Category Archives: joyful sound

What is “Spiritual” Music?

music note

Music is ubiquitous nowdays. You can’t get away from it – it’s in the stores, on public transportation, in the workplace, and the neighborhood, not to mention bars, parties, raffles, malls, etc. Some local churches actually sound like  discos from the outside since you can’t hear words, only  the electronic part.

But music has very different functions and very different “feels” to it. What is it that makes some music spiritual, suitable for Christian worship, and other music not so suitable?

Pastor Larry DeBruyn posted an excellent article on the subject at:

Some exerpts:

Admittedly, the issue to be addressed is as “touchy” as it is “feely.”

Music is “feely” because people “feel” it. In his book Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain wrote of the ecstasy music generates. He states:

Ecstasy melts the boundaries of our being . . . engulfs us in feelings that are “oceanic.” A defining trait of ecstasy is its immediacy . . . Ecstasy happens to our selves. It is a momentary transformation of the knower . . . Music seems to be the most immediate of all the arts, and so the most ecstatic . . . Nonetheless, once we are engulfed in music, we must exert effort to resist its influence. It really is as if some “other” has entered not just our bodies, but our intentions, taking us over.[1]

… Music is “touchy” because all of us have preferences. Some styles of music we like. Others, we dislike. So we associate with people who possess similar tastes. Over the last decades “worship wars” have erupted in local churches over the “touchy” tastes of music, whether they are traditional or contemporary. Congregations divide, even split over tastes. Seemingly, some Christians would rather fight than switch. So to avoid the strife, it’s common for local churches to offer both a contemporary and traditional service, the difference being the style of music that is offered.As one artist states that, “This force . . . is powerful stuff.”[2]

… Music communicates, but its “language” is neither conceptual nor verbal, but experiential. As one bumper sticker put it, “When words fail, music speaks.” As a child, Johnson related, “Before I could articulate my thoughts through speech, I could express my heart through song.”[7] So he wisely concludes, “Music’s power comes from its inherently spiritual nature, and when you find a tool that powerful, you should be careful how you use it.”[8]

……. First, music is about “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Emphasis Mine, Ephesians 5:19b). Again, we are to sing “with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Emphasis Mine, Colossians 3:16b). Music is not for our entertainment. …  . But worship music shouldn’t be for our pleasure, but for God’s glory, and for this purpose any ole music will not do, for as the prophet told Israel, “Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (Amos 5:23). So what kind of music pleases Him?

This brings us to a second observation. Since God is a spirit, “spiritual songs” are those which please Him. Worship should be conducted using “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Emphasis Mine, Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). We note Paul’s use of the adjective “spiritual.” That he uses the qualifier indicates that all songs are not spiritual. So what makes songs “spiritual”?

…as evident from Paul’s use of the qualifier “spiritual,” we are forced to conclude that not all songs are spiritual. They may be mysterious, magical, mythical, and even mystical, but that does not qualify them as spiritual. Spiritual songs are those which first glorify Christ and then promote unity in the local Body of Christ.

Third, “spiritual songs” are about Christ. Of the Spirit, Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me . . .” (John 15:26). Music that is truly of the Spirit will be Christocentric. If songs do not draw attention to the Lord Jesus Christ, but primarily to the sound or feel of them, or perhaps to the performing artist, then it must be questioned whether they are spiritual. Authentic spiritual songs are to be about Him, and not for us.

Fourth, spiritual songs are sourced in “the word of Christ” that abundantly indwells God’s children. Spiritual songs spring forth from the heart as they testify and extol the person and work of Jesus. He is to be the object of our praise.[13] Like the twenty-four elders, authentic worship extols in song the worth of the Lamb (Revelation 5:9). If worship music is not Christ centered, then however else one might classify it, the songs are not spiritual (i.e., of the Spirit), for the Spirit’s ministry is, like the Scriptures which He inspired, to bear witness to Christ (John 5:39; 2 Peter 1:21). Of the hymns quoted in the New Testament, one scholar noted that, “these hymns have a common pattern of thought . . . They are related to the person and mission of Christ Jesus.”[14]

Good worship music, lyrics, and singing proclaim truth about God and His Christ. Jesus’ Person and Work are to be both the subject and object of the church’s praise. In addition to the Old Testament Psalms, the New Testament contains, alludes to, and quotes from several apostolic era hymns.[15] …  Spiritual songs are “teaching” songs! (Colossians 3:16, Greek, didaskō)

…This brings us to a fifth test.

Unity of the Spirit

Corollary to the witness that church music ought to bear to Jesus Christ, “spiritual songs” should also, in concert with the Spirit’s work, facilitate the development of congregational unity. … Spiritual songs contribute to the unity of the local body as its members, employ them to teach and admonish one another in the faith.

… In the biblical understanding, regardless of whatever else can be said about them, songs that do not testify of Jesus Christ and promote unity amongst believers are not spiritual per se. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding (Greek, nous, or “mind”) also” (1 Corinthians 14:15). Godly singing is not to be something mysterious, magical, mythical, even mystical, but is mental. …. good worship music that contains lyrics that are thoroughly about the person and work of Christ, will provide an exhilarating corporate worship experience that is all about Him, and not about us.

Read the entire article at:


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Music Crimes

I couldn’t help but smile reading a couple of pieces today. One here is entitled “On Musical Crimes in the Church”.

There are aural assaults going on regularly in churches today, as this piece from Christianity Today points out. Volume, many church bands believe, will make up for the fact that the “singers” are actually tone deaf. Churches are now reported to be full of “life” if the state-of-the-art sound systems can make attendees actually “feel” the music, like you would in a club. People totter out into the parking lot after the service, congratulating themselves on having found a church that isn’t “dead.” They won’t be able to say as much about their hearing after many Sundays in a place like that.

