Church Music: Unity or Division?

I love music of almost every genre. My favorites in the secular world include classic rock, country, classic pop and easy listening. My favorite station on Pandora is Dinner Party Radio. I like musicals, both on stage and film. Music brings joy to my life. It is an important part of my life. And, you know what? It is important to God, too.

“David and the commanders of the army set apart for the service some of the sons of Asaph and of Heman and of Jeduthun, who were to prophesy with lyres, harps and cymbals;”

1 Chronicles 25:1

As I read through the Bible I am struck by the number of times music is mentioned. The entire 25th chapter of 1 Chronicles describes how the various roles around music were assigned in the Jerusalem temple. The Chronicles can admittedly be some dry reading. But what I see in these books is a characteristic of God around organization, both in terms of keeping records and setting up the temple for the worship of God. Chapter 25 of 1 Chronicles is all about the music, and it concludes by telling us that 288 priests were assigned to provide the music for worship. That is a significant investment of talent!

Sadly, musical preference often causes division in the modern church. Believers sometimes argue about music, even leaving one church for other over musical style. Me? I grew up with the worship service built around a chanted “high church” liturgy. The liturgy I grew up with in the Lutheran church comes straight from Scripture; we use God’s Words in worship! I grew up singing beautiful hymns accompanied by a majestic pipe organ played by skilled hands and feet. These styles of worship seem to be diminishing in popularity, but they are still offered in many churches today.

My church offers a beautiful and meaningful “traditional” worship service each Sunday. I sing in the Chancel Choir. It is a God-honoring worship service. We also worship in more contemporary fashion led by a praise band that, quite frankly, can rock! Our band plays traditional hymns and they play modern worship songs as well. Some in the congregation sing along while others soak up the music as they worship God. Me? I’m a singer. I like to sing. This more modern style of worship is also meaningful. It also honors God. And I like it, too.

It saddens me, though, that churches sometimes divide over musical style. My church, for example, offers “contemporary” worship and “traditional” worship. These services take place at different times on Sunday mornings. This is a common phenomenon these days. And it bothers me. While music is clearly important to God as evidenced by the number of mentions in Scripture, it was never intended to divide us. But, if we are honest, we have to acknowledge that some of the more heated discussions that flare up in a church are around musical style and taste. Indeed, musical style for some is sacred ground on which another must not tread.

Houston, as you know, was hard hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. During the months that followed the storm, my church offered one service each Sunday morning due to the number of members impacted by the storm and unable to attend worship. The service was “blended” musically. The pipe organ played beautiful hymns, the Chance Choir offered an anthem, and the praise band led much of the music with the praise team leading much of the singing. It was amazing! We demonstrated that a variety of musical styles can contribute together to a very meaningful and God-honoring worship service. Many of our members (myself included) were disappointed when the time came a few months later to resume our normal worship schedule – contemporary at 9:00 and traditional at 11:15.

I may be stepping on some toes here, and that is not my intent. I’m simply suggesting that we believers keep an open mind when it comes to musical style in church. Let us not allow this to become a point of contention or division. Music that glorifies God and honors His Word should be embraced, whether accompanied by a majestic pipe organ and led by a choir, or accompanied by a praise band and led by a praise team. I find great joy in both. Both can coexist. Until then, on many Sundays, I attend both services: contemporary and traditional.

“Sing to the Lord a new song; Sing to the Lord all the earth!”

Psalm 96:1 NIV

Soli DEO Gloria!

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