As we explore Christian Music in this series I have come to consideration of the spiritual aspects of music. While music is a physiological phenomenon, with measurable and definable elements, it is also profoundly spiritual. This post explores something of the spiritual realities associated with music.
The objective of this primer is to enable ordinary people and musical professionals alike to come to terms with the competing and dispirit ideas about music and resolve some of them by having principles on hand that assist that process. I hope, by God’s grace, to enable you to have practical wisdom, not opinions or esoteric hypothetical arguments.
Review and Reminders
Music is created from multiple elements, but the three most foundational are: Melody; Harmony; and Rhythm. These three work together to create each individual musical expression. They are not the whole story of music, but because of their foundational roles they are the place we have started with as we go back to basics.
Melody is the most foundational element of music or songs. It is the song itself. Harmony enriches the song and supports the theme of the lyrics by evoking a depth of emotion or feeling. Harmony involves additional notes being played along with the melody, to colour the mood or character of the melody. Rhythm is the way in which the song moves forward. That movement could be regular and even, strident and forceful or stumbling and inconsistent. Natural rhythm simply reflects the tempo and flow of language and nature. By imposing a stronger beat into that rhythm a more definite sense of movement is proclaimed, assisting in marching, dancing or movement.
Music is spiritual for several reasons. In one sense, everything is spiritual. God created us all and placed us in a moral universe. Therefore everything that impacts us or that we respond to is part of our moral response before a moral God in a moral universe. Music certainly plays a large role in many people’s lives, both for its musical and lyric content. That makes music spiritual. Music, like everything else we engage with, should be used as part of our highest callings, to love God and to love our neighbour.
Music is also a vehicle. It conveys emotion and its songs convey words which impact us. As a vehicle it must be used for the appropriate moral purposes, to carry the right things. Music has been used to promote godless messages and encourage immoral behaviour. Music can then be a tool for godly or evil purposes.
Music has drawing power. The fable of the Pied Piper playing his pipe to draw rats and then children to follow him is allegorical of music’s ability to draw people. Music has long been used to attract people’s attention and to draw crowds together. William Booth used brass bands to draw crowds over a century ago, leading to the birth of the Salvation Army with its emphasis on brass bands. Because music has this attractive, drawing power, it is a tool of spiritual significance.
Music also induces responses from people, both good and bad. Certain rock groups in the 1960’s and 70’s were recognised for their ability to awaken youth to a desire for drugs. Rock and roll was so named by the Negro communities in which it was spawned because of its overt sexual influence. Rock and roll was the Negro slang for sexual intimacy, so they named their music after that direct connotation. A youth confided to me recently that he cannot survive without his modern music. He recognises that he is addicted to it.
God and Godly People Use Music
Music and song exists in heaven (Revelation 15:3). Jesus sang hymns (Mathew 26:30), although we do not know the form of that music. King David composed songs to God and even created special instruments to perform that music with. Christians are told to sing to the Lord in a new song (Psalm 96:1).
When David played his harp evil spirits were controlled.
“And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” 1Samuel 16:23
Prophets called for musicians to assist them in hearing from God.
“But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.” 2Kings 3:15
Throughout church history Christian music has been a major aspect of worship. Tens of thousands of hymns and songs have been written. Most revivals have prompted a whole new stream of songs to express the work that God is doing. Many of the leading evangelists used music and singers to attract crowds and prepare the people for the preaching of the gospel.
Some of the most magnificent music ever composed was written to express adoration to God. Some of the most magnificent organs are in churches or cathedrals. Some of the world’s finest musicians developed their skills in order to worship God.
Wesley composed hymns to help people remember his sermons and to teach theological truth. Hymn writers expressed their heart, or encapsulated truth into song, in every age and in just about every place. Church history is replete with hymns and hymn writers.
Rightly Dividing Music
So, having seen that music has a worthy place in heaven and the church, it is time to divide the elements of music into their relevant elements and see how to enhance the spiritual quality of music while avoiding its more distracting elements. That’s where we will go in the next instalment of this Christian Music Primer.