Music in the New Testament Church

14. Closing thoughts

The greatest of all thoughts about church music is that such will bring into the hearts of all, be they young or old a sense of harmony and peace.

It is not enough to push one kind of musical theme or type of presentation. As the local church grows in worship and praise we become part of the communion of the saints and join with all those who acknowledge Jesus as Lord in a great musical event that never ceases to sound across the earth. We are to be obedient in the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs but also be careful that all that we do will be a response to the guiding of the Holy Spirit. We may then praise the Lord as part of one worldwide body in Christ.

In the musical development of the church various moves of God have taken up particular styles of presentation with an attitude which decries or discards previous ways of worship. It is very often a musical emphasis of great worth that becomes the victim of such sectarianism. The Pentecostal movement and within it individual churches are a clear example of this leaning towards a denominational sectarianism which discards the beautiful and harmonious hymns of an older and perhaps wiser church in favour of exclusive use of “modern” music.

The local church does and should have its “family” flavour, but go too far, and the danger of becoming a sect draws closer. Sects always say, we know/do things the “right” way and so develop an “us and them” mentality.

It is difficult to “sound together” as the Universal Christian Church with such attitudes.

In the New Testament the word for sounding together is used to signify complete agreement between persons

To agree = sumphoneo Literally, to sound together. It is to be in accord, primarily of musical instruments.

(Mat 18:19 KJV) Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
(Mat 20:2 KJV) And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

The essential element is the agreement and harmony, which is to exist between all those who are present. In the extract from Matthew 18 Jesus is pointing out the need for this harmony between any that are asking of the Father concerning matters of the Kingdom.

The greatest model is the symphony orchestra, which derives its name from the same Greek source. All and every musician must be in perfect harmony to allow the beauty of the composer’s work to be expressed to the fullest.

So also in the church when music and praise is offered. The resultant sound must be harmonious and in agreement so that we may be truly “in His name”.

Being “in His name” is far more than a qualifying comment at the end of a prayer. In the Scripture a name involves the nature of the person. If we claim to be in His name we are striving in faith to be one with Him in all His beauty and harmonious nature.

This is the central idea of music in the church. To be “one” in spirit, soul and body. The church is to be the body of Christ, and as a great symphonic, harmonious instrument offer up praise of such beauty and greatness that all who hear will know that Jesus is in the midst.

(Matt 18:20) For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

To achieve these kinds of harmonies requires balance between all the elements of music and with this balance an awareness of spiritual order.

It is not enough to make a noise. All sounds are to be in harmony and in order.

(1 Cor 14:40 KJV) Let all things be done decently and in order.

“Order” in this context means “in contrast to confusion”. “decently” has the idea of gracefully, becomingly.

This again reinforces the idea of harmony and being at one with each other in all things.

A harmonious state is congruity of all the parts with one another and with the whole. This means compatibility in opinion and action and an agreement on those opinions. This is the essence of peace and the basis of sound worship. The moving into the name of the Lord by harmonious worship and praise brings with it safety and security against all the work of the enemy who is ever ready to cause dissonance.

(Prov 18:10 NRSV) The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.

The previous discussions have dealt with the nature of music and other matters. Further areas are the influence of electronic gadgetry on the harmony of church worship, and positioning of musicians and singers.

The first problem is the obvious one of loudness. This is simply dealt with by installing a decibel meter and being careful to monitor it at all times.

The next is not so simple. With the advent of electric instruments most are found to have their own amplifiers and volume/tone controls etc. While musicians play dissonance could have no better helper than freewheeling volume. The very understandable desire to hear what you are playing leads to a “turning up” the volume and this soon degenerates into a round Robin of increases leading to ear destroying dissonance. Clearly the answer is removal of all amplifiers except the one under the control of the central soundboard. The achieving of balance between various instruments can be done at the main board and this has the advantage such that the sound director can, if required by the trend in worship, cut the volume down or up or even remove electronic amplification altogether.

This aspect requires that the rules be clear and definite. Music for the Worship leader certainly but sound quality and volume is for the sound director.

Another part of the background reasons for musical dissonance is the unfortunate positioning of the so-called “band” (a name I personally dislike) in a place where they are pressured to “perform”. This concert approach towards both singers and musicians has over all the years of Pentecostal churches in particular, sent the wrong signals to both the congregation and the musical support. We are NOT putting on a rock concert or any other kind of performance.

It is not for nothing that the great cathedrals place the Organist and Choir at the side of the church and for the most partly hidden from the body of the church. They are not there to perform but to praise the Lord with harmonious and beautiful sound and they most times do this very well indeed. I believe that this front and centre presentation does in fact distract the congregation from the desire to focus on the centrality of the Lord in the worship of the church. Even a table with an open bible or a simple cross upon it would better occupy the centre stage during worship and praise. What a wonderful effect a great window opening to the vista of the sky might have in this setting.

The moving of the singers and musicians off stage to the side would give to them the opportunity to concentrate on the sounds they are making without any need to consider performance “in front of” an audience.

On reflection the idea of a table placed centrally is a very strong signal and combining it with the open bible and cross completes a message about the faith.

This very conventional focus although far too overdone in a “religious” sense is much better than the view of a scatter of musical instruments, overdressed choirs or performers of various kinds.

Every effort must be made to negate the “audience” feeling that can so easily develop even in mature worshippers and almost certainly does exist in the visitor or the young. The sound of music and singing from the leaders in this field can be very supportive but it is better that this seem to come from within the worshipping body not from a group that encourages an audience response.

It is helpful to remember that it is the Lord God who is the audience and useful to see the total congregation including the musicians as a great symphony orchestra arranged before the Lord to worship (perform for) Him and him alone.