In the Christian community, the worship service is of prime importance and for many has become a serious issue. There are several dimensions to worship. The giving of testimonies during the service is one aspect. Another is the giving of offering and the returning of tithe. One of the most controversial and well-loved facets of the worship service is the music. This paper will take a look at the role music plays in the worship service. It will look at the effects of music on people. It will also delve into some of the more controversial issues such as whether drums are acceptable in the worship of God, and the potential for positive and/or negative effects of the over/underuse of music in the worship service. The issue of why worship is done in the first place will also be dealt with. These various things will aid in shedding light on the role of music in worship ministry as all of it is laid bare in the paper.
The Role of Music in Worship Ministry
Ministry is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the period of service or office of a minister or ministry (“ministry”, 2010). Worship is defined by the same source as extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem (“worship”, 2010). Thus “worship ministry” can be seen as an act of service towards something that has incredible value to the one who is doing the ministry. In churches, the object of adoration is God and the adoration is expressed in the worship service. Music plays a fundamental role in the worship service. Music’s role in the worship service has changed drastically over the past two decades. One can then compare the role it plays in today’s worship service with that of the ancient church. As times change so do the various things that accompany the differing aspects of human life. It should then come as no surprise that music changes as well. Furthermore, the role music plays; the type of music, what is accepted and what isn’t have a tendency to change as well. Music has a tremendously good effect on people (Tracy). It has even been connected to intellectual development as research shows that musical learning that occurs before the age of twelve increases the capacity for knowledge and understanding in mathematics (Green 1997). The Seventh-day Adventist church holds the view of the total positive impact music can have on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of an individual. So because the totality of a human being is affected, it would be of most importance then to take a significant look at the role music plays in worship ministry. One should consider:
1. Why there is a worship service?
2. The specific role music plays
3. What is considered acceptable and unacceptable
For the purposes of this research paper, the Seventh-day Adventist church will be used as the main example as music ministry always played a significant role in the church, and also this church represents many protestant churches like it in terms of observing personal doctrines and being practical in service to others. Other churches’ views on music ministry will be presented as well thus keeping a fair, balanced view of the subject.
Why is there a Worship service?
The question must be asked: Why have a worship service in the first place? What is it that compels human beings to worship a God whom many of them cannot even prove exists? Also in the bible there are many instances where the reader is given the instruction to praise God. For example Psalms 66:8 says, “O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of His praise to be heard…” Such commands at first cause God to appear egomaniacal, however, closer inspection would lend to another way of thinking. Especially in view of texts such as “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another” (Isaiah 48:9-11). Many have been troubled by this and many texts like it. However, C.S. Lewis sheds some light on this as he states:
My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. (Lewis, 1958, p.93-95)
The bible also says, “Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.”(Psalms 150:2). It is seen here that the reason why worship is to be given to God is because it completes the happiness of the one offering praise, as human beings praise what they love the most and it credits God for Who He is. Thus the “ministry” aspect of worship refers more to what it does for the participants as opposed to what it does for the spectators. Those who do not believe in the same God as Christians can sympathize with why they praise their God. Unfortunately, those who do not believe in God will have a more difficult time grasping this concept. Nevertheless, the worship service is valuable in the fact that it was instituted to uplift and empower the worshipper as well as to adore and magnify the One being worshipped.
In terms of forms of expression, human beings have always come up with different ways to release what is held within them. Joy, sadness, pain, anger, desperation, fear and pleasure are all facets of human life that have found themselves expressed in various art forms throughout the centuries. Some of these forms include dances, paintings, poetry, and music. Of the forms mentioned, music has been the main vehicle used by the church in the worship service to offer adoration and gratitude toward God.
The Role Music Plays in Worship Ministry
Music plays a vital role in the expression of what was described above. For a long time music has been seen as expression of sometimes the most deep of emotions. Psalms 28:7 states, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.” What then should take place is the corporate expression of a unified view of adoration and praise to the God whom the church members believe in. To do this effectively, many churches utilize hymnals in the worship service. An example of this kind of church is the Oakwood University Church. The hymns in these hymnals normally are decided upon beforehand in a special counsel. In the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church there was a hymnal committee that was created in 1985 for the sake of compiling a new hymnal (Hooper, 2003). The occasion of formulating a new hymnal was placed in high priority. The SDA church apparently understood the importance of the ministry of worship and thus placed a special importance upon the hymnal. There are also many churches that no longer use hymnals, but rather they use songs that are popular in the Christian community. An example of this kind of church is the Madison Mission SDA church.
