O may we soon again renew that song,
And keep it tune with Heav'n, till God ere long
To his celestial consort us unite,
To live with him, and sing in endless morn of light."
Since the time of Plato, these words of John Milton have framed a universal belief concerning music. Music is an essential part of God's creative order and helps us to properly align ourselves with His creative design. In history, few great philosophers, musicians or theologians have disagreed with the concept that music is instrumental in helping us shape our souls. This essay will be about music. Not the words, but the music itself. Although words are significant, we will look briefly at the music, for it is in the music that the words live.
At the heart of music are rational numerical relationships - octaves, thirds, fifths, etc. - relationships that are foundational in all of God's incredibly complex design. Johannes Kepler, who first discovered the relationship of the sun to the other planets in our solar system, described music as a "taste of the Divine Creator's pleasure...as far as this is possible in the creation of music engendered by the imitation of God."
Kepler wrote these words in about 1620. Yet almost four hundred years later, the entertainment industry, and much of the Church, views music as related solely to our pleasure and self fulfillment. In reality, however, the Bible reminds us that music was created by God and the reason for our song is "that my soul may sing praise to Thee and not be silent." Psalm 30:11.
We are God's creation, born first in a natural manner, and then as Christians, reborn as a result of Christ's redemptive work on the Cross. Therefore our music must contain elements that allow us to function in the manner for which we were created, that is, in fellowship with God. This is a crucial point. For the basic appeal of music is an emotional one. Hence the need for music that does not weaken our emotion, but rather directs our emotion toward control and restraint. Romans 12:2 urges believers to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
For our music to be transcendent, its construction must mirror that of God's creation. And at the heart of all God's work is beauty, that is, proportion, order and rational form. If we are to be properly aligned with God, then our music must also have a sense of proportion, order and rational form. The Psalmist declares that "out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shown forth." Psalm 50:4. Our quest for Church music must begin with those attributes that originate from a higher source.
For over 100 years now, much of Church's music has taken people away from proportion and order and set them on a path towards "feeling good." Music is always sensual; God created it to be so. But music of the Church must create a sensual attraction to goodness rather than the unbridled rein of emotion. So, that while we may find a particular style of music personally pleasurable, such feelings can never be used to determine whether that music is appropriate either for public or private worship. The music of worship must be defined by all that is consistent with God's Word and His created order.
In the early part of the century, the gospel song was the dominant form of new music sung in the church. Over the last 30 years, that style has been supplanted by Christian contemporary music (CCM) or praise and worship music. During this time, commercialism, rather than piety, has been the driving force behind much of music. (Today, for instance, the Christian music industry earns over $600 million annually!) Regrettably, both the gospel song and CCM fail miserably when compared to the above mentioned standard. Because music moves our whole being, these musical genres do move the emotions; but not in a way that would nourish proportion, order and rational form.
Many people, of course, will vigorously protest a philosophy that negates personal pleasure in the selection of music. But in a society whose soul has been sold to the highest bidder, it is not unexpected. Society in general and the church in particular, is in the midst of a life and death struggle. And if the war is lost, the victors will not have prisoners, only victims.
Let us as a Christian people, press for renewal and reformation in every part of our lives, but especially in those areas that shape and influence our souls. Christianity is not simply about learning the rules. It is as mentioned earlier, about a total alignment of our whole being.
"Thou has made us for thy glory,
thou has planned in wondrous ways
to redeem us for thy pleasure
and perfect us for thy praise."
Anna Marie Sywulka, 1961