|an important component in Christian meetings; or, an optional extra!
© 1999 Denise Bray
This paper outlines my views on the place of music in the Christian gathering in 1999. Music is an important component in the Christian meeting, not an optional extra. It is therefore, important to me. (Note: When I use the term 'music', I am referring to the melody, as opposed to the words although I address the use of both melody and words in this paper).
Music is a wonderful response to God. It is an emotional outlet of our love and praise for God and what He has done for us. Often, in the 20th (nearly 21st) century, Christians treat our relationship with the Lord as an academic exercise. Although we need to use our minds to understand God and His revelation to us, we also need to give our whole selves to Him. This includes ourselves emotionally. David reflects this in the Psalms. He uses his knowledge of God and also pours out his heart before the God he can trust. We, too, can respond to God and His grace through the avenue of music. We can respond both academically and emotionally; and in every way. What a wonderful joy it is to know we can take everything to the Lord, whether it be grief or joyful praise. We can do this through music.
We can respond to God with music also, by using His words found in Scripture. As we sing, we memorise the truths of God. This aids a joyful appreciation of the grace of God. Music is like a memory aid. It helps you remember things such as the attributes of God. It is not necessarily an exposition in itself. It is a response to God and His attributes, character and all things worthy of our praise. We can respond to God and His grace through the avenue of music.
There are six points I have used to sum up some general benefits of music in the Christian gathering. Followed by a further four points to illustrate a more specific application of some musical styles. -
Mind lingers on the text. It is beneficial to choose songs on the same theme as the sermon. This reinforces the message of the passage.
Especially important for the last song is to have the words and melody to be one that gives the congregation an opportunity to respond to God in line with what the passage exhorts in a personal way.
Music and words both help declare our belief in God. When we say the Apostles' or the Nicean Creed we declare our belief in, and relationship with, God. When we sing "Christian" songs, we declare our belief in God. This includes our emotions as well as thought. We, as Christians, need to share the emotions of God and express it. Music is an excellent tool for this.
The melody helps us memorise God's truths. Simple, "catchy" tunes are helpful to use. A "catchy" tune will stay in our minds, therefore committing to memory the words of God.
Melody has associations in thought and feel. As smells remind us of pleasant or unpleasant experiences (eg: lavender may have happy memories of times with grandparents), so music can remind us, both mentally and emotionally, of God, and good times with God's people.
Music reaches the subconscious. Research shows that music reaches the subconscious and "calms the savage beast". Therefore, suitable music, and music appropriate to the culture, needs to be used for the benefit of God's people.
Music creates an atmosphere of harmony among God's people. Since music is the universal language, music focussed on the foundation of our lives, creates harmony when we can together praise God, thank God, repent before God, concentrate on specific attributes of God. There are many other focal points resulting from a right response to God's word and music gives harmony when we are based on the solid foundation, which is Christ the rock.
The use of both contemporary and classical music is good for two reasons: (i) it helps people with different musical tastes to worship God meaningfully; and (ii) it creates a unity for Christians to feel as one with one another, even when visiting another church.
Christianity needs to be relevant musically to people in today's society, including all styles of music. Music is to help us respond to God using whatever musical tastes we have, whether it be classical, rock, jazz, folk or anything people like. Whatever instruments help us respond to God may be used, whether it be organ, trumpet, drums, accapella vocal lead, didgeridoo. Music is not just a memory of the past, although these memories are beneficial. Music needs to be relevant to those worshipping together.
God gives us examples for us to follow in His word of His people praising Him through music. King David used and loved music - Psalm 150 is an example of him praising God. Mary sang the Magnificat because of her heartfelt thanks and praise to God, Luke 1. The angels in multitudes sing "Worthy is the Lamb", Rev. 5: 12. So we, too, need to worship God through music.
Music is very important in the Christian gathering. It is an emotional release of our thoughts and feelings. Music is one way in which we honour the Lord, so the least we can do is praise Him this way. In order to respond to God in this way, it is good to have a strong lead. Such instrument to help is the piano, trumpet, drums with a powerful vocalist.
The following points are examples of styles of music to help Christians in their spiritual growth. These are illustrative of a more specific application of musical styles and are spiritually healthy in the appropriate place.
Music creates serenity. By 'serenity' I mean - a calm and trust in God. Serenity can be the result of one style of music. This can be good when Christians need to be calm in the Lord, and the appropriate words match the tune. The focus is Jesus Christ.
Music promotes and stirs us into action. The bible exhorts us to love and serve God. I like to have songs (melody included) which encourage us to respond to God's exhortation. The focus is Jesus Christ.
Music keeps people motivated in their work. Some melodies for example marching tunes, are stirring and keep you going, making it easier to work. When the music is Christ focussed, it motivates to work for the Lord. The focus is Jesus Christ.
Music is used for rest and recreation in the Lord. When we have recreation, it is necessary to be re-created by the Lord. We need too, to rest and be refreshed by our Father. Music is an excellent tool for this. The focus is Jesus Christ.
Music is also simply pleasurable.
I have tried to explain that music is an active tool to help us know, and grow in, the Lord. It helps us in all areas of our lives - mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Music contributes to our spiritual growth. It has wholistic ramifications - by this I mean - because we are whole people, the benefits of music go deeper than just our ears.
Because music has wholistic ramifications for people, music must change to meet these needs. Since music reaches the subconscious, we need to take seriously the implications of music in the Christian gathering. We need to have our mind linger on the text, declare our belief in God, memorise God's truths, give God our emotional response, allowing the Lord to reach the subconscious through music. We can experience the harmony of God's people sharing different musical styles. We need to allow the Lord to minister to us through music. This may be by exhorting into service, encouraging the weak, and re-creating us. People live in different cultures therefore view themselves and their world differently. This results in different musical needs, that is, different expressions of our faith in Jesus Christ. (For the purpose of this paper, I am referring to past and present cultures, not Australia versus overseas).
