Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Guest Blog: Finding Our Voice in Worship (Part 2) Ken Puls

This is the second in a series of guest blogs on "Finding Our Voice in Worship." In the first post we considered the first filter or test in selecting music for worship, the test of veracity. If it passes this test, then next consider the structure:

II. Music Must be Structurally Sound -- suitability

Is the music well written and composed? Is the poetry clear, concise and well-crafted?
Are the words and the tune singable? Does the tune represent the best our musical style can offer?

Do the tune and text together communicate a congruent message? There are many good tunes and good texts that are simply mismatched. One that I can remember while growing up was "Love Lifted Me."

It begins:
"I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more . . ."

A joyful tune--a good tune--but very mismatched, at least at the beginning of the verse, where the words are trying to communicate desperation and our hopeless state when we are outside of Christ. The tune works much better in the refrain where the message is "Love lifted me!" We want to wed music and words that strengthen the message, not confuse it.

One example of what I would consider a well-matched text and tune is 175 in the Baptist Hymnal (1991):

"Man of Sorrows," What a Name, for the Son of God who came.
Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah, What a Savior!

Both the text and the tune communicate a wonder and profoundness of what God has accomplished for us in the gospel.

Again, we must ask questions: Why was the music composed? What does the music communicate? Is what the music communicates conducive to worship? Can the music be used effectively to accompany acts and words of worship?

Are the associations of the music with other texts, other messages or other purposes too strong to allow the tune to transfer into sacred use? For example, if I were writing the words to a call to worship, I would not want to set the words to the tune of "Here Comes Santa Claus!" That is not to say that the tune is bad, evil, or even secular. It does however, at least here in America, have secular associations that make it entirely unfit for use in worship. The church must take great care in taking music from the world for its own use, especially when uniting music to Scripture. The associations of the songs with secular or even wicked contexts may be too strong to allow the music to be useful in the church.

Although we have freedom to create and enjoy music in a wide array of activities and venues, not all music is conducive to worship. A church service, a football game and a parade all include music that we can enjoy to the glory of God. But a worship service is not a football game or a parade. Each activity requires music suitable to its purpose. Music that we enjoy hearing at venues outside of the church may not be appropriate or fitting for the purpose of worship. In worship we are pursuing a well-defined purpose and seeking to communicate a clear message. As we choose music for worship, we must be wise in finding tunes that will serve as a suitable accompaniment to those thoughts, actions and elements that Scripture affirms as appropriate for worship. In worship we are communing with the Sovereign God and proclaiming His Word. Our music should reflect the significance and importance of our endeavor.

In the end we must judge the worth or merits of the song to serve as an offering of worship. As we measure the worth of a song we can weigh its value according to three standards: insight, perfection and inexhaustibility.

Does it add something of value to the service?
Does it communicate clearly? Or does it confuse?
Does it help us effectively express what we want to say to God, what we want to be before God, what we want to do in obedience to His Word.

Not is it perfect in the sense of "without error,"
But is it complete? -- Does it say all it needs to say?
Or is something left out? Is something out of place?

Does it represent the best of what we can bring to God in worship? Is it a sacrifice of praise in which we have invested ourselves? Or is it just something to sing? Something to fill an empty space in our order of worship?

Is it memorable?
Is it worth remembering?
Is it worth singing again?
Has it stood the test of time?

Can you sing over and over again without it wearing out over time? Does it become richer and more meaningful with time? Or does it prove to be shallow and spent after a few hearings? Can it be appreciated across generations or even across cultures or languages?

These are some of the filters we can use as we think through our music.

Ken Puls


jmattingly said...


Great post. This particular aspect (suitability) has been particularly difficult for me to form in my mind and this has helped put some structure to my thinking (especially since I'm not musically minded).

I can tell sometimes that a song is "appropriate" or "inappropriate" for the context, but can't always explain why.

Singing about God's sovereignty to a beat that most people associate with a casual dance tune to me would fall under this category.

On the contary, I think of a majestic tune like "Holy, Holy, Holy" where the solemn music matches the content of what is being sung. Or a song of praise for God's creation set to music that is uplifting and joyous.

Looking forward to the rest of the posts!

Benefits of Tar Water said...

If Scripture is sufficient for life and godliness, and if worship is essential to godliness and life should be worship, then shouldn’t Scripture be sufficient for worship? Why is the Bible our guide when it comes all doctrine but worship, arguably the purpose of these doctrines, Scripture seems to write us a blank check. Even well meaning "reformed" churches are trying to make it up as they go along, all the while touting sufficiency. Could it be that what grounds our doctrine of scripture should ground our practice of worship? Scripture itself was delivered by the Spirit through humans and canonized by the apostolic fathers and early church. That same body used of God to hand down Scripture has also handed down a pattern for worship we all can follow: Liturgy. This would mean we join the rest of the Christian world, of course. It would imply we no longer allow one or two individuals to "create" worship every week. It would mean the church humbly accepts the fact that while autonomous in polity we are not autonomous in worship. We must stop the cancer of church shopping; people who bounce from church to church looking for the best "worship experience". We have created these life sucking monsters, but there is a silver bullet, a manner of ending the tyranny of individualism whilst protecting essential doctrinal identity in our denomination. The dawn of the liturgical Baptists is now! Who is with us?

wanttoworship said...
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robert said...

Thanks for this! I've been preaching and teaching it for many years.

It was your comment on "Love Lifted Me" that caught my eye this morning. And I agree. The rinky-tink tune certainly does not suit "I was sinking deep in sin..." (I say much the same on my daily blog this morning, Wordwise Hymns.)

Think: picture (the text of the hymn) and frame (the tune and musical setting). We do not want the frame of a picture to be totally mismatched and detract from the picture. We want it rather to draw our attention to the picture and enhance our appreciation of it.

Thanks again, and God bless.