The Polarization of Music in the Church



By Dr. Lindel M. Anderson

Synopsis: The controversy surrounding music in the church seems to be
growing. As our congregations become more multi-cultural and the growing
plethora of musical genres are introduced to the church, the worship
leader/music minister has a greater challenge than ever before to sing
music that is relevant to a diverse group of worshippers. God is not the
author of discord, he is the promoter of unity. How can we please God by
bringing disunity to the church? How can we possibly unite the
generations and the many cultures that comprise the modern Apostolic
Church and bring them together in a song of praise to the ONE true God?

Music has been around a very long time: “And his brother’s name was
Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ”
(Genesis 4:21).

Music is especially important to younger people: “The elders have ceased
from the gate, the young men from their musick” (Lamentations 5:14).

Music has been a part of worship to the one, true God for a very long
time: “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one,
to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and
when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and
instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for
his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a
cloud, even the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand
to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled
the house of God’ (II Chronicles 5:13-14).

Music was part of the lives of Jesus and the disciples: “And when they
had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30).

Martin Luther (1500s)

“…next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest
treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and
spirits…Our dear father and prophets did not desire without reason
that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs
and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might
therby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose
of praising and extolling God…A person who gives this some thought and
yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a
clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he
should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the
grunting of hogs.”

The Bible was authored roughly 2,000 years ago, and the Creator knew
that it had to be written to be completely relevant over an extreme
range of cultures and technological developments. For subjects that are
absolutely unchanging, such as baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit,
the directions are simple and direct. For other subjects, however, that
are inextricably linked to culture and technology, specific details are
left out and basic principles were established.
Music in the church clearly falls into the category of a subject that is
tightly linked to culture and technology. It is seriously doubtful that
any of the music we enjoy today in our services sounds much like what
was heard in the early church. As an illustration, is it possible that
any type of church music can be conducted without some sort of keyboard?
Given that the piano was not developed until the 1700s, and the
predecessor harpsichord was not around before the 1500s, it would seem
that the early church somehow managed to struggle through in the
pre-keyboard era.

As another example, a quick listen to recordings of local church music
from non-western countries during missionary services quickly reveals
that even today, all sorts of interesting sounds and utterances can be
part of a joyful noise.

Much of what we know about early church music is from records of church
decisions concerning what was acceptable and what was not acceptable
music. The controversy concerning musical style is not new.

At first, harmony was unacceptable. It was thought to be too beautiful
for the church or for Christians who were supposed to deny themselves of
“worldly lusts” and things that are beautiful. The church leaders taught
that you should not have nice things or enjoy yourself in this life, but
in the life to come.

All sacred music had to be in 3/4 time. Three beats per measure with one
beat for the Father, one beat for the Son, and one beat for the Holy
Ghost. Secular music was in 4/4 and was not allowed in church.

When the organ appeared in the 500’s, it was at first opposed by the
Christians as pagan and inappropriate for churches. The organ eventually
found solid footing in the church. But 1300, every significant church
possessed an organ.

Charles Finney (1835)

“It was thought best to have a select choir of singers sit by
themselves, so as to give an opportunity to improve the music. But this
was bitterly opposed. How many congregations were torn and rent in
sunder by the desire of ministers and some leading individuals, to bring
about an improvement in the cultivation of music, by forming choirs!
People talked about ‘innovations,’ and ‘new measures,’ and thought great
evils were coming to the Churches, because the singers were seated by
themselves, and cultivated music, and learned new tunes that he old
people could not sing.”

In my lifetime, I’ve heard of churches almost splitting over whether or
not they should have a grand piano on the platform.

Worship music often reflects the culture’s music, though admittedly
there is a delay in the church’s adaptation of cultural patterns. The
musical forms and instruments of worship in West Africa will differ from
that of Nebraska simply because the cultures are different. Each will
use different rhythms, styles, instruments and traditions. And the
musical forms of a downtown church full of middle-aged folks will differ
from that of a brand-new church full of singles and younger couples,
because their cultures are also different. Ultimately, worship is an
expression of the people�and that articulation is almost always
expressed in a way that is culturally comfortable.

