Joyful noise

“Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before his presence with singing. Know that the Lord, he is God; It is he who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:1-3 NKJV).

Eastern music – that is to say, the music of Asia – is different from that common in the Western hemisphere. Not only do they feature different instruments which produce varying tones, but their chords, rhythms, and melodies are far removed from the “top 40” hits, symphony performances, and other popular music with which most Europeans and Americans are familiar.

It can be a rather rude awakening when a wandering Hindu passes one’s window near sunrise playing a crude one string “harp,” twanging its single off-key (to us) note persistently on his way to the nearest shrine. More formal music presented by professionals on bamboo flutes, tambura (drums), and sitars is perhaps more pleasant to the ear, but still quite alien to those from different cultures.

Webster defines “music” as: “The science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combinations, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity; vocal, instrumental, or mechanical sounds having rhythm, melody, or harmony; an agreeable sound.” The key question seems to be “agreeable to whom?”

Even within a single culture, there is almost always a wide variety of music, and few enjoy all styles equally. One prefers the older “classical” style (whatever that may be in a given society), whereas others like modern pop. Some prefer instrumental only, while someone else insists on vocals. What some consider to be beautiful, stirring melodies is irritating noise to many others.

The Bible teaches plainly and emphatically that God is pleased by music offered to glorify him. It is also very clear that God has encouraged different styles and kinds of music over the various dispensations. But one thing that we may sometimes miss is that the Bible never suggests that the quality of music determines its acceptability. One does not have to have a pure, trained voice, nor advanced musical skills or knowledge to participate in songs of praise which are pleasing to the Master.

The Psalmist of old instructed, “Make a joyful shout (or noise, KJV) unto the Lord.” There is no insistence on it being tuneful, or perfectly synchronized or harmonized. Just sing joyfully. So also in the New Testament we are to “[sing] and make melody in [our] heart[s]”, having been “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18-19).

In a similar passage Paul states, “[sing] with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). It is not musical ability but sincere devotion to God that qualifies our praise to him.

There is much emphasis today on music as a means of attracting and affecting worshipers. We survey likely audiences for that music which is most desirable to them; that which will move them emotionally and make worship a meaningful and enjoyable experience.

I do not suggest that the above efforts are without validity. But let us never forget that it is not the human congregation that is the primary intended audience of our worship. “The fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15) is offered to God in heaven. (Yes, I understand that these sacrifices are not exclusively music, but music is certainly included).

When we design our worship more for the human audience than the divine we find ourselves in grave danger of failing in our primary purpose. Peter taught that the church was established in order to “Proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). While we are “speaking to one another” (Ephesians 5:19), and “teaching and admonishing one another” (Colossians 3:16) we are also at the same time singing “to the Lord.”

Thankfully, that which glorifies and pleases God may also edify and enrich human hearts. But if a choice must be made, let us be certain of our priorities. Worship is about God, not us. Let all be done to his glory.

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