Is people the audience of music? Most evangelicals and fundamentalists would not deny that God is one of the audiences of church music, but not its only audience. Evangelicals justify their obsession with what music people want with a few texts of scripture. I want to deal with those and I will, but first, we do know that God is the audience of the music of His congregation, whether Israel or the church. I spent about 30 minutes looking, so this might not be all of them, but look at these below.
"sing to thy name" (1 time)
"sang unto the Lord" (1 time)
"sing ye to the Lord" (1 time)
"sing praise to the Lord" (1 time)
"sing praise unto the Lord" (1 time)
"sing praise unto thy name" (1 time)
"sing praise upon the harp unto our God" (1 time)
"sing praise to the name of the Lord" (1 time)
"sing praise to thee" (1 time)
"make a joyful noise unto God" (1 time)
"make a joyful noise unto the God" (1 time)
"make a joyful noise unto him" (1 time)
"make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation" (1 time)
"make a joyful noise before the Lord" (1 time)
"singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (1 time)
"singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (1 time)
"O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard" (1 time)
"shew forth thy praise to all generations" (1 time)
"praise thy power" (1 time)
"praise thy glorious name" (1 time)
"praise thy works" (1 time)
"praising thee" (1 time)
"praise thy God" (1 time)
"praising and thanking the Lord" (1 time)
"praising and giving thanks unto the Lord" (1 time)
"praising and blessing God" (1 time)
"I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever." (1 time)
"praise unto our God" (1 time)
"praise unto God" (1 time)
"praise to God" (1 time)
"praise God" (2 times)
"make a joyful noise unto the Lord" (2 times)
"sing praise unto thee" (2 times)
"sing unto God" (2 times)
"sing unto thee" (3 times)
"praise thy name" (7 times)
"bless the Lord" (15 times)
"sing praises" (15 times)
"sing praises" (15 times)
"sing unto the Lord" (16 times)
"bless the Lord" (18 times)
"praise him" (18 times)
"praise ye the Lord" (24 times)
"praise the Lord" (33 times)
There are 190 of the above if my math is right (did it in my head). These start with people and people have God as their audience. These are directed to or toward God. Now how many in the Bible start with people and the audience is people? Are people seen to be singing to people?
I've said that I have observed that the chief audience of congregational music, the music of the church, in evangelicalism has become people. What is the biblical basis for this? What I hear at least from many evangelicals and fundamentalists is that the audience of the music is both, God and people. And the basis for people? There should be a lot of references, right? Here are the only ones possible:
Psalm 40:3, And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
Ephesians 5:19, Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Colossians 3:16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
These are the three verses, compared with at least 190 above. Good hermeneutics would require viewing the three in light of the 190. In our three examples, notice that without ambiguity, each say, "song in my mouth, even praise unto our God," "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord," and "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
In Psalm 40, unbelievers see the praise of believers and fear, so they aren't the audience, just spectators. That leaves us with the other two. "Speaking to yourselves" in Ephesians 5:19 is at least ambiguous as it relates to audience. "Speaking" (laleo) is not even the normal word for singing, and easily "to yourselves" could and perhaps should be understood as the dative of place, "among yourselves," informing us where this singing to God will occur -- in the congregation. With Colossians 3:16, "teaching and admonishing one another" could be connected with "the word of Christ" earlier in the verse, that is, teaching and admonishing one another with the Word as a separate action apart from singing to the Lord. In the TR (and critical text both), punctuation is placed between "another" and "in psalms."
The referenced activities -- speaking, teaching, and admonishing -- are participles, a fact which says that speaking, teaching, and admonishing will occur, but as a byproduct of something else. They don't stand alone as verbs, but in a subordinate position within the sentence. There are no examples of non-participial verbs, which instruct a congregation to sing to people. As a byproduct, teaching and admonishing will occur, but this isn't obligated as an activity. For that reason, believers should not consider people to be the audience. God was plain and persistent in stating the direction a congregation should impart its singing and melodies -- to God.
1 Corinthians 14:26 ends with the imperative, "Let all things be done unto edifying." I've heard an argument from that, which says the purpose of singing in the church is edification. The edification of saints is not the enemy of singing to God. One should assume that music God accepts and appreciates will edify saints as a byproduct. God honoring music will edify, but that isn't its purpose.
Some also argue that several of the psalms actually do have instruction for people in them. As an example, I'm talking about something like Psalm 33:1, which starts out, "Rejoice in the Lord." The content of the psalm commands believers to rejoice in the Lord, and the argument is, that since there is a command to people at the start of the psalm, it was directed to people in its singing. The latter doesn't follow the former. Let me illustrate.
Let's say you have a popular entertainer singing to his audience, and the lyrics of the song were these:
Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
Those are the first two lines of what some consider the greatest pop lyrics of all time, Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." Did Dylan sing the song to someone dressed so fine that in his prime he threw some bums a dime?
The chorus reads:
How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone
Was Dylan's audience homeless? Was Dylan singing "Like a Rolling Stone" to homeless people?
My point is that the content of lyrics or text does not determine the direction or audience of the song. Everyone knows that, so they shouldn't try to make a point with it. We should pay attention to all the places in scripture that in fact make a point about where singing or playing in worship or congregation or church should be directed, and all of that is only to God.
If I said, "put all your money in the bank," you would not conclude from that, "put all your money in your mattress." If you put your money in your mattress, it would not be because I told you to put your money in your mattress, because I said to put your money in the bank. If God says, "sing to Me," you would not conclude from that, "sing to people." This is simple, so why do people still insist on considering people to be the audience for church music? There isn't a biblical reason, that is, a faithful reason.
When we look at the history of sacred music, we see a shift in the late nineteenth century, where men like Charles Finney saw music as a method for drawing and manipulating people. The song leader became an important figure for conjuring this atmosphere. Finney justified these types of tactics with his Pelagian theology. That change in the audience of the music and, therefore, its purpose, transformed church music, sending music in a trajectory to where we are today. Churches now obsess on the pragmatic effects of music in the church. Everyone knows this.