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  • « The Atonement by Tom Ferrell (MP3s) | Main | Can Revival be Engineered? »

    On the Use of the Arts in Worship

    The ultimate end of the church, both in the sense of destiny and of purpose, may be summed up as worship. We have been constituted as the peculiar people of God simply so that we might “show forth the praises of him who has called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). This is, in the subjective sense of what salvation intends to accomplish within those who are saved, the one overarching purpose for the church. And this purpose will find its ultimate tangible expression at the conclusion of history, when a multitude from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation lift up their voices in unity to proclaim, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” Hence, the unadulterated expression of perfect Christian unity is necessary for the final realization of the Church’s great goal: without perfect unity, we could not come to a full apprehension of our doxological purpose in the eschaton; and to the extent that we fail to display unity as the Church in the present age, we also fail to “show forth the praises” of God in the manner that the church was designed to do. That this is not an overstatement of the absolute necessity of Christian unity both for the Church’s purpose of showing God’s praises, and for the enjoyment of her destiny in glory, may be seen by two of the statements Christ made during his last supper with the disciples, as recorded in John’s gospel. The first of these implies that, when Christian unity is not observed, the “showing forth” of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus (and so a Christian and a member of God’s Church), becomes impossible: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). The second demonstrates that absolute Christian unity is a vital element for the Church in glory – without it, the goal and mission of the Church must fail, short of her attaining to her ultimate end of seeing and enjoying the glory of Christ where he is with the Father:

    Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them, as you have loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me: for you loved me before the foundation of the world (John 17:20-24).

    From the outset, then, we may assure ourselves that our striving for authentic worship must be marked by a striving for equally authentic Church unity. Neither goal will be met with perfectly until we arrive in glory; but until that time, a great part of our task as the Church of God must be the pursuit of just such a state of united, God-reflecting worship.

    These prefatory thoughts are intended to set in perspective the seriousness of the contemporary discord in our ranks over such issues as the propriety of certain styles of music in the worship services of the Church. It is a tragic irony that, in the course of debate over what may constitute authentic worship, the sine qua non of authentic Church-wide worship has been lost. The question which confronts us is this: while allowing for diversity in the modal expression of worship from church to church, or even from individual to individual, may we as the Church of God arrive at a unified understanding of the essence of the worship that we offer up through these various means, in such a way that we are all joining together in basic harmony and unity, differences in style notwithstanding? I trust that this is a goal towards which, by God’s grace, we may make significant advances from our current milieu of essential discord.

    Some of the objections commonly raised against many modern styles of worship are as follows: they are seen as emotionally-manipulative; seeker-centered rather than God-centered (and gospel-centered); and they fall athwart the so-called “regulative principle”, the teaching commonly adhered to among Reformed churches that the only legitimate means of worship are those specifically mandated in scriptures. These objections are no doubt valid; but their application to worship styles, per se, is unwarranted. They ought to be employed against the false notions concerning the essence of worship, and not merely against the means by which worship is offered up. In other words, any style of worship may be emotionally-manipulative, seeker-centered, and so on; and therefore, the correction must be applied at the more fundamental level of what constitutes worship. The errors cannot be alleviated by any change in style; rather the foundational principles to which those styles give testimony must be evaluated. This holds true for underlying philosophies motivating traditional as well as contemporary worship paradigms. In order to address these fundamental questions, and arrive at a scripturally sound understanding of the appropriate place of the arts in worship, I propose to analyze, first, the nature of true worship; second, the nature of art; and third the testimony of scriptures, both in examples and commands, regarding the means by which worship may be legitimately offered up to God.

