Wednesday, August 09, 2017

What About Special Music in the Church?

Sometimes at our church, our people will hear me (pastor) say, "When I say special music, I don't mean special like special education." If it is special like I mean it, then it should be special.

Last week, I made mention of a discussion or argument among certain evangelicals and fundamentalists (see here, here, and here) about the use of special music in churches versus congregational singing.  Perhaps sometime I'll do an entire series of posts on this, because I have very definite thoughts about the subject.  For now, however, I want to encourage "special" music.  If it is "special," it should be "special."

What is "special music"?  If a church is going to have it, the church should understand what it is first.  Special music is not something to "get your heart ready for the preaching," which is a thought not in or from the Bible.  Churches very often will sing congregational songs, and then right before the sermon, a person or small group will sing a special number, intended to prepare the hearts of the people for the preaching.

Also by special, churches mean music that is very good, so it will be attractive to visitors or guests.  You do your very, very special music for the purpose of luring visitors, because hearing this music will supposedly motivate them to come.  Even if it isn't the sole reason, the idea here is that you are attempting to blow away a guest, so that he'll want to return to the services, just for another opportunity to hear the music.  These churches surmise that great music is a motivating factor for visitors.

Sometimes using special music as an attraction is referred to as a "selling point" for a church.  The thought again is that the special music can be used when church members invite people they know to church.  They might not know exactly what to say, so they can say things like, "You'll really like how friendly it is, all of the programs our church has for young people, and you'll also really enjoy the special music -- our musicians are very talented, you should hear them."

It isn't unusual that special music is some kind of version of High School Musical. You've got your very musical crowd, who like to sing in small groups or a choir.  Your church needs special music, so these people can have something to do.  They can come to choir practice and it is a place to keep being in a choir after high school.  They like to harmonize and work on numbers, because they enjoy music.  It's another selling point for a church.  Parallel to this are the people who like to do something musically like karaoke, love the idea of singing, think they have a great voice, even if others don't, so that they want to be in a church choir as part of their musical ambition.  Churches will put choir on the website for the notice of these musical types of people, that many of you reading this will know.

I've read of a well-known Southern Baptist pastor, who once every year on a Sunday night service, had a special music night.  On that night, people who wanted to sing a special number would have their one opportunity, so that they could say that they had their one opportunity.  They could fulfill that yearning to sing in front of people, like an edition of Church's Got Talent.

None of the above are reasons for special music.  I love special music and I think that in addition to congregational singing, churches should strive do special music, but it, as I wrote before, ought to be special.  Psalm 48:1 says, "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised."  God is so great that He deserves better praise than even the congregation should do.  Churches should work on special music so that God gets better, practiced, and skilled music.  Congregational music isn't necessarily skilled.  It has a lot of participation, but very often many unskilled participants.

Fifty-five of the psalms were delivered to the chief musician in Israel or it choir director.  Some of the psalms were for smaller groups than the whole congregation of Israel, including Psalm 48 itself, which was for "the sons of Korah."  There were eleven such psalms among the 150.  The choir is part of the music of Israel, so God ordained special music (see 1 Chronicles 15:16-24).  In 2 Chronicles 20:21, Jehoshaphat appointed special music to lead the army into battle, as a matter of faith in the Lord.

Some churches are not ready for special music because they don't have trained singers.  They don't have people who can sing well.  If a church is going to have special music, it should set a high standard, so it can do music very well for the Lord.  This might and probably will require paying for lessons, and doing a lot of practice under skilled leadership.  God wants to hear congregational praise, but He also wants to hear skilled praise (Ps 33:3).  God is so worth it, that churches should do their best to praise him in the most skilled, most beautiful, and special way, and that's the reason for special music in a church.

In our church, if we don't have something special ready for God, we don't do it.  We're not required to have a solo or small group every week.  We will sing when something is ready to sing, or we're missing the point of special music in the Bible.


James Bronsveld said...

Several thoughts come to mind here, but I have a couple questions looking for clarification on the conclusions we should reach from this.
1) Are you distinguishing special music from congregational music as separate and distinct from each other?
2) Should we conclude from this that some churches will be able to offer more acceptable praise to God than others, not by virtue of the purity of their worship, but by virtue of having a larger talent pool in their congregation and having better access to wealth/money for lessons and instruments in order to accomplish this?

