As a piano player and a lover of a wide variety of music all my life including: classical and semi-classical music, hymns, operas and oratorios written over the past four hundred years, Gospel songs, negro spirituals, orchestral music, band marches and easy-listening; I’ve done a lot of thinking about music in recent years. Recently I awoke one morning with the following definition of art and music brewing in my mind.
As the natural beauty and grandeur of creation is the expression and work of God and His gift to mankind to bring glory to Himself and to enrich, and ennoble and bring enjoyment through our eyes to our souls; so music can bring glory to God and enrich and ennoble and bring enjoyment through our ears to our souls.
Christian music includes scripturally-based lyrics (but not necessarily in the language of Scripture itself) that are well married and well fitted to an infinite variety of pleasurable, memorable and well-organized patterns of melodies that spring from Holy Spirit filled hearts, according to Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:18; melodies enriched with beautifying harmonies and carried along with various rhythms that ennoble and bring us enjoyment and edification.
I believe that all so-called Christian music that fails to measure up to this standard or that is sung or performed by those whose hearts are not right with God; is mere dissonance, ugliness and irritating noise, as God hears it according to Amos 5:23. and not worthy to be called music, much less, Christian music.
There is nothing so popular and misunderstood and divisive in churches today as “Worship.” The Charismatic movement of the 1960’s has emphasized it as an experience to be sought. The Rock and Roll movement of the hippies of the 60’s has given modern worship the rock beat for its music. Rock and Roll is itself associated with sexual intercourse.
The hippies at that time were in rebellion against their parents and against the government and against all authority and moral standards in general. They used their rock music to express their rebellion. The Contemporary-minded Church, of the 60’s chose to adopt their rock music for worship in order to try to reach them for Christ. For fifty years now their rock beat has been the medium for worship music in what is known as The Contemporary Church. God, not numbers, is the judge of how successful that has been.
We’re presently studying the third chapter of Ezra in which the people of Judah are setting up the altar and preparing to build a new temple. You may remember that Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar when he conquered Judah and took them into Babylonian captivity.
In this third chapter we see them preparing for the Feast of Tabernacles, a time when they built lean-to shelters of branches to temporarily live in as they celebrated God’s faithfulness to them during their wilderness wanderings.
Ezra 3 gives us three facts concerning their worship and how we must worship and carry out the work of The Church.
1. Everyone was united as one man in this concern. Ezra 3:1
2. Everything was done according to the Law of Moses. Today we can broaden that to the complete Word of God. Ezra 3:2,4
3. At the heart of worship was the burnt offering which typified the importance of Christ’s blood sacrifice, whose sacrifice is the foundation of Christianity. Ezra 3:3
Let us keep in mind than when it comes to worship and to how we conduct church services, our final authority is not our opinions nor our preferences. Those are what divide churches and Christians in general. Rather, our final authority must be The Word of God. God’s principles and standards are applicable to any age.
THE PEOPLE WERE UNITED
The people were united in Ezra’s day according to Ezra 3:1 just as they were united when the Church got underway at Pentecost, as we see in Acts 2:1 There were no denominations or factions at that time. Acts 2:44-47, 4:24, 32-35. According to Ezra 3:11-13 the sound of their music and the shouting of the young men and the weeping of the older men could not be distinguished and it was heard from afar. They had a united testimony. There was no “generation gap”.
Any worship that does not make much of the shed blood of Christ for our sins, is counterfeit. In true worship as we stand before God; age, gender, race, wealth, status and personal preferences all fade away into insignificance. All that matters is God’s glory.
Our God and our worship of Him is all bigger than ourselves and our preferences. You and I have no right as individual Christians to determine by our preferences what is and what is not acceptable to God. God’s Word must be the final authority. Our God and our worship is too small when we limit the expression of our worship to the values and musical tastes of a particular generation- young or old or to a particular period of time or a particular nationality.
One thing we know from the Bible is that worship has been expressed through melodies that spring from regenerated, joyful hearts, as we see in Ephesians 5:18-21 and Colossians 3:16. The essence of Christian music is Scriptural truth perfectly married to beautiful, singable melodies.
According to Psalm 47, worship may also involve clapping our hands; not necessarily as we would clap for a musical performance in a recital, but spontaneous clapping that expresses our joy and agreement in worship, much as AMEN is used to express agreement. Of course, it is possible to totally distract from the preaching of the Word by dancing in the aisles and chasing people around the church sanctuary as I have observed in some church services.