    The Nature of Worship

    The heart of true worship is largely contingent upon its origin. Any worship which originates in the heart of man is by its very nature unacceptable. Any worship which is offered up as a duty by which we are supposing (consciously or not) that we are adding something to God; or any worship which is itself an attempt to produce in ourselves emotions or right feelings about God is intrinsically flawed. Worship offered up in this spirit may be responded to with Paul’s assertion that, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he gives to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:24-25). Similarly, any “worship” that is intended to be evangelistic, and thus proposes to affect other men with worshipful feelings, is a denial of the very nature of worship, which ultimately has to do with none other than God himself. True worship must be directed to God alone; but furthermore, it must likewise have its origin in God alone. In order for worship to be genuine, it must be simply a response to the Divine initiative in revealing his altogether worship-deserving nature to men. This analysis of worship must necessarily impact our pursuit of worship, for it goes beyond asserting that worship must be God-centered in that it is directed to God; and asserts that it is as well God-centered in that it is produced by God. True worship is not a duty that we are naturally capable of. It is a gift of God; and when it is lacking it must be sought in prayer and through the study of the Word, God’s self-revelation to men.

    This truth is basically what Calvin was arguing for in his Institutes, when he proposed, “unless [men] establish their complete happiness in [God], they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.” That by giving themselves he intends to signify worship is made clear a little later, when he adds, “Indeed, no one gives himself freely and willingly to God's service unless, having tasted his fatherly love, he is drawn to love and worship him in return.” The biblical examples of this principle working itself out in the true worship of God’s people could be proliferated. A striking case is that of Moses on Mount Sinai:

    And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped (Exodus 34:5-8).

    A corollary to this principle (that true worship has its origin in God alone) is that true worship must be emotional, heartfelt worship. Worship that attempts to produce emotion errs in that it is not produced by the self-revelation of God. Worship that is devoid of emotion errs as well, in that it demonstrates that it has not arisen from seeing God, whom to see is to wonder at with every faculty of the soul. Hence, the commands to worship God are everywhere couched in the most emotional of terms. Worship that is not filled with wonder and joy is no true worship at all. “As the deer pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God.” “How amiable are your tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, yea, even faints for the courts of the Lord.” (Ps. 42:1; 84:1). “Blessed are they that dwell in your house: they will be still praising you. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand.” (Ps. 84:4,10).

    A second corollary is that authentic worship must be characterized by theological truth. If worship is the heartfelt response to seeing God, then it is impossible unless one sees him as he truly is. The wonder of God in his person and his mighty acts of redemption is the motivating principle of worship. Anything offered up as worship which reflects poor theology, or is shallow and devoid of theological content, regardless of how sincere one may be in his singing, is no true worship at all. In sum, true worship is the emotional response to seeing God as he truly is; and it is produced only by the self-revelation of God.

    The Nature of Art

    With this foundation laid, we are now equipped to take up the question of the use of the arts in worship. In order to address this question, we must be clear on what precisely constitutes art; which is no easy task, involving as it does the concrete definition of an abstract idea. However, I suppose that if one were to think through the various arts and that which they propose to accomplish, he would find that they are without exception designed to proclaim truth in a way that emphasizes its inherent beauty. The truth is beautiful: particularly the truth about God. Art recognizes this basic reality, and attempts to bring out the beauty which inheres in the truth. To say, “It is difficult to conceive of the full extent of the sort of grace which could rescue a sinner from his total depravity,” is a truth which is by its nature beautiful. To sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, / That saved a wretch like me!” Is the same truth, but expressed in a mode that attempts to convey the inherent beauty of the statement. This, I believe, is the peculiar essence of the arts. In a subjective sense, the arts are employed, both by the artist and the one who makes use of his art, to express the emotions that inhere in the mental apprehension of truth. One in whom the wonder of the previous statement has produced great joy will find it insufficient to give expression to his joy in prosaic ways. The truth of his confession yearns to be framed in a way that gives voice to his heart’s emotional response to the beauty inherent in the truth.