The other one is here and is entitled “Memo to Worship Bands”:

Can you hear me? You can? I’m sorry if I am shouting, but I have just spent half an hour in a church service with a typical worship band, and my ears are ringing. I’m sure to be fine in a minute. Or hour. Or day—I hope.
Why does everything every Christian musician performs nowadays seem to require high amplification?

Reminds me of an interesting situation here in the church I am attending.

The pastor is very fond of singing hymns, especially Chinese hymns, his native language. A few months ago he shared about how blessed he was when he started to spend part of his devotional time singing hymns out of his old Chinese hymnbook. The interesting thing is that though he loves to sing, he is tone deaf. During his private devotional time that is not a problem. But the problem comes when he is holding the mike during public worship. When he sings into the mike at preaching volume, it drowns out the entire congregation AND the piano and either drags others along or people stop singing in confusion.

In Chinese culture you cannot correct or advise one in authority such as a pastor. You never refer to him by name or even with the pronoun ‘him’. It is always Bok Su, pastor. So what to do? I have been amused at how this has been handled. Shortly after announcing his love of singing, he decided to join the Chinese choir. You can’t refuse Bok Su. So what they do is put him in the back row as far from the mike as possible. That way he can sing his heart out and yet not interfere with the song.

The other situation arises during communion when he is in front with the mike and gets to lead the singing during the passing of the elements. The PA system is controlled in a booth at the back of the room. So what they have started doing is parking a choir member in the front row with a mike. During the critical time of singing during the passing of the elements, the person in the back quickly switches the dominent mike to the one the choir member is holding and then back again to Bok Su when it is time for him to speak. Pretty clever, eh? This is a win-win situation for everyone – Bok Su can sing his heart out and so can the congregation!

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Cow songs

Somebody once told me a story about a farmer who went to the big city for a church conference. When he came back his wife asked him what he had learned.

 He said, “We learned  worship songs.”

 His wife said, “Oh. What’s a worship song?”

 The farmer answered, “Well, it’s kind of like a hymn. A hymn might say something like:

 There’s a brown cow and a black cow in the barn.

And they have eaten up all the hay.

 But these new fangled worship songs would be like this:

 There’s a cow, there’s a cow, there’s a cow, cow, cow.

There’s a cow. there’s a cow, there’s a cow, cow, cow.

In the barn, in the barn, in the barn, barn, barn.

Yes, it’s a cow (clap, clap),

It’s a cow (clap, clap)

It’s a cow (clap) in the barn (clap)

OOOOOOOO! It’s a cow!!!

 Well, it’s a funny story. But the other day I was reminded that it is also a painful reality. I am currently at one of the ends of the earth helping some folk get some stories from Genesis into their languages. They have a devotional before we get the day started.  And to my dismay, even here at the ends of the earth they were singing, well, cow songs. The words were vague, and of course repetitive. Not much content at all and what there was was of dubious theological value. (These were not songs they had written, they were songs in the national language.) Maybe the purpose was just to set a mood, you know, like calm people down before the Bible study or something. But if you think about it, what a waste of time. We really ought to be encouraging them to sing Scripture songs at least. They live and work in oral societies and don’t spend time reading. Plus they often do long monotonous tasks. Singing with their mind would be a great way to reflect on God and His goodness and His will for us.

 I also grew up singing what, in retrospect, were some pretty bizarre songs. For example in Sunday school we would often sing songs like “I’ll be a sunbeam for Jesus”, “Climb, climb up sunshine mountain”, “Deep and wide”, etc. But those songs have never been a comfort and have certainly never convicted me of anything!  Nor have they ever inspired me to trust and follow the Lord. When I am out in the middle of a forest, or stuck in traffic, or driving long distances, or sitting in a brownout, or crying out to God in any other situation, I have never, ever sung any of those songs. So perhaps we need to work harder with our music so that it’s not just a time filler, or stimulant or narcotic but rather a way to encourage people to reflect on God and His will for us.


Filed under joyful sound, music, sola scritura

Faux Rap

The local religious radio station seems to be playing a new genera of music since I was last here two years ago. For want of a better term, I guess I can call it faux rap. It’s kind of like rap with it’s driving rhythm but does usually have 3-5 different notes. The singer also screams. Not only does it strain the voice but you get the distinct impression that the singer is angry. It made me wonder how God felt being yelled at like that. Nevertheless, one “song” at least does have some pretty decent words:


From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation’s revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Incomparable, unchangeable
You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same
You are amazing God
You are amazing God”

[Lyrics from “Indescribable” by Chris Tomlin]

See it for yourself at:

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Down from His Glory

Song written by William E. Booth-Clibborn, grandson of William Booth.

Down from His glory, ever living story,
My God and Savior came, and Jesus was His name;
Born in a manger to His own a stranger,
A man of sorrows, tears and agony!
Chorus:Oh how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!
The great Creator became my Savior,
And all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him!
What condescension, bringing us redemption,
That in the dead of night, not one faint hope in sight,
God gracious, tender laid aside His splendor,
Stooping to woo, to win, to save my soul!
Chorus: Oh how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!
The great Creator became my Savior,
And all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him!
Without reluctance, flesh and blood His substance,
He took the form of man, revealed the hidden plan;
O glorious myst’ry sacrifice of Calv’ry!
And now I know He is the great “I AM”!
Chorus: Oh how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!
The great Creator became my Savior,
And all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him!

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Filed under God's sovereignty, joyful sound, music