CONSIDER THE DEPTH AND BREADTH OF WORSHIP
All music consists of melody, harmony and rhythm. What concerns me about contemporary worship is not so much the rock beat rhythm, which I could understand, though probably never appreciate in sacred or secular music. What concerns me most about contemporary worship services is its limitation and lack of breadth of worship music. It all seems limited to the rock beat. It seems to me that this generation of worshipppers are afraid to stray from the Rock beat.
What grieves me deeply is that in the contemporary worship services, generations of Christians born after the 1960’s are missing out on knowing and singing over several thousand great hymns of The Faith, as found, for example, in church hymnals of the past. What grieves me is that this generation of Christiansare becoming spectators as they watch and listen to the worship teams. They are losing their ability to sing. I listen to them groaning, not knowing where the melody is going.
I grieve that they will never hear nor know about thousands of hymns and Gospel songs by Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, a blind saint of God who wrote about 8,000 Gospel songs, including Tell Me the Stories of Jesus, Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross, Blessed Assurance, To God be the Glory, All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, I Am Thine, O Lord, Draw Me Nearer, and My Saviour First of All, a song in which she describes her joy as a blind person of one day seeing Jesus.
Then there are hundreds more hymns and Gospel songs written by hundreds of song writers, including: Al Smith. Oswald Smith, John Peterson, and Bill & Gloria Gaither. Frank Garlock and Ron Hamilton have added a large selection of beautiful hymns and Gospel songs with their beautiful, rich harmonies to church music.
THINK ABOUT THIS
Contemporary Christian Music and its monotonous rock beat has become the exclusive, staple sound and atmosphere of contemporary worship. The Christian music of past centuries has been BANNED from this generation as being embarrassingly out of date. It’s like a young family locking their grandparents in a closet so that they will not be embarrassed by their age. It’s like a young woman not being caught dead in her mother’s dress, for fear of being out of style.
Again I remind you that the CCM crowd who consider themselves contemporary and up-to-date are actually locking themselves into a style of music that is now over seventy years old. Why do they call it contemporary? Who cares whether it is contemporary? The questions that matter are: “Does it speak Biblical truth to the heart? Does it reflect our response to Biblical truth? Is the music really beautifully married to the words?
Worship music must not be based on that which appeals to the opinions and preferences of unregenerate sinners. They have no idea what true worship of God is, nor do they desire to worship Him. They live in rebellion to God.
Why should rebellious sinners be allowed to dictate to us how we are going to worship God and what we can and cannot sing or preach?
Christ is building His Church. We are not called on to rebuild or reinvent the church. Over the past several decades there has been a concerted effort to rebuild the church to try to meet changing needs of each generation. They want to change the worship style, music and preaching content. Each new generation wants it different from the former generation. Vainly the church tries to be in vogue by changing styles as often as hair styles and dress styles change.
God gave the pattern, as well as the standards for church leadership for the church, in Acts and in Paul’s Epistles.
It is not our calling to attempt to try to make God more popular with fallen sinful man by ignoring or overlooking the need to confront sin.
Looking at verse 10-13 of Ezra 3 we see the united sound going out from the builders of the temple. The younger were more enthusiastic and noisy. The older were more melancholic and sentimental. But the sound that went forth was a mighty united sound that made it impossible to distinguish the younger from the older. The volume of that sound was not measured in decibels, but by the love, unity and fellowship heard for miles around.
We are all individuals with likes and dislikes. That’s not sinful. It’s just a fact of life. We enjoy being with people who think the way we do and we all tend to avoid people who make an issue of their beliefs and preferences and try to force them on us. You are that way and I am that way.
Christians are simply people with a wide variety of likes and dislikes who have been overcome by the Gospel of Christ. Genuine Christians love Jesus. We love Him more than life itself. We love Him more than our opinions and preferences. We long to please Him and one day be with Him in Heaven.
We not only love Jesus, but we love our brothers and sisters in Christ. As Christians with our individual and differing tastes, we are drawn together by one magnet only; our love for Jesus and His Word, the Bible.
WHAT UNITES US?
As Christians, we are commanded to be filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit the moment he is saved according to Romans 8:9. It’s one thing to have the Spirit and it’s another thing to be filled or controlled by Him. Every Christian is commanded to be filled with the Spirit according to Ephesians 5:18. According to that same verse, to be filled means to be controlled just as fully as one who is drunk is controlled by wine or other alcoholic beverages. Actually, one filled with the Spirit lives a self-controlled life. while one drunk with liquor lives an uncontrolled life.
TEST OF BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
How can we tell whether we are filled with the Spirit? Continue reading in Ephesians 5:18-21 for the answer to this important question.
