The practice is ingrained so deeply in the Christian that perhaps we never question it, but we should: why do we sing at church? What does music have to do with worship? In his book, The Air I Breathe, Louie Giglio writes,
“I think that all music—not just Christian music but all music—is worship music, because every song is amplifying the value of something. There’s a trail of our time, our affections, our allegiance, our devotion, our money. That trail leads to a throne, and whatever’s on that throne is what we worship—what we sing about.”
Music magnifies and expresses. Music amplifies value. Music intensifies the message.
Singing, therefore, is a most fitting activity for Christian worshipers. With our music, we magnify our Savior and intensify the gospel message. The Bible is replete with music. In the Old Testament, we read of singing and even dancing. The Book of Psalms is a sizable volume of lyrics to music. In New Testament times, Paul and Silas sang while in prison. Revelation tells us that there will be music forever. The saints of God will sing a new song! Music has a rightful place in worship.
Unfortunately, though, we sometimes relegate music to a merely “preliminary” role—like an opening act or warm-up to get us ready for the preaching. Indeed, preaching is worship—responding rightly to the Word of God strikes to the very essence of worship. Music, however, does not conflict with the ministry of the Word. In fact, the apostle Paul mingles the ministry of the Word with music. Colossians 3:16 states, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
It appears that the Colossian believers were enamored by spiritual beings and were perhaps worshiping angels—seeking a deeper experience beyond the simple message of Christ (Col 2:18). Throughout the letter, though, Paul presses one theme: one cannot go deeper than Jesus. When a person’s spirituality goes beyond Jesus, it has not deepened, but gone off the deep end!
Christ is preeminent in the universe (Col 1:15-20), so He must be preeminent in our lives (Col 3:1-11) and in the church (Col 3:12-17). The peace of Christ rules in the church and the word of Christ dwells in the church (3:15-16). Paul notes specific ways in which the Word dwells: teaching, admonishing, and singing. Music has a place in the ministry of the Word. It simply belongs.
MUSIC IS THE MEDIUM FOR THE MESSAGE
If singing is one means by which the Word dwells, then the message and music are closely related. In fact, the music is the medium for the message. It’s not the music that dwells—it’s the message that dwells through the music.
What does this mean for music in worship? The message is the master, music is the slave. So much of the confusion over worship today is caused by a reversal of these roles, and music becomes the master. When musical style is the most important thing, you still have worship, but it’s idol worship because you’re worshiping the music. Music in Christian worship must, primarily, be a vehicle through which the Word dwells. It must be scripturally sound, gospel-driven, and verbally clear. Esoteric lyrics and vague theology fail to match the standard Paul describes.
MUSIC IS A METHOD OF MUTUAL EDIFICATION
In Ephesians 5:19, Paul makes a statement very similar to the one in Colossians, saying that we address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. When we sing, we’re singing to God, but also to one another. We’re reminding one another what is true and good and beautiful. We’re pointing one another to the gospel. Church music must be mutual—something believers do together. We’re called into one body, and nothing expresses our oneness better than singing one message.
Music is a unifier, and it is immensely sad when music becomes a divider. Each congregation has to find its own voice and discover its own mutual style. No two churches can do music the same way because no two churches have the same people singing the songs.
A MEANS OF GRATEFUL WORSHIP
Paul finishes by saying that we sing with thankfulness in our “hearts to God.” The phrase may cause some confusion: exactly what is in your heart, and what is directed to God? Is the singing in your heart, or are you thankful in your heart? Do you sing in your heart with gratitude to God, or do you sing to God with gratitude in your heart? The confusion, though, can be easily resolved: where else can gratitude be but in the heart? From what place can singing come but the heart? Where can this thankfulness be directed but to God? It’s all in the heart, and all to God.
Growing up, I distinctly remember my mom cleaning the house. She is an industrious woman, so she was always cleaning the house, and our house was inconceivably clean. As she cleaned, though, she sang: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.”
Exactly. Remember the thrust of Paul’s message to the Colossians: It’s all about Jesus. It’s about letting His Word dwell. If His Word dwells in us, then His song will come out of us. The music will serve the message, sustain our unity, soar with thanksgiving.
Chuck Fuller, Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
 Louie Giglio, The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 13.
Dr. Chuck Fuller comes to Anderson University with 13 years of experience in pastoral ministry, serving churches in Kentucky and Indiana. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from Campbellsville University, and an MDiv and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary field of study for the Ph.D. was in Christian preaching, with additional studies in systematic theology and philosophy. Before arriving at AU, Dr. Fuller was pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and adjunct professor of Christian preaching at Boyce College of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Additionally, Dr. Fuller has served on committees and boards of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Married to Jessie, Dr. Fuller and his wife have two children–Kaylen Marie and Ian Charles. Jessie holds a Bachelor of Bible from Ozark Christian College, with a concentration in deaf ministry. Currently, Jessie works as a stay-at-home mom and brilliant culinary artist.
Homiletical theology comprises Dr. Fuller’s primary research area, as demonstrated in his recent book, The Trouble With “Truth Through Personality”: Phillips Brooks, Incarnation, and the Evangelical Boundaries of Preaching. Dr. Fuller also presented a paper, titled “The Pulpit at the Precipice of Heresy,” at the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Homiletical Society.