Worship Wars–Proposing a Few Ground Rules

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Music is a gift, but too often it doesn’t feel that way as it becomes the”bone of contention” in our churches. Our churches are filled with opinions, convictions, and passions about what is good, right, and proper music for God’s people to sing in worship. We all have opinions, convictions, and passions, but I wonder if we can establish at the very least these ground rules related to our congregational singing?

Our congregational singing should be marked by:

Biblically Informed Words: Whatever we sing, it must be biblically informed. The song is Christian and meaningful in worship, because of the words sung. If the words are wrong and unbiblical then the song has no place in Christian worship.

Theologically Accurate Words: Some songs can be Biblically informed and yet theologically inept. A Professor I enjoyed during my seminary days used to say, “Bible, Bible, Bible, everyone uses the Bible.” He was telling us in his own dramatic way that most heretics in the history of the Christian faith have used Biblical language; what they lacked, was theological accuracy according to the whole counsel of God’s Word.

Theologically Profound Words: The songs we sing as a body before the throne of God should reflect the very nature of God, who He created us to be, and what He desires from us. We are to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37). We are to worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). The songs that we sing before Him should be filled with the glories of His truth and thus have an air of reverence about them. There are times and places for overly simplified songs, but when we are teaching and admonishing one another (Col. 3:16) and offering corporate worship to God through the Son, it should have some tenor of profundity.

A Simple Tune: Some tunes are just too complex for corporate singing. They may be beautiful, but what good is it if everyone stops singing because they can’t sing it? Most of us have been in a service where a song begins and everyone tries to sing along, but after awhile the only people left singing are the select few who put the service together. This is corporate worship and sometimes the “corporateness” of it is destroyed by making it too complex.

But Not a Simplistic Tune: But let’s be careful with the above suggestion. We also don’t want simplistic tunes. It should be complex enough that it speaks to the weighty nature of our God and the worship we are enjoying. A tune like “Row Row Row Your Boat” if used in worship (Though it seems absurd, I have heard similar tunes of simplicity in worship) would actually undermine that worship.

A Consistent Tune: A lament should sound like a lament. A song of thanksgiving should sound like thanksgiving. Some hymns and songs have the wrong tempo with the message they are asserting.

The People’s Voice Being Heard: Congregational singing is congregational singing. That may seem axiomatic, but for many well-intentioned churches this is not the case. When God’s people sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” we should be able to hear God’s people sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The loudness of the instruments or the individuals/individual leading the congregation can actually drown out the voices of the congregation. I love musical instruments and I love hearing a good voice, I just shouldn’t hear them in place of the voice that matters in congregational singing: that of the congregation! In addition, when instruments, musicians, and audio equipment are too loud they tend to create silence within the very quarter they are seeking to promote it in. A congregation that can’t hear those next to them singing, let alone their own voice, will become mute.

We may not agree on whether we should sing traditional hymns, psalms, contemporary hymns, praise songs, etc. We may disagree about whether congregational worship music should be accompanied by an organ, a piano, guitar, or praise band. But whether we love hymns or songs, traditional or contemporary, it seems like these above points are a starting place in determining what music should be at the center of our congregational singing.

*Tomorrow’s post will provide some helpful advice from John Calvin about our convictions regarding worship.