Music In Church

Q – I recently read a message on Acts 2:42 that commented, “Only the activities outlined in Acts 2:42 are valid for things to do in church. Teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer.” While this is the “fingerprint” of the church, whether meeting in a home, barn, or 10,000 sq. ft. building, how does singing fit into what Paul was writing? Most churches seem to split the service with about 40% worship, 40% teaching, and then 80% announcements.

So, help me out here: singing. How much emphasis should we put on it in church?

Jim – You’ll pardon me if I question your math skills. ๐Ÿ™‚

I do not actually agree with the comment above, inasmuch as I do not think that only those activities mentioned in Acts 2:42 qualify as genuine, valid church activities. Certainly, those activities are important and must be included in any healthy church life, but to limit a church’s functions and actions to those four is a bit shortsighted. For instance, we know that Paul taught churches to take up collections and offerings. That’s not mentioned in Acts 2:42, but it’s a valid church activity. Or, how about the very next verse, Acts 2:43? Luke wrote that miracles, signs and wonders were done by the apostles within the church. The rest of that chapter recounts how the saints had all things in common and sold their property, laying the money at the feet of the apostles. Surely, these were valid church activities.

And, as you point out, singing has always been a part of worship. When Jesus finished His last supper with the apostles, they sung a hymn and left for the Mount of Olives (Mat. 26:30). Of course, their method of singing may have been quite different than our modern concept of music. It may have been more like recitation. But, it was still a group activity, designed for worship and to enhance the sense of community.

Also, Paul taught the Ephesians that they should be “filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:18-19)

He told the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” (Col. 3:16)

Singing was common in the Corinthian Church, including singing “in the Spirit” or in a tongue. Paul said, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” (1Cor. 14:15)

Hebrews 2:12 reads, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

James adds, “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.” (Jam. 5:13)

And, of course, in the book of Revelation, the 144,000 sing a “new song” (Rev. 5:8), and the redeemed saints sing the song of Moses and song of the Lamb (Rev. 15:3).

So, it appears inescapable that singing has a long heritage and rightful place within the Church. Singing has always been a vital and useful part of church activity as a facility for praise, thanksgiving, and worship.

Now, I said all that to say this –

I am bothered by the emphasis on music in the modern church. Music and singing have never saved anyone. People are not saved through waving their arms, singing repetitive choruses or having a warm feeling when the choir sings. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17).

“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21)

To my way of thinking, music programs have become the spiritual bane of the modern “entertainment” church. People love to be entertained and there are billions of entertainment dollars passed around each year. So, the church has begun competing for those dollars. But, in the process, the church has forgotten its purpose and the only genuine method of salvation. That’s not a popular position, I realize. But, popularity has never been my goal.

Today, in most modern churches – and their “contemporary” services – preaching takes a far back seat to music, drama, dance, puppets, sticks, clowns, and mime (!!!). And, they have the nerve – the raw audacity, the repugnant presumption – to call these things “ministries.” Is there anything more confusing than the notion that we can spread the Word by pantomime? What silliness has overtaken the once-glorious church of the living God.

What do all those activities have in common? They are all “performances.” They all require people to get in front of the congregation and “perform.” But, “ministry” and “performance” are 180 degrees removed from each other. In the New Testament, the word “minister” is the Greek “diakonos.” The most common meaning of that word is “servant” or “attendant.” The verb form of the word, “diakoneo,” means “to serve, to wait upon.” So, anything that is labeled “a ministry” must, by definition, wait upon others in a servile condition. That is quite the opposite of performing, clowning, juggling, and the like.

I simply cannot imagine that Paul would ever truncate his preaching in favor of a little one-act drama. Or, would Paul sit still while a church paraded out clowns and magic to spread the gospel? I don’t think so. And, it would not be because of ancient superstitions or fear of conjurers. It would be because the salvation of people is too important to play with. And, there is only one prescribed method of spreading the saving message. If we are going to be serious about God and His Word, then we must question these trends.

