Parameters for the Christian music debate, part 4(a)

To this point, I’ve tried to remove as much subjectivity as possible from the music debate (though that will never be entirely possible): I’ve explained that the approach to music should be completely Bible based – instead of personal opinion, philosophical, or technical. I’ve described how people will often misinterpret and misapply the Scriptures by using personally developed principles and turning them into corporate mandates. I’ve categorized music in order to clarify the target of the debate.

By determining to let Scripture be the authority (not opinion, philosophy, or theory), to interpret the Scripture accurately, and to limit the debate to worship music in the church only, we are left with only three passages of Scripture that directly apply to the current debate.

Those three are 1st Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, and Colossians 3. (If you have not read the previous posts, you will need to read Part 2 to see why I believe it is just those stated.) This post will explain those passages of Scripture and the expectation that is given to the Church in light of those passages. Part 4 will be subdivided into at least three posts.

The longest and the one that takes the most explanation is 1st Corinthians 14, so I will save it until last.

Ephesians 5:19 “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

I used to be afraid of the book of Ephesians. Then, about 4 years ago, as my dad was preaching through the book, he called and asked me a couple Greek questions on the first chapter. To help him, I diagrammed chapter 1 and was so moved by the contents of that first chapter that I decided to diagram the entire book and preach through it myself. It has become my favorite Epistle at this point in my life.

In a very brief synopsis, the book’s purpose is to show that God has taken saved Jews and saved Gentiles and formed them into one body whose purpose it is to bring glory to God by Christ Jesus forever. The first half of the book shows the formation of this union and the second half shows the function of it in life both corporately and individually.

Chapters 4-6 contain multiple exhortations regarding the believer’s walk. Chapter 5 and verse 18, a very well-known verse, is one of those challenges. “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit.” There are two commands in the verse: don’t be drunk and be filled with the Spirit. Following the second imperative, there are five participles which modify that command to be filled with the Spirit. Those words that are the expectations of Spirit filled Christians are underlined in the following verses: (19-21) “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”

The first three of these participles relate to music, we’ll look at them in order:

Speaking
The word “speaking” in this context represents the idea of “communicating.” Spirit-filled believers are to communicate with one another using the musical vehicles of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. When we get to 1st Corinthians 14 in a little while, I’ll explain more of the idea of edification, but that is the word that can be inserted into this thought of speaking/communicating with one another. Basically, edify one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Believers are to build one another up with three kinds of music:

Psalms – this is generally a word for just pious praise, it was not limited in its usage to Israel or the church. Usually, it was sung with a stringed instrument for accompaniment. It may be the inclination of some to presume that this meant that the styles as well as the texts of Israel’s worship from the Old Testament were to be incorporated into the New Testament church; this is certainly a valid consideration. However, it is by no means a mandate that the New Testament church music be patterned after the corporate worship of ancient Israel. Practically, it is understood that Paul was indicating that there are pious and sacred songs of praise that should be used by Spirit-filled believers.

Hymns – this would be more of an emotional song as it could apply either to festivities or mourning. In secular music, it was the kind of song which was sung in praise of a returning victorious soldier; it could also be like a dirge. An accusation that has been leveled against some Christian music is that it is “too emotional.” Clearly there is some music that is “too emotional,” but the Biblical reality is that music should be emotional – balanced of course. A hymn is music which stimulates godly passion.

Spiritual songs – this was lyric or poetical music. Of course, there is the qualifier “spiritual” that is attached to this particular word. The word “spiritual” here is indicating that which is for the benefit or growth of the spirit; the opposite word would be indicating that which is “fleshly” or “carnal.” Clearly the idea of this particular music is that it is intended to spiritually edify the listener.

The conclusion of this first expectation and outworking of a Spiritual believer is that he communicates, for the purpose of building up other believers, by using pious praise, jubilant song, and spiritual poetry.

Singing and making melody
I will combine the next two participles into one segment. Singing is the basic word describing the process of making notes with the human voice. “Singing” and “making melody” are both modified by the same words “to the Lord.” So, the vocal music to be accomplished by the Spirit-filled believer is ultimately directed to the Lord. Making melody is a word that indicates the action of “plucking the strings” of an instrument. This music takes place in the heart and is also to the Lord.

The inward music of the believer is essentially personal worship to the Lord.

Even the inward music of the believer is directed to the Lord and so it should still be understood that the music’s object is to please the Lord. How is it known what kind of music will please the Lord? Some things are obvious: it must be in harmony with the Word of God and it must reflect the character of God; other generic N.T. principles could and should be applied.

Conclusion regarding Ephesians 5:18-19. This passage of Scripture describes the musical vehicles by which Spirit-filled believers communicate to one another: pious praise, jubilant song, and spiritual poetry. It expects that personal singing in the heart is directed as worship to the Lord.

The above stated paradigm, if kept as simple as Paul wrote it, allows for individual soul liberty and autonomy of each local church without detracting from the character of God or violating the Word of God.

The next post, #4(b) which concerns Colossians 3:16, will be posted soon.