Cabramatta Vineyard Church

The Place of Music in Worship

Question: How many times does something have to be recorded in scripture for it to be binding? Answer: only once.

Ephesians 5.18-21 describes worship that flows out of us when we are filled with the Spirit. Verse 19 says that singing and playing a stringed instrument to the Lord with all your hearts is one of the results of being filled with the Spirit. Although the NIV translates this phrase as an imperative, in Greek, it is the third of four coordinate participial phrases that describe the results of obeying the command (present, passive, imperative) be filled with the Spirit. The four participles (in English) are speaking, singing and playing, giving thanks and submitting. The UBS Greek text inserts a paragraph break and begins a new topic between the third and fourth participles. I think this makes it harder for us to follow Paul’s logic.

All of the participles are in the second person plural (youse), which means that Paul is addressing worship in the gathered context. Singing to musical accompaniment is one of the things that the Holy Spirit produces when we gather together and he fills us.

Colossians 3.16-17, a parallel passage, tells us that when the Word of Christ dwells in us (corporate, again the participles are all second person plural) three things result: we teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; we sing songs of praise, hymns and spiritual songs with grace in our hearts to the Lord; and we give thanks to the Lord in all things.

Both of these passages teach that when God’s people are filled with God’s presence, three things happen: speaking, singing and gratitude. Some prominent members of the Sydney Anglican Diocese teach from this passage that when we sing in worship we should address one another and not the Lord. However, if we ‘speak the Psalms’, we will find them addressing God directly. It is hard to make a clear distinction between psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

Hebrews 13.15 doesn’t specifically mention singing, but it does talk about a sacrifice of praise as the fruit of our lips. Praise may be spoken, but often it is sung.

James 5.13 Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. We apply the following commands with respect to healing the sick. It’s okay to follow this one about worshipping by singing songs.

Three NT authors mention worship involving singing. That’s probably enough to make the point that the way we worship has ample biblical justification. There is also the matter of the largest book in the bible (The Psalms) being a collection of songs written for personal and congregational worship.

We should also note that culturally, music is huge. Even if there wasn’t a clear biblical mandate for the strong emphasis we place on worship music, cultural and contextual factors certainly provide sufficient justification. High quality contemporary worship music, which VMG has been producing for twenty years, is a powerful medium for helping western people, particularly young people, to connect with God.

I know that you probably agree with me on this, and I certainly agree with your call for balance and for worship as a lifestyle. However, I believe that worship music has a crucial role to play in developing a lifestyle of worship and we shouldn’t dismiss it too lightly. I will develop this a bit more later.

Amos 5 and Isaiah 58 are prophetic condemnations issued when God’s people had forsaken the covenant. By applying these scriptures to our churches are you saying that we’re doing the same? I prefer Zephaniah 3.17 which talks about the Lord himself rejoicing over his people with singing. I’m looking forward to hearing God sing!

My conclusion, is that the emphasis we place on worship as singing is biblically justified. For me, worship music was the doorway into the things of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be that way for everyone.

The main point I’m trying to make is that worship as singing can play a key role in the corporate life of the congregation and that we might lose something essential if we downplay it. That’s not the same as saying that there are other things we should elevate and underline as well.

I don’t see worship music as the whole meal. Usually it is the opening course, preparing the way for the ministry of the word, and hopefully the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I’m a pretty word-centred guy, and the teaching of the Bible is absolutely essential to our development as disciples. But even here, I’m disappointed with the fruit of ten years of great expository teaching. The public meeting, on its own and in its present format just doesn’t get the job done.

Maybe too many people in our congregations only connect with God in the gathered context, whether through music or the word or receiving prayer. If this is true, it is not enough to transform them into faithful disciples. They have to dig their own well and drink from it every day.

My role as pastor is developing disciples and helping them to connect with God. If they connect with God, they will get it right in doing his mission, connecting in community and becoming truly spiritual people. Singing worship songs together can be a very effective gateway into God’s presence. Of course, there are many other ways to connect with God, but these other ways are harder to pursue corporately.