The voice of melody: 10 guidelines

In my last article I gave an introduction to the music debate and now offer some general principles in selecting music.

1. Music should glorify God. 1 Cor. 10:31 “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 

God’s glory is His character (Ex. 33:18,19; 34:6,7). His character is defined as merciful, gracious, patient, full of goodness and truth, etc. Extrapolating from this, does the music tend to make the Christian more patient or agitated, gracious or irritated? Does it incline me to the study of God’s word or make me indifferent to it? Much CCM is designed to meet the “felt needs of the worshipper," to be “user friendly," to glorify self rather than God (Michael S. Hamilton, Christianity Today, July 12, 1999, 30). Traditional services have also failed at times in this area. Some of our music is more like a recital than praise to God. The music was well done, but the music selection drew the attention of the congregation to the musician. This biblical principle negates music which glorifies the performer more than God.

2. Music can be evaluated based on its relative virtue. Phil. 4:8 "Whatever things are true, noble, just, lovely, good report...”

When choosing music, we should ask, does it tend to promote pure, honest and true thoughts, or does it move one to think of impure, earthly subjects? This principle also includes the presentation of the music: what the musicians are wearing (or not wearing). Often, “the immodest dress of the women on the platform places a very large stumbling block in front of men in the congregation" (Dan Lucerini, Confessions of a Former Worship Leader, 71). Should the “performers” actions and clothes draw the thoughts of the congregation towards heaven or earth? Do the words of the music reflect biblical principles or sentimental devotions? 

3. Music should build up and edify the church. Col. 3:16 “Admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs." 

An important quality of sacred music is that it should “build up” the church. If a music style, or genre tends towards fracturing, tearing down or building walls between generations or cultures, it works against this principle. The music should encourage Christian growth and build generational and cultural support. The mentality of some CCM leaders is “when it comes to a choice between losing long-time members of our church or our pet music programmes, [They] decide that people are expendable... In reality it is the [CCM leaders] who are causing the problem with their music choices ... [and] I lay the blame of splitting churches over music at the feet of leaders who insist on the adoption of their music agenda without regard to the conscience and discernment of others” (40). Pastor Rick Warren echoes this sentiment when he says, “Once you have decided on the style of music you’re going to use in worship… It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep, and the kind of people you lose” (The Purpose Driven Church 280).  This is an amazing indictment against pastors, youth leaders, etc. who have made the decision that music is the test of membership and “orthodoxy“ for their church. “For better or for worse, the kind of music a church offers increasingly defines the kind of person who will attend" (Hamilton 42).  Those who remain fixed in the past can also cause division and build walls. Anecdotally, I personally remember when some “contemporary” music was desired, only to be quashed by those who didn’t move beyond classical and some early 20th century church music. 

4. Worship music should praise God. Ps. 40:3 "He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God.” (See Acts 16:25) Praise (Hb.- halal) has the basic meaning of “to shine,” “to boast.”

This principle is similar to No. 1 above. Some of our music “praises” man even though we claim it is for God. Music that draws the primary attention to the musician (even if it they are well qualified) and not God seems to be disqualified. “Frequently the contemporary sacred song expresses more feelings, emotions, and conditions about ‘you,’ ‘me,’ ‘my,’ and ‘I’ than it communicates about the Lord. This reflects the man-centered theology which is so prevalent today” (Frank Garlock & Kurt Woetzel, Music in the Balance, 120).  Hamilton noted, “you cannot sing [most] praise songs without noticing how first person pronouns tend to eclipse every other subject” (34). Similarly, those on the other side of the isle can be guilty of using music to “praise” themselves. As with the principle of “glorifying God,” giving “praise” should not focus the thoughts of the congregation on the “performer,” but on God. 

5. Music can be evaluated by its fruits, both individually and corporately. Matt 7:20 "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (See Gal 5:22-23)

This is an area that is a bit more subjective, but one that can be evaluated. Does the music make a person more kind, caring, obedient, loving? Does it make one more aggressive, impatient, restless, irritable? This is a good test to apply to our personal musical selections, since we can evaluate ourselves critically. Does the music “style” keep me from loving and being kind to those whose musical tastes are contrary to mine?

6. Music should be done decently and in order. 1 Cor. 14:40

When we present music it should be well done, not sloppy. Christianity is not commendable when we perform or present music in a haphazard way. The presentation of many types of music, is done without proper training and/or practice (either CCM or traditional). When presenting music, it should be done decently and at a high standard.

Words & Music

1. Instruments should not detract from a clear understanding of the words. Ps 47:6-7 "God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding." (1 Cor 14:15 I will sing with the understanding) 

This principle is clear enough. The music we choose should have clear, discernible lyrics. Also, implied in this, is that understanding is not over-powered by the accompaniment. This would seem to apply to the use of instruments, bands, orchestras, organs, etc. that overshadow the singing.

2. Worship music should be doctrinally and biblically accurate. Col 3:16 "Teaching and admonishing ... in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs."

The source of our music should be Scripture. The word “teach” means to impart scriptural truths. The lyrics should be: (1) be doctrinally sound, (2) Scripturally accurate, (3) give clear intention, (4) not having ambiguous or hidden double meanings. The idea that God is portrayed as a “buddy” or a “boyfriend” is not only unbiblical, but profane. “Frequently it is difficult for the listener to tell whether the song is intended to describe a relationship with a lover, friend, or spouse, or with the Lord" (Garlock & Woetzel, 119). A.W. Tozer commented  on this trend in CCM: “Much of the singing in certain types of meetings has in it more of romance than it has of the Holy Ghost. . . Christ is courted with familiarity that reveals a total ignorance of who He is" (Born After Midnight, 37-38). A few “traditional” hymns have not escaped this challenge as well.

Music leaders and the Congregation

1. Those participating in worship music should have proper training. 2 Chr 23:13 “...with instruments of music, and such as taught to sing praise.”

The music leaders and the congregation, should be taught how to read music. One of the greatest reasons that many people are so unimpressed with the hymns of the past, is that they don't recognize the timeless musical and melodic elements in them. 

2. The congregation should be familiar with the music they are singing. 1 Cor 14:7-8 “...whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”

Paul is comparing the speaking of tongues with the sounds an instrument makes. The important thing to see is that the sounds that the instruments make, must be easily recognizable. If you play taps on a trumpet, it is unlikely the soldiers will prepare for battle, they will get ready for bed. Songs used in worship service should be familiar to those who are singing. Although the context isn’t speaking specifically about music, Paul is using an analogy that implies the principle of familiarity in our hymns, spiritual songs, etc.


I started this article wondering how music could cause so much dissension and broken relationships. From my perspective, the answer lies in the intimate relationship music has with our very being. Someone’s music “style(s)” is identified with their culture, likes and dislikes, emotions and very fabric of who they are. When someone challenges these- it is perceived as against the very person themselves. “When one chooses a musical style today, one is making a statement about whom one identifies with, what one’s values are, and ultimately, who one is" (Hamilton 30). This subjective element makes any discussion about music challenging even when dealing with objective biblical guidelines. We have dealt with general principles in this article, but already some concerns about CCM’s “personality” in worship is appearing. On the other hand, hymns and more “traditional” music can also be indicted for their occasional performance-based presentations and often stagnant refusal to move forward. Already, the “doubtful disputations" and “non-essential matters” argument is dissolving like a cloud on a summer day. We see that music is an essential matter in Scripture and that the Bible does dispute many musical forms, and styles that violate even these general principles. In our next article, we will see if there are any biblical principles that can further enlighten the selection and presentation of our music.

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