29 – Let All with Heart and Voice: A Biblical Argument for Music Ministry, Music Ministers, and Instruments in Christian Worship

Psalm 29

Follow up

Grant was talking with one of the guys over at Presbycast about our show and he said that he was wary about using the Psalms as a model. I have been thinking about what he said and I want to make a clarification.

I talked about how the Psalms are Scripture, poetry, and lyrics; but we can only use the Psalms as a model as far as poetry and lyrics go. However, we cannot forget that the Psalms are Scripture, and we cannot emulate that.

For example, Psalm 13 begins:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

As David wrote this, he was clearly feeling far away from God. But when we look at this specifically as Scripture, we know that God was so close to David that He was writing the very words David was using to show his feeling of abandonment. 

That interwoven Truth cannot be emulated, but we can look to and reference other Scripture as we write new music. I can voice my doubt of God’s closeness, but if I want God’s presence to still be seen in my song, I must acknowledge God’s presence directly.

I still believe that the Psalms are a sufficient guide to writing new songs, but we cannot write new Psalms. The canon is closed, and new songs are simply new songs. We can emulate the emotion, the Truth, the promises and fulfillment, and the content of the Psalms, but we can never emulate the prophecy or Word of God in the Psalms.

Ice Breaker: Writing Songs as an Act of Worship

I am going to propose a theory that, by its nature, can never be proven by observation, namely because we are not God. I do not wish to act as the Holy Spirit, and so I will not be making any absolute statements, but this theory helps create an order to things I have seen in the past few years.

Here is the theory: songs written as an act of true and genuine personal worship to God are generally (if not always) better and more useful to the church than songs that are written mechanically for the specific use of being sung in church.

This isn’t to say that “intentionally written” or “planned” songs can’t also be genuine worship, but it is to say that songs inspired by a formula and a deadline will be less useful than songs inspired by dedicated study of Scripture.

Referring back to the Psalm Model, all of the Psalms were written as acts of true and genuine worship to God. Looking back at the Original Element, none of the songs coming from a known cult are true and genuine worship of God. All other type 1 songs will fall somewhere in between.

I want to be clear that I am not taking this time now to call anyone out as writing for a cult or referencing a formula over the scriptures. When push comes to shove, I am not the Holy Spirit and will never be able to prove my suspicions of anyone else’s motives. 

I am, however, speaking to writers right now and urging you to hold fast to the Truth of Scripture when you are writing. Worship when you write and don’t write when you are not worshiping.

I do believe that all true and genuine worship will always follow an encounter with the Truth of God. While this will be most genuine following an encounter of God’s Word (or special revelation), it certainly can follow an encounter of general revelation so long as it lines up with and leads toward special revelation.

For example, the hymn How Great Thou Art begins with two verses of general revelation depicting the vastness of God and the creativity of God, but this lines up with Genesis 1 and 2 and it leads to the Gospel and Crucifixion in verse 3 and the future return of Christ in verse 4.

Whether or not you believe that the Psalms Model is sufficient and *should* be followed when writing music for the church, it cannot be argued that the Psalms are an excellent model for writing poetry and lyrics. Along with being an excellent model, the Psalms are also Truth that can lead us to worship. 

Related Links

“None of the songs coming from a known cult are true and genuine worship…” Would this then exclude the Psalm paraphrases and hymns of Isaac Watts who denied the deity of Christ or others like him?

Isaac Watts’ “Psalm” Imitations – Purely Presbyterian

Main Topic—Music Ministry: What We Learn from Timothy, Titus, and Chenaniah

According to the Regulative Principle of Worship, all parts of worship must be either completely and specifically prescribed in the Scripture alone or they must be deduced from the whole counsel of Scripture through a process the WCF calls “good and necessary consequence”. (WCF 1.6)

For example, in the New Testament, we have clear qualifications for two offices in the church: 1) Pastor/Elder/Overseer and 2) Deacon. However, we do not have qualifications for the role of “music minister.”

The question that is raised, then, is this: is the office of the music minister an unbiblical construct that should be abolished from the Christian church, or did we as a church deduce the role through good and necessary consequence? I believe in the latter.

