Sunday, March 15, 2015

Who Is the Audience of the Singing and Playing in Church?

The audience for most of the music for evangelicalism and fundamentalism is people -- do people like it?  I'm saying, the people versus God.  I'm not saying they don't consider God at all, but that people are what they most regard with their music.  Most have stopped fighting the idea that there is a music that God doesn't like, so it really comes down to what people like.  Most evangelicals directly relate style of music to church growth, which is to say that whether the people like it or not is foremost in their minds, even Calvinists (despite that blatant contradiction).  You read this in Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church, but you also hear it from conservative evangelicals (see here and here).

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.


Jeff Voegtlin said...


Thanks for this article. I know you use the Trinity Hymnal (Baptist Edition), but I am unfamiliar with it. Does it have songs of "testimony" in it? Like "Glory to His Name," "A New Name in Glory," even "Amazing Grace"? And, do you use those types of songs in your congregational worship?

I think that these are not the type of songs that you are speaking of generally, but they are what came to mind when I read your article.

Perhaps you are addressing the attitude involved in church music, and I'm taking it further?

If my questions are related to what you are addressing here, could you clarify sometime?


Farmer Brown said...

Good article. The point that music is for God is well made. For some reason while growing up, that always escaped me. It was not until I read Dean Kurtz' "God's Word the Final Word on Worship and Music" that this really gelled, that music is for God. I cannot vouch for everything in that book, but he makes that point well.

I wonder how this fits in with modern "special music"? Is there a place for solos or groups singing in front of the church? Is there a place for instrumental music?

To answer your question from an earlier post, we have met quite a few a years ago, but do not know each other.

The Preacher said...

What you have written is true in many churches today. What I take issue with is the following:

"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."

I would not think for one moment that hymns written by him such as "Come, Thou long-expected Jesus", "Oh, for a thousand tongues", "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" (One of my favorites and such a great hymm), "Come Thou long expected Jesus", and "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" are not manipulating anyone, but written unto the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ from the heart and soul of born again believers! Those are some of the most spiritual and biblical hymns ever written by man.

You will have to be more specific with your accusation against "manipulative" songs from Finney.

Jeff Voegtlin said...


Someone else might say this also, (so this can be deleted if needed) but you've confused Charles Wesley with Charles Finney. :)

Jeff Voegtlin

Anonymous said...

George, I think you have Finney and Charles Wesley confused,, Finney didnt write those hymns .

T. James

Steve Rogers said...

Ummm. That would be Charles Wesley not Charles Finney.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Jeff,

You might recognize that in my book on music that I had a chapter on this, but I didn't look at it to write this, and this is frankly better than that chapter. We use Trinity Hymn, Baptist Edition, and compared to any other hymnal that typically independent Baptists use, it is qualitatively different, so it is a taste that most people will not be ready for. However, once you adjust to it, it is highly, highly worth it. I think testimony hymns fit into the pattern of certain psalms, so at the percentage they are found there, I believe they are appropriate for worship; however, they might not be very good in many cases. Personally, I think "A New Name Written Down In Glory" is unacceptable, but it isn't a separating issue.

I'm addressing words and style or words and music.

Thanks for commenting.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Farmer Brown,

Were we at the same college?

Some of the psalms were written for smaller groups, and I believe that we definitely need to do special music, because congregational singing isn't skillful. The best singers should be singing more, because God deserves the best.

Kent Brandenburg said...


You're thinking of Charles Wesley (1707-1788) and I'm writing about Charles Finney (1792-1875). Finney didn't write any music, that I know of, although he was a musician, but I'm talking about the techniques he used, his new measures, which included the use of music.

Steve Rogers said...

Is Finney considered unbiblical because he gave a closing invitation to his preaching or because he used music to do so?

Kent Brandenburg said...


I think Finney was unbiblical mainly because his theology was horrible and his gospel was faulty. I've read his systematic theology and it is filled with pelagianism. There are some very accurate representations of him online that fit what I've read. Where he has done his most damage is with revivalism, that is, producing "revival" with what he called "new measures," which were a direct result of his theology.

