Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Music in the New Testament

What is the role of music in the New Testament? How does it compare to the Tanakh usage and role of music? Granted, that topic could fill the pages of a book, but I'd like to take a brief look to see what the Scripture instructs on this topic.

Some OT examples of music's role and usage:

1) Moses and Miriam leading the rejoicing of the Hebrews after being delievered from the Egyptians (Exodus 15).

2) The book of Psalms is a collection of songs. It references many different instruments and even commands believers to praise the Lord using them (Psalm 150:5).

3) Music was used to celebrate the Ark of the Covenant being brought to the City of David:

1 Chronicles 15:19
The musicians Heman, Asaph and Ethan were to sound the bronze cymbals; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah and Benaiah were to play the lyres according to alamoth, and Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel and Azaziah were to play the harps, directing according to sheminith. Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.

4) God clearly approves of the use of music to worship Him:

2 Chronicles 5:12-14
All the Levites who were musicians--Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives--stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang:
"He is good;
his love endures forever."
Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.

There are MANY more examples, but you can see the gist: music had a prominent place in the rejoicing of God's people and in the worship of God.

What are some New Testament examples?

1) When the Prodigal Son returns home, the older son, coming in from the field, hears the sound of "music and dancing" (Luke 15:25). The parable is a picture of the return of a believer back to the Lord after leaving Him; we're told in Luke 15:7 that heaven rejoices over the repentance of a sinner.

2) Making music is a command for New Testament believers! Note that the command includes "to one another" as well as "in your heart"--so there's a basis for singing together as well as privately.

Ephesians 5:19-20
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3) Music coexists with teaching, and is commanded alongside it:

Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

4) Music is again associated with rejoicing:

James 5:13b

Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

5) Revelation 14 and 15 make it clear that there will be plenty of music in heaven.

Revelation 15:2-4
And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb:
"Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the ages.
Who will not fear you, O Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed."

6) Music is definitively part of corporate Christian worship. The early church experienced and expected to sing and make music together in addition to teaching, reading the Word, and prophesying.

1 Corinthans 14:26
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

None of this is to say, though, that the way music is incorporated into the services today is anything like what the early church did. To my way of thinking, early church music methodology would more resemble a campfire or home Bible study's use of music than a band up front on a stage. But times are different, technology is different. I am still not sure what we've gained or lost with our current way of doing things.

In the Old Testament, you could say there was a band: the skilled Levites who played the instruments and sang. Perhaps the modern "worship band" at the front of the church is fulfilling this type of role. That makes sense, but I feel a sense of loss of intimacy and group participation with the "stage" aspect. Yet another reason why the home church model is the best, and the most like the early church.

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