Philosophy is the system of values and beliefs that guides our actions. The philosophy of music should branch forth from this definition. The values and beliefs of a philosophy must be rooted in a solid foundation. For the world, these beliefs are based on human experience, emotion, and opinion.
The Christian’s values, however, should be grounded in the sure foundation of scripture. A Christian whose value system is not rooted in scripture is no different from the world. Many people overlook scriptural teaching in the area of music. Instead they rely on what they like, or on what they think is good music. The real question is “what is God’s philosophy of music?” The scripture has a lot to say to answer this question, and it speaks about the area of music many times. Remember, the commitment must be to the Word of God, not human experience. God does have a philosophy of music. It can be described in six words, as follows: the plan, priority, power, purpose, principles, and participation of music.
From the creation of the world God planned for music to be a vital part of creation. In Ezekiel 28:13, many Bible scholars believe that the prophet Ezekiel is speaking of Lucifer, the great archangel. The context is in the garden of Eden. Ezekiel says that “the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.” So, it seems very probable that music was created by God in that first creation week. The over 600 scripture passages with reference to music point to God’s overwhelming plan for music. God made it; it was His plan, not man’s. It was made to reflect the beauty and order of His creation. Not only did God create the plan for music but He placed a special priority on music. Two hundred times in scripture God commands us to sing. In the New Testament, it is clear that God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to save souls, but second only to preaching is the area of music. Early on in the Old Testament the people of God knew there should be an emphasis on good music. Genesis 4:21 talks about a man named Jubal who was the father of all who handle the harp and organ. In Exodus Moses expressed himself through music. God wrought a great victory at Jericho partially through music. David set certain paid individuals to lead in the singing and playing of music in the temple. He saw the priority of music. All the way through Israel’s history, music was a priority, and it should be a priority in these days as well. God showed the priority of music when He included a divinely inspired song book, the Psalms.
There is such a priority placed on music in scripture simply because of the power of music. Music has the power to communicate a message far greater than the simple spoken word. Many times in scripture when someone was overwhelmed with emotion, he would communicate that message through song. Deuteronomy 31:19 speaks of a song being a witness, and Deuteronomy 31:21 says a song can testify. Music has the power to accomplish victories as it did for Joshua and Gideon. Music can comfort as it did for King Saul. Music can lead us to worship, or music can lead us to rebellion. Man understands the power of music very well. There are music companies who have researched the effect of certain styles of music on shopping. The world uses music to set different moods for various activities. It is no surprise to anyone that music can be a powerful tool to communicate a certain message.
If God planned music and placed great priority and power on it, then what is its purpose? There is a threefold purpose of music. First, music is to glorify God. Glorification has the idea of giving a right opinion about God. Psalm 147:1 says, “Praise ye the Lord; for it is good to sing praise unto our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is comely.” Throughout the book of Psalms music is used to glorify the character of God and to praise Him for His mighty works toward men. This glory and praise can be summed up in one word: Worship. A Hymn is written for the express purpose of worship. It focuses on the person and works of God.
The second purpose is subordinate to the first. It is found in Colossians 3:16. Music is for the teaching and admonishing of the saints. Simply put, music should edify the believer. Truly, if the music is glorifying God, it will also edify the believer who is filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18-19). Many times Gospel songs are written with the express purpose of edification.
The third purpose is the least emphasized in scripture, and that is the evangelization of the lost. Scripture does not specifically state this purpose, but it does imply that when the unsaved see the changed life of a believer, and their heart felt worship and praise to God through singing, they will recognize the difference. The problem comes when we are willing to sacrifice the first two purposes for the purpose of winning souls. This is pragmatism. The end does not justify the means. Music should first glorify God. If it does, then it will edify the believer. If it edifies the believer, then the unsaved will notice and may be saved.
These purposes should be applied to each area of music and its performance. The text, music, performer, and performance style must conform to the scriptural purpose in order to be scriptural music. All four of these areas must be evaluated in order to make proper choices in music.
The plan, priority, power, and purpose of music have been laid out. Now, what are some basic scriptural principles of music? It is clear that music will not fulfill its Biblical purpose unless it agrees with Biblical principles. Music styles change, but the principles of God’s Word do not. Cultures change, but Biblical principles span all cultures.
The “new song” principle is found in Psalm 40:3. Our song as Christians should be new in quality and freshness. It should be characteristic of a changed life. When a person is born again, the Bible says that he becomes a new creature in Christ. Those old characteristics of the natural sin condition are passed away, and all things are become new. This change certainly should affect the area of music. The newness in quality is not speaking exclusively of the text, but is including music, performer and performance style as well. We should not be conforming to the world but confronting the world with our changed life.
The second principle is the principle of appropriateness. In other words, the music and the text should be appropriate for each other. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Paul links the word of God to specific kinds of songs. It is clearly making a connection between text and music. There are appropriate songs for presenting God’s message and there are inappropriate songs for presenting God’s message. The method of presentation is just as important as the message. It will either support the message or detract from the message. Putting God’s message with just any old music will not suffice. The music must agree with the text.
The third principle is the principle of association. There may be some music that cannot be used simply because of the predominant associations. A certain song may be associated with a performer, a place, or a movement that is not in submission to scripture. Also, certain styles are associated with specific cultures or activities. For example, jazz is associated with the barroom scene. Christians should not associate themselves with wicked, pagan styles of music. This applies to secular music as well as sacred. Many churches today will gladly use music associated with wickedness in the “worship” of God. What a poor testimony, and blasphemy upon the name of Christ. “Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing (II Cor 6:17).”
There are also some basic musical principles that need to be addressed. What makes a song a good, quality piece of music? Musicians in general would agree that the music itself (without the words and either secular or sacred) can be of excellent quality or poor quality. Music always consists of three elements: Melody, harmony, and rhythm. Without any one of these elements a composition is not music. These elements must be put in proper priority. The melody is the theme of the music. The harmony and rhythm are supposed to elevate the melody. Any time the melody becomes subordinate, the music is unbalanced. Both secular musicians and sacred would agree that melody affects the spirit or soul, harmony affects the mind and rhythm affects the body. Musicians know that they can get people to respond different ways by over emphasizing certain elements. For example: the New Age Movement seeks to help people self actualize by reaching an altered state of consciousness. One of the ways they use to accomplish their goal is music. The New Age style of music over emphasizes harmony. It is done on purpose to help people meditate and lose their mind. Styles are made by simply emphasizing certain elements in different ways. The only people who consistently argue about these basic musical principles are Christians! The secular musicians know exactly what they are doing!
All these principles have been discussed because the Bible is clear that all Christians should be participating in music. Whether it be in special music, the choir, or congregational singing, all Christians should be singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord. Not only should Christians be participating in music, but the right kind of music. It takes the Spirit’s power and a knowledge of scriptural principles to properly discern what kind of music to use in listening or in ministry. It is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one. Just like God has commanded Christians to witness, he has also commanded His children to sing. It is disobedience when a born again believer chooses not to participate in music. Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands.”
God has a philosophy of music. He does not want us to just pick and choose as we see fit. So, we must have a value system even in the area of music. A sieve, to run our music through. The plan, priority, power, purpose, principles, and participation of music is a good place to start. God is concerned with the methods we use as well as the message that is presented. Drawing lines in the sand and taking strong stands in this battlefield is not easy, but it must be done to please the one who withstood the strongest battle when He went to an old rugged cross and defeated sin and Satan. The question is “How bad do I want to please God?”