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Volume 8, Issue 2: Presbyterion

The Noise of Your Songs

Douglas Wilson

Among Christians who respect the Bible, consistent and unabashed relativism has generally made little headway -- with the glaring exception of a pervasive relativism in aesthetics. Even among Christians, any genuine aesthetic value judgment will provoke a chorus of “Who’s to say? You?” This can be clearly seen in the differences which arise over the music of the church.

Our motive for all that we do is to be the glory of God -- even if it is something as mundane as eating or drinking (1 Cor. 10:31). How much more, then, should we be seeking the glory of God when we are in the act of . . . well, glorifying Him? Now ,of course, Christians would agree that we should sing to glorify God -- but the snare comes when we assume that whatever we like is suitable as an offering to God. This was the error of Cain, of Nadab and Abihu, and of those guilty of "self-imposed religion" in Col. 2:23. When we ask what glorifies God, we must seek the answer through careful study of Scripture. Our motive must be to glorify God in our singing, according to the pattern found in His Word. An essential part of this is the necessity of beautiful music.
Of course, church music must not be evaluated aesthetically alone. Men and women express themselves to God through music. This is why it is important for those who sing, whether individually or congregationally, to have hearts prepared to offer the sacrifice of praise. "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Heb. 13:15). If we do not prepare ourselves spiritually for worship, God is not pleased with our musical offerings. "Take away from me the noise of your songs , for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (Amos 5:21-24). We must remember that God takes a dim view of musical hypocrites.
Having said this, we must also add that the aesthetic poverty of much church music really proceeds from our irreverence. Through the prophet Malachi, God protested the blemished offerings being given to Him. "Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you?" (Mal. 1:8). Invited to sing at the White House, how many of us would sing as we do in church? The flippancy with which some churches address God is truly frightening. "The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; let the earth be moved! The Lord is great in Zion, and He is high above all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name -- He is holy" (Ps. 99:1-3). We should note the KJV translation of awesome terrible . And this requirement to be God-fearing was not some Old Covenant thing. Paul taught the Philippians to "work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling " (2:12). But because we do not fear God, we do not worry at all about what kind of music we offer Him.
Our music must be well done, and the Bible says that such beautiful music exists. What is beautiful and what isn't is not simply a matter of personal taste. The Scripture says, "Play skillfully with a shout of joy . . ." (Ps. 33:3). In Col. 3:16, we are required to have the word of Christ dwell in us richly , and the result of this rich indwelling is to be music. The music that comes forth should reflect the richness of our faith, not the poverty of the faith. If the faith is rich, then the music will be rich as well. Scripture teaches a correspondence between tree and fruit, fountain and water.
Not only must the worship of the congregation be good, it should be good and loud -- Scripture does not require the people of God to come before Him in order to mumble. "Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy " (Ps. 33:3). In another place it says, " Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises (Ps. 98:4). Of course instruments are a help here. "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn; shout joyfully before the Lord, the King" (Ps. 98:4-6).
Because the lyrics must have Christ at the center, the lyrics must also be worthy of Him. "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing" (Rev. 5:12). An important aesthetic attribute is symmetry; and, in order to be symmetrical, our lyrics must effectively focus on Christ (Rev. 5:9,12), the One in whom all things hold together. They must do so not only in content, but also in form. In order to glorify God as He deserves, the lyrics must be well-written. If they are not, then they will only confuse, distract, mislead, or stumble the saints as they sing to Him. How words go together is not irrelevant to the effectiveness of the communication, and certainly not irrelevant in their effectiveness in giving God glory and honor.
Biblical symmetry results in aesthetic balance. The lyrics should express the doctrine of God's people in a clear, balanced way. This is simply another way of saying the lyrics should be creedal and systematic (Phil. 3:16). Further, the lyrics should express God's truth with the same aroma as found in Scripture (Ps. 95:1-2). Our joy and thanksgiving may not be pro forma , but rather an expression of gladness and simplicity of heart.
In short, beauty in our music and lyrics is necessary for this overriding reason -- He is worthy.

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