Why do we have music in church?
This may seem like an odd question. Most — if not all — churches have music, don’t they? This is just how it has always been, right?
While this may seem like an odd question, I believe it is nevertheless an important issue to discuss because of the myriads of faulty answers people will give when answering the question. For instance, I have heard people say that the music of a worship service is simply prelude to the preaching. These kinds of people view music as nonessential to a worship service; we could eliminate it altogether and they wouldn’t miss it at all. Others say that music “sets the mood” for the preaching. This is still a “prelude to preaching” type of thinking, although these people would probably say that music is a good thing because it does “prepare our hearts” for the message. A third group — and this is what I’ve heard more often in our circles — will say that the reason we have music in churches is so that we can teach and affirm biblical truth. This answer may sound a bit better, but I will still insist that it is no better an answer than the other two.
The reason these answers are so faulty is that they completely miss the crucial reason that we use music in church. They focus only on the words of music in the church and give no thought to the actual music itself or even to the poetic form of the words. You can recognize a person with this kind of reasoning because when they are evaluating music for use in the church, the only question they ask is, “Are the words biblical?” This is a great question, but it’s not enough.
I am going to argue that the purpose for music in the church goes beyond simply the words. The reason we have music involves more than just a nice setting for teaching and affirming biblical truth.
What is the purpose of the church?
In order to answer the question of why we have music in church, we must first step back and ask questions about the purposes of churches in general. The Bible gives the church specific missions to fulfill, and if the church engages in any activity that does not support its mission,then that activity should be eliminated.
Establishing Mature Followers of Christ
With specific reference to believers, churches are responsible to establish mature followers of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-16 perhaps best demonstrates this mission of the church:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
How does a church accomplish this goal of maturing believers? Simply stated, the church accomplishes this by encouraging its members to follow the Bible. Through various means, Christians become more mature as they submit to biblical directives.
What is important, however, is that the church aim for the whole of man to obey all of God’s commands. Every part of man must be matured. In the Bible, God addresses what we think, what we do, and how we feel — mind, will, and emotions. This is no better illustrated than in the great Hebrew confession of faith found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
God addressed all three parts of man. He first addressed what they must believe in their minds: that God is one and that he is Yahweh. He then addressed their emotions: they are to love that God. And finally, he addressed their wills: they must obey that God. The rest of Scripture deals the same way with man — his mind, will, and emotions are to fall under the rule of God. All three work together in order for a person to glorify God: doctrine, action, and affection.
So if a church is going to “establish mature followers of Christ who declare God’s excellencies,”then it must aim to improve the whole of man: his beliefs, his actions, and his emotions. This is the duty of everyone in the congregation, and especially the leadership.
Declaring God’s Excellencies Corporately in Worship
Before we discuss how a church might accomplish this maturing, let us focus specifically on the purpose of a church in its congregational worship. Our Lord said in John 4 that God desires people who worship in “spirit and truth.” He was contrasting the common religious thought of the day that said that worship had to be done in certain outward forms in specific locations. Christ emphasized that true worship is inward responses to biblical truth. This response to truth can take the form of action or affection. So here again we have all three elements of man that congregational worship must address: truth, morality (action), and right affection (spirit).
Now, we must also notice that these three elements of man are intricately connected. The Bible doesn’t separate the three. Anything that is biblically true is therefore good because it comes from God, and it should stir the affections. We must love righteousness that is based on truth. And our affections must be based on truth and goodness. We cannot separate the three.
The Means to Establishing Mature Followers of Christ
So how, then, does a church accomplish its mission of establishing mature followers of Christ? Let us look at each of the three elements we’ve discussed, keeping in mind that they are interconnected.
First, a church helps to mature the mind primarily through biblical teaching. This can be in the form of a formal Bible class, Sunday School, training times, or weekly preaching. We cannot make too much of consistent biblical teaching that aims at shaping what believers think and believe. Therefore, maturing the mind is accomplished primarily through words.
Second, a church helps to mature the will through applying the Bible and through exhortation. As the Word of God is taught, a pastor will admonish believers to follow what it says and change their lives if they do not conform to its teaching. A church that emphasizes truth but neglects application of that truth in holiness and conformity to God’s commands is negligent. Therefore, maturing the will, too, is accomplished primarily through words.
Most good churches strive to accomplish these two goals. We make much of doctrine, and we make much of holiness. However, it is the third element of man that many have failed to carefully consider.
How does a church help to mature believers’ emotions? Certainly truth and righteousness are at the root of biblical affections, so the use of words through teaching and preaching does help to mature believers’ emotions as well. But the fact of the matter is that emotion simply cannot be adequately put into words. If I want to tell you what you should believe, I use words. If I want to tell you how you should act, I use words. But If I want to tell you how you should feel, words are inadequate. Furthermore, words are not only incapable of telling you how you should feel, but they are also inadequate as expressions of how you feel. Any husband knows what it is to be unable to adequately express with words the love he has for his wife. No wife is satisfied with an occasional, “I love you” — only words to express what can better be expressed by other means. Sometimes a look or a touch does more to express heartfelt affection than any words can. Or this is why we have love poems — they help us express love in a way that cannot be expressed with just words. Likewise, Christians need another language than just words to both prescribe the affections they should have for God and describe the affections they do have for God.
That other language is music.
Scott Aniol is an assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL. He received a bachelor’s degree in church music at Bob Jones University. He did graduate work in choral conducting and church music history at Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois. He earned a master’s degree in Musicology at Northern Illinois University and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology at Central Baptist Seminary in Minneapolis, MN. He maintains a website to encourage the development and expression of ordinate affection to the Lord: www.ReligiousAffections.org.