In many churches today you will find styles of music that appeal to today’s generation in a way that they sing the words as they go about their everyday lives and are a means of godly transformation; this was exactly the strategy of the Church Fathers, Ephraim and Hilary, and of Luther, and those that followed him centuries later. Certainly there are contemporary hymn writers such as Stuart Townend who put biblical words to contemporary tunes with great effect. Others, such as Hillsong and Matt Redman, seek to communicate biblical truths with popular tunes and styles, and they have had a huge influence on the generation that does not usually go to church. In all generations, of course, there is the chaff amongst the wheat and we should test all things and hold on to that which is good.
At the same time we have almost seen psalm singing become obsolete, save in the Free Church of Scotland and some of the older denominations. It would be wonderful to see the psalms come back again. We can still hear John Chrysostom’s plea from the fourth century:
Today, your children learn satanic songs and dances in fashion… but no one knows a Psalm. It is as if they are ashamed (to know a Psalm), they laugh at it and ridicule it.
(Homily on Colossians, 9:2)
Furthermore, there are many Christian bands seeking to reach today’s generation through every style available to them from rock to soul, to reggae, rap, folk and blues. As with generations before us some in the church oppose them, just as they did with Luther, Wesley, and the others. To study this particular subject in depth I would recommend Steve Miller’s book, The Contemporary Christian Music Debate: Worldy Compromise or Agent of Renewal? (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois, 1993).
When considering music and the church today it would be good to look at the example of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. King Nebuchadnezzar had a huge idol of himself built so that at certain times of the day people would worship him through his statue. All sorts of instruments were used for this purpose. Daniel lists horns, flutes, harps, lyres and psalteries in symphony with all kinds of music (Daniel 3:5,7,15). Was it the musical instruments that were evil? Or the different styles of music? Or was it that God did not like symphonies? Surely not! It was the object of worship, Nebuchadnezzar’s idol that was the cause of God’s anger, not the music. So it is today for God’s people when he tells us to flee from sin and idolatry. Let us finish with a scripture from Paul:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.