And, speaking of disturbing trends, when did the church become a platform for creating celebrities? God gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints and the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-12) I don’t see “worship leaders” anywhere in that list. Or, “pop icons” – N’Sync-style “boy bands” that bump and grind while they sing quasi-Christian songs. And, I feel the same way about celebrity pastors. Any ministry that is named after the preacher is emphasizing the wrong leader. The preacher becomes a celebrity in his own right and his services become a cult of personality. It’s show-biz at its worst.

I grew up in the church. I’ve seen it all. I’ve witnessed the “behind the scenes” wrangling for power and prestige that happens in multi-million dollar ministries. And, as the pastors and leaders struggle for power, notoriety and money, the saints end up “taking sides.” I have known song leaders who see their position, as do many “youth ministers,” as stepping-stones to the pulpit – their real goal. It’s shameful. They seek to undermine the very men they agreed to assist. The saints are split and the sheep are scattered. Spiritual slaughter in the name of God…and fearsome, out-of-control egos.

You see, it was never a question of whether music was appropriate in the church. It was always a question of purpose. What is the purpose behind the music? Is it to glorify God and produce a shared sense of community, awe, or spiritual union? Or, is it produced for the purpose of glorifying the celebrities on the platform, who sell their CD’s in the foyer after the service?

This is so basic that it absolutely frustrates me. Everything done within the church must be done for the purpose of God’s worship and glorification, as well as the edification, spiritual well being and unification of the body. Anything done for any other reason is blasphemous. But, the church has forgotten words like “blasphemy.” They have replaced it with words like “tolerance.”

And another thing, as long as I’m ranting — every church in our area, in an effort to be “different” and separate themselves from the crowd, now offers “contemporary” worship. So, in their rush to be “different” they are exactly like everybody else.

They all have guitars. Once upon a time, that was risky. They have drums. Very risky. They have electronic keyboards and bass guitars. They play with rhythm and pulse so the people can sway back and forth. Fine, fine, fine.

I like musical instruments and I think every instrument is fair game in worship, provided it is played by someone with a heart for service. For instance, a snare drum is an inanimate object. It cannot sin; it cannot perform acts of righteousness. Its relative appropriateness in church is determined by the person playing it. And, any drummer with a Christian heart for service is welcome to play in any church I pastor. It’s the servant I’m looking for, not the snare drum.

But, this rush to be contemporary has ultimately proven it’s own pointlessness. It’s the same old thing, passed off as some new thing. You can visit any church in our area (as I have) and you’ll find “same time, same place, same thing.” But, the leaders are convinced that people will only come back if they continue to offer “new” things. And, you know, there’s nothing new under the sun. Paul dealt with this same dilemma –

“Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)” (Acts 17:18-21)

Those people were so superstitious that, for fear of missing some god in their pantheon, they even had a monument to “the unknown god.” The modern church is not far behind them. The current trend to ecumenism is welcoming every foreign god they can find. And, like the blind leading the blind, they all follow the deadly trend.

So, do you want to know what makes a church genuinely different?

Give up?

Preaching the true doctrine of God in Christ, salvation by grace, and God’s sovereign control in all things. Declaring His absolute Holiness and His right to insist that people only approach Him via the means He establishes and approves. Teaching the utter sufficiency of Christ in all matters of salvation, including the completed, successful atonement. Assuring the saints of our security in His finished work. That is the lost message of the church. That is what makes a church different.

Where is that preachment? Where is the Word that produces faith? Where is the call to repentance and the food that nourishes hungry souls? Where are the men who actually understand that they are dealing with the ever-living, never-dying, eternal status of men, women and children? Where are the men who take God seriously? Where? I am so tired of the void that permeates the church. It makes me cry when I’m not ranting and raving and beating my fists against the wind.

Anyway, I just wanted to answer that question. It hit a nerve, as you may have discerned. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I love the Church. I love the Church of the Living, Resurrected Christ. I love the saints of God and the Word that guides people from life into life. I adore my Savior and I hurt to see him dragged through this muddy world. But, one day, my friend, He will return and set things right. And, there will be music. And, there will be singing like we’ve never heard. And, it will be glorious. And, I want to sing along.

Until then, I pray that God will send laborers into His work, always anticipating His appearance and the joy to come.

That will be a good day. (I am the master of understatement…)

Anticipating that event, I am, as ever, yours for His sake,

Jim