, him meaning something like "Eastern Orthodox" or perhaps Anglican. The third said that the songs were hard to sing and that they had a "high church" sound.

Don't get me wrong. More people have liked our music than not. What's not to like? No one says the music is "bad." The criticisms are superficial, really. I think that I ought to listen to criticism. I do. But when I'm criticized, I wait for something substantive, something that refers to scripture.

The essence of the church music issue is simple to me. Here it is. Does God like our music? Why do I ask this question? Because the music is being played and sung to God. God is the only audience of our music. Truly the congregation is a bystander. The assembly overhears the communication to God. The church benefits, but in a secondary kind of way.

I believe there are priorities to church music, regarding this question of whether God likes it or not. Surely we must be able to sing it. It must be singable. If it isn't singable, then it can't be sung. But whether it's easy for us to sing it or not isn't that important a consideration. I know, by the way, that our songs are singable, because they have been sung much longer than the songs found in almost all more modern hymnbooks. Their singability relates to what people are accustomed to singing today.

When someone says something like "orthodox" or "high church," I understand it as it relates to his perspective, but I can't help but think it's ridiculous. If someone says that visitors won't know the songs, I don't even care. I'm really ambivalent about that criticism. Our music is for our church to sing to God. More than ever people not in the church will not understand church music. I'd be happy to know that's the case. Most of them can't praise God anyway. They're going to have become a part of the church and learn how to praise God.

The kind of thinking that results in these types of criticisms is damaging and even destroying church music. What's at stake is God isn't being worshiped. I believe God is a lot less receptive of what we like than what we think He is. I say that based on what I see of what God rejects in Scripture. He will not accept from us what doesn't conform to His nature. So that ought to be what we think is important. Worship is giving God what He wants. It isn't giving God what we like and expecting Him to accept it anyway. Do you see who is in authority in that situation? We are.

I don't believe we have some kind of inside knowledge that is not available to other Christians. We haven't been sucked up into some kind of mystical understanding of God that is unobtainable to others. Just the opposite, we're looking at this as objectively as possible. We learn who God is. We learn what music says. This is more sure than what people make it today. What music says must conform to or fit with Who God is. And then there is a matter of degree. Some music is much better than other. Some merely passes. Other music nails it. I ask, "Why not nail it?" Why not try to have the music fit exactly with God? And then when it comes to the lyrics, the words, let's have them be the best words---most scriptural in content and best said. We can know what good poetry is, what good writing is. We should have God hear that. His name is excellent and the praise should be excellent.

Much music considered to be conservative, and, therefore, acceptable to God, is actually kitsch and banal, not fitting with God's nature. I could use other words to help you get the point: cheesy, commonplace, carnival, or trite. When you go past those horrible descriptions of the quality, you get to saloon and honky-tonk.

We want the best for God. We seek out the fitting tunes or compositions with the best possible words. We examine the psalms as a model for the content. Jesus said that when men come to Him that they start with "deny self." We've got to deny ourselves if we're going to come to Jesus. Self can't be a consideration in worship.

The following should not be considerations:
  1. What We Like
  2. What Is Easy For Us
  3. What Makes Me Feel Good
  4. What Do Unsaved People Like
I think that what God likes or wants has become the actual enemy in most churches today. We see the influence of man on worship. The music has become our music, not His.


Phil said...

Does either you or Pastor Sutton lead the sing at your church or do you have a song leader?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Pastor Sutton leads.

Duncan McGreggor of the Clan McGreggor said...

Would you say that the Oxford Movement was, overall, good or bad for hymnody? It was a high church movement in days when the music of the west gallery choirs were was becomin lewd, and many of the more ancient hymns (by Hilary of Poitiers, Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus, etc) and numerous more modern hymns such as Rinkart's "Nun Danket Alle Gott" and Luther's "Ein Feste Burg Est Unser Gott" came into English at that time. Many other great hymns came from the Romanists (after being purged from their idolatry, mariolatry, and other popish elements), including "Faith of our Fathers" by Faber - now a staple in many good remnant churches.

Phil said...

Do have the church eldership to lead the music because that's the way it has historically been done? Is the modern song leader an innovation of revivalism or some other modern movement?
Do you have a choir? I think you have mentioned an orchestra either here or on Jackhammer, but never a choir.

Kent Brandenburg said...

MacGreggor Clan :-),

We're nothing like the Oxford Movement and I would not advocate that type of direction. I'm supporting music not so tinged by modernism.


I don't see anything scripturally wrong with a song leader under the leadership of the pastor.

We have a choir. The psalms include the element of smaller groups than congregation.

Phil said...

I was not trying to imply that you belived that a song leader was unscriptural -sorry if my coment came of that way. I had heard you talk about Scot Aniol's book on music and how you require it for reading for the men you are training so that they can lead churches in worship later on once they are sent. I did not know if historically it was the practice in churches for eldership of the church to lead in congregational singing. With my other question I just wanted to know if your church had a choir. Does your church choir use just the psalms and other hymns? I know you don't use any Ron Hamilton like many IFB churches do.