We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; all music is not.
The psalmist says in Psalm 119:24, “Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” In other words, “God, Who You are informs all I do.” Everything hinges upon Who God is; and life is to be lived in light of His unchanging character. The “testimonies” of God are the revelation of His invisible character. This manifestation of the nature of God is elsewhere referred to as His “glory” (cf. Ex. 16:7; 1 Kgs. 8:10-11; Ps. 19:1; Ezk. 10:4), and always the purpose is to incite an appropriate response from those to whom He has revealed Himself.
This is the “doxological” unity of all that exists — to manifest God’s glory, to elicit Creation’s adoration and imitation. Scripture is doxological (Ps. 138:2). Creation is doxological (Rev. 4:11). Man is doxological (Gen. 1:26-27). History is doxological (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Christians are doxological (Eph. 1:12). The Church is doxological (Eph. 3:10, 21). And the Church’s music is to be doxological (Eph. 5:19-20).
The music of God’s people has a three-fold purpose:
- To respond to God’s character,
- To reveal God’s character, and
- To reflect God’s character.
Although the church is a New Testament phenomenon, the doxological purpose of music is not solely a New Testament concept. Psalm 96 links the glory of God to the vehicle of music. In this psalm (itself a song), God’s people are encouraged to sing a “new song” (v. 1). That is, the character of the song itself (both music and lyrics) is significantly different, and inherently better than any sung before one’s realization of God — Who He is, and what He’s done.
Verses 2 and 3 indicate that this new song is designed to “show forth” and to “declare” God’s great works, whereby the wonder of His nature is displayed. So marked is to be the distinction of this song that it is to bear testimony to “the heathen,” even to “all people.” It is no ordinary song in that it has no ordinary subject — “the Lord is great” (v. 4). But neither is it an ordinary song in that it evidences no ordinary response — [the Lord is] “greatly to be praised” (v. 4). Our response encourages others to respond. Only a true grasp of God’s glory is rightly able to communicate God’s glory.
The psalm climaxes in verse 9 with the relational triad of the song’s purpose (“worship” — to respond to God), the song’s appeal (“beauty” — to reveal to man), and the song’s character (“holy” — to reflect in oneself), all with respect to God’s glory. The psalm closes with a reminder that God will one day judge His creation in light of His character (v. 13). Man is responsible for how he handles God’s self-manifestation.
Thus, the music of the church fulfills its three purposes as it simultaneously engages in three relationships:
- In relationship to its divine audience, it responds to God’s character in worshipful adoration;
- In relationship to its human audience, it reveals God’s character in aesthetic exaltation;
- In relationship to its participants, it reflects God’s character in personal consecration.
In light of the preeminence of God’s glory in our musical selections, the following is a breakdown of the criteria we employ to evaluate the music used in our ministries.
Concerning the music:
- The pleasure of the Divine Audience supersedes the pleasure of both the human audience and the musicians.
- The message of the music must complement the message of the text.
- The sound must be distinct from ungodly and amusement genres.
- The melody must clearly contain both movement and resolution.
- Rhythm and harmony must serve to support and enhance the melody.
- Melody, rhythm and harmony must adhere to objective standards of music-theory and counterpoint.
Concerning the text:
- Sung doctrine must complement our spoken doctrine.
- Christian doctrine must be promoted above Christian experience.
Concerning our musicians:
- Those involved in the music ministry of the church must model a heart of holiness.
- Those involved in the music ministry of the church must model a heart of humility.
- Those involved in the music ministry of the church must model a heart of submission.
- Those involved in the music ministry of the church must model a heart for excellence (though not necessarily perfection).
Music which meets these criteria will accomplish the Scriptural mandate for God’s people to “sing a new song.” Such a song pleases God by responding to Him rightly. Such a song challenges individuals by revealing Him accurately. And such a song matures individuals by reflecting Him consciously. When it comes to the music of the church, Who God is must determine what we do.