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What Kind of Music Is Appropriate for Believers?

LLC Music Committee | The Voice of Zion March 2024 - Music Notes Article --

Rick Nevala (Chairman), Ross Byman, David Edwards, Mandy Frantti, Ian Hendrickson, Liisa Keranen, Matthew Keranen, Andrea Lahti, Ingrid Ojala, Sarina Siljander, John Stewart, Lea Waaraniemi, Janna Ylioja and Jessica Ylioja.

“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through Music.”

These words are attributed to our forefather in faith, Martin Luther. Found in his 1538 preface to George Rhau’s Symphoniaie iucunde, the sentiment expressed reflects his views on the role of music in praising God and in the proclamation of God’s Word.

We might ponder: what kind of music is such that can be thought of as second only to God’s Word? What kind of music deserves this comparison? Music is an integral part of our worship life. Furthermore, music is part of many believers’ personal life as well. It pays to think about the music we hear in worship services and other events where believers gather, and it pays to pay attention to what music we choose to listen to when we’re on our own.

In our worship services, we open services with a song. Sometimes a pre-service song serves as a call to gather. We sing after we hear a sermon. We sing together before we scatter. Why do we sing in these contexts? And what do we sing in these contexts? The songs and hymns of believers open our hearts to focus on where we are and why. They let us leave our earthly worries at the door. They open our ears to hear the Word of God. After a sermon, they can serve to gather the thoughts expressed in the sermon. And in a closing song of praise, we together pour out our thanks for how God again served us.

At festive, seasonal programs and in sacred acts that are viewed as family events such as baptisms, weddings and funerals, we may additionally hear music that is suitable for church events and services. Sometimes this music is sung or other times it is instrumental music.

In our personal life, we also partake of music produced by and for believers. This can serve to bring joy into daily moments, or perhaps it comforts and uplifts in a time of trial or sorrow. Some play these familiar melodies on instruments at home or sing the well-known words of Zion’s songs as they go about daily chores. This music fits into our everyday life in numerous ways.

Other kinds of music – art music, children’s songs, patriotic selections – are also familiar music choices to many believers. In one’s own life, it is up to the individual to select music that leaves the listener uplifted in thought and emotion. Such music aligns with our values. We could say it feeds the human soul whether the music is religious in nature or not. After all, most would not purposely select music that makes them distraught or distressed after they’ve listened to it. 

Whatever you choose to listen to, you can certainly feel in yourself what the music does to you, how it affects you. Does the music we engage in lead us to temptation? Is it at odds with that which God’s kingdom teaches? Or does it draw us closer to God and keep us close to our values? If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer to this question is clear.

Musical elements, such as melody, rhythm and the composition or structure of the music can have effects on our mood and on our body. Music can make us relaxed, tense, edgy or emotional, and it can have many other kinds of effects as well. In selecting music and engaging in music in any way, the Holy Spirit guides.

What we do, what we’re drawn to, what we read and listen to shapes and adjusts our habits and values and priorities (Gal. 6:7,8). Over time that which may have once sounded foreign to a child of God can become dear and desired. Along with our habits, a change may also occur in our attitudes toward what God’s kingdom teaches. Ultimately we may begin to wonder whether God really intended matters to be as they are taught in God’s kingdom.

In real time and in the wealth of music choices we have readily available we may encounter selections that raise questions. In such situations, it is secure to ask other believers for opinions and advice. If someone cautions against something, listen to them. Pray for a mind of acceptance, even if understanding isn’t immediately forthcoming.

In questions of what music we invite into our personal life and congregational life, we wish to listen to what our conscience says – to what the congregation and the Spirit teaches. Remaining obedient in these questions protects our consciences from harm and danger. Listening to these teachings can keep us from being led to other pastures, away from God’s kingdom.

It can feel like our personal life and our worship life in the form of church services are separate things, and it can feel clear which types of music belong to which area of life. However, what if there are events in which both elements are present? In events such as weddings, it can feel like these are personal and family events – places of personal expression – but in actuality these are sacred acts – church services. There may be more of a tendency to exert personal wishes and views than is necessary or advisable in worship services. Perhaps a wedding reception is a place that better accommodates personal touches and choices.

It is important to remember that in the case of a wedding, the two believers who are joining in marriage have chosen to come together to sanctify their marriage with God’s Word and prayer. The couple, with God’s congregation, ask God for His blessing and guidance. It is therefore good that we in such contexts show reverence and humility before God’s holy face in every aspect of the service, music included. Holiness separates that which is sacred from the everyday aspects of life, and so the music selections we make for such church services should reflect the appropriate level of holy reverence as well.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6).

In all areas of our life, let us engage in that which keeps us in the fellowship of God and draws us closer to heaven, one day at a time.  

Things to visit about:

  • What kind of music do you want to place in a position that is second only to God’s Word?

  • Where does music lead your thoughts and your heart?

  • What is the mission and purpose of music for a believer?

  • What music is appropriate for a believer’s life?

  • What music is appropriate for believers’ functions?

  • How do we explain what church music is, i.e. what music belongs in a church?

  • Who decides what is appropriate?

  • How do we spread awareness about these matters?

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