What Music Cannot Do

God has ordained music and singing for the purpose of His praise. The Scriptures are full of exhortations to God’s people to sing and make music for the Lord. This is a blessing. God was gracious when He gave us the means of music that we might use to honor Him. But Scripture is clear that music in our worship is for two purposes: to honor God and to edify our fellow believers. This is important to understand because in the contemporary church, music has been vested with powers that God never bestows upon it.

One example (and there are many) of this misunderstanding of the purpose of music specifically and worship in general comes from the flyer of a recent conference:
Join us for dynamic teaching to set you on the right path, and inspiring worship where you can meet God and receive the energy and love you need to be a mover and shaker in today’s world…Alongside our teaching program are worship events which put you in touch with the power and love of God.

Churches routinely advertise their “life-changing” or “dynamic” worship that will “bring you closer to God” or “change your life.” Certain worship CD’s promise that the music will “enable you to enter the presence of God.” These kinds of promises reveal a dangerous theological error. Worship, i.e. singing, is viewed as a means to facilitate an encounter with God; it will move us closer to God. This is, at best a sub-Christian view. At worst, it is heresy.

Jesus is the only way to God. He is the sole mediator between God and man. The popular but mistaken notions regarding worship music betray this foundational truth of the Christian faith. They offer music and “the worship experience” as an additional mediator between God and man. They would deny this by insisting that they believe Jesus to be the only way to salvation. But they would be hard pressed to find any biblical support for the idea that music mediates direct encounters or experiences with God. This is a common pagan notion. It is far from Christian.
Vaughan Roberts offers four consequences of viewing music as an encounter with God. I will summarize them.[1]

1. God’s Word is marginalized.
In many Churches and Christian gatherings it is not unusual for God’s Word to be shortchanged. Music gives people the elusive “liver quiver” while the Bible is more mundane. But faith does not come from music, dynamic experiences, or supposed encounters with God. Faith is birthed through the means of God’s Word (Rom 10:17).

2. Our assurance is threatened.
If we associate God’s presence with a particular experience or emotion, what happens when we no longer feel it? We search for churches whose praise band, orchestra, or pipe organ produce in us the feelings we are chasing after. But the reality of God in our lives depends on the mediation of Christ not on subjective experiences.

3. Musicians are given priestly status.
When music is seen as a means to encounter God, worship leaders and musicians are vested with a priestly role. They become the ones who bring us into the presence of God rather than Jesus Christ who alone has already fulfilled that role. Understandably, when a worship leader or band doesn’t help me experience God they have failed and must be replaced. On the other hand, when we believe that they have successfully moved us into God’s presence they will attain in our minds a status that is far too high for their own good.

4. Division is increased.
If we identify a feeling as an encounter with God, and only a particular kind of music produces that feeling, then we will insist that same music be played regularly in our church or gatherings. As long as everyone else shares our taste then there is no problem. But if others depend upon a different kind of music to produce the feeling that is important to them then division is cultivated. And because we routinely classify particular feelings as encounters with God our demands for what produce those feelings become very rigid. This is why so many churches succumb to offering multiple styles of worship services. By doing so, they unwittingly sanction division and self-centeredness among the people of God. Like a Burger King customer the church attendee is encouraged to “have it your way.”

[1] Roberts, Vaughn, True Worship (pp. 59ff).