Choosing Music for Group Worship:

When brethren from differing backgrounds begin to fellowship with each other, finding music that everyone knows and/or likes becomes a difficult task. It is even harder at annual Festivals when brethren come together from a greater variety of past experience. The following questions and answers should help make music a blessing rather than a point of division in our meetings.

Q: Shouldn't we just sing the Psalms of the Bible, rather than contemporary songs composed by others?

A: Paul admonished the Ephesians and the Colossians to rejoice with "Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual songs." [Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16] It is hard to know exactly how he defined these three types of music, but obviously they were singing more than just the Old Testament Psalms. And it is likely that "spiritual songs" were more contemporary pieces of music created by the believers themselves. If we limit ourselves only to the Psalms, the name of our Savior, which will be proclaimed in great choirs in heaven as seen in the Book of Revelation, will have little place in our worship music.

Q: Wouldn't that problem be resolved by just putting the words of the New Testament to music?

A: This would certainly be a very good idea. In fact, there are many such songs available. But if we even limit our songs to just the whole Bible, are we not ignoring the five commands to sing new songs to the Eternal? (Pslm 33:3, 96:1, 98:1, 149:1; Isa 42:10.) Our Father is continuing to do great deeds for which we should praise him. It is still wonderful to praise Him for opening the Red Sea for the ancient Israelites. It is wonderful to tell about the life of Jesus. But Jesus is still alive, and still rescuing people! The Lord deserves to also be praised in song for what He is doing now.

Q: Must we judge the spiritual and doctrinal standing of composers before we use their words or music? Can God inspire music and words in the mind of someone who does not embrace all the doctrines we hold dear?

A: The translators of the King James Bible were Anglican theologians. They kept neither the Sabbath nor the Biblical Holy Days... and they were staunch trinitarians! Yet most Sabbatarians consider this translation to be inspired and preserved by God. If we can believe He inspired the translation of the Scriptures by non-Sabbath-keepers, can we believe that He can inspire similar people to write simple praise and worship words and music?

There are accounts in the Old Testament of non-Israelites who praised God in truth. Look at the eloquent words of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:1-3:

Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.

Even in modern times, many members of the Worldwide Church of God have loved the music composed by Mr. Dwight Armstrong. Yet Dwight Armstrong was never a member of his brother Herbert's denomination, never accepted all the doctrines held dear by that church. He was simply commissioned by his brother to compose music.

In light of this, it would seem more sensible to evaluate hymns and spiritual songs on their own merits, rather than try to get into the mind and heart of their composers. Is the message of the song true and Biblically accurate? Does the music itself also uplift and inspire? Then you might want to consider including it.

Q: Must we avoid any music used and appreciated by those in denominations which have doctrines we don't accept, so that we don't "imitate" them in error?

A: Again, most of these same denominations use and revere the King James Bible. They also use many other translations, concordances and other Bible helps that we use. This fact does not prevent us from using those same works. Also, most of these groups actually do preach many true doctrines. We do not avoid preaching truth just because they do, too! Why avoid true lyrics that are in songs they may use? The real issue should be the message of the song. Of course we should avoid any lyrics that perpetuate the doctrinal errors we see in those denominations.

Q: What if singing even certain doctrinally correct songs brings up memories of one's past participation in false religious practices, and defiles the conscience?

A: This is an entirely different issue. In this case the individual must make a personal evaluation of his own circumstances, and act accordingly. But it would be good to remember the tolerance admonished by Paul among those who have different standards in some areas. For instance, vegetarians and meat eaters are encouraged to respect each other's decision (Rom 14).

If a song defiles your conscience, then don't sing it. But try not to judge the hearts or motives of those whose consciences it doesn't defile. If the person standing next to you refuses to sing a song, do not judge him for his decision either!

Q: Should a group decide not to sing any songs that might make one or more members uncomfortable?

