Philosophy of Music
Note: We are indebted to Dr. David Harrell, Pastor/Teacher of Calvary Bible Church, Joelton, TN and Dr. Paul S. Jones, Chair, Department of Music, Philadelphia College of Bible, for much of the following material related.
What follows represents a brief biblical and theological basis of music as it relates to both public and private worship of believers along with practical implications for our church. Though there are many similarities between our individual and corporate worship, we also believe there are critical and biblical distinctions between the two. Accordingly, this paper will address first the worshipping congregation at large and then those in a music leadership role. For clarification let’s first define music:
Music is “the art of organizing sound so as to elicit an aesthetic response in a listener; vocal or instrumental sounds having some degree of rhythm, melody, and harmony; aesthetically pleasing or harmonious sound or a combination thereof” (The American Heritage Dictionary).
“Music leadership”, for our purposes, includes everyone in an “up front” musical role – song leaders, instrumentalists, choir director and members, soloists, etc. As you read and meditate upon these principles, keep in mind that we, your elders, recognize that no matter where we are on the spectrum of pleasing God in our private and public worship, we will never ultimately “arrive” this side of heaven. However this should not keep us from setting goals in line with Scripture, from aiming high and reckoning with God’s thoughts on the subject.
Music is the creation of God and therefore has a God-oriented meaning for existence. Music and especially vocal music or singing has always been an integral aspect of the worship of God and has always played a key didactic or teaching role in the life of the nation of Israel and now the church. Not surprisingly the Bible has many references to music (over 600). Of course the 150 Psalms represent the ancient hymnal of the worshipping Israelites. How instructive it is to our own modern-day lyrics that the Psalms contain so much truth about the character and works of God. There are, however, many other hymns and songs of praise in the Bible outside of the Psalms. One interesting pattern we discover is that God’s people would often “burst forth” in songs of worship and psalms of praise for the character and works of God (e.g. Moses in Exodus 34, David in 2 Samuel 22, Mary and Zacharias in Luke 1 and Simeon in Luke 2). These men and women simply had to sing to the Lord, being filled with awe, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God and gratitude.
The New Testament also contains several other passages that scholars believe may have been hymns or praise songs of the early church, such as Philippians 2:5-11, I Timothy 3:16 and Jude 24-25. Of course Revelation 4-5 contain many of the lyrics of the songs and sayings of worship before the throne of God. Indeed, the song of the redeemed will be heard around God’s throne for all eternity!
Privilege and Responsibility
Until that time, perhaps one of the most exhilarating experiences a Christian can have is being caught up in the transcendent power of singing songs of worship to our God. The combination of instruments and voices of the saints, enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, allows our souls to express praise to our Redeemer like no other way known to man. Ours is a “new song” eternally fixed in our hearts, overflowing with doxologies of worship because of God’s glory and our inexpressible joy in knowing Christ Jesus and possessing a confident hope of heaven. Saints throughout the ages have echoed the song of the psalmist when he cried out, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3). Indeed, ours is music the unregenerate cannot understand. What a privilege we have to sing it!
However, with privilege comes responsibility. And God’s word is not silent on this matter. We find detailed illustrations of God’s perspective and instructions related to both private and corporate worship, to both the congregation and to those who would lead the congregation in this critically important expression of worship.
Without trying to give a full discourse on worship, whether through music or otherwise, whether alone or as part of a congregation, suffice it to say that essentially three requirements must be met by the worshipper. The first two would apply to all aspects of worship while the third relates specifically to congregational singing:
1) The worshipper must truly know God through personal faith in Jesus Christ and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Apart from this, no one is able to “worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
2) The worshipper must be walking in fellowship with God. There must be the ongoing confession of sin and repentance. There must be a lifestyle of daily obedience and frequent communion with the Lord to properly worship Him in song or in any other way. In other words, we acknowledge that all worship must be energized and enabled by the Holy Spirit. If He’s quenched or grieved in the life of the believer, likewise will his/her worship be quenched.
