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 (10)

Augustine observes that when sacred words are joined to pleasant music, “our souls [animos] are moved and are more religiously and with a warmer devotion kindled to piety than if they are not so sung.” [Augustine, Confessions, X, xxxiii (49)]

——Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 632

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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

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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

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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

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Music provides a compelling sounding image of life together; but it is a shared life in which the distinctive voice of the individual is not negated by communion with the other. In music, we encounter identity which preserves particularity. As we sing together, different sounds—your voice, and mine—occupy the same time and the same space, without obstructing or negating one another.

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

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The unity of the Body of Christ is not a bland, undifferentiated uniformity, but a rich and manifold concord. Music is uniquely equipped to provide an aural image of this kind of community, in which union is not unanimity, nor multiplicity a cacophony. With every resonant sonority, music testifies to the possibility of this sort of life.

——Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 645

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Paul’s view of music is not simply benign. Rather, he sees music as having a role to play in sanctification. One scholar of church music observes that the NT has relatively little to say about music, aside from “a stray remark in two of the Epistles about the singing of hymns and spiritual songs” (Eric Routley, Church Music and the Christian Faith, 15). Routley is referring to this passage in Ephesians and the parallel passage in Colossians. But this is certainly not a stray remark.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 638‐39

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There is an analogy of form between the sound of people singing together and the unity to which the church aspires, and for this reason music is a particularly apt vehicle for worship. In Ephesians 5, it is in connection with the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit that Paul urges his readers to sing. Music offers a sounding image of the kind of diversified unity brought about by the Holy Spirit—“simultaneous voices which are nevertheless also one voice.” “There are many parts, but one body,” is how Paul expresses the same ideal in 1 Corinthians (12:20). It is by the Spirit that Christians are baptized into one Body (1 Cor. 12:13); but it is also the Spirit who gives diverse gifts (1 Cor. 12:7‐11)—who gives to each part of the body its special function, to each voice its distinct part in the great chorus.

—Stephen R. Guthrie, “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46/4 (December 2003), 644

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