SACRED MUSIC


Sacred music (music dedicated to God's glory) has been around for a long time. Both vocal and instrumental music were used in the Jewish temple. The choosing and training of musicians and other factors suggest some sound principles for preparing music and musicians for church ministry in the Age of Grace.

Overall, one gets the impression of careful preparation in Israel, a high standard of excellence, and a strong sense of responsibility before God–any or all of which are sometimes lacking today. Consider the following points from First Chronicles:

1) The musicians were specifically chosen for this ministry by those in leadership (15:16). Who chooses the musicians who serve in your church? And are they selected for the right reasons to engage in this important and spiritual ministry?

2) They were freed from other duties, so they could concentrate on this ministry and make it as effective as possible (9:33). Overworked workers who take on too many jobs will quickly lower the standards, because they simply do not have the time to prepare properly.

3) There was vocal music (15:16, 19), and instrumental music from stringed instruments (15:16, 20, 21), wind instruments (15:24), and percussion instruments (15:16, 19). It is interesting that drums are never once mentioned in the Bible. Possibly they were associated so much with carnal and pagan practices that God’s people avoided them.

4) The musicians were trained for their work by experienced and skillful leaders (15:22, 27). We are sometimes satisfied to ignore proper training, or leave it to chance. The result is too many times mediocre, and not truly honouring to God who deserves our best.

5) The proper dress of the musicians was also considered (15:27). This can be a major problem in our day. Sloppy or immodest dress detracts from the message and draws attention away from the Lord. Faded or tattered jeans, tight or skimpy clothing, these have no place in the house of God, let alone on the platform. (Do you mean to say you would go dressed in your best to a job interview or a wedding, but not to stand in the Lord’s house and represent Almighty God?)

6) The focus of the music they presented was the Lord Himself (16:6, 8-9; cf. Ps. 22:3). They were not putting on a performance to entertain the people. This is surely another major problem today. Consumerism has taken over the church. What will tickle the ear? What will attract a crowd? Hear the words of Archibald Brown from many years gone by: “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church of Christ that part of her mission is to provide entertainment for people, with a view to winning them to the ranks....Here now is an opportunity for gratifying the flesh and yet retaining a comfortable conscience. We can now please ourselves in order to do good to others.”

7) The instruments they used were made and dedicated (I expect exclusively) for that purpose (16:42; 23:5). Too many times the theory seems to be, “Let’s make our music sound just like the music in the unsaved world. Then people will feel more at home in the church.” My father once asked pointedly, “How come some churches won’t allow a liberal in the pulpit, but they’ll allow him on the instruments?” The music of the church ought to be distinctly different, dedicated to its sacred purpose, not simply a clone of what is heard elsewhere.

8) Their work was to be done consistently and thoroughly (16:37). This has to do with faithfulness, and with a serious commitment to duty. Tardiness, and absenteeism are not glorifying to God. When you are scheduled to be there...be there! To quote my musician father once more, “God doesn’t want your spare time.”

9) They were carefully organized, and each knew his responsibility and the schedule for his ministry (25:1, 8; cf. 23:5). This is a function of leadership. It takes time and effort, and some administrative skill. And it is important.

10) They were united in ministry, meaning likely there was a unity in their technical execution and in their inner heart and purpose (II Chron. 5:13-14; cf. I Cor. 14:15, 33, 40). It is jarring when musicians do not play or sing together. (Usually it indicates more training and practice were needed.) Beyond that, the music of the church should provide an outward picture of the unity and harmony which should prevail in the church. But this takes effort (Eph. 4:3).