Suppose someone had a great asset for achieving an important goal but seldom used it. Suppose this person was failing to accomplish by other means what the unused asset could achieve. The Body of Christ possesses such a God-given asset which it repeatedly neglects and misuses. That asset is music!
God has ordained an important role for music. The Church has made it something else. Often music is used merely as a warm-up for the sermon or as a way of holding down the noise during offering time. We value preaching and teaching because we recognize our need for admonition, exhortation and education. Yet we neglect to give equal emphasis to music and its God-ordained role in worship. Preachers admonish people about what is important and teachers educate them as to what is important, but music ministers (whose duties correspond to those of the Old Testament Levites) merely do what is important without explaining it.
Scripture mentions music far more than preaching as an element of worship. Even Paul's statement in Romans that faith comes by hearing the Word of God pertained primarily to the musical presentation of Scripture in ancient Jewish worship. To this day the Scriptures are chanted in the synagogue, and the worship leader is called a "cantor."
Inspired preaching certainly has its place, but I think there will be no preaching, no stewardship appeals, and no announcements in heaven. We will not need admonitions and exhortations because we will know how to please God. However, from my knowledge of worship described in Scripture, I do think there will be much singing in heaven.
I think God enjoys music. I think he wants to use it in the lives of his people to honor him. Music is a God-given transportation device. Though physically produced and received, music transcends the physical realm. Through music God can lift us to heights unattainable without his help.
Music Transports Us to a Place of Knowledge
Music speaks to the whole person. It transports its hearers through their emotions to seek and to know God and to serve him.
In one story on our new tape, The Jewish Case for Jesus , Nancy Ginstling describes the first time she ever thought about Jesus. She heard The Passion According to Saint Matthew , a work by J. S. Bach that glorifies God because it proclaims the gospel. (Apparently it touched the heart of the Jewish conductor Felix Mendelssohn when he conducted it, because shortly after its second performance Mendelssohn became a Christian.) That same music touched Nancy so deeply that she began to wonder about knowledge outside of herself, a path that ultimately led her to Christ.
Music can memorialize events and press them into the consciousness of its hearers, so that they might respond. The 19-verse song of Exodus 15 commemorates Israel 's victory over Egypt . The chorus in verse 21 is a thematic summary of the event. A choir of women performed it, singing and dancing with timbrels as they were led by that spry old lady Miriam. From that chorus comes our modern praise song: "I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider thrown into the sea..." It certainly demonstrates the timelessness of music as a form of worship.
Music Transports Us to a Place of Praise and Worship
In ancient times singing was the chief means of corporate worship. Many Scripture passages corroborate this. We have the Book of Psalms, as well as other songs throughout the Bible. In the duties of the priests and Levites using song and percussion instruments (described in I Chronicles 15:16ff and 25:1) we see even more evidence of the role of music in ancient Hebrew worship.
Music Transports Us to a Place of Remembering
Temple songs were used to impress certain facts upon the memory in the same way a catechism, with its didactic questions and answers, was used some 500 years ago.
Through the centuries music has continued as a teaching device. While the lesson was not always godly or true, much music was written by godly people to express genuine Christian faith. Charles Wesley, called "the poet of Methodism," was so passionate for verse that he often wrote while traveling by stagecoach, and even while riding horseback. In recent Methodist hymnals no fewer than 121 of the 748 hymns come from the pen of Charles Wesley. His works transcend time and sectarian differences.
The Passion According to St. Matthew , already mentioned, has been called "the supreme cultural achievement of all Western civilization." Bach had written this piece based on Matthew 26-27 as a sermon set to music. He intended it as a service in which all would participate and relive the sorrow, meditation, quiet joy and reflection of our Messiah as he prepared to die for the sins of the world. Bach used all the drama of the events to evoke the emotions of the listener. The sequence moves from narration of Scripture to reflection on the events. Words drawn from The Song of Solomon evoke intense love and devotion and heighten the hearer's anguish and sorrow over the supreme expression of divine love. Two choirs represent both Old Testament and New Testament believers. Bach had intended that both performers and congregation participate in singing the chorales. The entire work serves as a reminder of the Messiah's suffering and death.
