|Music and the Bible|
Music is, or should be, a vital part of the Christian life.
Isuspect most Christians have never considered how big a role music plays in Scripture. Our ideas of “Christian music” tend to focus in on the particular genres of music that we like, whether classical (for example, Handel’s Messiah), hymns (“And Can It Be” is a particular favorite of mine), or contemporary (“We believe” would be an example here). These preferences have led to the “worship wars” of the past decades in American Evangelicalism, as advocates of one style of music are pitted against others over what is the “proper” or “best” way to worship.
That in itself betrays several misunderstandings: music is not the same as worship; it isn’t about us and our preferences; we are to treat others with respect and due humility; etc. While there is much to be said about biblical worship and liturgics, I am not going to discuss that here. Instead, this article will focus on surveying music’s place in the biblical story to help us appreciate just how important it should be in our lives.
Let’s start with music in worship.
Music in Old Testament Worship
David’s provisions thus included singers and instrumentalists under a knowledgeable director.
Later, David appointed some of these same men to perform music at the sanctuary prior to the building of the Temple (1 Chron. 25). The text tells us that individual singers, large choirs, and an orchestra were all part of the worship at the king’s sanctuary. Solomon continued these arrangements when he built the Temple.
The book of Psalms—a Greek word that means “Songs”—is the largest book in the Bible. The Psalms include not only “worship songs,” but laments, reflections on life, complaints, expressions of repentance, even curses on enemies. The full range of human emotions is expressed in the Psalms.
The Psalms have been sung from time out of mind in Jewish worship, and many were clearly written to be performed responsively as part of the worship in the Temple (e.g. Ps. 136). The Psalter also became both the hymnbook and prayer book of Christians; as St. Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice.” Singing the Psalms was part of the regular liturgy of the monasteries and was the heart of the devotional life of many great saints over the centuries.
And, of course, Ps. 150 tells us that we are to worship God with the full range of musical instruments and with dance.
Worship in Heaven
Music and the Spirit
Music was used in the Old Testament in connection with prophecy—in fact, it seems that prophets typically gave their prophecies accompanied by instrumental music. For example, in 1 Sam. 10:5, Samuel tells Saul that he will meet prophets coming down from the high place at Gibeath-elohim prophesying to the music of harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre. (Perhaps that’s why some translations refer to this as a band of prophets.) And in the example of David’s arrangements for worship in 1 Chron. 25, the text tells us that
There are other examples as well. Prophetic inspiration was thus often given in the context of music.
This use of music is likely related to the New Testament teaching that being filled with Spirit is evidenced by “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart...” (Eph. 5:19) Since the fullness of the Spirit leads to music, it is no surprise that prophecy—itself an expression of the Spirit speaking through us—would also be stimulated by music.
Music also seems to have real power in the spiritual realms. We see an example early in David’s career:
David was functionally able to exorcise a harmful spirit simply through playing his harp. This by itself should demonstrate the potential for spiritual power inherent in music.
Music should thus be an integral part of our worship and of our Christian life. T. M. Moore, Chuck Colson’s theological advisor, argues that singing is a spiritual discipline that we should all practice; this brief survey of ways in which music functions in Scripture bears this out. Scripture shows that all kinds of music—singing, whether solo or choral, instrumental, congregational, and professional performance—can and should have its place in worship. We need to move beyond our disagreements about our stylistic preferences and look for good quality music and words that properly recognize God’s glory and greatness, and then incorporate these regularly into our spiritual lives.
Is music part of your devotional life? How about the corporate worship of your church—do you wait for the singing to be over, do mouth the words without engaging, or do you participate with full heart and voice?