I am a Ph.D. student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation, which includes Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. My interests are religion, politics, TV, movies, and reading.
Now for my church write-up! I attend church every Sunday, and, each
week, I write a post about something that I got out of the service.
Warning: scattered ramblings ahead!
At church last week, the pastor in his sermon was talking about how he and his wife were watching The Voice
on TV. On that show, a woman was singing on stage, and the people in
the audience were waving their hands. Some were closing their eyes and
enjoying the music. That reminded the pastor of church.
The pastor was drawing some conclusions from this. One question he
asked was why people cannot be as excited about God, as they are about a
singer who does not even know them! The pastor made clear that he does
not want us to wave our hands in worship just to please him, but he
asked us to consider his question.
That got me thinking about music. Here are some thoughts:
A. I do not think that The Voice was counterfeiting the
church. Rather, I think that music is a powerful force, and that is why
it has been incorporated into worship throughout history.
This is not an absolute statement, for some biblical scholars have
noticed that there is no reference to musical accompaniment in the
priestly sections of the Torah. Biblical scholar Israel Knohl wrote a
book entitled The Sanctuary of Silence. I say in my post here,
as I interact with Knohl’s book: “For Knohl, the priest’s ideal was for
people to be silent before a majestic God. Knohl cites Psalm 65:2: to
you (God), silence is praise.”
But there is a lot in the Bible about praising God with music! To
quote Psalm 150:4: “Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him
with stringed instruments and organs” (Psalm 150). King David in I Chronicles 25 is credited with establishing Temple musicians, but the Bible depicts music in worship before then: in Exodus 15, the Israelites sing after their Egyptian adversaries are thrown into the sea, and Moses’ sister Miriam plays the timbrel.
Music is a way for people to express their happiness
and their longings. The church uses music so that people can express
their happiness and longings towards God, in the context of worship.
B. The Church of Christ does not include musical instruments in its
worship. The people sing at Church of Christ services, but without
accompaniment by musical instruments. There were church fathers and
Christian thinkers who were likewise critical of using musical
instruments in worship. See here for some passages that are critical of musical instruments, but also here for patristic passages that are more supportive of them.
A criticism that some Christians have employed against using musical
instruments in worship is that instruments appeal to the flesh. Their
argument is that Old Testament religion was very physical and thus
incorporated musical accompaniment to appeal to worshipers, whereas New
Testament religion is supposed to be spiritual. Yet, even those who use
this argument seem to acknowledge a place for music in worship, so long
as it is sung vocally. Ephesians 5:19, after all, encourages “Speaking
to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and
making melody in your heart to the Lord” (KJV).
Personally, I do not see what the big deal is when it comes to using
musical instruments in worship. If we are allowed to enhance or
manifest our appreciation of God with singing, why not add instrumental
accompaniment to the mix? And is it so wrong to appeal to the physical
senses in worship? Nowadays, many Christian thinkers are rejecting the
anti-physical, ultra-spiritual orientation that has characterized
elements of Christianity throughout history, noting that God loves God’s
physical creation and plans to renew it and dwell in it.
C. A while back, I was reading Dan Barker’s deconversion testimony. I cannot find what exactly I read, but here is wikipedia’s page
about Dan Barker, in case you want to know more about him.
Essentially, Dan Barker was an evangelical musician who became an
atheist. And my understanding is that there was a season in which he
was still singing Christian music, even though he was no longer a
When Dan came out as an atheist, many of his Christian friends and
acquaintances were shocked. One friend asked Dan how Dan made such
beautiful, heart-felt music, without believing a word that he was
singing. Dan replied that it was the music that was making him happy,
not the words to the songs.
I can somewhat identify with this. One of the things that I
especially like about the church that I attend is its music. The church
is an African-American church, but there are people of other
ethnicities and races who attend, as well. The music is a force of
nature! And, in contrast to some of the other churches that I have
visited, the congregation at this church actively participates in the
singing: they clap, they wave their hands. I have visited other
churches, and I often feel unsatisfied with the music at these places:
perhaps I want to hear more, or I wish that I could display enthusiasm
without being looked upon as a nut. At the church that I am currently
attending, I feel fed by the music, and I leave the services feeling
But here is a question: am I excited by the music, or by the God
towards whom that music is directed? I cannot deny that I love the
music. I like to clap my hands and sing and bop my head, even when
there are times that I am not sure what I believe or feel about God. I
don’t think that is horrible. I just hope to feel good about God, too.
Whether I display that sort of enthusiasm at secular concerts or when
I am listening to secular music, that is a good question. I suppose
that it depends on whether I like the music! I one time attended a
secular concert and I did not care for the music. But I will say this: I
do like art that actually makes a valuable or an edifying point, and
that is one reason that I tend to gravitate towards worship music, or
Christian music. I still enjoy the secular stuff, but its lyrics do not
edify me that much. If I were to go to church, and the music there
lacked any reference to God, I would be disappointed.