1. Christians who are filled or controlled by the Spirit, love to gather together to sing from their hearts, “Psalms, hymns of praise and spiritual songs in which we share testimonies of what Jesus means to us. Such songs are set to melodies. Melodies are simply singable, pleasing patterns of music that fit the message of a song. A good song is one that beautifully marries the melody to the message of the song. For example, the majestic, awesome words of Holy, Holy, Holy would not fit well to the marching music of Onward Christians Soldiers. The Christian songs we sing in private, at home or in church, are sung to the Lord. That is worship. Ephesians 5:19.
However, worship is more than singing. Worship for the Christians begins with surrender of our lives to Christ. One who is in rebellion to Christ cannot worship, nor will he enjoy being in a worship service. Sin must be confessed before we can worship in Spirit and in Truth, as Jesus demands in John 4. Read the whole chapter and observe how skillfully Jesus dealt with a woman about her sin, and changed her life. Note how He teaches her and us truths about worship.
2. Sprit-filled Christians are also overcome by continual thankfulness to God for all He has done for us in sending Jesus to die for our sins and for all He means to us as Christians. We have thankful spirits, rather than complaining, griping spirits. according to Ephesians 5:20 Complaining, bitter, unforgiving Christians are not filled with the Spirit. Sin must be confessed and rejected. We must get off the throne of our life and ask Christ to be Lord of our life. When He is Lord, the Holy Spirit is in control and we are filled with the Spirit. This is why a Spirit filled Christian enjoys and appreciates Biblical preaching that deals with sin in his life. When he sees the sin in his life, he can confess it and once again be restored to fellowship with Christ.
3. Spirit-filled Christians are also not only submitted to Christ; but to one another in the church. If we get stiff-necked and bitter when we are confronted with sin in our lives, we are no longer Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. Spirit filled Christians do not insist on having their own ways at home or in their churches. I, as a Christian husband do not lord it over my wife; but serve her. As pastor of my church, I do not lord it over my flock; nor do our elders and deacons. Though we guard our flock from false teachers and sin, we are basically servants of the flock and we lead by serving one another in love, just as a Spirit-filled husband and wife serve one another.
If you do not pass these three Biblical tests of Ephesians 4:18-21, please do not boast about being filled with the Spirit. The experience you had was merely an empty. emotional experience and nothing more.
WHAT IS CHRISTIAN MUSIC?
As for Christian music, as a 77 year old Christian who was saved as a child and spent my entire life in a wide variety of churches, let me give you my perspective on music. As a musician, I love to play the piano and sing, Often late at night, I will play hymns and spiritual songs of testimony for thirty minutes or more in worship of God. I have always appreciated a wide range of music; including, the wide range of Biblical hymns and Gospel songs of testimony found in many hymn books. I probably have a range of about close to 1000 hymns and Gospel songs that I appreciate and love. There are probably another several hundred Biblical hymns written two or three centuries ago found in old hymnals that we ought to be aware of and using, although some of the music is difficult to sing.
I also love Negro Spirituals, but appreciate them most when sung by black choirs. I also appreciate some Southern Gospel music, and classical type choral music, such as Handel’s Messiah, a piece that can best be sung by a trained choir.
There are also some hymns in our church hymn book of over 800 hymns that I refuse to sing. Regardless of the Biblical message of the hymn, if the music has no sensible musical pattern and is unsingable, I refuse to sing it.
I love orchestral and band music and, of course, piano and organ music. Yes, I also love the use of drums used musically; not just to make a noise.
At the same time, I also have a strong aversion to being forced to listen to any so-called music that is not musical or that has a perverted Biblical message or no message at all. I can’t bear to listen to or watch soloists who screw their faces up to try to imitate some rock star and who sing words that cannot be understood or that have little or nothing to do with Christ or Christianity.
Although much of so-called Contemporary Christian music turns me off because it is not Biblical nor musical; I have heard some music under that classification that blesses me because it is Scripturally based and because it is truly musical and singable.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
As I grow older I look forward to Heaven and the music of Heaven where Christ alone will be exalted and the music will beyond our wildest imagination and we will all sing together in perfect harmony and with a perfect heart.
In the meantime, beloved Christian friend, be patient with me and I will be patient with you. If loving Jesus and living for Him is the most important thing in your life, we have much in common and I recognize you my beloved friend and brother or sister in the Lord.
Amazing Grace like you’ve never heard it nor appreciated it before, unless you’ve seen this short video.
and listen to it again beautifully sung by tenors in a place where Christians were persecuted centuries ago.