In Psalm 137 in today’s Bible reading* we read of the Babylonian captors demanding that God’s people sing their songs for their amusement. The psalmist asks, how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. God’s people obviously feel differently about their songs than the Babylonians do.
Given the words the psalmist says, it sounds like the Babylonians wanted God’s people to sing worship songs for their amusement.
One of my professors said, “Music in the church is nothing more than … nothing less than … nothing other than ministry: ministry to God, ministry to the church, and ministry to the world.”
By this, my professor was emphasizing the fact that music in church is never for amusement. He then pointed out that the word amusement comes from the words muse, which means to think and the prefix a which means not.
In other words, music in church is never to be used to simply tickle your ears and make your foot tap. The purpose of music in church is to glorify God by stimulating your mind to contemplate God, His works, and His character. When used for edifying the church and testifying to the world, music is never to be used for causing anyone to not think. My professor was spot-on.
Given his definition of the purpose of music in church, I’m dumbfounded as I thumb through my hymnal at how few of our hymns are actually songs of ministry to God. Many of the hymns in our hymnal are songs are about God. Many of the hymns are songs encouraging God’s people to testify about God. Some of the hymns encourage lost people to repent and come to Jesus. But very few of our hymns are ministry to God.
Yesterday, I heard a radio commercial promoting a church’s upcoming eight-week focus. From the church’s website, they state, “Join xxxx church for a Fantastic Fall with EIGHT BIG SUNDAYS as we open our doors to some of the biggest names in Christian music. Starting Sunday, September 5, join us for eight weeks of worship featuring musical guests ….” The musical guests are some of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music. I would love to sit and listen to these individuals and groups perform.
Please pardon my cynicism, but I wonder how much ministry to God will happen for two straight months at this very popular church, as opposed to amusement.
Now please hear me. I’m not against Christian Music. I’m not against Contemporary Christian Music. I’m not against Contemporary Christian Music concerts. Again, music in church isn’t for the purpose of amusing God’s people.
Music in church should encourage participation, not “spectation”.
We should never have the attitude of being spectators in church, watching things happen, watching other people do things, and listening to other people perform. We should come to church expecting to plug in and take part in what’s going on.
As you go to church this Sunday, think about what you’re doing as the music plays. Are you being entertained? Amused? Spectating? Or are you actively participating in ministry to God, to the church, and to the lost?
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: