The selection of music in churches is important and is not based simply on preferences. Do not pooh-pooh the music by marginalizing it to a second tier of concerns and assigning it as simply a “preference.” Music is doctrine, sacred music is unique to the redeemed because it is our response to His redeeming work, and it is either reflective of the culture or it is reflective of the worshipful heart.
First, let’s talk about what music in church is NOT. These are taken from John MacArthur’s recent sermon “Is Music Worship?” based on the verses at Ephesians 5:18-20.
- Music is not worship. Music is a means to express worship, but it is not worship.
- Secondly, a misconception is that music motivates worship, music induces worship. That’s not true either. … [T]he motive for all of our songs is not a sound, it’s a truth.
- Another misconception is that when people have trouble worshiping, music will create worship, music will create the mood for worship. Worship is not a mood experience.
What true worship IS, is-
a permanent attitude. John 4, “We worship in spirit and truth.” That’s who we are. … The music of the redeemed is different. We live in a different world. We are citizens of a different kingdom. The music of the redeemed is alien to the music of the world. The music of the redeemed is reflective of that which is most lofty, most elevated, most exalted, most noble: the truth of God – it never changes. So our music doesn’t ride the culture. Music doesn’t ride the culture among the redeemed, it simply reveals the truth, and the truth never changes. (Source)
I encourage you to listen to the sermon. The explanation about music and its place in worship among the redeemed is stupendously explained, especially when you arrive at the powerful ending.
Meanwhile, I’d read Gladys Aylward’s autobiography and was struck by something described at the end of the book. The following is my retelling of Aylward’s event.
|Unsplash photo- free to use|
There is a great story in China Missionary Gladys Aylward’s autobiographical book “The Little Woman.” This occurred in the mid-1930s. She is trying to escape the invading Japanese, because they had put a price on her head. So she walked in a direction no Chinese went, over some mountains where the map was blank. She was with one other missionary. At dusk, seeing no human, no town, no habitation at all, they were debating whether to go back. The man told Aylward to sit on this nearby stump and he would go ahead a bit and see what’s what. Alone, Gladys began to sing hymns.
Soon the man came back and said, no luck. They might freeze out there or if they go back they might be killed. Just then a Lama (Buddhist Monk) came up. He said, come with me, we will take you to our lamastery. No people were EVER invited into a lamastery. But the duo believed it was an ordained appointment. I mean, what were the odds, right? So they went. They were led up the side of the mountain high up to a lamastery carved into the rock. They were greeted happily and warmly and fed and made comfortable.
She asked the head Lama the next day why they had been so cordially welcomed to such a private and mysterious place. Lama said that 7 years ago they brought to town their licorice that they pick and sell. They heard a lone man in the square saying that there is a God who loves them and salvation is free, if they believe- come to this building tonight to hear more. They were astounded that such a doctrine existed. There is a God? He loves? They accepted the tract the man was handing out, simply the verse at John 3:16 and the address, nothing more.
For five years they sought to learn more but were unable. Every time they went to town to sell their licorice they asked everyone about where to find “the God who loves.” No one else could tell them. Then one day a man was there and he did say yes, go to the China Inland Mission over there and they will tell you. A Mission house had been established.
They went to the Mission house and received New Testament bibles and tracts, which they brought back to the lamastery and read eagerly. They delighted in the notion that there was a “God who loves” but there was much in the book they did not understand. Still, they read, and they came to the verse where Christ had said of his apostles, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.” And the monks believed that one day a person would come and preach to them them, because it said so in the book.
And three years later when they heard singing, they knew the person had come, because as the Monk said, “Only people who know God will sing.” And the person was Gladys and her companion. They rejoiced, knowing they were about to learn more. So she and the other missionary told all the monks about Jesus and then they left the next day, not knowing if the lamas were saved or became saved, but trusting that some would, sometime.
I had never thought about it before, but no other major religion really sings. Of course anything other than biblical Christianity is a false religion. In these false religions, there are chants, but no hymns. No singing. On that cold, dusky night, Gladys was recognized by Buddhists because she sang. Our music IS unique and we are eternally identified with it. It is not simply a preference. Toward the end of his sermon, John MacArthur said this:
And by the way, Christians are the only religion that sing. Muslims don’t sing, Buddhists don’t sing, Hindus don’t sing. They don’t sing. Some chant in a minor key; Christians sing. But when the Reformation came, music was reintroduced to the church; and you sing a hymn written by Martin Luther who launched the Reformation: A Mighty Fortress is our God. Five-hundred years after that, we’re still singing that hymn.
We sing because we have been redeemed. We sing a new song, one that the world does not hear. We sing because-
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:2-3)