By Elizabeth Prata
You know the quote, I’m sure:
Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
― William Congreve
Music does make a difference to our mood. King Saul used music to soothe him when his savagery arose in him, calling for David to play.
And whenever the tormenting spirit from God troubled Saul, David would play the harp. (1 Samuel 16:23).
It seems that music does have charms to soothe the savage breast, literally. In another case, Elisha had a hard decision to make and prepared to consult the LORD by asking for music.
Then Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD of Hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not for my regard for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you or acknowledge you. 15But now, bring me a harpist.” And while the harpist played, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha. (2 Kings 3:15)
The John MacArthur Commentary says of the 2 Kings 3 verse,
The music was used to accompany praise and prayer, which calmed the mind of the prophet that he might clearly hear the word of the LORD. Music often accompanied prophecies in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1)
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says
bring me a minstrel—The effect of music in soothing the mind is much regarded in the East; and it appears that the ancient prophets, before entering their work, commonly resorted to it, as a preparative, by praise and prayer, to their receiving the prophetic afflatus.
Music does have the ability to alter our mood, change our state of mind, even relax us (else why have so much New Age music in spas?), and alternately music can also excite us (else why have a ‘warm-up band’ before the main concert attraction?)
The long “music wars” in church began when millennials wanted more “contemporary music”. War is an apt name for this tussle over which music to play in church, because as we’ve seen from scripture, music is important in worship, and it can alter our mood and thinking. It’s important to ensure that the music we play isn’t for the purpose of altering our emotions without also engaging the mind. Music can alter our thinking because music lyrics are doctrinal. Songs aren’t neutral, lyrics present a way of thinking about God.
Music in church needs to be delivered in a biblical way and a practical way. Biblical as mentioned, because of the doctrine the songs contain (or don’t contain). Practical, because many ‘old songs’ were easier to sing corporately with laymen and many ‘new songs’ aren’t written for the laymen and are just hard to sing.
There are many new songs which exalt the Lord and/or are solidly doctrinal. There are many old ones that don’t and aren’t. The issue isn’t new vs. old, the issue is whether the song is biblical and practical.
My favorite hymns/songs are Amazing Grace, written in 1779, 240 years ago, and Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor, written in 2015, just 4 years ago.
Now where is that minstrel?…
Resources on Music in the Church
John MacArthur with an overview through a Q&A with Phil Johnson-
Contemporary Worship: Civil War in the Church
This Federalist author has a strong opinion. Essay is from one day ago-
Why Churches Should Ditch The Projector Screens And Bring Back Hymnals
Musician Bob Kauflin with an essay asking the question. BTW there are many other good essays on music in worship at Kauflin’s site.
What does a Worship Leader Do?