    Some of the arts which have been used to convey the beauty of truth in the worship setting of the Church are architectural arts; dramatic arts; musical arts; and dance. Examples of the first include the soaring structures of medieval church buildings, intended to convey the wonder and majesty of God’s presence in the midst of his church as they gather for worship; the steeples and crosses which adorn many modern church buildings; and the beautiful and ornate structures of the Old Testament tabernacle and Temple. Dramatic arts extend beyond the obvious use of plays, object lessons, etc., which attempt to convey concrete truths in beautiful, symbolic manners. In a sense, I would contend that a highly structured liturgical style of worship is a form of drama which seeks to express in beautiful, symbolic manners, certain abstract truths about God and the gospel (truths such as the orderliness of his nature, the sobriety and reverence with which one must approach him, the unity of the church as they corporately give united expression to the things they believe, etc.), in distinction to the concrete truths in which the other forms of drama find useful themes. The musical arts, most significantly singing, intend to convey a person’s emotional response to the beauty of the truths about which he is singing. And likewise dancing is the physical expression of joy and emotion which attends reflection upon joy-producing truths.

    An Assessment of Scriptural Patterns and Commands Concerning the Arts in Worship

    It requires only a very cursory examination of the bible to recognize that many art forms attended the public worship of the Church in the Old and New Testaments, as means through which praise was offered up to God. The Temple was filled with characteristics that were not at all architecturally practical, but existed exclusively for aesthetic reasons. The base supporting the great bronze laver, for example, was not a simple, practical, square pedestal: it was four massive oxen, facing towards the four points of the compass (which, as a divinely appointed structure, must inform our understanding of the intent of the second commandment; which would seem to be a prohibition of any representations supposed to signify the invisible God, and not of any representations in general). Likewise, the almonds, bells, and pomegranates which adorned the pillars and other Temple structures; and the inclusion of gold and precious stones, explicitly added for no other reason than “beauty” (see II Chronicles 3:6). There is some reason for assuming that this splendor was appropriate for the day of shadows, before Christ had fulfilled all the gospel-promises, in a way in which it would not be appropriate today. It is also clear that many of the beautiful temple features were intended as types of the person and work of the coming Christ (Hebrews 9:9-12); and that with the arrival of the substance, the need for the shadows was eclipsed (see Colossians 2:16-17). However, the example at least instructs us that it is not essentially inappropriate to beautify the architecture connected with worship services, as an expression of the vast worth of what takes place there. The typical New Testament pattern would lead one to suppose that such outward adornment has little, if any, contemporary value; but the Old Testament examples would at least suggest the appropriateness of the display of such architectural features as the cross as a symbolic means to confess truth in a manner characterized by beauty.

    While we see little in the way of drama in biblical worship patterns, we do at least find the structured liturgies that serve as a sort of abstract drama. David’s structured division of different courses of Temple singers, and Israel’s manner of corporately singing through a definite succession of psalms are expressions of this liturgical style of worship. In the New Testament, we may have a hint of this sort of approach developing in the “faithful sayings” which Paul makes use of in the pastoral epistles. They appear at least to be the rudimentary basis of a catechetical system, and may have been used in corporate worship as well.

    The first two classes of the arts in worship have a somewhat sketchy biblical basis. But when we get to music and dance, we find an overwhelming supply of examples. Singing, in particular, is so wrought into the very grain of Old and New Testament worship that it would be superfluous even to address the issue. It is self-evident. Dance, particularly when conceived of in the broad sense of using the motions of the body to convey the emotional side of apprehending truth, although much less pervasive, also has some significant biblical examples. Of note is David’s dancing with all his might before the Lord (II Samuel 6:14). Other forms of dancing, such as clapping and lifting the hands, were frequently employed in the worship of the Old Testament Church; and no doubt also in the Church of the New Testament.

    So far we have been dealing merely with biblical examples. Now let us touch on biblical precepts. Again, we would not at all be hard pressed to find commandments tending toward the use of the arts in worship. At least this is the case with the use of music and dance. The bible very clearly commands that God’s people give emotional expression to their joy at beholding the great truths about God and his works (e.g. Psalm 5:11; Philippians 4:4); and furthermore, that they give expression to their joy specifically through music (both in singing [Psalm 9:11; Colossians 3:16] and by the use of every available musical instrument [Psalm 150]); as well as through dance (Psalm 150:4), which includes such actions as clapping (Psalm 47:1) and the lifting of the hands (Psalm 134:2; I Timothy 2:8).

