How does a church choose which worship songs to use in services? What are the determining factors? Does the congregation choose them? If so, who wins? The youth or the older adults?
Worship Songs Must Have Sound Theology
Some churches are divided over which songs to use in worship services. Many churches have even split over this. When we are told to make a joyful noise, does it mean we can use electric guitars and drums or just the piano or organ? The first consideration for any worship song to be used in a church is the words. The words determine whether they are biblically sound or not. If the lyrics are not Scriptural then it doesn’t matter what type of music you use in services…bad theology is worthless worship to God for He will not accept it (John 4:23). God always loves to have His Word read back to Him and so if the lyrics contain Scripture, you can be certain that it will be accepted. Music is part of our worship and our music must contain truth. If our worship music sounds like a heavenly choir yet has words that are not true according to the Bible, then it doesn’t matter how good it sounds. Truth in worship, whether in preaching or song, is the standard for whether it should be used in services.
A quick reading of our own church hymnals revealed some bad theology. I recommended that some hymns not be used due to the words contained in the hymns because they do not reflect the accuracy of what is taught in the Bible. Some of these old hymns are beautiful and are the favorites of many but faulty lyrics that do not match what the Bible teaches are useless and the danger is that the words in the hymns will subliminally teach us error. If we are singing a beautiful song…indeed if we sing with the voice of angels…but are using words that are not true, then we might as well be singing to ourselves. God will not accept such worship if what we are singing is not true to the Word of God, the Bible.
Instead of having services consist of only classic or older hymns or newer, more contemporary hymns, why not alternate both? Worship music should not be a battle of the generations. It should not divide the older adults from the younger. It should not cause division or strife in the church because, remember, we are there to worship God, not to please ourselves with what we like. It is not about what we get at worship services but about what we give that is important to God. God has never determined in His Word exactly what type of music should be sung and which kind of music should not be. The Bible is silent about what instruments we should or should not use. God does not command to use particular instruments while not using others. All that God says is to lift up our voices in sing praises to Him and to make a joyful noise. Music styles and tastes change but only the Word of God remains the same. Knowing the nature of God we understand that God does not want us dividing over worship music because this is a non-essential of the faith.
Biblical Guidelines to Worship Songs and Music
Let the Bible guide our direction for musical selection. Let us read what God says about worshiping Him in song and music.
Psalm 98:4 “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
This is a great verse. It doesn’t say that we have to be on key. It only says that we are to make a joyful noise. That is all that God cares about. He desires us to “break forth” like a dam holding water, “into joyous song and praises.” What could be simpler?
Psalm 96:1 “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!”
God tells us here that we “sing to the Lord,“ not to ourselves. This song can be an old classic or a new song, either way we are singing to the Lord. That is the key to much of the biblical Scriptures about music.
Psalm 100:1-2 “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”
This is very similar to Psalm 98:4 in that we are to make a joyful noise. Is this “joyful noise” for us and for our tastes or preferences in music? No! This joyful noise is to be made “to the Lord” or we could say, directed to the Lord. When I was young, the older generation said that our music was “just a bunch of noise.” Well, God accepts noise, as long as it’s “joyful.“ One thing God does command in these Scriptures is that we are to “enter into His presence with singing!” Although we are told to enter into His presence with singing, God does not tell us what kind of singing to enter into His presence with.
Psalm 33:3 “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”
This is close to Psalm 96:1 in that we can sing a new song and we sing to “Him” or to God. One difference here is that we can play “skillfully on the strings” indicating stringed instruments. Since God’s Word is timeless, we are free to use strings on electric guitars or box guitars. Strings can include the piano or any other instrument but this doesn’t necessarily limit other instruments. And we can sing with “loud shouts.” Why not!? We have much to shout about for our salvation is from the Lord.
Some churches have an early service where the older adults attend. Many of the older generation are early risers and like to have services earlier in the morning and so many churches have the more traditional hymns in the first services if they offer them. Later morning services may contain more contemporary Christian worship songs that the younger generation and adults can enjoy and thus, more joyfully worship the Lord in song. Some churches even have a Saturday night service designed especially for youth. They get the opportunity to worship in a much more contemporary way in music that might sound like rock and roll to older generations. The Bible is silent on just what instruments can be used, what style of music may be used, and whether more advanced technology is involved or not. We can not judge from our own generation what should and should not be used if, and I stress, if the words of the worship songs are biblically sound. That is the most important thing about any Christian music.
From what the Bible says we are to make our singing and playing of worship music to the Lord. The worship music is not directed to us. I am not saying that we can not enjoy and enter into the music ourselves but the primary purpose of worship music is to praise God and not to please ourselves. We also know that God never indicates what type of music we ought to sing or play or what types of instruments should be included. God gives us freedom to choose and we must not judge others for their tastes in music because worship music is a non-essential issue as far as the essentials of the faith are concerned. We have also seen that words are important in the songs we sing in praise to God. The words of any worship music must be theologically sound. They must not be contrary to what the Bible teaches. God will not accept what is not true worship or as Jesus said, we must worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). My prayer is that we will not cause offense to others or let others offend us due to differing tastes and preferences in our worship music; either in worship music at church or anywhere else. The important thing is that we make a joyful noise to the Lord.
Jack Wellman is Senior Writer at What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible.