The Sound of Worship

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 150:6).

- Psalm 150

Having established a few foundational principles of biblical worship, we will now begin to examine the components of worship and how they engage our senses. We begin today with a brief look at the role of music in worship, a contentious issue in the church today.

The Old Testament contains most of the Bible’s teaching on worship and gives us sound principles for praise. Of course, worship ought not look exactly the same today since Jesus has come and eliminated our need to offer up the blood of bulls and goats (Heb. 9:11–28). But not every element of worship — like music — is abrogated in Christ (Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:18–21). Thus, the Old Testament can  teach us what the Lord desires from our worship today.

Today’s passage orders us to praise God with virtually every kind of instrument available. In fact, any instrument not included in Psalm 150 is only a new form or derivation of the ones listed. This tells us there is no instrument that is inherently improper for use in our services of praise. To be sure, there may be instruments that are not wise to use in a particular context, but we cannot say that God absolutely forbids certain instruments in worship.

Much of the disagreement over the use of music in the church arises because we are all aware of the power of song. Almost without equal, music can shape our emotions and thoughts. Singing words often gets them into our heads faster than simply speaking them.

As we begin to discuss music in the church it would be wise to focus on two things. First, we must be careful of lyrics. They should always reflect biblical theology, as much of our doctrine is learned as we sing it. Hymns like “A Mighty Fortress” probably help us absorb and remember the strength and safety found in God more than any abstract discussion of the subject could.

Secondly, it is wise to use “complex” music in worship since we serve a multifaceted Lord who has many attributes. Complex songs are not ones that are hard to sing. Instead, complexity may be achieved with varied lyrics that present biblical themes comprehensively and music that contains more than just one repeated chord.

Coram Deo

Paul confesses the depth of God’s ways when concluding his explanation of Israel’s salvation (Rom. 11:33). Though we can learn much about the Lord, we also realize how little we know about Him as we plumb the depths of His Word. His nature and sovereign providence is greater than we can fathom, and we, as His image-bearers, can imitate and proclaim this glorious complexity when we sing songs that lyrically and musically celebrate His glory.

Passages for Further Study

Neh. 12:27–43
Ps. 96
Isa. 28:29
1 Cor. 2:9
Col. 3:16

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.