    A Word on the Regulative Principle

    The proper use of the regulative principle does not mandate any one musical style, order of worship, and so on, above any other; it simply demands that what God has commanded for worship, and only what he has commanded, be carried out in the services of the church. God has commanded that we sing; he leaves untouched the question of style. He commands that the Word be taught; but does not mandate any specific catechetical (or other) approach. He commands that the Word be preached and the Lord’s Table be observed, but does not indicate in what order. It is vital that we observe the biblical commands instructing worship; and as we do so, it is vital that our worship be a genuinely heartfelt, God-wrought, emotional activity. But the specific manner in which this happens may look quite different from church to church, even without coming under the condemnation of the regulative principle. Authentic worship may look like a black choir in Africa singing at the tops of their lungs, lifting their hands, and swaying to the music. It may look like an outwardly reserved German congregation, their faces turned towards heaven and their bodies tense with wonder as they sing the old hymns with souls filled with awe at the mercy of God. What it looks like is insignificant. That it takes seriously all of God’s instructions and arises from sincere hearts of faith is everything.

    Conclusion

    The purpose of this article is not to argue for one style of worship over another. If it has any of the following three effects, it will have accomplished its intended goal. First, if it frees anyone to offer up genuine praise to God in ways which would have been conscientiously impossible for him beforehand, I will be pleased to have written it. It was a great source of joy and blessing to me when my conscience was finally delivered from the erroneous idea that certain styles of music were inherently wrong. Until that point, the music by which I felt best able to express my deepest emotions was off-limits for me because of my untaught conscience. It was tremendously liberating to me when I became able to express my emotional response to God’s truth in the manner in which my soul resounded the most deeply. Not that the music was the source of my joy; but music that better expressed my joy in God became a medium through which, in good conscience, I was able to offer up joyous praise. Second, I hope that the article will enable some to embrace a changed perspective on the inherent genuineness of worship in other churches, even when it looks different from the worship in their own. I hope that more people will be able to feel the unity in which the whole Church is offering up worship to God, without stumbling at the modal diversity which matters nothing to essential legitimacy. It is a tragic assault on the very essence of worship when the Church of God is divided over that which ought to unite her. Finally, I hope this may be a help to some in thinking through activities that are passed off as worship, but are not actually legitimate worship at all. If that which one calls worship is not a genuinely joyful response to God’s self-revelation; if it is not doctrinally substantive; if it takes forms contrary to the scriptural patterns and commands; if it is not entirely God-focused; then it must be changed. God grant that we as the universal Church may move in our worship closer to essential, authentic unity, marked by a complementary diversity in modality.

    Laus Deo

    Posted by Nathan on May 10, 2006 11:43 AM

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    Comments

    Very eloquently phrased. I hear to many reformed people who claim that the regulative principle is being violated in modern worship, and I wonder whether they even understand the true essence of the regulative principle! Have you read John Frame's defense of contemporary worship?

    Chris,

    No, I haven't read Frame on worship. What book (or article) are you referring to specifically? I really like Frame, I may have to see about picking it up.

    Frame's book is Worship in Spirit and Truth.

    I agree, excellent post.

    That article does put a lot of things into perspective. I recently joined an OPC congregation, and the style of worship did play a big role in my decision to move away from my previous church. The first church was almost entirely contemporary in its worship style, singing modern "praise" songs and almost always having solos sung to recorded tracks, etc. It wasn't so much the style of the services, or the up-tempo music that bothered me...rather, it seemed that I could not give my best worship to God in that setting. Why not? The worship there struck me as being almost entirely pre-fabricated...simple, repetative lyrics set to simple pop rythms...pop Christian music, pre-designed projected slide shows, and so forth. Worship is the best gift I can offer to God, and in many contemporary settings, I feel like I'm just buying a trinket off a shelf and handing it over, without any thought or reflection. When I read responsively, meditate on the words of an expisitory sermon, or sing old, deep hymns, it seems that what I offer is somehow more authentic, or at least more heartfelt.

