The Worship Wars (Why Do We Sing, Anyway?) Part 1

Doctor Martin Luther had this to say in the forward to Georg Rhau’s collection of choral motets published in the 1500’s:

I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ!

I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God.

The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits…

Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms.

This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God.

However, when man’s natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four, or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace.

A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.

Dr. Luther obviously had some strong feelings about people who didn’t like music. Actually, I can’t help but wonder if these “clodhoppers” didn’t like music, or they didn’t like what Luther was doing with music. The reality is though, that while we may not publicly display our musical preferences with the passion of Dr. Luther, we all have our personal preferences when it comes to music. In recent years, much has been made of the “worship wars” within the church. Hymns or contemporary music? Singing with an organ or with a band? Drums? Guitars? Jazz? Classical? Choral? Country? Bluegrass? Rock? This list could go on and on. We all have our preferences. In some cases, these preferences have led to fights within the Church and even splits. Surveys have shown that worship leaders and music ministers are among the most stressed out subgroups in Christian Ministry.

So if music is such a source of contention and controversy, why do we sing? If we are going to sing, what should we sing and how should we sing it? Over the next few weeks, I’m going to offer some thoughts and relevant Scripture passages on this topic. Like Dr. Luther, I have my preferences, but what is really important when we come together to sing and worship the Lord? Stay tuned…

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