I have chosen to end this series with a few final thoughts. They sum up what I believe is the proper approach to music in church. They are largely drawn from all that has gone before. As always, I hope they are helpful.
First, we must make sure that the lyrics to any music that is sung or played in church are scriptural lyrics. In specific reference to music in the church Paul said, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. (Colossians 3.16) The safest way to do this is to sing songs that are composed of actual Scripture such as psalms, etc. But it is also true that Paul said in Colossians 3 that other types of lyrics are permissible assuming they are scriptural in their content.
If the song is a doctrinal song is it fundamentally orthodox? Does it line up with our distinctives? Is it Baptistic? Is it correct in its proclamation of eschatology, ecclesiology, etc.? If the song is speaking about God is it a scriptural concept of God, or is it JIMBY (Jesus-is-my-boyfriend) music? Does it present a God high, and holy, and lifted up? Is it loyal to the Word of God? Is its emotional content rooted in Scripture?
Second, the instrumental accompaniment should contain flowing melodies and harmonies versus those that emphasize a driving rhythm. I have already spent much time here in this blog series so I will not belabor the point. I do realize that sometimes it can be hard to draw the line here. In my opinion, we ought to be charitable toward others choices in this area, and seek to err on the side of safety in our own choices.
Third, we must avoid emotional manipulation. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16.8) It is the Holy Spirit's job – not the music's – to bring about a change in people's minds and actions. Granted, there is a fine line here for the Holy Spirit can certainly use the scriptural content of church music to speak, and music is an emotional language so in this context His voice will have emotional overtones. But we must avoid striving to purposely evoke a certain mental or emotional reaction solely through the use of music. Remember, we are not simply trying to change their emotional state temporarily; we are trying to edify them. Edification often includes emotion but it always includes more than that. And in any case, we should not seek to manipulate anybody into a spiritual frame of mind or into a spiritual decision.
Fourth, we must do everything possible to prevent the message being eclipsed by the messenger. In a different context but with some valid application to all of the Christian life, John said, He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3.30) We must not value performance but rather value content. Passionate people put themselves fully and emotionally into the music they perform, and there is nothing wrong with that. (Ecclesiastes 9.10) But there is a line that is crossed when the musical gift we exercise becomes a display of ourselves rather than of the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12.7) Some churches do this by refusing to allow singers to hold microphones. Other churches prefer groups of singers rather than solos. But however you choose to apply this or to draw the line the point is that there must be a line drawn here. It cannot be about me; I am just the way the music gets heard. (This entire paragraph is just as applicable to the preaching, too, by the way.)
Lastly, let us take care to emphasize music without letting it replace the primacy of preaching. It is preaching which is the power of God; it is preaching that God uses to save those that believe. (I Corinthians 1.18-21) To this end there are some churches that refuse to have any service that does not include a lengthy sermon. I do not go that far in my mind but I can appreciate their point. I have worked hard to expand the emphasis on music in our church services without at the same time de-emphasizing preaching because I believe this is right. The danger in over-emphasizing music is that music often makes people feel good while preaching often makes them feel bad. But if our people do not feel bad when they should feel bad then they will not act right when they should act right. By and large, music edifies, but preaching is the tool that produces real and lasting change in a congregation.
Well, it has been quite a journey, hasn't it? From the first post on music last November to the concluding post of this series today it has been interesting. I appreciate each of you who have read, commented, questioned, criticized, complained, shared, and amened me along the way. I hope somewhere in these 42,000 words you have come across something that has caused you to examine your own position on music in order to ensure that it is loyal to Scripture.
Someday, brother in Christ, we will stand together in that vast assemblage of millions on the glassy sea around the Throne in Heaven. And we will sing the greatest song that has ever been sung. I look forward to joining you there. Until that great day may the Lord lead us to use Heaven's music as well as we know how down here.
Sing forth the honour of his name: Make his praise glorious. (Psalm 66.2)