So what does the New Testament say about the kind of music that we
should involve in our worship?

“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing
and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for
all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ;” (Ephesians 5:19-20).

Definition of Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs

Psalms � The apostolic church used the Psalms of the Old Testament to
assist their praise to the Lord. The greek word is psalmos, which
primarily denoted a striking or twitching with the fingers (on musical
strings); a sacred song or scriptural song, sung to musical accompaniment.

Hymns � The first Church did not have hymn books as we do today. The
Greek word is humnos, which means “a song of praise addressed to God.”

Spiritual Songs � According to W. E. Vine, the phrase means “songs of
which the burden is the things revealed by the Spirit.” It is a song
inspired by the Holy Spirit or from a spiritual experience.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and
admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing
with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).

“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing
psalms” (James 5:13).

“And they sung a new song; saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and
to open the seals thereof- for thou wart slain, and hast redeemed us to
God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and
nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall
reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).

As expected, no firm guidance such as “harps only, by two, or at the
most by three” was delineated, but a clear principle can be gleaned.
Rather than a particular style or type of music being the requirement,
it must be God-centered and lead us toward Him, both individually and

These scriptures about music are consistent with other New Testament
guidance about what we should focus on: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever
things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are
just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely;
whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if
there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
There are over 200 scriptures that tell us to sing. It must be important
to God. God loves to hear His Bride sing those beautiful love songs that
are like a sweet perfume to Him�the songs of praise, which are the fruit
of our lips.

More than ever before, there is a polarization concerning musical styles
used in the church. Everyone has an opinion and doesn’t mind telling
you. One generation begrudgingly watches as its songs (with lyrics most
often found in a songbook) are replaced by another generation’s songs
(with lyrics most often found on a screen). The new songs, so the one
grouses, don’t portray a commitment, dedication, or depth that is
essential in walking with and worshiping God. The old songs, so the
other proclaims, are dreary, dated, and horizontal.

It’s easy for the change agents�no matter what their age to see these
foundational tithes-payers as frowning anchors, dragging progress to a
halt, when actually they’ve paid a great price to make sure we have a
place to worship. For us to be unthankful (I Timothy 4) and
condescending would be unacceptable.

Besides, “There are two kinds of fools. One says, ‘This is old, and
therefore good.’ And one says, ‘This is new, and therefore better.'”

So where is the wise middle ground of progress with respect?

Outline of Music Changes in my lifetime

-only hymns � shaped notes � singing schools
-more worship choruses (people complained that they were too repetitious
and shallow
-black gospel influence (Andre Crouch � “Take Me Back”)
-as churches have grown the hymn book has totally been replaced by
overhead projectors and computer generated lyrics on a screen. (This was
controversial at first � too charismatic!!!
-Praise Singers Praise Teams Song Leader becomes Worship Leader
-Praise & Worship music becomes more prevalent with less singing of
hymns. (Some complain that they are too “wordy” and “shallow”. Gloria
Gaither says that much of the new music tends to be only the punch line
and doesn’t tell the story.

Of course, a great majority of anything new is forgettable. Face it,
even the best songbooks are stuffed with few sung after the novelty
faded. (Then consider the many average songs that didn’t make it in to
begin with.) I believe the hymn books are only a small portion of the
music that was written during that era. My mother sang, “Only a Tramp on
the Street”.

There were even some bad songs or songs that aren’t relevant to our day
that made it in the hymnal. Some examples….”Royal Telephone”,
“Bringing in the Sheaves”, “The Great Speckled Bird.” Today we are
living the music history as it unfolds. Some of our music today will
stand the test of time, while others will not, just as many hymns did
not stand the test of time.

