“Music in the church ought to be much more than an emotional stimulant. In fact, this means music and preaching should have the same aim. Both properly pertain to the proclamation of God’s Word. Preaching is properly seen as an aspect of or worship. And conversely, music is properly seen as an aspect of the ministry of the Word, just like preaching. Therefore the songwriter ought to be skilled in Scripture and as concerned for theological precision as the preacher. Even more so, because the songs he writes are likely to be sung again and again (unlike a sermon that is preached only once).”
― John MacArthur, Fool’s Gold?: Discerning Truth in an Age of Error
Throughout church history the people of God have sung together every Lord’s Day. Truth expressed in song deepened understanding of Christian orthodoxy and unified congregations in their commitment to specific theological distinctives. Historically, the churches of the Reformation understood the role that God intends music to play in the local church. Here is a brief summary:
- Biblical singing teaches the truth of God
- Biblical singing expresses prayer
- Biblical singing shapes Christian affections
- Biblical singing unites the community of faith
All of that began to change in American evangelicalism during the 20th century. Popular music styles invaded the church to serve pragmatic impulses of revivalists. Music was “good” if it used cultural appeal to draw crowds with the expectation of entertainment. As churches began to use this pattern to reshape their ministries, the consequence was devastating: sentimentality displaced truth, individual interests eclipsed the interests of the assembly, and carnal desires rose above godly affections. In the end, the worshiper (or worse, the unbeliever) replaced God as the focus of the “worship” service.
At Huron Baptist Church we attempt to reclaim the biblical purpose of singing. To do so, we select church music based on the following criteria:
- Songs that use lyrics that declare a broad span of biblical truth
- Songs that express truth with respect and reverence
- Songs that use lyrics that express the truth with artistic beauty
- Songs that have a musical style that supports the truth, not distracts from it
- Songs that have a musical style appropriate for the purpose and occasion
- Songs that are accessible, that is, singable and memorable
- Songs that express prayer and praise corporately rather than individually
- Songs that avoid obvious associations with worldliness or theological error
- Songs that are timeless, transcending any narrow era or culture
If you would like to read more on this subject, here are some suggested resources:
Steven Thomas, Preaching and Liturgy: An Essential Symbiosis (May, 2014).
Scott Aniol, Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship (Winona Lake, IN.: BMH Books, 2009).
Paul S Jones, Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2006).
David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2010).
Here is a message by Michael Riley on “Why We Sing As Christians.”