The Sound of Worship

Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! (vv. 3–4).

- Psalm 150

Over the past few decades, the so-called “worship wars” have been fought within churches and entire denominations, largely over the kind of music that is appropriate in the worship service. Contemporary versus traditional, hymns versus choruses — what does the Bible have to say about the best music for Christian worship?

Most of the Bible’s teaching on worship is actually found in the Old Testament, and we turn there today to find sound principles for corporate praise. New covenant worship certainly looks different than that offered under the old covenant, for the sacrifice of Christ means that we no longer bring bulls and goats to the tabernacle (Heb. 9:11–28). Nevertheless, some elements of worship — such as music — remain integral to new covenant worship (Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:18–21), and the Old Testament can help us understand what pleases God in our worship music today.

We see in Psalm 150 that it is appropriate to praise the Lord with nearly every instrument that has ever been invented. Even those instruments not mentioned specifically in that chapter are only new forms or derivations of those listed therein. It goes without saying that some instruments may not be wise choices for worship in some contexts, but God never absolutely forbids particular instruments in worship.

The power of song is at the root of our disagreements regarding church music. Music shapes our beliefs, informing our thoughts and actions. Singing songs helps to form our theology, for it is the words that are sung that we most easily remember years into the future. That is why any discussion of music in the church must first consider the lyrics of the songs we sing. Lyrics of hymns or choruses should reflect biblical theology to ensure that the doctrine we learn as we sing is faithful to Scripture. Hymns or choruses based directly on Scripture help guarantee the soundness of our beliefs.

Elaborate music should also be used in worship, since it requires the best of a musician’s skills, and nothing but the best ought to be offered in the church’s praise. Such complex songs are not necessarily hard to sing. Varied lyrics that present biblical themes comprehensively and music that contains more than just one repeated chord make for elaborate songs that exalt the Lord our God.

Coram Deo

The importance of music in shaping our worldview and theology means that we must never sing songs without carefully considering the meaning of the lyrics. As we participate in worship each week, let us always think carefully on what we are doing and saying in order that we might be able to praise God with understanding and with all our might. Do you participate thoughtfully in worship each Lord’s Day?

Passages for Further Study

Nehemiah 12:27–43
Psalm 96
Isaiah 42:10
Colossians 3:16

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