We are now saturated with new songs, new sermons, and new ideas for
ministry. This isn’t some nefarious movement to supercede the Greatest
Generation, but the vagaries of time and creativity. Every generation
pushes to replace the previous. The circle is completing itself again.
It’s foolishness to believe “The Great Speckled Bird,” “Bringing in the
Sheaves,” or “Camping in Canaan Land” minister to anyone below 60 today.
The language, the metaphors, and the rhythm all speak to a long-distant
time that no longer exists.

The genius of praise choruses is their accessibility. No, they can’t
possibly be compared to the best mainline hymns, whose depth and
complexity properly reflect life, but the catchy simplicity hooks
visitors and youth.

However, many new songs are worth celebrating, but aren’t yet recognized
as exceptional. Some praise choruses will slip through the gauntlet of
time and competition to be sung in future decades. Only a fool would
guarantee which songs will persevere.

None of these new entries will taint the all-time classics. No praise
chorus will ever top “Amazing Grace” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
Likewise, we needn’t tremble in the night over the status of “At the
Cross,” “0 How I Love Jesus,” and “Blessed Assurance,” as these hymns
will still be sung when Jesus comes.

Still, none of this means praise choruses shouldn’t be given their
chance in the spotlight At some point, every generation must accept that
their day of dominance is passing. They needn’t accept lesser standards
from the rising vanguard, but they must understand that there will
always be different methods and varied means in expressing praise and
worship to the Lord.

The battle lines in this controversy are too often drawn between the
generations. Over the years I’ve heard older people complain bitterly
that the music is too loud or the worship leader plays the piano too
hard or the new songs are shallow or too wordy, etc. I’ve heard young
people complain that he music is boring or that they can’t worship in
the Spirit because the worship leader is too old and he only leads old

The beauty is when two different generations treat each other with
respect and portray a humble heart toward God. Young people would not be
allowed to stick their fingers in their ears or make fun of an elder
when they were singing or if the pastor or worship leader leads an old
song. Likewise, elder saints should be reprimanded by the pastor for a
bad attitude towards new music or music sung by the youth of the church.
A bad attitude is a bad attitude if the person is 13 or 83.

Isn’t it refreshing to see a young convert who doesn’t care about the
style of music, they are just ready to worship. “Take me back. Take me
back, to the place where I first received you…” Sister McFarland at
Calvary is a true worshipper.

Too often church people think they’re standing up for their principles
when they’re really just disagreeing about methodology. We all differ in
our musical tastes, yet we complain or even refuse to worship if the
style of music doesn’t suit us. Churches should use a musical style that
the majority of the congregation prefers, but styles change. And to
complicate matters, there are so many different styles to choose from
these days.

When it comes to worship, musical style is not the main issue. The words
are. If the lyrics extol Christ, don’t let anyone stop you from
worshiping “in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23) The apostle John tells
us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).
The first test of any worship song or hymn is whether or not the lyrics
lift up the name of Jesus.

The older I get the more I realize that musical style is another one of
those externals that doesn’t matter as much as we think it does. As long
as the lyrics are God-honoring and Jesus is at the heart of it, I’m
learning that I can worship with any style of music.

As worship leaders, are we getting too preoccupied with the sounds and
songs we are creating? Is there a danger that we look first and foremost
at gifting, talent, (musical style’, the beat of the song, etc.) and
forget the key thing�the heart? We do not worship forms of music � we
worship God.

A respected worship leader will have fewer problems with people
complaining about the style of music he leads. This doesn’t always
happen overnight. Respect is earned, not demanded. Character is a big
issue and spirituality, too. Also, we must develop a relationship with
the people in the congregation. We must never appear that we are the
only ones who know what “real” music is.

Some worship leaders have an attitude of superiority. “I’m going to
educate these hicks and expose them to some real music.” If you feel
that way, you are the only one who will get an education (in humility)
and exposed as someone who cares more about showing off your musical
expertise than serving the church. Most of us aren’t as smart and cool
as we think we are. Some of us don’t like to sing southern gospel. We
are too educated and have too much culture. The truth is that more of us
are country than not. Even if you live in the north, there are just as
many country hicks!

