The powerful influence of music is seen in 1 Sam. 16:14-23 when David, the greatest harpist in Israel, calmed troubled King Saul with his music. “Aristotle said, ‘Music has the power to shape character.’ Satan is clearly using music to do that today. The rock lyrics of the 1960s and 1970s shaped the values of most Americans who are now in their thirties, forties, or fifties. Today, MTV shapes the values of most people in their teens and twenties” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Driven Church, page 279).
The importance of music is seen in the 500 references to music in the Bible. One music department wrote: “The OT books of 1 and 2 Chronicles contain detailed instructions concerning temple worship, the appointment of spiritually qualified musicians, the training and skill level required of musicians, the use of instruments, etc. Clearly, music is a matter of great importance to God, as it should be for the Christian.”
Most Christian teachers agree that the Bible does not specify a certain style of music and here is where great controversy continues. “It is difficult to uncover a congregational definition of what constitutes good music, because choice of music is a matter of taste” (Robert Anderson, The Effective Pastor. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985, 325). A conservative Bible College addressed this issue: “While the Bible does not specifically address the issue of musical style, some standard can be established because of what has been revealed by God through natural revelation regarding the nature of man, the nature of music, and the way man responds to music. Scripture documents the fact that music is inherently capable of physical, mental, and spiritual impact upon man (1 Sam. 16:23).” In other words, while admitting that the Bible does not condone one style over another style, some styles can be deemed good or bad from other sources.
Rick Warren disagrees: “I reject the idea that music styles can be judged as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music. Who decides this? The kind of music you like is determined by your background and culture. Certain tones and scales sound pleasant to Asian ears; other tones and scales sound pleasant to Middle Eastern ears. Africans enjoy different rhythms than South Americans. To insist that all ‘good’ music was written in Europe two hundred years ago is cultural elitism. There certainly isn’t any biblical basis for that view” (PDC, page 281).
Warren tries to substantiate his view with debatable examples from church history. “The tune of Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God is borrowed from a popular song of his day. Charles Wesley used several popular tunes from the taverns and opera houses in England. John Calvin hired two secular songwriters of his day to put his theology to music. The Queen of England was so incensed by these ‘vulgar tunes’ that she derisively referred to them as Calvin’s ‘Geneva jigs’” (PDC, pages 282-3).
Dean B. McIntyre, a musician in the United Methodist Church who has an earned Ph.D. in music history from Texas Tech University refutes Warren’s claims. “The truth is that the Wesleys and Luther never made such use of saloon songs, nor would they have condoned such use. The misconception stems from confusion over a musical term—bar form. In German literature and music of the Middle Ages, ‘Bar’ was a poem consisting of three or more stanzas. It is not difficult to understand how the musical term, bar form, also sometimes referred to as bar tune can become confused in an uninformed person’s mind with barroom tune, drinking song, or some other title to indicate music to accompany the drinking of alcoholic beverages. John made use of new tunes composed or adapted from folk tunes, sacred and secular oratorio, and even operatic melodies. It should not escape us that whenever Wesley allowed the use of secular music—as from oratorio and opera—he used music of accepted high standard and almost always from classical rather than popular sources. In no instance did Wesley turn to tavern or drinking songs or other such unseemly sources to carry the sacred texts of songs and hymns.” Warren is correct in saying that different styles cannot be judged good or bad music, he is incorrect in his use of church history to substantiate his view.
While we will disagree on the styles of music used in churches, we can agree that to change the style of music in a local church is difficult. Church history is not debatable on this matter. Baptist pastor Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) was one of the first pastors to introduce congregational singing in the place of the singing of Psalms (metrical Psalms singing) in the local Baptist church in London that was later pastored by Charles Spurgeon. For more on Keach you can read a brief biography in Mark Dever’s Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life on pages 60-62. Keach, at first, could only lead his church to sing congregational songs at Communion which he did for six years. Next, he was able to sing congregational songs at days of public thanksgiving which he practiced for another 14 years. After this 20 year transition from the singing of Psalms to congregational songs, Keach was able to sing congregational songs each Sunday but only after his sermon. Even after 20 years, there were members who would leave the service in protest during the congregational singing. This group eventually left, and like good Baptists, started their own church with their preferred music. The new church did not except congregational singing until 1793 or 100 years after the battle over congregational singing began.
So what was a previous generation’s revolutionary music became the established music of the next generation. This is only one reason the choice of style in church music is difficult. We will discuss principles to help guide in the selection of music style in the next post.