A: This needs to be prayerfully considered. But it would be good to realize first that if you take this route, you may find there are almost no songs acceptable to everyone!

Q: Is it wrong to sing songs that affect the emotions, not just the intellect?

A: God created us as beings with emotions! We are admonished to come before Him with joy. That isn't a thought—it is an emotion. We are to come to him with gratitude. That is not just a thought—it is an emotion also. Songs that "touch our heartstrings" by recounting what Jesus did for us may very well bring a tear to the eye of someone recently rescued by the Lord from sin or sickness. This isn't wishy-washy sentimentality. It is true gratitude. We need to be very careful not to misjudge the emotional responses of others. It may be that the Eternal wants to bring these Godly emotions to the surface and provide an outlet for them through music. You need only read through the Psalms of David to see that his music was a frequent outlet for his emotions, not just an intellectual exercise for his mind.

Even beyond the words—even without words—music, by its nature, can evoke emotion. That response also was built into us at creation. It is very likely that all of the vast choirs and orchestras organized by David for the worship at the temple were not only so the Eternal could hear Himself praised. The hosts of heaven praise him continually (Rev 5:11-14, 7:11-12). Another role of the temple musicians and choirs likely was to inspire awe and worshipful attitude—and emotions—in the worshippers!

Q: Shouldn't all worship music be formal and serious, so that we show the Eternal proper respect?

A: Was David being disrespectful when he leaped and danced before the ark? (2Sam 6:12-23.) Our concept of what musical "styles" are respectful may have a whole lot more to do with our society and our personal upbringing than any Biblical reality. Several of the Psalms even admonish us to make a joyful "noise"! (e.g. Pslm 100:4.) There are all kinds of descriptions in the Psalms of musical instruments that sound a whole lot more like guitars and tambourines than pipe organs and pianos! And there are numerous descriptions of clapping, shouting, raising hands, and dancing in connection with worship (Ex 15:20; 1Sam 44:5-6; 2Sam 6:14-16; 2Chr 15:12-15; Job 38:7; Pslm 5:11, 32:11, 47:1,5, 63:4, 98:8, 132:9,16, 134:2, 149:3, 150:4; Isa 44:23, 55:12; Jer 31:13, Lam 2:19, Zeph 3;14, Zech 9:9, 1Tim 2:8.)

Of course, pipe organs and pianos are as acceptable as any other instruments. But God created great variety, and gave us a creativity like His own. We are encouraged to use it when we worship Him.

Q: What if you just honestly do not find loud or lively music inspiring—must you force yourself to pretend that you do?

A: No, but it is an opportunity for tolerance. If you are in a congregation that is singing a lively Messianic praise chorus that has lots of clapping and loud singing, you have every right to sit quietly. And those around you have no right to nag you to somehow change who you are and what inspires you.

And if you are in a congregation that is singing somber music which you find oppressive rather than uplifting, you need to have the tolerance to realize their emotional response may be entirely different than yours. What is oppressive to you may be awe-inspiring to them.

Let's not let music become one more issue to divide the Body of Christ!

Q: Is Servants' News planning to do anything to help this situation?

A: At the Grand Lake of the Cherokees Feast site this year, we will be using a variety of sources for music. But in the long term, it is not practical to have copies of a dozen different music books for everyone who attends a service. We do not wish to violate copyright laws or fail to pay the proper royalties to hard-working musicians by large-scale copying of another's music. The solution seems to be twofold:

1) Find the doctrinally and musically best song books commercially available, and make them known to our readers. Tapes are available with many of the books—making the learning of such music much easier. We will advertise this list in our literature section when we have it available.

2) Begin collecting and eventually print a book of music that is either in the public domain or written by brethren willing to share their gifts freely. We already know of a very few brethren who are writing good praise and worship music. There are probably a lot more of you who have these gifts. If you have written or are writing music suitable for congregational singing we would like to hear from you—preferably after this Feast.

—Pam Dewey & Norman S. Edwards

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