May all who use these hymns experience, at all times, the blessed effects of complying with the Apostle Paul’s injunction (Eph. 5:18, 19), “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Yea, may they anticipate, while here below, though in a humble and imperfect strain, the song of the blessed above, who, being redeemed out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and having washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, are standing before the throne, and singing in perfect harmony with the many angels about it (Rev. 5:9-12 and 7:9-14), “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing, for ever and ever. Amen!”
—Moravian Hymnal (1789)
We may sign agreement to a doctrinal statement, but the doctrines we fully believe are the ones we sing. Church history has proven the power of music to shape our understanding of God.
—Jerry Foote, “Nearer Than We Know,” Moody Magazine January/February 1997, 16
Years ago near Christmas I was listening to ATC when a woman commentator shared the challenge of being Jewish in America at Christmas. I wish I could remember her name. What she said was cordial and insightful. As she wrapped it up she conceded wistfully that Christmas had quite simply inspired the greatest music in the history of the world. That admission contained a sigh and a signal.
Even Richard Dawkins (who succeeded Bertrand Russell and Madalyn Murray O’Hair as the world’s most famous atheist) has admitted to being a “cultural Christian.” The foundation for so startling a confession.? He found the singing of English Christmas carols to be irresistible. There is a truth and power in music whose source is not yet fully comprehended. Music is the registry of an unarticulated native reality. The power of music offered in praise suggests that though God’s truth can be denied, the beauty which radiates from that truth cannot go unadmired. Music which praises God’s majesty reflects God’s majesty. The music of Christmas, like the message of Christmas, resonates with something deeper than the mere recognition of excellence.
—Ronnie Collier Stevens, blogpost 12/13/2008
The use of music as an expression of emotion linked to theological truth is common in all churches. In the evangelical traditions where personal religious experience is emphasized, emotional expression is one of music’s most important meanings; it is probably that function which folks refer to when they identify “music that speaks to the heart.” But this is not a new experience for churchgoers. St. Augustine mentioned it in the fifth century.
“How greatly did I weep in Thy hymns and canticles, deeply moved by the voice of Thy sweet-speaking Church! The voices flowed into mine ears, and the truth was poured forth into my heart, whence the agitation of my piety overflowed, and my tears ran over, and blessed was I therein.”
The emotional power of music is perhaps best realized in the life of the church when proper music is well coupled to appropriate text. (Note that Augustine joins emotion with truth!) In this union, the music dramatizes, underlines, “breathes life” into the words, resulting in more meaning than the words themselves could express.
—Donald Hustad, Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal
Depending on music to aid, induce, or enhance worship is idolatry dressed up on psycho-aesthetic finery. It confuses the power of music with the presence of God.
—Harold M. Best, “Authentic Worship & Faithful Music Making,” ACDA National Convention, Chicago, Illinois, February 27, 1999
Wisdom will be needed to encourage a congregation to be united over the music it uses. One result of the power of music is that people become deeply wedded to their personal preferences and find it difficult to recognize that the style of music is almost always a matter of no intrinsic theological importance. Training the congregation to recognize the difference between what is theological and what is cultural, and between where the Bible speaks clearly and where it does not, is an important part of training the congregation to be balanced in their biblical understanding. It has been wisely pointed out that many tussles over words and books are basically disputes about power in the life of a local church. Selfishness loves to dress itself in cultural clothes. Musical taste seems a lot more godly than self-interest, but all too often that is all a preference for one style of music over another amounts to!
—Mark Ashton, “Following in Cranmer’s Footsteps,” in Worship by the Book, 91
Some worshipers mistakenly assume that music serves the same inconsequential purpose in church as in the shopping mall. Since they regard it all as elevator music for the soul, they impose no standards on it. For them, neither music nor silence has much spiritual significance. They believe worship to be the service of the Word in the form of words. So long as the words of a lyric are acceptably pious, the choice of the music to which words are set is dismissed as nothing more than a matter of personal preference.
This grossly misapprehends the power of music.
—Daniel Frankforter, Stones for Bread, 122-123