Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thoughts on Music

I think the basic difference between my family and most of the US church today is that we do not believe music is amoral.  The prevailing belief seems to be that only the lyrics must be good, but the music that the words are set to does not matter.  There are even some who say that it does not matter whether the music is so noisy that you cannot understand the words, as long as the musicians give a Christian message in between songs. 


We believe that music is a sort of language of its own.  To illustrate, the hymns “Now the Day is Over” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” are the same meter, which means that the tunes can be interchanged.  But “Now the Day is Over” is a very slow, peaceful bedtime song and “Onward Christian Soldiers” is a rousing marching song.  It’s a good laugh to interchange the tunes.  Anyone could recognize that the “message” of the tunes are different and cannot be interchanged without affecting the overall impact of the words.  The messages of the tunes do not change with time or culture.  People a hundred years from now will still be able to recognize the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers” as a marching tune and of “Now the Day is Over” as a bedtime tune.


We believe that the message of the music should match (as much as possible) the message of the words.  A good example of this is two songs that talk about heaven and use many of the same words.


When by the gift of His infinite grace

I am accorded in heaven a place

Just to be there and to look on His face

Will through the ages be glory for me.




Heaven is a wonderful place

Filled with glory and grace

I want to see my Savior’s face

‘Cause heaven is a wonderful place.


(I’m not sure if you know the tunes to both of these – if not, I can sing both of them for you some time so you can see the impact of the tunes on the words.)


I said above that the message of the music should match the message of the words as much as possible.  I throw in the “as much as possible” disclaimer because I think when it comes to singing about God, our earthly music can never do Him full justice.  He is so awesome and glorious and multifaceted that even singing the Hallelujah Chorus for Him is a bit like singing Jingle Bells for the queen of England.  But because we cannot give Him what He deserves does not mean that we should just give Him anything.  We should still seek, as much as we know how, to worship Him with lyrics that match His character, and with tunes that match the lyrics.


Do I believe that “bad” music is a sin?  Hmm… I guess I would say that the short answer is yes, but that there are different degrees of sin involved depending on the motives and that even “good” music can be a sin.  If someone honestly doesn’t know better and to him the highest expression of worship to God is to put Christian words to “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and sing it as a love song to God, he would actually be sinning less than someone who comes to church fresh from an unresolved fight with his wife and sings “Holy, Holy, Holy”. 


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