Years of Psalms and Hymns and Songs (Colossians 3, Ephesians 5)

I am pretty sure I am 100% accurate and truthful in telling you that there is nothing in this earthly world that I have become more weary of dealing with than are the church conflicts that have gone on my whole life surrounding music and worship. I remember it from my first days in the home of a church organist, and it continues in various forms to this day about what styles and functions are appropriate.

Being a fool and glutton for punishment, what did I do with my life coming out of high school? Yep, having been involved in church music ministries I went to a biblical university to be a music major and pursue a career in that slough of pain. Even there, posturing for position and lead parts for oratorios went on with great fanfare and controversy.

Surviving the academy, I went into local church music ministry while also studying in seminary for the “higher role” of theologian and pastor. During the midst of some long-forgotten music controversy there in my Dallas church, I put a hand-written note on my office door that covered the “Randy Buchman – Minister of Music” sign with another that said, “Office of the Department of Ecclesiastical War.”

But in reflection, those days were relatively simple. Everyone did the same thing: three or four hymns from a hymnal, a choir song and one special music selection, with a doxology after the sermon to give the pastor walking time to get to the back door and greet everyone. Just draw up a chart of music selections, rehearse, done. But then the contemporary music movement broke out and the standard paradigm was broken. My opera background had to give way to learning to play an electric bass and lead a contemporary church program. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that.

Truthfully, TSF has been a relatively peaceful place compared to most churches and music programs. Though there have always been varieties of tastes and opinions about worship music and production, our musicians have worked well together over the years to lead in a God-honoring and compelling way. Yet over the years I have seen scores of people decide to move from TSF to other churches, some citing our worship program as too loud and radical, others saying that we are stuck in the past compared to the truly “anointed” contemporary way that church XYZ does their worship.

I wonder if the elders in the earliest, original churches of Antioch, Philippi, Colossae, Ephesus, etc. had congregants complaining to them about the worship music choices. Imagine the complaint about the songs from the Judaic past of the Psalter, “Do we have to sing these Psalms over and over? It’s 7-11 music … the same seven words sung 11 times!”  (If you infer from this that I’m not sympathetic to the complaint that our contemporary worship is “7-11” music, you might be correct. Yes, words repeat. But they repeat more in the Psalms and even more in the repeating choruses of most hymns … and there’s nothing wrong with repetition in any genre.)

Again, as with the pattern of worship, the early church surely borrowed from their Jewish past in the singing of Psalms as well-known in the temple and synagogues. Many of the Psalms were antiphonal choruses, with one group leading while another followed and answered.

Paul twice speaks of the varieties of musical worship expressions in the early church, using similar words in both Ephesians and Colossians …

Col. 3:15-16 — Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Eph. 5:18-20 — Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Consider some of the elements of these passages from Paul: joyful expression / coming from the heart / the horizontal “one another” aspect of encouraging, etc. / vertical expressions of thanks and gratitude.

Though we cannot be certain of the exact nature of this musical worship, the “Psalms” refer to music from their Jewish heritage and texts from the playlist of the Scriptures. “Hymns” likely refer to teaching and content-oriented songs. And “songs from the Spirit” might well be less formal, but more emotive expressions of praise and the joy of the Christian experience. In any event, Paul certainly encouraged a diversity of worship music expressions; and we may find more than a wee bit of instruction in that.

There are a handful of occasions where the New Testament is likely quoting a hymn common to the early church. An example is 1 Timothy 3:16 …

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: (and then here comes the hymn) …

He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

There are other such passages, as also in Philippians chapter two.

In summary, the musical worship in the church is not to be the department of war. Rather, it is to be a blessing, with elements of expression that are vertical toward God and horizontal in teaching, encouragement and admonishment. It is simply not something that is worth fighting about. I’ve been involved with it from pipe organs and choirs, to electric guitars and crashing symbols; and I can say that I have been enriched by it all.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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