    Does anyone else share this impression? Does anyone think I'm wrong?

    Nathan, very good post on a sensitive subject.

    I tend to agree with Bill.

    Worshipping God in Spirit and Truth is worshipping Him His way isn't it? I have seen and heard many solos sung to recorded tracks lately. It seems they are simply performing for the audience and their approval. Real worship is praise of God's attributes and our adoration of Him for who He is. It is done with a thankful heart for all He has done. It is done all for His glory. If how we do worship doesn't fit those parameters then it must not be real worship.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

    Mike S.,

    I have to agree with Johnny that your labeling of clapping and dancing as "ceremonial mandates" is patently unwarranted. If one denies the legitimacy of employing the psalms to instruct our worship, (excepting the accounts of burnt sacrifice and so on -- those things which are legitimately ceremonial mandates, and which the New Testament clearly tells us are no longer appropriate, Christ having come to fulfill those ceremonial shadows); if one so limits the use of the psalms, then in what way is the New Testament command to be singing the psalms appropriate? Are we commanded to sing, "Praise him with the timbrel and dance," while contending at the same time that it is an immoral act for New Testament believers to "praise him with the timbrel and dance"? The psalms express a modality of worship which transcends the typological significance of the other common Old Testament worship rituals. For instance, the structures of the Holy Place all had an age-appropriate symbolism which pointed to Christ (Hebrews 9), as did the acts of sacrifice, etc.; but the fact is true in any age that the worshipper should rejoice (emotionally) before the Lord as he worshipped -- and that he should do so specifically with music -- and that it is appropriate that the music employ every available musical instrument -- and that the music should be joined together with other heartfelt and authentic characteristics of joy at the greatness of God (such as clapping and "dancing" [i.e. allowing the joy with which we are singing to find expression in the movements of our bodies, whether that be raising the hands, closing the eyes and lifting the face toward heaven, etc.]).

    In other words, when we have clear commands in the New Testament both to rejoice and to sing (a variety of different "types" of songs -- Colossians 3:16); and when we have the example of God's church in the Old Testament doing those very things expressively and even exuberantly, how can we make the judgment that it is inherently unacceptable to God? Should we not rather say that it is commanded?

    Mike R.,

    I agree completely: if one is indeed singing for audience-approval, it is anything but true worship. If one feels better able to express his joy by singing the old, rich (calm) hymns, then by all means let him do so. But at the same time, let him be careful not to condemn another believer or church family that expresses his/their genuine response of joy and worship at seeing the glorious God in modes that, while doctrinally true and substantive, are stylistically diverse.

    I stand on the authority of the Scriptures (as taught through the early reformed church). The Bible does not magically speak for itslef without the authority of the church (this needs qualification). Many people believe that it does, though, and so we now have all these crazy churches. Mathison's new book will explain the true sola scriptura.

    Again, Calvin and the others that "you guys" (you and Pitchford)calim to adhere to, teach that instruments and so forth are "ceremonial" mandates that have been outgrowm just like the other offerings in the OT.

    I still would like to know if you think, say, at least incense and holy water, is acceptable in the worship ceremony.

    Brother Mike:

    I would be interested to see a church council, that you claim to "adhere" to, which anathamatized the raising of hands and musical instruments in worship. A local church may choose not to use instruments as an appropriate form of worship and that's all good, but to make it some kind of extra biblical law for the church is a form of fundamentalism that is foreign to the gospel.

    You claim the church as your authority, so it would be great if you could provide a chuch council citation with its related anathemas, and Scriptural proofs. Let us see the historic chuch's canons which show that hand raising and musical instruments are anti-scriptural. I must ask this because you keep claiming the church as your authority, so please back up your claim with church council citations.

