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Music is for people, not God

I have heard many times from people who have the noble objective of recovering a God-centeredness in worship that our music is not for people–it’s for God.

Now, I understand and applaud the sentiment behind a statement like this. If by this statement they mean that God should be the center and focus of our worship, then I agree completely.

However, I do not think God cares about our music per se. Well, he cares, but not as if he listens to the music itself and somehow “evaluates” our worship based on what we sing.

No, what God cares most about in our worship is our hearts.

What God is looking for are those who will worship him in spirit and truth; he delights in hearts that offer up acceptable worship in reverence and awe, hearts that respond with appropriate affections to his character and truth, hearts that delight in him for who he is and what he has done.

So music is not what God listens for; he listens for the heart of worship.

But this does not mean that music in worship is unimportant. It is critically important, not because music is for God, but because music is the language of the heart. It both gives expression to what is in our spirits and instructs the heart in what and how to express. Music shapes the heart’s ability to express certain affections.

My concerns about the music we choose for worship is not based on the fact that music is for God, it is based on the fact that certain kinds of music can either help or hinder the kinds of heart expressions of ordinate affection to God in worship that he does desire.

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So the most important step in evaluating our music choices in worship is first to discern from Scripture what kinds of affections are appropriate for expression to God. Then we must ask, does this kind of music help or hinder these appropriate expressions?

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Cutlure, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and three children.

14 Responses to Music is for people, not God

  1. Good question. I would suggest two initial thoughts: (1) that not everything mentioned here is necessarily meant for corporate worship and (2) there are different kinds of anger, doubt, confusion, etc. as well, and we must learn to distinguish between those kinds.

    But it's a very valid point, and one that I think we need to work through more carefully.

    Thanks for your contribution, Tom!

  2. Scott, what would be some examples of different kinds of anger, doubt, and confusion, and which ones would and would not be appropriate in your opinion?

  3. Scott,

    In reading the above article, several things struck me as a bit concerning, but it is possible I'm not understanding you or your positions accurately, and so I ask you to clarify a few items for me:

    1. Regarding your claim that <q cite="music is the language of the heart"> What is your basis for this? Is that basis supported by Scripture, and if so, where? What other things lead you to that conclusion?

    2. Can you elaborate on your "affections" position. Please define your terms a bit more. I've read your Sound Worship book and found it very vaguely defined there as well. Also, please clarify the relationship of affections vs emotions.

    3. In regards to the "Spirit and Truth" discussion, can you provide a bit more clarity to what you define as "spirit" and "truth" than the above paragraph?

    4. You also state <q cite="I do not think God cares about our music per se. Well, he cares, but not as if he listens to the music and somehow evaluates our worship based on what we sing."> Can you expound upon that point, as it seems to indicate that style is unimportant.

    Thanks

  4. Ah, the code for the citation quotes stripped out my quotations … here they are as plain text:

    Scott,

    In reading the above article, several things struck me as a bit concerning, but it is possible I'm not understanding you or your positions accurately, and so I ask you to clarify a few items for me:

    1. Regarding your claim that "music is the language of the heart", what is your basis for this? Is that basis supported by Scripture, and if so, where? What other things lead you to that conclusion?

    2. Can you elaborate on your "affections" position. Please define your terms a bit more. I've read your Sound Worship book and found it very vaguely defined there as well. Also, please clarify the relationship of affections vs emotions.

    3. In regards to the "Spirit and Truth" discussion, can you provide a bit more clarity to what you define as "spirit" and "truth" than the above paragraph?

    4. You also state "I do not think God cares about our music per se. Well, he cares, but not as if he listens to the music and somehow evaluates our worship based on what we sing." Can you expound upon that point, as it seems to indicate that style is unimportant.

    Thanks

  5. Sure, John. For example, Galatians 5 lists "rage" as a "work of the flesh," and yet we know that Jesus was what we call "righteously indignant" at times and that it is possible to be angry and yet not sin. So there is clearly a distinction between a sinful kind of unbridled rage and an anger that is righteous.

    Having said that, two additional thoughts: First, I'm not sure an expression of any kind of anger is fitting for corporate worship, which is the subject of this post. Second, even when an expression of anger is warranted, I'm not sure expression through music in any form is necessary or helpful. Music just serves to intensify what must always be kept in check.

  6. I may have a chance to respond more fully later today, but first I'd suggest you take a look at my more thorough book, Worship in Song, which articulates most of your questions much more thoroughly than in Sound Worship (which was intended to be a introduction for laymen or than I could on this blog.

  7. Scott,

    Clarification question. You said, "there are different kinds of anger,"

    What are specific passages of Scripture from which you see the differing kinds of anger you suggest?

    Thanks for your interaction.

  8. David cited the use of Psalm 58 in the psalter. Would you have an issue with the use of this in corporate worship?

    What makes the distinction between the two kinds of emotions? The Bible clearly speaks against the abuse of these, but what makes the difference between a righteous anger and an unrighteous anger?

    Now to bring this home to music in worship:

    1. How do we know if music can elicit emotions? To play devil's advocate here, Meyer seems to suggest differently.

    2. How do we know if the emotions elicited (anticipating an affirmative answer to the first question) are righteous or unrighteous? What makes the distinction in your view?

  9. Scott,

    I find myself in totall agreement with your article. I'm not one to usually respond, however, I must say that I have always believed and work in the field in such a way that God is the One who chooses the music that I write on the page in planning. I have been a music evangelist, concert soloist, campmeeting and crusade music director, and, always, as I seek His counsel in the songs I choose, He is the one who uses that choice to touch the hearts of others. His ways are above my understanding, but His choice is always correct.

    Do I always attain the mark of making the choice that He directs? Probably not, but my desire is always to follow Him.

    I know this is very simplistic, but I have in my lifetime seen the results of the power of God's blessing when the music is shared.

    Within that framework of submission to His will, there is the practical aspect of using music approprite for the location, the style service, the relative age of the audience…all of which can be overridden by the consistent leadership God provides through His Holy Spirt.

    Thank you for your thought provoking challenge to seek God's Will in the worship through music.

    Charles

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