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The Art of Music in Worship

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Post Written by Gloria Hague –

I was trained in a secular college to do church music. During that training, I became a Christian. With new eyesight, the words of much of the music we were singing took on a deep and profound meaning. What changed everything for me, and was a point of great relief, was the fact that God had given us written communication. He did not just leave us here without a point of communication. Later, when I was privileged to study theology, one of my favorite theologians, Dr. Allan A. MacRae (former President of FTS and BTS), used to tell me that God is desperate to communicate with people, that He longs to share His thought with us. The fact that every word God has shared with us is true still awes me all these years later. I had been one of many living without a base or a grid for life. The fact that truth is not a moving target, that there really is something true in a world where we get so tired of being surrounded by lies and trickery should be something for which we continually thank God.

God gave me one of the desires of my heart by letting me study the Old Testament in seminary, particularly letting me study it in the original language. This theological training has crossed over into my music career as I have sought to combine proper exegesis of scripture with church music of the highest caliber. I believe God is pleased if His children demonstrate a good understanding of His thought so that we can sing praises with a deep understanding of Him. The wife of the founder of the seminary my husband and I went to, Mrs. MacRae, said she used to put on a recording of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, sit with her Bible open to follow the texts and spend the afternoon in the presence of the Lord. This phrase, spend time in the Lord’s presence really struck me. How does one do that? By spending time in the scripture, or with a musical score such as Handel’s Messiah or an art collection depicting creation. The last line of a verse of the hymn “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” speaks of the joy of being lifted up close to God. The words are “for it lifts me up to thee.” Church music should lift us into the presence of the LORD. Remember that we were designed for fellowship with God. The Fall of humanity, having brought death to the human race, destroyed that close communication with God. The decay and death we see around us or when we read or watch the news is the result of that lamentable, grievous separation from God. When we are Christians and we breathe the thought of God into our minds, it is like oxygen, it is life. So, probably the most basic argument for substantial and intelligent music in the church is that it brings us to what we human beings were created for in the first place, for fellowship with God. Bach agreed with Luther that music is a gift from God, a tool to make the listener more receptive to His Word, second only to theology. There are over 400 hand-written notes in the margin of Bach’s Bible which is on display in St. Louis. That is why his music is deeply Christian; he was a student of the Bible.

In sum, to worship genuinely and from the heart rules out a desire to glorify ourselves. It is possible to hear the voice of God and what He is saying to us in excellent church music. Church music can bring about a deep communion with God. Ignorance of who God is stunts worship. Our exaltation of God will be less than what it can be if we do not understand Him. If God desperately wants to be understood, hymns that lead us to something higher and that are rooted in the rich doctrines of scripture rather than those that just make us feel good, but say nothing, are important in the life of the church. Let us show forth the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

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