    Okay, The Westminster Confession of Faith says in chapet XXI, part V:

    "V. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner."

    And to prove that the Westminster Assembly meant ONLY Psalms, unaccompanied by instruments, you can look at the Westminster Directory of Public Worship.

    So, this as well as the founders/greatest men of the faith - Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Spurgeon - should be enough to claim authority of both Scripture and Church, wouldn't you say?

    And, I did not say "raising of hands" was not biblical. Let's stick to what has been said.

    Also, are you aware that our other posts are not on the blog at this time? I would like to discuss this topic, but I do not want to defame what I believe to be biblical because of fragmeted comments.

    Thanks


    Mike:

    >>>>>>sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart

    Yes, Amen and Amen. What you just provided in WSC XXI, part V we all indeed agree upon. and no one said anything about removing Psalms, so again, lets stick to what has been said. Further, there is nothing there (or even close) which speaks of musical instruments being a stench in God's nostrils and that those who use such instruments in worship are detestible to God...

    The question is, is there an anathema placed upon those who use musical instruments in church? Is this what you believe? Do you believe God is quite displeased with a church that uses a musical instrustruments to accompany worship? That our God frowns upon those sin sick souls who would dare praise Him while using a piano as athey sing?

    I have yet to see any Scriptural basis or any anathema in a church council putting this as a highly immoral practice and that those who do so are in woeful sin against a holy God.

    The quesiton is not, did Calvin use instruments? The question is, is it morally obscene to God to use them? Did the historic church, as a body, determine, based on Scripture, that those who worship in such a way were offering strange fire to God on the altar?

    If so please provide church councils and Scriptural support which condemn it in such a fashion. If it is merely a cultural tradition being turned into legalistic extra-biblical impositions then you may believe this as your own conviction, but it makes no sense to legalistically impose it on others. If this is indeed God's desire then there is nothing that would stop me from the quick removal of all instruments. He is Lord and there is no other. But all I have seen here is a narrow, cultural, closed and extra-biblical belief which has no scriptural basis.

    Unfortunately, I have other things to do and cannot continuie this conversation. Perhaps other will pick up where I have left off. The Lord bless you.

    Reformed and Always Reforming


    Nathan,

    Excellent post. Thank you.

    I do think the "worship wars" are a stumblingblock to unity. One of the things I appreciate about the music at my church (Pastor John Piper's church--Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis) is their balanced approach to music. They sing hymns and contemporary music, they have choirs (occasionally) and praise teams, they have violins, flutes, and etc. (occasionally) and they have drums and electric guitars. They also purposely embrace music of several styles--some that blacks might appreciate more than whites, and vice versa.

    I find this approach most beneficial for a few reasons. One, it tends to help us be unified around the message and not the particular genre or style of our worship music. Two, it appreciates the tastes of all of us. Sometimes I may not enjoy a song (or be able to fully worship through a song) as much as others, yet another brother or sister might. This method allows us all to serve one another by not consistently utilizing only one kind of music (that which we like best).

    And be assured, all of the music we use is doctrinally correct and most is very deep. (We utilize Sovereign Grace Ministries' wonderful music alot also!)

    Again, thanks Nathan for the call for unity in worship.

    God Bless.

    Nathan,

    Coming from Worship page on Monergism.com and then remembering you had a few articles on worship on your site (in fact two excellent ones), I was wondering what you thought about RPW.

    Some, as GI Williamson (http://www.fpcjackson.org/resources/apologetics/Worship/worgiwill3.htm#fn27), seem to think that according to RPW, we are not to create new songs but to sing exclusive psalmody (whether we are to produce new melody or not, i can't tell you).

    Do you think that RPW forbid to creates new hyms to be sung in the Church ? (And why ?)