We must do our best to be relevant to the congregation. This becomes
much more difficult as our churches are becoming more multi-cultural.
Know your congregation. Don’t change too quickly. The music in a urban
city church will probably sound different than the music of a small town
mid-western church. Don’t sing music from just your favorite style. Do
sing hymns!!! Do sing choruses of the 80’s and 90’s. Do sing Urban
Gospel. Do sing new music! “Sing unto the Lord a NEW song”. Use a
diversity of style. Everything from Bluegrass to Urban.

Who is our service formatted for? The saint or the un-churched? Who will
benefit the most? From our opening remarks until the final note is
played in altar service, who is the target? Are we just, “having
church,” or are we “seeking to save that which was lost?”

If we are programming our services for the lost, then we should go to
great lengths to cause the seeker to feel comfortable. They should
understand what is going on. They should comprehend the message and they
should relate to the music.

In most cases, music is the first impression they will get of the actual
service. Our goal should be for their familiarity with the style and
melody to cause them to relax. This will allow for a much greater
opportunity for God to work in their life.

We’re straying from our purpose if we program everything that we do for
the saint. We must instead be reaching for new people every Sunday and
thus, plan accordingly.

Jesus was certainly into this mindset. He loved to find where sinners
lived and then go there. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the churches in
North America to find out where sinners live and go there in our service

We expect our missionaries to discover and adapt to the culture of the
country they are reaching and yet, in many cases, we fail to do so back
home. We should not fear being current with our culture. Our Gospel is
powerful, its truths are untouchable! We need not be paranoid of losing
what we have in our pursuit to stay relevant to our ever-changing,
progressive society. We must find what they are accustomed to, learn
what they enjoy, and discover what makes them comfortable.

Music is an amazing tool for us to show our communities that we
understand where they are living. They often feel that the church has no
awareness of who they are or what they need! When they hear a song they
relate to, it can help break down these preconceived ideas.

Ps 33:3 tells us, “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud
noise.” No less than 9 times the Bible speaks of singing a new song. New
in truth or in style? New in message or in melody? New in doctrine or in
arrangement? We are not changing the message that we sing. We will never
change the truth that we sing about. The God that we worship in our
songs is un-changing and thus our songs should always glorify Him as He
deserves. However, we are given a direct command in the Scriptures to
update and renew our melodies.

The first and most obvious idea is the STYLE of music you play!
You need to look at your extended community and create a sound that they
will be comfortable with when they enter your building. In doing so, try
to think like an unchurched individual who is already skeptical of
church and work toward minimizing their apprehension.

Don’t be afraid to make changes in your music department in order to
relate better to the seeker. Being current is not compromise. Let’s keep
our purpose in mind and work to provide a pleasing and comfortable
atmosphere in our churches for the lost to find Jesus.

Aligning ourselves too closely with the popular will not help the church
maintain its separation from the world so strongly urged by apostle
Paul, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the
Lord, and touch not the unclean thing…” (II Cor. 6:17). “And be not
conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your
mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect,
will of God” (Rom. 12:2).

Our worship must be genuine. If it is, God accepts it.
When the woman at the well realized who she was talking to, she worship
him. Jesus accepted her worship because it was real. He didn’t worry if
the water was too cold or too hot, etc. He accepted it because she gave
it from her heart.

Make it a priority to pray for direction and guidance from the LORD.
“God give me wisdom… Give me direction. YOU know the solution to this
difficult situation.”

Reference Sources
David Kuhtenia: “Music Styles in the Church”
Kent Curry: “Hymnals are Dead! Long Live Praise Choruses!”
Tim Hughes: “Here I Am to Worship”
Rory Noland: “Thriving as an Artist”
Gary D. Erickson: “Music: On the Rocks?”
Keith Drury: “The Wonder of Worship”
Jonathan Moore: “Music in Ministry”
Cheri Walters: “Get a Giant Hat Rack”

The above article, �The Polarization of Music in the Church,� is written
by Lindel Anderson. The article was borrowed with permission from the

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted
under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely
used for personal study or research purposes.