Music is Different in each Generation because of Culture
Music is not independent of people, and people are not independent of culture. Culture, in its simplest meaning is the way we relate one to another.
As I read about, and talk with, Christians today, I am aware that Christians today think and behave differently to Christians in days gone by. This behaviour is neither right nor wrong. It is merely different. Different because of culture.
Although many people resist change, as it is uncomfortable, we all need to realise that it is selfish and we can't stop the clock in the area of music. Music touches the heart and whether we are older, younger, have classical or rock musical tastes, it doesn't matter. What matters is that we accept change and be mutually giving, so that we can, together, worship God using the avenue of music.
The use of music has changed because people's culture has changed. In medieval days churches made intentional use of the visual arts and audio in their nurture and expression of faith. There were wood and stone carvings, massive stained glass windows, evocative architecture, tapestries, frescoes, paintings, dramas, verbal rhetoric, candles and incense, bells and smells, with chanting of the Psalms, - church was the best multi-media show in town! That largely disappeared in word-dominated Protestantism. (Peter Horsfield, 1999, Christ and Media Culture - Networking, http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/674.htm).
Many people fail to realise hymns were not written for the church. They were secular and worldly! It's hard to imagine hymns as something new, daring, even mildly rebellious, but in the 18th century they were not only a novelty, their use in parish churches was strictly speaking illegal. Until about 1700 both Anglican and nonconformist congregations sang almost nothing but metrical psalms using the 1562 Psalm book. Later, around 1700 some composers wrote hymns, which were not direct quotes of scripture, giving room for greater freedom of expression. John and Charles Wesley wrote hymns that ministered to the working class, these were often used in large open-air meeting. The Methodists, however, soon began to write new tunes for their hymns in an unashamed secular style which would not have been out of place in the theatre, the pleasure gardens, or even the tavern. It was this which so shocked the Establishment, and delayed the introduction of hymns to parish churches. Such was the popularity of hymn-singing however, that by the end of the century it was widespread in nearly all denominations. To meet the demand a flood of hymnbooks appeared which continued into the Victorian era, until in 1861 Hymns Ancient and Modern appeared and gradually became the most widely-used.
What made the hymns so different from their old metrical psalms was their expression of personal religious thoughts and feelings in vigorous, emotional language. They spoke of God's love for sinners, salvation for the individual, the liberating powers of Jesus, the inner experience of the Holy Spirit, strength to withstand oppression and the promise of future glory. This illustrates how music both helps the Christian in daily lives, and how music must change to meet the needs of present-day Christians.
The eighteenth century also saw the emergence of choirs and bands in parish churches and non-conformist chapels. In the seventeenth century psalm-singing had been unaccompanied, led by the parish clerk. Towards the end of the century small groups of male singers were formed to improve the singing of the psalms. Gradually children and then women were admitted to their ranks and instrumentals were added, most commonly bass viol, bassoon, clarinet, violin and flute. Other instruments such as oboes, trumpets and drums were found less often. The guitar was popular for music-making at home, and several collections of hymns with guitar accompaniment were published. From about 1790 some hymn books provided `symphonies' i.e. introductions and interludes for the instruments. The musicians were mostly working people, sometimes with the benefit of tuition from a local `singing master'. From the 1830's onwards, barrel organs and then pipe organs began to replace the gallery bands, but for a century they must have provided a regular opportunity for making and listening to music for a sizeable section of the working class. The tradition was particularly strong in the Midlands and the North, and from it grew the musical societies and festivals, particularly for the performance of oratorio, whose direct descendants still flourish today. These amateur musicians would have been as familiar with Handel as with folk songs, a fact reflected in the diversity of the hymn tunes. (Andy Watts, 1999, Sing Lustily and with Good Courage; Gallery Hymns of the 18th and 19th Centuries, http://www.home.ici.net/~randyo/sing.htm)
This summary of the history of music in church illustrates how music has changed so that Christians in each changing culture can worship and express personal spiritual thoughts and feelings in the language with which people are comfortable.
I am not arguing that one culture is right, or better, over another. I am saying that they are merely different. We cannot assume that because the use of music in medieval days, or any other day, was right then must be right now. As culture changes so we must change. Therefore, our expression of ourselves and our relationship with Christ, changes accordingly, including the use of music.
Examples of the changed use of music, including words, abound in Christian gatherings. A generation or two ago, the five-or-so verse hymns were sung and loved. The music was either 'common metre' or quite a complex metre. The music required skilled musicians to perform and was used to uplift the congregation. The hymns had a doctrinal theme for words, maybe beginning with a struggle and ending with victory in Christ who is sovereign in all. People then, learned doctrine from the minister, and the hymns, too, reflected this teaching. People in the present younger generation learn the truths of God chiefly from Bible Study groups and challenge the minister's teaching. Their music reflects the fundamental gospel of salvation and their response to this gift of salvation. The culture of the day affects people's use of music in Christian gatherings.
The use of music in Christian gatherings changes because of the culture of the day. Music is a tool to help each one of us in our Christian experience. Therefore, as our culture changes, so must our musical expression. The way we express our faith through music is neither right nor wrong. It is simply an expression and a tool.
We need to be challenged by the maturity of our relationship with Christ Himself, not digress and make music an end in itself. Music is an instrument in our response to God, and culture is the way we relate. Jesus said that David was a "man after God's own heart". This is the key - to be a people after God's own heart and allow music to be used as an expression of that. Therefore, we each must use music as a response to God within the culture we are comfortable with.
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