January 19, 2018

Sermon and Song: A Vital Duet

Kurt Woetzel

Does your church have a “good spirit” about it? That question has a measure of Scriptural basis. Christ said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). One of the practical functions and purposes of music in the church is to set the spirit. And that spirit, which can be brought about by the character of the music, must mirror the truth that is being proclaimed from the pulpit.

The body of believers that engages in this kind of duet, truth in word and in sound (music), then experiences a purpose-driven unity that is rare in the Christian community. Agreement on music fosters a temperament for harmony in all aspects of church life. The resulting impact on the overall personality of a body of believers is much greater than we realize or can fully understand. What a marvelous prospect and promise at the end of that verse: “. . . the Father seeketh such to worship him.” It is no wonder that the Lord’s presence is real when the Word is clearly preached and the music matches the Word in dignity, beauty, and message.

Conversely, music that does not match the dignity, beauty, and message of the Word preaches a philosophy contrary to what is declared from the pulpit; this causes confusion and division. When major differences of music philosophy exist in a congregation, tension and disagreement are on the surface at every service. When significant style changes become the norm from one Sunday to the next in order to accommodate equally those who desire a pop sound as well as those who prefer more traditional music, one group is always alienated and even annoyed. Music preferences are boldly and firmly expressed even by those who seldom offer opinions on other matters. If two can’t “walk together” unless they agree (Amos 3:3), how then can they worship together?

Many churches have recognized this problem and offer a “solution” in the form of two distinctly different services within the same church—one service with a traditional sound and another with contemporary music. In the first service, the music is generated by an organ, a piano, perhaps a choir, and is led by a song leader or choir director. The response to this kind of music is primarily cerebral, yet the music also appeals to the spirit and the emotions. The responsibility and direction of this sound are under one leader. In the typical contemporary service the music is produced and led by a worship team with guitars, synthesizers, and an array of drums. This music is group-led, and the response is primarily visceral and emotional.

The sound as well as the leadership model of the two services are as different as the people who attend each service. In essence, from one church emerges two distinct churches. They are unlike not only in sound but also in sensibility. These two ministries, under the same roof, not only disagree in music but also differ enormously in message. The world understands the difference. Many Christians, however, in an effort to attract the world, fail to grasp this great contradiction.

Music in the believer’s life is not intended for physical impact, as the world desires it; rather, it strives for spiritual influence in order that truth in word and sound may render a marvelous duet that proclaims a pure message. May the following verse become reality in our churches as we offer the sacrifice of praise unto the Lord: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 1999. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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