I think invitations as a technique is bad; however, I argue for them here:

Here is a pretty good representation of Finney by Phil Johnson here:

The Preacher said...

To all who recognized my error, thanks. Since music was the context, I immediately thought of Wesley. As best as I can remember, Finney never wrote any hymns.


The reason it would be considered "manipulative" is certainly true when the assembly of the saints is used for evangelism. We would never have that problem if we would just obey the scriptures to GO INTO all the world... The church is for the instruction, edification and assembly of the saints.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Thanks for the helpful article.

I didn't quite follow the point in Colossians 3:16. Would you say that the command is "let dwell" (3rd pers. imper) on which the participles "teaching" and "admonishing" are dependent? Would you agree that Colossians 3:16 teaches that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs must be the "word of Christ," that is, either direct singing of the inspired text of Scripture, as with the Psalms, or word-saturated hymns that are the Word of God in the same sense that the Word of God is preached in a message? I think we would agree on this, but perhaps you have an insight that I have not thought of before.

It looks to me like the easiest way to point out in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 that the singing is still directed to the Lord is the fact that it specifically states in both passages that the song is "to the Lord." That is about as open and shut case as one can get.

Dear Steve,

For a study of how Finney helped to destroy the Second Great Awakening, please read the study here:

If you search the article here:

for "Finney," you will find significant quotes from his own writings where he plainly denies the gospel.

By the way, I have a link here:

to where one can buy the Trinity Hymnal, Baptist edition, and a link where one can listen to all the tunes in the hymnal so people who are not knowledgeable in music can still praise God with that hymnal.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Thomas,

Colossians 3:16 can only mean one thing, but I believe that one thing is:

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another"

When the word of Christ dwells in you richly in all wisdom, you'll teach and admonish one another, the first positive and the second negative -- do this and don't do this. I don't believe someone is singing this.

"in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."

A second result of the word of Christ dwelling in you with all wisdom is singing to the Lord psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.

I understand that not everyone has taken this verse this way, but it is more consistent with all the other times scripture talks about singing. Where else does the Bible connect teaching and admonishing with singing? Nowhere. I understand that people have taken it that way in the history of interpretation of Col 3:16, but I don't think that is what it is saying.

My point is that participles are subordinate and not independent like the verb, and so we don't have verbs saying "sing to people" -- that's it.

I think it is clear that the audience of singing is still God -- that is the only plain teaching about audience or direction of the music.

The Preacher said...

"I think it is clear that the audience of singing is still God -- that is the only plain teaching about audience or direction of the music."

Amen. That is what Colossians 3:16 is teaching- the church is to be singing with grace and it is to come from YOUR hearts and directed "to the Lord". The context is the body of Christ, the church and they are to minister "teachings" in songs that bring glory to Jesus Christ.

The "your" is certainly all of us assembling, but it could also be a choir. The danger is letting individuals sing, for that tends to lead towards glorying in man.

Zac Dredge said...

I count 202, but that only enforces your point, anyway.

Worship should certainly be unto the Lord and not unto the congregation, but I do question how far your view goes in regards to opposing music styles as legitimate worship.
I don't see any Biblical reason that musical worship should be anything other than honouring to God, but see no Biblical reason to conclude that certain genre's or styles of music are somehow dishonouring to God, when the Bible makes no such distinction.

The Preacher said...

Zac said:

"I don't see any Biblical reason that musical worship should be anything other than honouring to God, but see no Biblical reason to conclude that certain genre's or styles of music are somehow dishonouring to God, when the Bible makes no such distinction."

In Colossians it says "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" and in the book of Ephesians it says "making MELODY in your heart to the Lord".

The bible does make that distinction since it uses the words melody and grace which are to be applied "in your heart". Like everything else, the body of Christ must determine what genre of music fits that qualification in the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.

Anyone that has had any part in the devils music knows that certain "genre" will instead give rise to the flesh in a carnality and lust that lead to such things as fornication, selfishness, strife, contentions and many such like things.

Music, like dress and other such things should always take the "lowest common denominator" in the body of Christ because it moves in the direction towards spiritual maturity and life that pleases the Lord instead of a liberty for an occasion to the flesh, which of course leads to death.