Another more widely known musical work is Handel's Messiah. Many have made commitments to Christ through hearing this great musical presentation of God's plan of salvation.
Music Transports Us to a Place of Healing
The story is told of a young woman on a lengthy college choir tour. By the eve of the group's last concert, the exciting adventure had deteriorated into a grueling ordeal. Short of sleep and patience, the choir members bickered and gossiped. Perhaps sensing their fatigue, the choir director encouraged them by saying, "Tonight, sing to Deity."
As they put on their robes and lined up, the girl pondered, "What does he mean? I guess he wants us to sing to God instead of to the audience." After dozens of concerts, the memorized songs had become meaningless to her. Now, by focusing on this new audience of One, she would have to concentrate on the lyrics.
From the first note, the girl was unable to sing. Contemplation of those beautiful words of love and devotion to Christ brought tears that welled up and cascaded down her face. Disregarding the human audience, she mouthed the text, making it a prayer to God. The experience convicted her of pettiness, jealousy and backbiting, which she confessed as she "sang." At intermission she asked forgiveness from those for whom she had been harboring bad feelings. During the second half of the program, she tried to pull herself together enough to sing, but could not. Heart pure and mind uncluttered, whenever she tried to sing she found herself more than ever overwhelmed with love and gratitude to God. Weeping through the entire concert, only mouthing the words, she found herself the recipient of this ministry directed to others.
Music Transports Us to a Place of Telling Others
Music written not merely about God, but to him is deeply moving. Sometimes Christians feel guilt for enjoying too much in a world that is heading unworried and unwarned into a Christless eternity. Yet God ordained joy in our proclamation to this dying planet. Ours is not a funeral dirge for lost humanity, nor is it the frivolous chant of uncaring children. It is a vibrant message of triumph and victory in Christ. But perhaps because we so easily feel unwarranted guilt for "too much" enjoyment in worship, we tend to label Christian music as entertainment rather than worship. In doing this, we denigrate God's intention for music ministry. If we treat the calling and skill to serve God through music as more recreational than redemptive, we hinder our music ministers, the modern-day Levites, from their duties.
Certainly we should value spoken sermons and prayer and not do less of either. However, these ought not to usurp music as an equally valid means of corporate worship. The Church can deliver God's message and offer up prayer by singing the truth as well as by speaking it.
Music Transports Us to a Place of Oneness with Each Other and God
When God's people join their voices in song to him, a joyful oneness takes place. It is a unity that touches the heart of God himself!
Zephaniah 3:14-17 tells us that when we sing for joy, God himself responds with singing. As we offer our voices and songs to God, he will undergird and sustain us in our joyful melodies. He will activate a harmonic embrace that will resound throughout the heavenly courts. We will find ourselves participating with one another and with him in a dance of oneness, for when the heart sings, the soul dances.
Music Transports Us to a Vision of Heaven Itself
Imagine yourself in the courts of Heaven. As described in the Book of Revelation, chapters 4 and 5, you hear the four living creatures endlessly praising God, singing "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." The 24 elders greet you, and you take up their song: "Thou art worthy, 0 Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for thou hast created all things..." An ever-widening circle of fellow worshipers joins the innumerable host of angels, lifting their voices in one great doxology: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing." Music pours forth like rushing water, pounding surf and crackling thunder, and you are drawn into the presence of the Ancient of Days to worship him forever with your entire being.
Doesn't that thought awaken in you a sense of longing, love and praise for God? God's call for the music minister of the Church is to inspire his people to holy worship until the day we all gather in the heavenly throne room and sing his praises forever. My prayer is that we will not forget our music ministers and their God-given asset for ministry, and that they will be more like the ancient Levites-worshipful people called to bring their constituency to a greater devotion to God.