Posted in music, theology

Bring me a minstrel: Music in worship

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?

Posted in music, theology

Of Songs that Sing of the Blood, Repentance, Salvation

By Elizabeth Prata

My church service in Sundays goes from 2-2:45 (Sunday School), then the main service from 3:00-4:30. I love the afternoon schedule. It gives me time to prepare my heart in the morning, arrive unrushed at church, and enjoy the day in a different way than the usual10-12:30 timing of other churches.

On the way home from church one Sunday I stumbled onto a radio station which I had not heard before. Driving home from a sweet service filled with good music, I want to keep that atmosphere going. It’s hard with today’s radio programming.

In being frustrated one day with the quality of radio stations I had set on my buttons, I took some time to really search around and found WWQE “The Life”. It’s a Dove-award winning station. During my drive home there is a particular show called Gospel Vinyl Gold. These are Southern Gospel songs from the 50’s onward that are considered classics.

I love older Southern Gospel songs, I always have. That is strange because I didn’t grow up in the South and I didn’t become converted until I was 42. Even as a newbie I liked these older songs. The radio station played some good ones.

Newer songs are good too. Matt Papa and Keith Getty write good lyrics. Some of these are included in the new hymnal John MacArthur and others created called Hymns of Grace. I am not against new songs. But oftentimes newer songs leave out important doctrines.

I wrote previously about a song I heard back along while driving that struck me so much I had to stop the car. It was a song of eschatology, where the rapture happened and a father was left behind. The man turned out to have been having a dream, but the song focused on the scripture from Matthew 7:21-23 where (in his dream) he discovers he is a false convert. He faces Jesus and Jesus tells him ‘Depart from me, I never knew you.’ When the man in the song awoke to discover it was only a dream, he hastened to fall on his knees and really repent.

How often do we hear a doing like THAT these days? How often do we even hear a sermon like that? Rarely. The essay I wrote about that song was titled “Sorry, I never Knew You” – Should we Sing Songs of Judgment?

My pastor friend posted this morning from Patheos (a site I don’t generally recommend for women) and the section of that online magazine called Church for Men. The article was titled, Where did the Call-to-Repentance Songs Go? by David Murrow.

The author is reminiscing about singer-songwriter Ketih Green. Murrow says,

As my wife and I listened to Green’s music, we were struck by how strange his late 1970s lyrics sounded to our 2019 ears. Green employed a lyrical technique that used to be common in Christian music, but is virtually absent today: the call to repentance, or CTR. CTR songs are designed to convict the singer of his own sin.  Here are two reasons CTR songs sound so out of place today:

1. While most contemporary worship songs focus on comfort and assurance, CTR songs point out our shortcomings. CTR songs are anything but positive and encouraging.

2. While most of today’s praise songs are sung from the perspective of the disciple, CTR songs are sung from the perspective of God (or a prophet). In praise and worship, we are the speaker, telling God how we feel about him. With CTR, God is the speaker, telling us how he feels about us.

CTR songs are sometimes hard to listen to. Too much CTR can lead to discouragement and even legalism. However, I can personally testify to their effectiveness. Keith Green’s songs were the slap in the face I needed as a young believer.

Slap in the face is a good way to put it. When I heard Sego Brothers And Naomi’s song Sorry, I Never Knew You, it WAS a slap in the face. I was dumbstruck. Lyrics like that catch your attention and re-orient the mind toward eternal things, holiness of Jesus, and our own sin. It’s good to get back to that occasionally.

Bible Studies aimed at women, the publishing industry aimed at the female demographic, the songs aimed at ladies these days, tend to focus on phrases and concepts that assure women of their worth, that they are loved, that they have power and abilities, that they are esteemed, and so on. Where are the songs that call us sinners to repentance? Remind us that we are sinners? Remind us of the eternal consequences of sin? Largely absent.

I agree with Murrow that a steady diet of call-to-repentance songs would lead to dispirited attitudes and/or legalism. But a stead diet of affirming-only songs also isn’t healthy. Those simply puff us up and don’t always point to the real hero, Jesus. We must forget what is past but also remember we are sinners called to daily repent – as the Lord’s Prayer says. (Philippians 3:13-14; Matthew 6:12). We look forward to eternity but examine ourselves now to see if we are in the faith. (2 Corinthians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 13:5).

Sorry I Never Knew You

I told the Lord that I had been
A Christian all the while
But through his book he took a look
and sadly shook his head
then placed me over on his left
and this I heard him say,
“Sorry, I never knew you.
I find no record of your birth.”

Oof. A gut punch.

Bob Kauflin at Worship Matters wrote a few essays that I enjoyed on this topic. Here is his essay, Should we sing songs about God’s judgments?

Songs that Reference God’s Judgments, is Mr Kauflin’s follow up to the previous.

Don’t avoid songs with hard truths. Ones that sing of the blood, redemption from sin, salvation. Here are a few:

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
There is a Fountain
The Old Rugged Cross
Alas and Did My Savior Bleed
When we survey the wondrous cross
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!

New arrangement:

Traditional arrangement

Posted in church, contemporary music, encouragement, music, worship

Is Music Worship? Do singers "lead worship"?

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.

EPrata photo

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)