To Praise or Not to Praise Part II Music: The War Department of the Church
Music: The War Department of the Church
Last month we looked at the historical battle over music century by century as each new style was brought into the church. We noted one prominent American pastor who criticized a new form of music as “too new…often worldly… and the previous generation got along without it.” His 1723 critique was leveled at none other than Isaac Watts and his new “hymns.”
Today the debate rages on about church music, hymnology, worship and praise. Ellen G. White has good counsel consistent with her times as well as eternity. And while the Bible doesn’t say much about style, it does repeatedly talk about music “played skillfully.” So there’s the first principle we can hold onto. If our music is to bring honor to the Lord, then it should be performed well (I Chronicles 25:7).
The Bible lists many musical instruments for use in worship, from tinkling cymbals to loud cymbals, from strings to trumpets, so apparently instruments in and of themselves are not evil.
A church that weekly includes a balance of hymns and praise songs will help a larger number of attendees feel they have worshipped. The Barna Research Group says that less than one-third of those who attend church each week say they have meaningfully worshipped God.
The messages of many praise songs are wonderfully appropriate for Adventist worship services. The Bible says sing a new song (Psalm 33:3). Some of today’s song writers such as Scott Wesley Brown, Bill Smiley and Michael W. Smith have rearranged some of the church’s great hymns with new harmonic chords, making our traditional hymns appealing to old and young alike.*
Yet let’s remember that the devil was the lead musician in heaven and has not forgotten his talent to compose. As far back as ancient Greece, Plato characterized certain harmonic combinations as nonconducive to character development. Contemporary studies show that higher thought processes diminish the more rhythm becomes dominant.
Another principle is to use songs that reinforce our unique Biblical beliefs. Jim Nix, head of the Ellen G. White Estate, tells how he once asked a group of academy students to sing the great Adventist classic, “We Have This Hope.” None of them knew it. He said, “Well, let’s sing ‘Lift Up the Trumpet.'” Again the same response. He said, “Let’s sing one of your songs about the Second Coming.” And they couldn’t name one. That is a tragedy.
Our hymns should reflect our Adventist heritage, theology and message. Frank E. Belden was the most prolific Adventist hymn writer with several hundred songs to his credit. During at least one evangelistic series, he wrote a new hymn every night to illustrate the message. While I don’t know any Beldens today, our hymns should undergird our beliefs, for what we sing we tend to remember.
Finally, within certain parameters, Adventists should be accepting of different tastes and styles. As I have traveled the world, my appreciation for various types of Christian music has grown. What some would consider right or wrong may in fact be a matter of cultural preference. And, as international evangelist Luis Palau once said, “I may not love all the music, but I love the people who love the music.”
Ellen G. White also offers wise words on this topic. “Some of the methods used in this work will be different from the methods used in the work in the past; but let no one, because of this, block the way by criticism. Men are needed who pray to God for wisdom, and who, under the guidance of God, can put new life into the old methods of awakening the interest of church members and reaching the men and women of the world” (Review and Herald, 1902).
Music Used by the Devil
The devil has used worship to bring discord to God’s people since the beginning, when Cain killed his own brother, Abel, over the topic of how to worship God. Satan must still gloat today when the very tool created to bring honor, glory and meaning to the worship of God becomes a battleground for His saints.
The Psalmist wrote, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). As Adventists, let’s do it appropriately, skillfully, and with balance, understanding and theological accuracy.
And possibly most importantly... in harmony—in every sense of the word.