3) The worshipper must worship God with his/her whole being, in response to God’s truth. Worship of all kinds but especially the singing of God’s praises, requires the focused attention of the believer, embracing and believing and responding to the truth carried by the message of the song. Acceptable worship, given the object of our worship and the glory He is due, is whole-hearted worship. Simply put, God asks His children to participate in the corporate worship of Himself. To not participate is a sure way to forfeit blessing in our lives.
Scripture is clear on what’s needed for God-honoring worship:
“…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:18b-21).
The speaking and singing here are the result of being filled or controlled by the Spirit. It is worth noting the parallel passage found in Colossians 3:16-17:
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Here we see essentially the same outcome in a believer’s life as in the Ephesians passage, only this time the starting point is the “word of Christ” dwelling within, dominating the thought and behavior of the believer. Controlled by the Spirit and filled with God’s Word – nothing could be more important when it comes to offering God acceptable worship.
We believe the qualifications and responsibilities of music leadership fits the pattern of all church leadership – higher standards apply. In other words, the responsibilities and qualifications for those who lead in music include everything that’s been said regarding the congregation at large but also go further. All of the moral and spiritual qualifications still apply and are only heightened, as leadership in God’s church of any kind brings higher visibility and accountability. But beyond the spiritual qualifications, there are also qualifications related to skills or giftedness that must be met for those who would lead God’s people in music. A parallel case can be made for pastors who lead through preaching and teaching. Spiritual and moral qualifications abound but something else is still required – the necessary abilities, skills, gifts and knowledge.
The Old Testament provides us with God’s perspective on the importance of music and musicians (those who would lead the people in worship), especially in relation to adorning His holiness. We see this not only by the careful restrictions He places on their Levitical lineage, but also by the large amount of space their names and responsibilities occupy in the sacred text (see I Chron. 15:16-22, 16:4-6 and 25:1-8). We also see that leadership required skill, stated plainly in I Chron. 15:22, “And Chenania, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful” and in I Chron. 25:7, “And their number who were trained in singing to the Lord, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288.” Finally we see God’s pleasure and the people’s immense blessing all come together upon the completion of Solomon’s Temple as they had followed God’s guidelines in worshipping Him. The result was a manifestation of God’s presence, as He inhabits the praise of His people (see II Chron. 5:11-14). These principles and passages clearly express then that the role of musical leadership was one that required holiness, adequate training and skill—qualifications we would do well to heed today.
Possibly the greatest Christian musician that God has raised up for His glory was Johann Sebastian Bach. His great love for God was clearly reflected in his music. It is little wonder that he said, “The aim of all music is the glory of God.” It is absolutely paramount that all “up front” musicians remember that they are not performers in the church. God will not share His glory (Isaiah 42:8)! Rather, they are to be Spirit-filled servants that use music to express worship and praise to God, testimony to one another, and to lead others in the same. (This reality further supports our thoughts on applause in church found below).
So to summarize, we believe that there are two different sets of criteria in evaluating our offerings of music. For the congregation at large, God’s concern is that we worship Him in spirit and in truth, with love, devotion and gratitude and that we sing with all our might. But there is no required level of skill for congregational singing (for that I am very thankful!). All who know and love God are to participate and to do so with all that is in them. For leadership though, all of this is required plus something else – the appropriate giftedness and skill.
MUSICIANS should ask themselves the following questions:
A. Is my heart right with God, making my sacrifice acceptable to Him?
B. Am I capable as a musician of offering this sacrifice of praise in a skillful way
that will honor God and edify the saints?
Our praises are sacrifices (Hebrews 13:15) and as such should be likened to the first fruits—the very best we have. Poor musicianship, no matter how pure in motive, is a huge distraction in worship. This is an undeniable reality that most everyone has probably experienced in a church at one time or another. Therefore every musician must be able to enhance worship, not distract from it. This requires both the musician’s self-evaluation and an objective evaluation from someone with the necessary skills and proper musical judgment.
