“Without music life would be a mistake. The Germans imagines even God as a songster.” These words came out from the mouth of Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher who boldly claimed that “God is dead.” His words are his sheer acknowledgement and his high view of music in the human life. Despite his disbelief in any supernatural being, a mere admission of “God as a songster” shows the impact of music in human life, culture, or any given society. Music, in general, has been used as a medium to depict one’s emotions, patriotism, joyfulness, and sorrow through his melodious tune of his instrument. Christians also should integrate the wide varieties of music into church so that they can be an effective medium to communicate our faith to the contemporary cultures.
Life is really impossible without music in a broader sense. However, such is not the case, because we hear music everywhere in different forms. Music has no boundary. It neither has a limit nor belongs to one particular people group. However, the question remains whether any wave of vibration and friction that comes as a form of sound can be considered music or not. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, music, by definition, is the “science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.” In other words, music is a structured artistic auditory and communicative form in which other instruments or vocal is incorporated in an uninterrupted mode.
Throughout the Old Testament, we can see music and worship as one of the major themes Hebrews writers picked up in the Bible. As Finney affirms that “music is a social art that emerged into historic era with some definite tonal regularity,” it is understandably true that music is as primitive as human civilization. Even going beyond this affirmation, Phil Kerr writes that music existed in the heavenly domain for the myriads of years prior to human existence, because God conceptualized music in his heart. It is a gift from God to humankind to express their emotions, such as joys, sorrows, and praise and adoration etc.
In Judeo-Christian tradition, music has a huge role in their religious traditions. Music was a prominent part in their worship service. In every culture, music, by virtue, bears religious significance. On one hand, it shows mankind as religious being who is religious in nature. On the other hand, use of music in religious ceremony in every culture since primitive age indicates their common belief that music must have originated from divine being. Kerr puts it this way:
It is a significant fact that all primitive people believed that music was of divine origin! It is also significant that in earliest times music was used exclusively in divine worship! Whether primitive man was worshipping the true Jehovah, or whether he was worshipping an idol or a tree or the sun or a departed spirit, he employed music in that worship. And that was music’s only use, originally.
While a primitive man is worshiping, he is simply expressing his genuine faith, trust, and overall emotions.
Besides, the Scripture is full of examples Israelites using different kinds of musical instruments. All of the instruments they used were not of their own inventions, but someone brought them in their land which they adopted wholeheartedly. Not any evidence leads us to the Holy Land inventing the Harp of their own but they were used mostly in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Nevertheless, the King James Version along with vulgate and all modern translations use the word “harp” and “organ” for the Hebrew kinnōr and ugāu; no one is sure what they really were. But the modern form of those two instruments could be violin and a kind of woodwind instrument. These are few examples how Israelites adopted musical instruments from other worlds.
What we know today as tambourine, cymbals, horns, and pipes are few names Israelites used in their cultural and religious settings. We have many references from the Bible where the chosen people of God blows trumpets and horns (Psalm 81:3). But in the New Testament time, we do not see a whole lot of references talking about musical instruments despite the fact that Jesus never condemned the use of musical instruments. And we find Paul does encourage the congregation in Ephesus to address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace (Ephesians 5:19).
Apparently, if a man can worship God or god(s) or spirit employing music, he also has competency to imitate music of different kinds and genre and express his thoughts through them. He can use these musical instrument and music for evangelism in his disposal. He can reach out to people of different faith and culture with his own brand of music and instrument. Yet the subtle difference in perception of the evangelical churches toward music of other genre other than the so-called ‘sacred music’ has been an immense hurdle for the contemporary music.
Restriction of using instruments other than piano, organ, harp etc. in the church is simply based on labeling those instruments as “secular” but not “sacred” or “divinely anointed.” This “secular,” “sacred” debated has been going for a long time. History bears witness that the music once early church considered as unholy and hostile to Christianity were adapted and became compatible. They also proved to be effective and beneficial for the church.
At this point, we have to answer some of the questions they arise with above statement. What makes some music secular and other sacred and who constitutes that? How do you draw distinct line between these two? And is it possible for the church to divorce the secular influence of music? By no means! Again, history has taught us through the centuries. What makes western musical instrument and music “sacred music” and why only these western music and instruments are subscribed for evangelistic purpose?
First, I do not see any basis on the Bible to claim that this particular music is sacred. Some might claim that this has been a tradition from the time of church fathers. Yet, we need to remind ourselves that there were no organ and piano in the early church. The way evangelical Christians have judged music seems to complement their own interest, since they are accustomed to that particular music and instrument.
As it is known to us that all the instruments Israelites used were from other parts of the Holy Land too. Still, they played them in the presence of God in the temple in Israel. They used foreign musical instruments to praise and worship the true God. And we never see the Sovereign Lord forbidding them from using those musical instruments. People of different view than I hold might simply argue that Jesus has already fulfilled the Old Testament. So it has no relevant to us. In such case, how would someone take the text of Hebrews that has many references to the Old Testament prophecies? In Acts 8, Philip meets a eunuch who asks him to explain about the prophecy of Isaiah. Can he say that this is the Old Testament prophesy which is already fulfilled, so we do not need to know or read it?
