There is not much I despise more than profane music that blasphemes my Lord. On the other hand, there is not much I enjoy more than good music that honors my Lord. Music has a way of seeping into the walls of our hearts, emotions, and consciences that dry words do not. Music is a weapon, for good or ill. Sound waves are not neutral. They are either weakening or fortifying the walls of our conscience with every beat. Each note directs our worship in one direction or the other.
It is thus no wonder that one of the ordained means of worship that God has commanded of us is worship through music and singing (I am thinking specifically of congregational singing during corporate worship on the Lord’s Day, though the basic principles could be applied to all of life). Our church music and singing matters because it is weaponry, and we’re in war. There are bullets flying around us, and we can’t just stand there. When we gather with our local congregations to sing each Lord’s Day, we aren’t just singing; we’re raising a battle cry. This is how Christians begin each week – with massive unified bombing raids on the gates of hell to the tune of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It is spiritual warfare against the principalities and powers of the air. Every note the faithful old pianist strikes on the slightly out of tune piano with her frail and aging fingers is a weakening blow to the walls of the enemy. Every “joyful noise” raised up by each child singing with all their heart is a fatal strike against the demonic hordes of hell. The enemy hates it. Satan cringes as he is reminded through music that Christ is risen and his head is crushed. Why else do you think he has split up so many local churches over music preferences?
Worship through music is not only warfare against spiritual enemies “out there,” but also the ones “in here.” We begin each week together, after the last one ended, where we may have acquired battle scars. We may have got a leg blown off. In the previous week, sin may have infected our wounds and made us ill. We may come limping in, after going down paths of sin we ought not to have gone down and found ourselves setting off land mines of negative consequences and fatherly discipline from the Lord. Sometimes the most fierce fighting we need to do is against our own flesh and the sin in our own lives. Maybe there are times when we have fallen on our face and busted our lips, or have taken punches to mouth so that we just need to be sung to by God’s people as they sing sweet spiritual truths that soothe our wounds with healing gospel balm. Through music, God is reaching us, as He seeps His truth deep through the cracks of our hard hearts. John Calvin used to teach children to sing the Psalms in order to reach their parents. Likewise, God teaches His church to sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in order to reach us. The gospel comes to us on sound waves. That’s the way God created the world that we live in.
One of the unique aspects of spiritual warfare through music is that all are able to fight. But at the end of the day, it’s still war, and we need godly men on the front lines. Young men, husbands, fathers, will you take up your hymnbooks and psalters to fight, or will you leave the battle to your wives, daughters, and sisters? Act like men. Sing.
I think there is a word here for worship leaders as well. As such, you are the captains leading your people into battle. Put weapons in their hands that they can handle. Maybe one reason you don’t hear your men singing as they ought to be is because the key is so high only women, children, and dudes in skinny jeans can hit the notes. Maybe you are being like Saul and giving David way to much man made armory that he can’t use. David just needed his simple old sling shot and faith in the living God to take down Goliath. Maybe your men just need simpler songs (musically) sung in faith to the living Christ. Simpler songs slay giants.
The gospel writer notes in Matthew 28:30, after the last supper, that Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn, which happens to be shortly before Jesus’ arrest. I can’t help but imagine the strength and encouragement that Jesus might have gotten from singing a hymn with His disciples before His great suffering was to begin. Our Lord went into battle with a hymn freshly sung on His lips. He came out victorious and with ample joys for us to sing about. I think of the numerous stories of Christian martyrs who left this earth with a melody in the air as they were being burned at the stake or rotting away in prison. We win by singing because Jesus won by bleeding. He spoke not before His accusers so that we could sing before ours.
Throughout this post I have been assuming the premise that our church music ought to be theological in nature, sound in doctrine, and centered in Christ. This is because there is obviously no magical powers in the music itself. We have no fighting chance against the enemy without Christ. It is in Christ every beat of the way that we have any victory. Christ is the one who defeats death, hell, and Satan. You can have all the cool synth and sustain you want; if it has not Christ its a gun without a bullet. A country church with 20 members of grandmas and poor farmers that sing out of a hymn book puts more fear in the devil. (Granted, there are some pretty atrocious hymns and hymnbooks too, but you get the point). Church music is not meant to appeal to the world, it is meant to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil. Sing and play accordingly.