Unfortunately, all too often our perceptions of our musical abilities are based upon the “positive” feedback of friends and family in the church who are untrained musicians, unwilling to forthrightly (but kindly) express their assessment of our talent—even when it is negative. Therefore, it is important to solicit the feedback of those who are musically qualified and who will care enough about the musician and the body of Christ to be honest in their assessment. (This is why most churches have auditions for ensemble, choir, soloists and instrumentalists who sing or play during worship). While it is never our intention to offend anyone, some may be disappointed when they are not asked to sing (or play) with certain groups or on various occasions. Please understand, just because an individual was musically active (even popular) in another church or organization does not necessarily guarantee the same will be true at KBC. Our standards may be higher than other churches, and in some cases they will undoubtedly be lower.
Please don’t misunderstand. Our standard is not that only “professionals” are able to minister musically in our church. Rather, our highest objective is that we as a church body are offering Him our very best in the way of music and that the saints are edified. Our second objective is this – our music ministry needs to be developed and led in such a way that we involve every talented and interested member in our music ministry. A good music ministry then is one that is constantly identifying and developing those members who are adequately gifted and skilled so that 1) our church as a whole offers God our best and 2) no one with the necessary skills, talents, godliness and desire to serve is left out.
Vocalists then are chosen to sing solos and participate in certain groups (e.g. choir, ensemble, trios, quartets, etc.) based on certain carefully considered musical criteria. We recognize that these criteria are going to be subjective to some degree and will require the evaluation of our Choir Director who, in a spirit of Christian love and humility, will seek to apply these standards as guidelines in evaluating the musical offerings presented from the platform. Ultimately the question that must be answered is this – will it enhance worship or distract from it?
Here’s a practical example. Every choir member need not have a “soloist” voice. The key will be that the choir as a whole is able to enhance our worship service.
Guidelines for evaluating musicianship:
• Overall voice quality
• Ability to stay on pitch
• Ability to sing the melody of a song
• Ability to feel rhythm
• Ability to blend with others
1. All musicians who participate in a formal, on-going music ministry, including choir members, must be members of KBC.
2. Non-members shall be allowed to sing or play an instrument in the worship services on an occasional basis (e.g. “special music”), but only after the individual and their music have been approved by the appropriate person(s).
3. Musicians need to be responsible in making sure their choice in music complements the sermon topic and has been approved in advance by the appropriate person.
4. Out of respect and gratitude to the accompanists and technicians, musicians requiring practice and/or accompaniment (either live or by CD) should make the necessary arrangements with the appropriate people well in advance of the service and not at the last minute.
5. It is preferred that soloists refrain from any introductory remarks prior to their act of worship (e.g. “Please pray for me as I sing”; “God just laid this song on my heart”; “My throat is really sore but I’m going to try and get through this,” etc.). If it seems absolutely necessary, remarks should be concise and focused upon the Lord and not the soloist.
6. Musicians are asked to be sensitive to any conduct that might shift the congregation’s focus of worship from the Lord to the musician (e.g., excessive movement or an overly “dramatic” style or presentation).
7. Musicians, including choir members, should take care to dress in such a way as to not call attention to themselves. Keep in mind that you are a worship leader and should set an example in your attire. Generally, dress clothes are desired. This demonstrates to others that God is worthy of our best in all areas of life. Ladies need to dress modestly: no short skirts, no low necklines, not too tight and limit how much skin is showing. Flip flops are not appropriate. Choir men or other worship leaders on the platform on Sunday mornings should not wear jeans.
8. Any outside group must be carefully screened (regarding character, basic doctrinal conformity to KBC, appearance, presentation, lyrics, etc.) prior to permission to minister.
I. We believe that music is “biblical” when:
A. The lyrics are distinctively biblical (i.e. theologically accurate).
B. The genre of the music (i.e. style, arrangement, tune) in corporate worship upholds the profound nature of sacred lyrics as opposed to trivializing them (e.g. putting a “rock” beat to “Holy, Holy, Holy” or having a Sinatra-style “crooner” sing “The Love of God” would trivialize these profound lyrics; likewise, putting Christian lyrics to “Rap” or “Blues,”etc.)
C. The musician is a born-again, Spirit-filled believer (i.e. a moment by moment submission to the Spirit’s control, Ephesians 5:18-21; cf Amos 5:23-24).