There are some additional thoughts that arise in relation to the regulative principle of worship and its corollary in the simplicity of worship, but I wanted to wait with those until I'd clarified this.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi James,

I believe worship regulated by scripture. When it comes to the application of that biblical principle, we should look at history, but still look at it with critical judgment. Special music is still worship in the congregation. It's a few of the congregation versus all, so I was differentiating based on the popular usage, congregational being the whole congregational and special being fewer of the congregation. I'm saying that there is scriptural basis, therefore, regulated by scripture, what is called special music, except with certain parameters. The whole congregation is going to sing by far more than small groups, but worship regulated by scripture sees special music. I'm saying it must be special and there are a few reasons why.

Some church members are either more skilled at playing or singing and have rehearsed or worked at their craft or have become more skillful at playing and singing, than others. Certainly some people have more ability too, what you call "talent." There are some within the congregation who can play and sing more skilled or in a greater way. That's why it is special, special as in unique or different in comparison to the congregation in that sense of skilled or greater.

Greater praise is not just louder praise. It is a comparative, but principally we can see that something can be made to be more beautiful, as seen in the craftsmen of the temple being good, better at what they do. It would be more in line with the nature of God, His order, symmetry, immensity, etc. His train fills the temple. Look in heaven at all the majesty and wonder and the reaction of Isaiah. We can't reach that, but we should try to get closer to that, have it be better. That's what makes it special.

Churches can get better at worship. They shouldn't settle. It doesn't mean a church can't worship God, but it means they can keep getting better at it while they are here. It is worth honing a musical skill, craft, for something more beautiful, even more ornate, when you think of the design of the tabernacle and the robes of the priests, etc. We're not talking about art for art's sake or performance at all. That is not the point, which was a point, a major point of this essay.

Can a pastor preach better than another pastor? Can you judge preaching? Can a pastor improve at preaching? Should churches with less skilled preaching not have preaching? It's the same type of question. Can someone grow in his prayer life to where he prays better, more in line with the truth? He's not presently disobedient, but he has more capacity to pray better now. Can that happen? Should someone who is not there in prayer and preaching not pray and preach? No.

Regarding simplicity, I don't think the NT contains everything for worship that the church needs. We are regulated in the elements by the NT. I have not problem with that. The church needs the psalms and those are OT. The two Testaments have both continuity and discontinuity. I believe the there is often too much stress on the discontinuity today, not saying you do that, but some is not in the NT, because we are to depend on the OT for that. It has not been rescinded.

Jeff Voegtlin said...

I had what I think is a humorous thought while reading Kent's comment....

Rather than using the word "special" maybe you should say, "particular." Then "congregational" music could be called "general" music. Then, in most church services you could have both general and particular Baptist musicians! :)

Jeff V.

James Bronsveld said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

Thanks for clarifying. Would you, based on the distinction laid out in your post and subsequent comment, consider the worship of the many (congregation) to be a separate element of worship from that of the few (special music), or one and the same? Do you believe that all the church is worshiping when special music is played or just some while the rest of the body looks on?

Certainly, some preaching excels above other preaching, and all preaching should be judged. But I see the criteria for judging the excellence of preaching as lying in the content rather than in the form, and the one who cannot achieve what another might in style or polish should not be hindered in his preaching where he preaches with Biblical authority (e.g. Paul vs. Apollos in speech).

When I mentioned the simplicity of worship, I was more referring to it as it is laid out fairly articulately [here], and which, from my understanding of Baptist history, expresses the basis for a longheld general resistance to the use of choirs or special singing groups in the public worship of the church until well after Baptist churches were established in America.

While the distinction between the worship of the priests/Levites and the congregation of Israel at large is distinguished in the Old Testament, the separation/exclusion not only applied to praise and music, but also to the offering of certain sacrifices, the service of the temple/tabernacle, and the public teaching of God's law. The NT parallel would seem to be a distinction between the church and the world, and not so much a distinction between groups within the assemblies of the saints themselves (a distinction which has built the clergy system and hierarchy of Catholicism and much of Protestantism).

JimCamp65 said...

Jeff Voegtlin - That was quite amusing!
Thanks for the levity.