Many churches hold the common view that the music used in the worship service is to be for the honor and glorification of God. Thus the melodies, harmonies and lyrics are to be used for praising God. Anything that would take away from the worship of God in the corporate setting of the service would thus be inappropriate and unnecessary. The guidelines of the SDA church in regards to the music used in the worship service specify this idea very clearly (“A Seventh-day Adventist”, 2004). In the church there is also the emphasis of using the proper theology in the music. Though the theological aspects would naturally be associated with the sermons preached by the preachers in the church, there must also be sound teachings found in the lyrics of the music played in the service as well. Emphasis is also placed upon the quality of the music being played. It is expected within these churches that any music that is being used for worship is to have been thoroughly prepared and looked over to ensure that what is presented is of the best product the musicians can produce. Also, located in the guidelines is the uplifting nature the music is to have on the listeners. As was mentioned before, music impacts the listener in such a way that his total being is affected by it. The parameters like those set forth by the SDA church, once followed, will then focus the mind upon God while the mental powers of comprehension would simultaneously be strengthened. Thus the participants perception of God would become more and more real as he/she partakes of the service. Every aspect of the Christian’s life is declared by the SDA church as worship to God. Thus the music a Christian listens to ministers to him/her. The SDA church teaches that wholesome music causes the intellect and ability to understand to expand and thus helps to shape better people. Thus the music in the worship service also must reflect this teaching.
There has been a growing controversy within different churches. As things in general are changing, the music that was once normally played in churches is now changing as well. This has caused there to be many a debate about what should be allowed and what should not be. Many church members hold to traditional views while others are more liberal in their acceptance of the new direction of music.
What is considered “acceptable” and “unacceptable”?
Within many organizations, there are various things that can cause rifts within the union. Likewise, there are quite a few churches that are divided on the issue of what is acceptable and what is not in terms of the music that is played for the worship service. From the perspective of one standing on the outside looking in, it appears to be more of a question of taste and preference. This however, is found to be not the case upon closer inspection. The issue of music in the church moves from being one of taste to one of doctrine and proper Christian practice due to the teachings of many churches on the subject. The introduction of elements such as the drums and the electric guitar have caused there to be much fear especially among older members of the church who believe that such things are signs of the great apostasy prophesied by Ellen G. White:
…just before the close of probation,” ‘there will be shouting, with drums, music, and dancing. The senses of rational beings will become so confused that they cannot be trusted to make right decisions. And this is called the moving of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit never reveals itself in such methods, in such a bedlam of noise. This is an invention of Satan to cover up his ingenious methods for making of none effect the pure, sincere, elevating, ennobling, sanctifying truth for this time. (2nd Selected Messages, p. 36)
Quotes such as this one and others have led many church members, especially the SDA church, to be fearful of music that contains heavy drumming, electric guitars, and even jazz influences. There appears to be a contradiction however, as the she also called for instrumental music to be played skillfully (White, 1930). The bible supports the use of instruments that are similar to the drum such as the cymbal and the tambourine (Psalms 150). Also, according to John E. Sharp, the organ, which is an instrument widely accepted in many churches including the SDA church, said that the church had a serious problem in accepting the organ when it was first introduced to the church (“Historian john sharp”). The apparent dilemma presented is made clear as the guidelines set forth in churches like the SDA church cause one to realize that whatever instrument is being played in must be done in a way that is conducive to worship and will not distract from the service itself, thus hindering the ministry. With this parameter in mind it is then possible for even the most soothing peaceful of instruments, such as a harp or a violin, can be a distraction as the musician may attempt to attract attention to himself and thus the service is no longer a ministry. Furthermore, a musician who is not properly trained or who did not put in the required effort into being skillful in the instrument they play will also be a distraction as he/she will make mistakes and thus the ministry will be hindered. The organ was also slowly accepted over time according to Sharp. It was combined along with the choir in the service and became the norm after a while. What seemed to be the problem in the case of the organ was the fact that is was new which would be a disruption of the old way of doing things and that it was closely associated with the devil as the instrument has a pagan background.
So it is seen then that the difference between what is acceptable and unacceptable lies more with the musician and the people in the congregation than the instrument itself. As times change and music changes with it, one should only suppose that the instruments themselves would be changed as well to match the need for a new way to express what lies deep within. The drum and electric guitar only have a real danger if these instruments to be in the hands of musicians who did not have the proper mindset for ministry, and thus are unfit to participate in the worship service.
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