II. Guidelines for determining the appropriateness of music (i.e., general parameters that leave room for personal taste and artistic expression).
We ask the following questions REGARDING our MUSIC:
A. Will this selection adorn the holiness of God?
B. Does this song reflect the convictions of my heart?
C. Are the lyrics biblically accurate (i.e. theologically precise)? Many lyrics both in older hymns and some modern contemporary and gospel music are not.
D. Does the genre of musical style properly frame the lyrics? For example, “The Hallelujah Chorus” in Bluegrass or Reggae would not.
E. Does the genre of musical style fit the sermon and/or the occasion?
F. Is the genre of musical style clearly distinguishable from our degenerate culture?
G. Do both the lyrics and style reflect the profoundness of sacred truth, not trivialize it? (e.g. “Jesus is just alright with me”).
A Caution Regarding Applause
A final word about applause and other responses in the worship service is warranted. Because of the widespread influence of an entertainment-oriented culture on the church, we are convinced that discernment is needed regarding applause. Most if not all of us would consider applauding the preacher at the end of a sermon to be inappropriate. We would say that there are better ways of showing appreciation to both the preacher and to God after the sermon. A logical question follows – is it appropriate to applaud after a ministry in song? Could this be unbecoming as well? Yet often we feel comfortable applauding a choir or soloist like we would any entertainer. We believe much applause during a worship service could reflect the influence of our entertainment-oriented culture upon us. Preaching and singing are both simply acts of obedience to stimulate God’s people to know and worship Him and to build up the people in the faith. Both should simply communicate God’s truth to people. In other words, the objective is to bring attention to God and what He has done, not to the speaker or singer. (By the way, there are other fascinating parallels between good music and good sermons.)
Seen in this light, we discourage applause in our Sunday morning worship services following musical offerings, believing it isn’t usually the most fitting way to show appreciation or encouragement. Some might argue that we are giving a “clap offering” to the Lord when we applaud. However, it’s very difficult in our culture to really distinguish a clap offering from applause for a performance, since clapping in church so often follows a musical performance. How this might be perceived by an unbelieving visitor is also potentially disturbing.
We need to add a word here of balance. Certainly those who feel led to applaud are allowed to do so, much like those who desire to raise their hands in worship are allowed to do so. What we are trying to say here is that leadership sees some reasons for caution and doesn’t want to “promote” applause following musical offerings to the Lord as necessary or fitting after every special song. We also recognize that there are special occasions, such as a special children’s concert or a song during the service from a children’s choir, where the applause of encouragement is appropriate. We have also applauded in congratulations during our announcement time on the occasion of a significant birthday or anniversary. These times of clapping to congratulate also seem appropriate.
Are there biblical ways to express our worship to God and appreciation for the musician? Absolutely! For a musician or preacher this is best done through personal words of encouragement and gratitude after the worship service (cf. Heb. 10:24-25). As far as response during a song or sermon or immediately following, the Bible also gives an illustration of a fitting verbal response from God’s people in I Chron. 16:7-36. After what’s either a long poem of praise or perhaps a psalm sung to the people, the text records the response of the people in v.36: “Then all the people said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord.”
Given the broad range of musical styles and tastes, we will seek to offer a variety or blended approach to worship music. Although our range of acceptable music will not exceed the parameters stated in this document, it may include everything from “Bluegrass Gospel” to classical hymns, from “Southern Gospel” to contemporary.
We humbly ask all musicians, indeed all church members, to respect these positions and policies, even if you may not agree with them. Our intention is not to bind your conscience or attempt to conform you to our convictions, but rather to clearly articulate those policies and procedures that best reflect the philosophy of music at Kerrville Bible Church and establish the necessary parameters to conduct a well-organized, Christ-honoring music ministry.
On behalf of the Elders,
Carol Jane Graves
Note: We highly recommend the book Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin for those involved in music leadership positions at KBC.
Original December 17, 2000
Revised May 5, 2003
Revised March 15, 2006
Revised October 15, 2012