You may be wondering why I am even bringing up this question in the first place. The role of the music minister is an assumed norm in the church today (and has been for hundreds of years in some capacity). There is likely a good reason that the church at large has adopted this role, but I have personally never heard a case for it before (and I doubt many of you have either!).

I have not looked into the origin of the role of the modern music minister, but I have dug deep into some pertinent passages of Scripture, and I believe I have walked away with a case for good and necessary consequence in regards to the role.

In 1 Chronicles 15, the account of returning the Ark of the Covenant to the Tabernacle is retold (with greater detail than the 2 Samuel 6 account). In the passage, we learn about the institution of the priestly musicians as well as the role of “music director”.

In the passage, we are told that the priests are to carry the Ark on poles because the Lord commanded it. We are also told that one particular Levite will direct the music simply because he knew how to. 

This passage is different from Exodus 31 where God calls Oholiab and Bezalel by name. It is also different from the sacrificial laws and duties of the priests found in the book of Leviticus. There is no direct prescription for music ministry that God outlines and David follows, but we do see God’s approval and subsequent commands to sing and praise with instruments.

 1 David built houses for himself in the city of David. And he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it.
 2 Then David said that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the LORD had chosen them to carry the ark of the LORD and to minister to him forever. - 1 Chronicles 15:1-2 
 12 and [David] said to them, "You are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it.
 13 Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule." - 1 Chronicles 15:12-13 
David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. - 1 Chronicles 15:16
Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it. - 1 Chronicles 15:22
 27 David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers. And David wore a linen ephod.
 28 So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres. - 1 Chronicles 15:27-28 

In this passage, Chenaniah is appointed as the music director because of two qualifications: he is a leader of the Levitical priests and he understood music.

This minimal qualification is in stark contrast to the carrying of the ark on the poles as God had commanded Moses. It reads as a practical difference between direct prescription and good and necessary consequence.

David realized how important music was to God and so, in obedience to God’s revelation to him, he instituted the priestly musicians to aid in the singing and also to praise God through their playing of instruments.

 3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 
 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 
 5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!  - Psalm 150:3-5 

Today we undeniably have commands to sing in the New Testament, and just like in the Old Testament, communal singing requires a leader who knows about music in order to do so in an orderly fashion. The question then becomes this: does the priestly role of music director continue through to the New Testament, or is it fulfilled along with the rest of the priestly duties through Jesus’ once-and-for-all sacrifice?

When God instituted the Mosaic Covenant, He referred to the future established nation of Israel as a “kingdom of priests”. Shortly after this, God instituted the priesthood and Aaron was ordained as the first high priest.

5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;

6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6

Similar language is used twice in Revelation in reference to the already and newly established church.

5b To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 

6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. – Revelation 1:5b-6

9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 

10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”  – Revelation 5:9-10

Because Jesus is our perfect great high priest, we no longer require another priest to intercede between us and God. We can all boldly approach the Throne of Grace because we have all been made priests by the blood of the lamb.

If then, all Christians are made priests, it stands to reason that all Christians who understand music or play an instrument are qualified to lead in music during a worship service. Especially considering the reason the music director was set up in the first place. He wasn’t required to intercede on behalf of the tone deaf or something silly like that, he was set up so that the singing could be done so in an orderly fashion. Jesus’ work on the cross doesn’t change that.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is discussing the use of Spiritual gifts and how to use them to build one another up in an orderly way. Among the list of gifts is music leading:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. – 1 Corinthians 14:26

This passage was not meant for church leaders only, but for the whole body of believers. And in this passage all who are filled with the Holy Spirit who have a hymn to bring are invited to bring it.

At this point, it becomes important to make a distinction between  the role of the “music director” or “choirmaster” and the role of “worship leader”, “worship pastor”, “music minister”, and other similar terms.

First, I want to clarify two specific roles involving music in a church setting. The front and center role is that of the music director, choirmaster, or chief musician: the person who is literally singing the music and leading the rest of the congregation. This person is also often responsible for choosing the songs from a previously approved list of songs (often from a Psalter or hymnal or from a limited repertoire of music vetted by a pastor). Like Chenaniah, there are only two qualifications: be a member of the Church and be proficient in music. 