    Thank you for your coming answer,

    Pierre-Sovann

    Pierso,

    I don’t think the RPW demands a psalter-only understanding of music in worship. The regulative principle requires that we only worship in ways that God has commanded (to which we could perhaps add ways which he has exemplified for us in sacred church history, as preserved in inspired scriptures). But God has indeed commanded us to worship him in song (in a variety of categories, as in Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19). Furthermore, he has exemplified for us sacred worship by means of a variety of musical instruments (as enumerated, for example, in Psalm 150). The psalter-only crowd will say that the commands in Colossians and Ephesians refer exclusively to various types of psalms – but such a conclusion is not at all mandated by the text or any legitimate biblical theology. It is a classic case of allowing a pre-conceived conclusion to influence one’s argumentation from the text. I would suggest that one simply cannot claim that these passages refer to psalter-only music for at least two reasons:

    1. The terms themselves are not at all psalter-exclusive.

    All of the terms used in these passages (psalmois, hymnois, odais), certainly may be used to refer to the psalms (as they frequently are used in the Septuagint). But they may just as easily be used to refer to other sacred musical pieces, not in the psalter. One finds these terms in the Septuagint in such places as Daniel 3, where “hymneo” is used some 36 times to refer to the sacred music of pagans; and Isaiah 12, where it is used to refer to sacred music sung to the true God, but music which is not found in the psalter. So, even in biblical usage, these terms clearly have a semantic range wider than just the psalter – and there is certainly not any delimiting suggestion in the context of Colossians or Ephesians, which would restrict their range of meaning.

    2. The exemplified worship of the Church, in the scriptures, is not psalter-only.

    From the beginning of the church’s history, God’s people have composed and sung sacred songs in response to the continuing unveiling of God and his redemptive plans. At the great typical redemption of Israel, they sang the song of Miriam, recorded in Exodus 15. This is not in the psalter. Throughout the reigns of David and beyond, many psalms were composed and sung – but that was not the extent of the worship music of the church, as, for instance, Isaiah 12 (and other places) makes clear. The church has always been willing to compose new sacred music, as the history of redemption unfolded. Neither did this pattern stop in the New Testament. If there is one thing we may gather with certainty from the book of Revelation, it is that God’s people worship him by singing songs composed in response to newly-wrought acts and newly-revealed or freshly-reinforced attributes. None of the worship songs in Revelation is to be found in the psalter. They are new worship songs written specifically for an advanced redemptive era. Furthermore, most scholars believe that New Testament passages such as I Timothy 3:16 and Philippians 2:5-11 are Paul’s quoting of early Christian hymns (although not in their entirety). Which would indicate, not only that the early Christians composed new songs as was befitting the marvelous advance in redemptive history that they had observed – but furthermore, that Paul approved of them, in proportion as they were doctrinally faithful.

    I appreciate the heart of the Reformed psalter-only people, as they seek to apply the RPW rigorously and biblically. However, I think they are misguided in their zeal, and in fact are guilty of arriving at a conclusion before they come to terms with the full biblical witness.

    In sum, I don't think the regulative principle can be forced to apply in this case, because we have a clear command to sing in a variety of ways as we worship, and we have no compelling reason to suppose that that command suggests or implies that we sing in worship only from the psalter. We are commanded to eat and drink to God's glory, but we are not told whether to do so with orange juice and toast or with coffee and cereal. Therefore, it is not permissible to place a restriction where God has given us liberty to follow his commands with a multiplicity of media. Similarly, he has commanded us to worship him in song; and it is no more permissible to restrict the multiplicity of media by which to do so, without a clear scriptural restriction. And there simply is none.

    Blessings,
    Nathan

    Man, I have been waiting to hear that praise music is not a sin. I am married and my husband has joined the Church of Christ and suddenly believes music (guitar, piano, organ, drums etc) are wrong and should not be part of the worship service. I go to a Cowboy Church and we sing and praise alot. I do this for God and God only. I do not do this for entertainment. I love God and I love music and the two harmonize togather.

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