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The most significant misconception about music in worship

Here’s one of the most important concepts about music in worship I think needs to be communicated to pastors and parishioners alike:

Music in the context of corporate worship is not primarily about giving people an authentic expression through their preferred musical style. Music in worship is (as is liturgy and preaching) formative. It shapes right spiritual responses to God’s truth. It is as part of teaching and discipleship as preaching is.

singingMost Christians today assume that the styles of music chosen for worship are merely preference, like whether we put in red carpet or blue carpet, and thus accommodation to what is comfortable for various demographics in the church for the sake of unity is better than deciding which styles are best.

Color of the carpet? Yes. Merely preference, so let’s accommodate.

Music? No, because it’s not about comfort or preference but rather about what kinds of music best fit the weight of biblical doctrine, best express the kinds of reverent affections appropriate for expression to God, and best form mature, sober-minded Christians.

No, I do not believe there is only one style or time period that is acceptable. Hardly. I believe there are many, many varied styles and cultural expressions that are appropriate, and this variety is evident in the rich traditions cultivated over hundreds of years by God’s people. What I object to is the notion that all styles are fitting.

Nor do I think people can’t have preferences. They certainly may.

But it seems to me that most discussions about musical style in worship are predicated on the assumption that the purpose of music in worship is to give people a voice to their heart’s expression, and naturally whatever is most comfortable to them should be encouraged.

Yet I repeat: music is not just or even primarily about expression in worship; it is about forming mature, sober-minded worshipers.

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 Culture, 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 four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

5 Responses to The most significant misconception about music in worship

  1. Scott, thanks for this. I think I agree with your thesis, but I wonder if you could provide a bit more of an argument for it? Why is the assumption that “the purpose of music in worship is to give people a voice to their heart’s expression” false? And is it necessarily mutually exclusive with music formative nature?

  2. Hi, Eric. You’re certainly right; they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, and the GOAL is that the music in corporate worship would give voice to the people’s hearts. Absolutely.

    The main thing I’m cautioning against is the idea all the people’s NATURAL, “authentic” heart expressions are automatically good and right, and therefore they should simply use whatever they like. The reality of depravity and ingrained sinful habits mean that there is at least the possibility that someone’s natural express could be inappropriate and wrong. Therefore, part of the function of music is to shape the expressions of such people, giving them a language they might not otherwise have, regardless of whether it is “natural” to them.

    So, just like people need teaching in corporate worship to shape their beliefs and morals, so they need teaching to correct and shape their affections and expressions of worship. Music and other liturgical elements do that powerfully.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to elaborate, Scott. I would add that the music and other liturgical elements, used as part of the total discipleship effort by local churches, will (used correctly) continually align the “natural heart expressions” of the congregation closer and closer to Christ – though never a finished process, of course, here in the already but not yet.

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