This puts a limitation on the 1 Corinthians 14 passage in that only one person is allowed to bring the song, but it is no different in that we only have one person bring the lesson. There are also allowances for “special music” and such.

The other role is the worship director. This is a much broader role than just music and may also be shared among the elders. The worship director is a pastor (either associate or assistant) who is responsible for vetting new music, choosing and often leading liturgy, and plans and organizes the worship service.

Most often, the same person fulfills both roles, but some churches do split the role, especially when the music director does not or cannot meet the qualifications for pastor as outlined in 1 Timothy and Titus (most notably the ability to teach or being male).

 1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.
 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,
 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?
 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.- 1 Timothy 3:1-7
 5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you-
 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.
 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,
 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.
 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. - Titus 1:5-9 

Ultimately, the reason for the two roles is that one is purely about musical ability whereas the other is about teaching with the authority of Scripture. The pastor may not be equipped or qualified musically and the musician may not be equipped or qualified pastorally, so at times it is necessary to split the roles. 

At times it may also be too much for one person to accomplish both roles. For instance, a small church or church plant may not be able to pay for a full time worship leader (or even a part time worship leader), but two volunteers may be able to fulfill the role together.

A major detriment to splitting the role is lack of unified vision or philosophy of music ministry. An artist with no ministry qualifications is much more likely to focus on Spirit while a minister with no artistic qualifications is much more likely to focus on Truth. Focusing on either one of these at the expense of the other will lead to a weak (and ultimately disobedient) vision. 

This isn’t to say that teamwork can’t be accomplished or that one person is more likely to accomplish balance in his own. But it is to say that one person on his own won’t be at odds with himself in the issue, and someone truly qualified in both areas is much more likely to want to pursue that balance.

Ultimately, there is a practical need for the role, just like in the Old Testament worship. There are clear qualifications given in the OT that are echoed to some extent in the NT. While not specifically prescribed like the roles of Pastor and Deacon, we can see an argument through good and necessary consequence. Finally, the role becomes more clear when you see it as two separate roles with separate qualifications that can be accomplished by one person or two people working together.

Earlier, I read from Psalm 150 in reference to using instruments in worship. I will say that I believe my argument for the role of music minister also works for musicians. I believe you are free to utilize whatever musicians you have available that are able to pursue excellence in music, as long as they are Christians.

This does not require a full band each week, nor does it prescribe which instruments are allowed and which are not. Ultimately, if someone is a Christian and they are skilled in an instrument, that instrument should be allowed to participate in a band setting. 

Obviously, this has limits. I am not sure that an accordion paired with a steel drum would add to the prosody of the lyrics in a way that would minister to the whole assembly. It may be difficult to discern what is actually allowed through good and necessary consequence, and the lack of direct prescription can easily lead to agreeing to have nothing.

For many, the choice to have little or nothing instrumentally would not require a chief musician or choirmaster to lead. Those churches may be content to simply song, and I do believe that is within their liberty. However, these churches do usually still designate a song leader to choose the songs, key, and tempo; and this leader would still need to know enough about music to accomplish this task.

I want to briefly talk about fog machines and light shows. Many churches equate the argument of “any instrument” with “any element”. This is where we have to point out that the Bible does prescribe the use of instruments in Old Testament temple worship. 

No good theologian debates this. The issue in debate is whether or not that prescription carries into New Testament Christian worship.

No where in the Bible is there a prescription for setting alterations in worship. There was the lighting of the candle and the burning of incense, but those were not the same thing. There was a purpose for those elements that are clearly defined. Those elements as defined also pointed toward the future work of Christ that has been fulfilled and completed. They were also not congregational elements of worship.

All of that said, smoke machines and light shows do not align with the RPW and they are not authorized as a part of Christian worship.

Let all with heart and voice before His throne rejoice, praise is His gracious choice. Allelujah Amen

Thanks for listening

The Balm of Gilead podcast is a member of the Tech Reformation family of podcasts. If you enjoy the show, please share it with others. We enjoy hearing from you, so join us on the Tech Reformation Slack and let us know what you’re thinking. If email is more your thing, write to us at thereis <at> balmcast <dot> com. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time, Lord willing.


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