Is it possible that special music in a church service is actually a dangerous thing? Is it possible that special music in a church service can stand in the way of worship? Is it possible that special music in a church service presents more negative threats than positive benefits?
Everyone will answer those questions a little differently; but those questions do deserve more attention than they are normally given.
When thinking about whether or not to have special music as a part of a church service, church leaders and members alike should consider the following.
1—Special music is not commanded, nor exemplified, for the church in Scripture. In the context of the local church, special music (such as solos, trios, & quartets) is not commanded in Scripture, nor do we see it practiced. This is not to say in any way that it is sinful for churches to have special music, but that there is no real biblical foundation as it relates to the local church. As a result, we should not feel that it is a needed component in order to be a biblical church.
2—In the Puritan church (and throughout many periods in church history), the focus of music was on congregational singing. Leading up to the puritan era of church history the church was characterized by modernism, theological liberalism, and a lack of personal holiness (sound familiar?). The puritan response by such men as William Perkins, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, John Owen, and Thomas Watson was powerful. They promoted a high view of God, personal holiness, and a God-focused approach to corporate worship that did not include any kind of special music; all music in the church was congregational singing. This focus of piety in worship led, in part, to a great transformation of the church that God used to bring about revival. (From Worship of the American Puritans by Davies)
3—Special music has a tendency to draw our focus on to the performance. We can’t help it. No matter how hard we try, we naturally recognize the difference between those who sing well or better than others. We are naturally distracted by mistakes in the ‘performance.’ The better the ‘performance,’ the better it affects us. We begin to look forward to those who do the best job. It is natural for that to happen, but the results are dangerous. Our attention subtly shifts from the message of the song to the performance of the performer.
4—We live in an entertainment-driven society. Everything in our society is driven by the desire to be entertained. Unfortunately, the church has not escaped the effect of this. The default setting for the average person is one of a passive, ‘entertain-me-if-you-can’ mindset. Most people want special music in a church because they enjoy it. That’s not necessarily wrong, but in an entertainment-driven society, new and mature Christians alike struggle with the difference between the enjoyment of being entertained and true biblical worship.
5—Leaders can become tempted to use special music as a tool to manipulate emotions. Whether it’s the desire to add more life and energy to a service, or a way to calm people down before the sermon, using music to manipulate emotions is a dangerous gimmick that is used far too often.
6—We are naturally a pride-saturated people. I have heard of churches having the best singers sing on Sunday morning and having the second- or third-tier singers sing on Sunday evening. This leads nowhere good. The idea that any one person or group of people need to sing for the worship of God to take place is rooted in pride. People can easily become entitled — thinking they can only glorify God if they are using their talent in an individualized way as opposed to corporately. Again, this is rooted in pride.
7—Music is a divisive issue. It never fails that questions and debates over which styles of music should be utilized in special music arise. Certainly, music in general is divisive, but special music always compounds this. People want those who do the style they enjoy most to sing. They look forward to them and tolerate (or complain about) the others. This is simply unhealthy.
8—Music is a tool of teaching to be used by the church leadership. In the Bible, music is a tool of teaching, not just an avenue of worship. Church music should always teach Truth. Church leaders are responsible to God for what is taught, regardless of how it is taught. I don’t know how many times I have heard special music in a church with no real message, or worse, a message that is not completely biblical. This is ultimately detrimental to the goal of the worship service.
9—Congregational singing promotes unity. Very simply, unity is promoted when the congregation sings together. The more of this a church can do, the better.
10—Congregational singing promotes corporate worship. Corporate worship is not sitting and watching someone else sing. We can do that from our couch (American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, The Sing-Off, Etc.). Corporate worship is about collectively worshiping our God together. Congregational singing promotes this reality.
11—Congregational singing leads people to be involved rather than be spectators. The goal is to have all in attendance involved in the worship of our God. Congregational singing encourages this goal.
12—The absence of special music allows more time for those components that are clearly seen in Scripture. We should never be willing to sacrifice a commitment to those things that are clearly seen in Scripture so that we can hold on to those things that are not. Perhaps it is better to fill our services with those things we know God wants rather than those things we simply enjoy.
The goal of this post is to encourage church members and church leaders to think through the topic of special music in the church service, rather than just blindly doing it because we have always seen it done.
Are there dangers? Absolutely. Can those dangers be completely avoided by a church at all times? The jury is still out on that one.
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