I have serious disagreement on concerning “sacred” music or “divine anointed” music or instrument. I am not condemning the western heritage they received from the church fathers nor am I saying that the western music is bad. As some people are greatly concerned why some people cannot sing in a certain way to reach out to those heathens. Are there any better ways to reach out to them apart from using traditional music and instruments?
We look at the southern hemisphere where people use utterly different kinds of music and instruments. The way Asians play music and their way of singing is not what westerns are used to. Most of the South Asian countries use instrument that are membranophone. A cappella singing is most usual form of singing; however, ceremonial singings are accompanied by different instrument with indefinite pitch like cymbals. In this context, western so-called “sacred” instrument does not become relevant while communication gospel.
So when you say that certain musical instrument and music is not sacred, basically what you are saying is simply prescribing the western evangelical version of instrument to rest of the world. Does this work in the evangelism? Certainly not. Again, history has taught us more than once how foreign missions failed in those countries when the western missionaries tried to conform them into western traditions.
The evangelical churches are practicing and playing those certain music in the church for centuries. They sound good to them. Ellsworth writes that, “the average evangelical church musician usually has nothing to do with any of the avant-garde musical forms, choosing rather the more traditional music of his heritage or the moderate popular.” In fact, my personal preference would not be listening piano and especially organ and singing from liturgy every week in and week out. I know some Asian Christians who feel the sound of organ drives them crazy. The fact is, with due all respect to organists and those who love it, that I also feel very awful listening to it, because I am not habituated with that particular genre of music, instrument and singing. And most probably, westerners also cannot stand by when Asians are playing trumpet, horns, tambourine, and cymbals at the same time.
Therefore, the dynamics of the instruments do not determine some instruments to be sacred. If such is the case, there are hardly any instruments from the west to compete with Sitar and Tanpura along with most of the Indian sub-continent origin instruments except idiophones. Hindus considered them to be sacred instruments. It should be noted that Zwingli himself tore apart organ in his congregation in Zurich during the Reformation Period and substituted it with a Capella singing. And if you agree that music is gift from God, how will someone distinguish which music is and is not from God?
Having said this, we, of course, need to be very serious about the words that we choose to make song. Every word has to reflect the character of God. The most important thing is to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in their vernacular. This matters most. “Music continues to be one of the most effective media for transmitting the Christian faith, but it can only be effective as long as the musical style used is in the “language” of the people.” When properly put words are tuned with skilled hands that attracts people to listen what we have to say. Unless people listen, we cannot communicate the gospel with them.
We cannot expect people of different culture and traditions to like our taste of music. It is necessary that we meet their need by becoming musicians of their kind. We try to meet their standard of music not because it sounds “good,” but they understand better what we communicate in their way. In his words, Ellsworth writes that their kind of music is more appealing to them which create opportunity for us to witness Christ. Otherwise, the world cannot hear the melodious harmony of piano and organ being played in the church as long as the thick wall of “sacredness” stands between pagans and the western church. Therefore, we can use music as an effective tool to share the gospel to this new generation in the pagan world.
While we are reaching the pagan world in their context, there is always potential risk that can weaken the church. “Secularizing influences touch every aspect of church life: its evangelism, teaching, and worship.” If we know their philosophical assumptions, we as a church can combat them without compromising with our faith. Rather discarding another genre of music as “secular,” we tend to reform them within Christian values.
1. Davies, Walford, and Harvey Grace. Music and Worship,. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1935. Print.
Engle, Randall D., and Paul E. Engle. Serving in Your Church Music Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.
2. Hustad, Donald P. “A spiritual ministry of music.” Bibliotheca sacra 117.468 (1960): 301-312. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. EBSCO. Web. 30 Nov. 2010.
3. Kim, Hyun-Ah. “Erasmus on sacred music.” Reformation & Renaissance Review 8.3 (2006): 277-300. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. EBSCO. Web. 30 Nov. 2010.
4. Kerr, Phillip Stanley. Music in Evangelism and Stories of Famous Christian Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Singspiration, 1962. Print.
5. Quasten, Johannes. Music & Worship in Pagan & Christian Antiquity. Trans. Boniface Ramsey. Washington D.C.: National Association of Pastoral Musicians, 1983. Print.
 Friedrich Nietzsche. “Twilight of the Idols.” Trans. David Taffel. A Nietzsche Compendium. Ed. David Taffel. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2008. 306. Print.
 Theodore M. finney, A History of Music. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1947), 11. Print.
 Phil Kerr, “The Origin and Development of Music,” Music in Evangelism: and Stories of Famous Christian Songs. 7thed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1964), 8. Print.
 Ibid, 10.
 Jeremy Montagu, “The Pentateuch,” Musical Instruments of the Bible. (London: Scarecrow Press, 2002), 11.
 Ibid, 15.
 Donald P. Ellsworth, Christian Music in Contemporary Witness: Historical Antecedents and Contemporary Practices. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 18.
 Ibid, 134.
 Ibid, 190.
 Ibid, 128.
 Calvin M. Johansson, Discipling Music Ministry: Twenty-First Century Directions. (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), 27.
I published this article for the first time in nepaenglish and republished here.