As I sit here and write, I’m listening to my favorite kind of music: movie soundtracks, which help me focus. For some reason, the absence of words makes it easy for me to focus on the task at hand, but I do know many people who listen to loud, upbeat music while working or studying. Ultimately, my point is that music has been universally accepted by all groups of people, and especially due to the introduction of online streaming services, access to music has exploded. What better way to further the Kingdom of God than to use music, which reaches billions of people around the world every day?
Music connects people of all ages, demographics and religions. It is one of the most influential modes of communication between groups of people. Historically and presently, music has been used to bring people together around the world. For example, American slaves would sing hymns together, which vocalized their oppression, sorrows and hopes. Music has the capability to unite people in the same circumstances through the lyrics of the songs.
The communication power of music continues into the modern church. In the United States, both contemporary Christian music and hymns can be used to bring people together to worship a God who loves us and loves to hear our praise. However, despite the many opportunities that music gives us to come together, churches have argued endlessly over which musical styles or traditions are appropriate in this sacred space.
Why should we listen to music?
So, why should we employ music for worship and ministry? If something has the potential to cause such division in the church, shouldn’t we just avoid it altogether? I believe that our best chance at answering these questions is to go to the Bible. Psalms, the largest book in the Bible, is filled with songs of all kinds. There are songs of praise, love and lamentations, all combined in one book. Reinforced by the extensive size of the work, music must be important to God, especially as a form of worship.
Worship through music has the power to unite people. Whether it’s one phrase or a group of phrases, the listener is impacted by more than just words. There is an emotional aspect to worship, and we must know ourselves to understand how to involve emotions in worship. If we find ourselves making worship more about ourselves than God, then we know that we have gone too far. Just like anything else, too much of a focus on music or atmosphere over God can be a distraction and has the danger of turning into an idol. We need to recognize music as a tool that assists us as we commune with and worship God, similar to prayer and meditating on the Bible. The means are not the end.
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! – Psalm 96:1-2
As our Creator, God delights in our praise and worship of His name. He makes this clear in His word. And yet, as worthy as He is of our praise, we are just as unworthy to be in His presence. We will never fully grasp the gravity of His sacrifice for us on the cross. Through our worship, we are able to offer up our thanksgiving for the sacrificial love that God poured out on us and declare truths that we may not even be able to understand in our finite state.
What music is acceptable?
Now that we know why we should use music, what kind of music should we listen to?
Some may say that hymns and traditional songs are the best way to avoid controversy. Hymns are wonderful, familiar songs that help us worship, and there are also many biblical and impactful songs that were written much later but serve the same purpose. Many of the traditional hymns that I grew up singing are based solely on Scripture, which can be an excellent reminder of God’s words to us. They focus on the characteristics of God and even parts of His nature that are difficult to grasp. For example, His perfect justice may seem harsh at times, or His sinlessness may frustrate us as we struggle with sin on a daily basis, but these are just as important as His goodness or love.
Contemporary Christian songs also point us to Christ, maybe in a different way than hymns. In addition to appealing to a younger generation, these songs also proclaim the love and grace of God in a more emotional way, connecting our feelings to the flow of the music. Contemporary music often uses more modern instruments and sound production, both gifts from God for our enjoyment and His glory.
Finally, we wrestle with music that is not affiliated with Christianity at all. Rock and roll, pop, rap, jazz, the list goes on. Should we listen to such music? Is it allowed?
When thinking about this question, one scene always pops into my head. You’re driving down the highway, windows down, music blaring, hair whipping all around. And Jesus is in the passenger seat along for the ride. Would His presence change what music we’re listening to? I know that for me it would, many times over. But at the same time, is it wrong to listen to “non-Christian” music? As Paul would say, “By no means!” (Romans 6:2).
However, there are certain forms of music that glorify lifestyles and actions that do not agree with the teachings in the Bible. Over time, these songs can chip away at the foundation of our worldview and influence us. Just like spending time with someone who encourages us to make poor choices, music can change our thoughts and bombard us with messages that do not reflect God’s character. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit with us to help us discern what is right.
God gave us the ability as humans to create and use our God-given creativity to build beautiful songs. Does a song played on the piano glorify God? Without a doubt. When we use the gifts that God has given us, we are proclaiming His greatness for the whole world to see. It may not be inherently “Christian”, but beauty can be appreciated even when there isn’t a Bible verse attached to it. God’s own creation praises Him every day. If the rocks and trees can do so, how much more can we?
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. – Psalm 19:1
How is music a way to share the Gospel?
Now that we know what kind of music is acceptable and pleasing to God, how can we use His gift of music to share the Gospel?
Let’s say that you have someone in your life who you know does not have a relationship with God. There are many ways to approach the subject of evangelism, but it always helps to have an activity or shared interest in order to begin to build a relationship with anyone. It’s important to remember that we are engaging with people who may not believe in God, but, nevertheless, are made in the image of God and are loved by Him. One way to reach them is to listen to music together, sharing your favorite genres and artists with each other. You can suggest music that is related to Christianity and music that is unrelated. By listening to the music, you have a way to reach them that you may not have had previously. Music may be able to open doors that you yourself couldn’t open on your own.
Where do we go from here?
While we all may not be singers, musicians or composers, we can all appreciate the beauty in music. I believe that God reveals a part of Himself through music, opening a small glimpse of what Heaven will be like someday. If we can fall in love with the music of a broken world and use it to glorify God, how much more will we enjoy this means of worship when it is perfected in heaven?
Music is God’s gift to man, the only art of Heaven given to earth, the only art of earth that we bring to Heaven. – Walter Savage Landor