This is the second in a series of guest blogs on “Finding Our Voice in Worship.” In the first post we considered the first filter or test in selecting music for worship, the test of veracity. If it passes this test, then next consider the structure:
II. Music Must be Structurally Sound — suitability
Is the music well written and composed? Is the poetry clear, concise and well-crafted?
Are the words and the tune singable? Does the tune represent the best our musical style can offer?
Do the tune and text together communicate a congruent message? There are many good tunes and good texts that are simply mismatched. One that I can remember while growing up was “Love Lifted Me.”
“I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more . . .”
A joyful tune–a good tune–but very mismatched, at least at the beginning of the verse, where the words are trying to communicate desperation and our hopeless state when we are outside of Christ. The tune works much better in the refrain where the message is “Love lifted me!” We want to wed music and words that strengthen the message, not confuse it.
One example of what I would consider a well-matched text and tune is 175 in the Baptist Hymnal (1991):
“Man of Sorrows,” What a Name, for the Son of God who came.
Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah, What a Savior!
Both the text and the tune communicate a wonder and profoundness of what God has accomplished for us in the gospel.
Again, we must ask questions: Why was the music composed? What does the music communicate? Is what the music communicates conducive to worship? Can the music be used effectively to accompany acts and words of worship?
Are the associations of the music with other texts, other messages or other purposes too strong to allow the tune to transfer into sacred use? For example, if I were writing the words to a call to worship, I would not want to set the words to the tune of “Here Comes Santa Claus!” That is not to say that the tune is bad, evil, or even secular. It does however, at least here in America, have secular associations that make it entirely unfit for use in worship. The church must take great care in taking music from the world for its own use, especially when uniting music to Scripture. The associations of the songs with secular or even wicked contexts may be too strong to allow the music to be useful in the church.
Although we have freedom to create and enjoy music in a wide array of activities and venues, not all music is conducive to worship. A church service, a football game and a parade all include music that we can enjoy to the glory of God. But a worship service is not a football game or a parade. Each activity requires music suitable to its purpose. Music that we enjoy hearing at venues outside of the church may not be appropriate or fitting for the purpose of worship. In worship we are pursuing a well-defined purpose and seeking to communicate a clear message. As we choose music for worship, we must be wise in finding tunes that will serve as a suitable accompaniment to those thoughts, actions and elements that Scripture affirms as appropriate for worship. In worship we are communing with the Sovereign God and proclaiming His Word. Our music should reflect the significance and importance of our endeavor.
In the end we must judge the worth or merits of the song to serve as an offering of worship. As we measure the worth of a song we can weigh its value according to three standards: insight, perfection and inexhaustibility.
Does it add something of value to the service?
Does it communicate clearly? Or does it confuse?
Does it help us effectively express what we want to say to God, what we want to be before God, what we want to do in obedience to His Word.
Not is it perfect in the sense of “without error,”
But is it complete? — Does it say all it needs to say?
Or is something left out? Is something out of place?
Does it represent the best of what we can bring to God in worship? Is it a sacrifice of praise in which we have invested ourselves? Or is it just something to sing? Something to fill an empty space in our order of worship?
Is it memorable?
Is it worth remembering?
Is it worth singing again?
Has it stood the test of time?
Can you sing over and over again without it wearing out over time? Does it become richer and more meaningful with time? Or does it prove to be shallow and spent after a few hearings? Can it be appreciated across generations or even across cultures or languages?
These are some of the filters we can use as we think through our music.