The Reformation and Music: Music is Next to Theology (Part 3)

Dear BPCWAians,

Today, we will continue to see how the church’s view has changed since the Reformation in 2 particular areas.

How music and worship has changed today

Music above theology

While many would propound Luther’s saying that “music is next to theology”, what they likely mean in effect is that music – not the theology put to music – is key. This phrase has taken on a new meaning of putting music on par with theology. But nothing should be thought to be on par with God’s Word. The Reformers emphasized sound theological music which served a didactic purpose. God never intended the church to entertain, but to edify, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16). And Biblical edification is always and only when the mind is engaged with understanding. However, the highly popular Christian genre known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) today features songs that are often shallow or even unsound in theology. Repetitive phrases and words leads the mind to a trance like state rather than to a conscious understanding of Biblical doctrines. Moreover, the focus of the songs is often man-centred. Unlike the Reformation, the focus today is predominantly on music as a form of entertainment. Sadly, in CCM, it would seem that music component is the typical focus rather than the theology. Most worshipers are drawn more to the music itself. You can tell from the fact that tunes of hymns are often replaced with contemporary pop style compositions.

Concert rather than worship 

In many churches today, performers and their instruments take centre stage, like in a concert. The pulpit is often moved to the side of the stage to make space for the singers perform in the centre instead. While the audience (ie, the congregation) may enjoy the music being performed and perhaps still sing along, there is little doubt who is the spectator and who is the singer. Music is about providing the right “atmosphere” so that one can have that emotional “encounter with God” as part of the “worship experience”. With such a desire in worship music, Reformation hymns and hymnbooks are naturally considered dated. Unless the music style is contemporary in jazz, pop, rock, sentimental ballad style, it will be labelled as boring. An ever- new, ever-changing variety of songs is now projected on screens. With uplifted hands and dancing, the congregation sings, not to bless God, but to receive a “blessing” from God in this “worship encounter”. The Reformation spirit in music was to draw attention to God, but CCM today draws more attention to the music, the instruments used, and the performers. People are drawn primarily to the ear-pleasing music, rather than to the Biblical richness of the words.

There is a lesson here for all of us. As worshippers, let us always remember to focus our minds and attentions on the words of the hymn that will serve to teach and edify us. Let us not allow our hearts to be drawn away and captivated by the music. Let us not seek to have music simply because “we like the tunes”. Musicians must remember that music is secondary to the words of the hymn. Let not the desire for “interesting” arrangements or the expression of one’s musical or technical ability distract the congregation from the undivided worship of God. God alone must be worshipped. Worshippers who enjoy CCM music styles will always be striving against leaders and musicians who desire to keep the church’s music sound. They will seek to wear down the defence of leaders little by little. And the usual avenues to introduce CCM is through the fellowship groups and musical items. What the younger people get used to in their fellowship groups will become the future of that church’s music. Here is where the prevention begins before it is too late. And to do so, it is not sufficient for the leaders alone to be against CCM, but we must all be personally convicted and stand together against it making inroads into BPCWA.

Yours in our Lord’s service