You’re on time this week. You didn’t fight with your family as you grabbed bagels, to-go coffee, and sped off to church. If you can make, you might just beat the Jensons, or whoever your pew nemesis is. It’s the perfect pew really. You know everyone around you, thus, you don’t have to talk to anyone new. But, more importantly, it’s just close enough to the door to be able to beat the lunch rush to Texas Roadhouse.
Let’s say you sit down, and you see a visitor to your right (at least you think it’s a visitor, I mean who really knows). Interestingly, they brought something with them. It seems to be some sort of intricate wooden carving. That’s weird, right? As you roll your eyes at a particular song, you notice the visitor, bowing to their carving. That’s weirder. As the pastor begins preaching, you begin thinking of your kids’ athletic and music lesson schedule that week. So much to do! Again, you observe the newbie to your right, now clutching the carving and silently mouthing prayers. You’re all-out judging now, but, you brought your idol to church too.
You may not bring one of the four we will cover here, but we must all guard our idol-generating flesh. We all know what idols are but we tend to be blind to what our idols are. I’m going to spend four posts writing these, taking them one at a time. Let’s get to the most controversial first, shall we?
There may be few topics that cause people to tune-in defensively quite like this one. To be more specific, many Christians idolize their worship music. I once had a friend tell me, “You can talk to me about anything, but don’t talk to me about my music.” Few people are that honest, but what that says is, “here’s an area of my life in which I will not be discipled.” While few people are that honest, I’m afraid many people have that same disposition. The first question too many people ask about a church is, “what’s the worship style like?” That question confuses two things, what worship is, and what’s important about music.
- What worship is– Worship is not a style. Nor is worship even primarily associated with music. Music is a means to worship, not the end. Christians would be wise to consider if they have those two things backward. Worship is responding with all of who you are to all of who God is. Worship is the giving of yourself to the Christ who gave all of himself (Rom. 12:1-3). Equating worship with music will certainly generate a worship imbalance in your life. Reducing worship to your music essentially states that you want to make much of Jesus in the way you like most, perhaps even more than the ways God has laid out for you. Make sure you worship God with your music, not worship your music about God.
- What is important about music- If you read about music in the New Testament church, there is shockingly little data, as in, less than five. Thankfully, though, these passages have very evident themes and applications for us. I will summarize two of them. Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 layout clearly what should be our motives but are strangely silent on what should be our method. Obviously then, our motive must drive our method, not the other way around. New Testament worship is:
- Unifying- Music, as God intended it, brings together the people of God. Both of these texts are found in a greater context of Spirit-filled unity. This simple fact alone should cause us to ask some basic questions, such as, “why is this topic so divisive?” The answer, it must not be the topic that is the problem, but the people. Music, as God intended it, brings together the people of God.
- Didactic- Music, as God intended it, teaches the people of God. Col 3:16a “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” If you aren’t being taught gospel truth and God’s character with your music, either you need to change what you’re singing, or how you’re listening. If what you say when you sing, either traditional or modern, doesn’t focus clearly on the Triune God, Scripture, or the gospel, you won’t either.
- Collective or congregational– Music, as God intended it, is sung together by the people of God. This concept is clear, Col. 3:16b,“…teaching and admonishing one another,” and Eph. 5:19a, “addressing one-another… .” This simple truth should immensely limit our style for church. If a song or style cannot be sung well together, there are better songs to sing and styles to employ.
- Godward- Music, as God intended it, praises the works and person of God. The Colossians text reads “in your hearts to God.” and the Ephesians passage reads “sing…to the Lord.” Your worship music is fundamentally, at its very core, not about you. If you’ve made it so, you’re not worshipping. You’re making yourself feel better about God with music that makes you feel better. True worship is generated by what you know about God, not in how you feel about him.
If you run to your music rather than Scripture when confused, hurt, or discouraged, be concerned. If you choose a church on the basis of how much you like the music, ask some questions. If you see music as the end of worship, rather than the means, repent. Again, make sure you worship God with your music, not worship your music about God.