Song in Its Proper Place

It is unscriptural to view worship songs as capable of initiating or guaranteeing God’s presence….Songs of worship cannot create, deliver, or otherwise command God’s presence. We cannot sing down the presence of God. The presence is already real. Music is an element in worship, like other elements, that helps us to interact conversationally with the triune God who is present, but music must not be given power on our terms.

—Constance Cherry, The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song, 67-68

“That would be more characteristic of Baal worship.”

—John Witvliet

Make Music (9)

Paul’s exhortation to sing, then, is bound up with his emphasis throughout the Epistle on the unity of the body of Christ. Music voices the shared life of the church. It is not accidental that the commands to sing in Eph. 5:19 lead on to the exhortation in verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Music is both an image and a means of attaining to this unity. Structurally, the command to sing is the hinge connecting two sections of the epistle. Chapters 4 and 5 urge the Christians to put away the kind of self‐gratifying and self‐interested behavior that destroys community. The second half of Chapter 5 and the first half of Chapter 6 paint a picture of healthy community life, in which each member senses and responds to the needs of others.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 643

Make Music (8)

Music, of course, does not remake us; the Holy Spirit does. But it seems possible that music may be one means by which the Holy Spirit makes us people who feel and respond. We are brought to our senses. We are drawn out of the darkness of self‐absorption and become aware of the world around us, our place within and responsibility to it. In song we move in a dance of sympathy with the others who are singing, and by the body are drawn out of ourselves and into the Body.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 643

Make Music (7)

Sensitivity and responsiveness to the created order and to other human beings—this characterizes the Holy Spirit’s work among the children of light. It is also an apt description of what happens and what is required when we sing and make music well. As we sing together we attend to the activity of our own bodies in making sound, and we regard and respond to our own song as we hear it resonate in the space around us. We hear and attune ourselves to the sound of others’ voices. We respond not only to people, but to the physical qualities of he sound we are creating with others and the physical and acoustical properties of the space in which we sing. Moreover, we submit ourselves together to a tempo, a pattern of melody and rhythm, and we respond dynamically to the shape and movement of our musical interaction.

——Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 642

Make Music

Most of Ephesians 4 and all of Ephesians 5 address what it means to live as children of light, or more conventionally, what it means to live holy lives. Paul gives many commands and instructions, but ultimately men and women are made holy by the Spirit who is called Holy. Therefore Paul’s command in Eph. 5:18—“Be filled with the Holy Spirit”—is the culmination of these chapters, both rhetorically and theologically. The passive imperative—“be filled”—is followed by four subordinate participial clauses: (1) speaking to one another in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs; (2) singing and making music in your hearts; (3) giving thanks to the Lord; (4) submitting to one another. These participles are grammatically dependent upon the verb, and they give substance and content to the command to be filled with the Spirit. And remarkably, two of the four clauses—three of the five participles—have to do with making music.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 639

Not a Universal Language

You may wipe away tears of worshipful awe while hearing a mass choir sing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” [Some] who’ve shared the famous chorus in other countries find that it’s not universally appreciated.

  • Senufo people in Ivory Coast said it sounded “like crying music.”
  • It reminded Maasai people in Kenya of noisy jet engines.
  • Tibetans said it was “not steady.” They wondered how a song with so many high and low pitches and loud and soft volumes could be considered fine art.

“Music is a universal phenomenon but not a universal language. In other words, our response to music is learned and not intrinsic,” says . . . Robin Harris, an ethnomusicologist who’s been a missionary in North America, Siberia, and Russia.

—Joan Huyser-Honig, “Ethnodoxology: Calling All Peoples to Worship in Their Heart Language” http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/ethnodoxology-calling-all-peoples-to-worship-in-their-heart-language/?source=news

Pleasing the Father

We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats. To which an answer came, ‘mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills’, and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.

—C.S. Lewis, “On Church Music,” Christian Reflections 98-99