Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18,19).
Over the last generation, churches across North America have battled a major threat to unity.
And rather than being an external force, the cause for sometimes heated disagreement and tragic division has been from within. In fact, it’s been present since the 1st century.
What heightens the irony, is that it was created by the Lord as a dynamic for unifying His people in joyous declaration of His character, providing the corporate opportunity to praise and worship the Triune God.
I’m speaking of course, about music and singing. Too often, it divides those called to the highest standard of unity.
How could the people of God separate from fellowshipping with brothers and sisters merely over musical style?
It speaks to our own selfishness; it also reflects on our inability – or refusal – to understand music as a creative art-form.
From the time of Moses, those who love the Lord also loved to sing. Music is “Christian” because of its lyrical content. We are privileged today to sing hymns and spiritual songs across the spectrum of the last 500 years. Hymns have enduring appeal because of the marriage of creative music with compelling words articulating the beauty of God’s character and sovereign activity, and other beloved biblical principles. Songs with weak theological content don’t endure.
Good music is art, and as such its beauty – as in any other artistic endeavour– is in its simplicity and complexity, in its harmony and proportionality. That is true of good literature or visual art, of architecture or the media arts. It’s in Beethoven and it’s in The Beatles.
But appreciation for music is subjective, hinging on personal preference.
Some object to what they perceive as “worldly” music. What exactly is that? Are they referring to the style of music? To the origin of the tune? To the mode of accompaniment? To the appearance of the musician(s)?
Sometimes those holding these views are helped by being reminded that some of the church’s best-loved music historically came from the secular life of protest movements, the theatre, and…the pubs!
Tunes like Finlandia (Be Still my Soul, the Lord is on Thy Side), Greensleeves (What Child is This?), and one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world, Amazing Grace were all well-used outside of the church before being sung within.
Of all people, shouldn’t we the followers of Christ demonstrate broad-minded tolerance for music that is not within the scope of my favourite style – if the lyrical content is theologically accurate and honouring to God? Couldn’t we even learn to appreciate alternate expressions in genres that are not within the confines of our own preference?
Takeaway: Am I prepared to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs that declare the worthiness of the Almighty while uniting His multi-generational people? To focus on The Persons and work of the Triune God, while also learning to appreciate the artistic merits of the music?