Christianity is a relational thing.
A friend on a forum where I take part in the discussions recently wrote:
"If I could sing praises to God with the instrument alone in my home, then I could do it in a church building with others. Worship is worship is worship. If I'm home doing it and NOT worshiping, then what am I doing? Pretending to be worshiping?"
So I wrote her a note back to share how my own thinking about instrumental music and Christian worship got started with a similar question. Here's what I wrote to my friends on that forum, many of whom, like me, have questioned the fact that where we grew up going to church, we never used instruments to accompany the vocal singing. We never used them at all, except for the occasional pitch pipe for the first note of a song or a hymn. We sang a cappella style. Why? I wondered. Here's a few more of my thoughts on the subject of music and questions we ought to ask ourselves...
I grew up asking that very same question! I asked a lot of questions then, and still do, I guess. And I agree with your answer, as far as it goes. Would you mind if I share some more questions? If you do, then stop reading...because I have a few I'd like to ask anyone who never sings a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song to the accompaniment of musical instruments. I ask to learn.
Please note that I am not seeking to accuse anyone with these questions, but rather am seeking to get us all to focus in on the influence that music has in our lives...even subliminally.
1) Do you only listen to a cappella music, or do you sometimes listen to Contemporary Christian music and just not sing along - even in your heart? Also, do you ever listen to Rock'n'Roll or Country or Metal or Classical or Jazz or R&B or other genres of music? And do you know any of the lyrics to Garth Brooks' song Unanswered Prayers? or the Kentucky Headhunters' version of Spirit In The Sky? or Cat Stevens' Peace Train or Morning Has Broken? or any of dozens of other poular tunes of almost every genre that express the faith of the writers? How are those songs okay to hum or sing along to if we should never use IM in praise to God?
2) IF you listen to other types of music than just a cappella, do you pay attention to the words to keep your mind and heart pure and undefiled by the messages of songs that do not seek to glorify God at all, but rather quite the opposite? (Why allow subliminal messages that promote acceptance of sinful thinking?)
3) IF you only listen to non-verbal instrumental music - or at least, non-vocal - do you seek to find out whether the composer wrote that song in appreciation to the Lord? Would it matter to you if a song using IM was written to lift the soul and open the heart to the very Spirit of God? (And do you ever feel so lifted when you heard a song played with IM accompanying?)
4) Do you believe "secular" music to be sinful, since it does not focus on bringing glory to God? Do you listen to such music on the radio? What do you do when someone else turns on such music in your presence, or when an elevator has Musak playing softly as you ride in it?
5) How do you feel about music that links nationalistic patriotism with faith in God - the way God Bless America or America the Beautiful does? And what do you do with John Denver's Thank God I'm A Country Boy? or even a song like Barry Manilow's Oh Mandy that speaks of someone who came and gave without taking? Do you quickly shut off the radio when such a song with IM stirs you to think about Jesus or God in some way?
These are all good questions, some admittedly more valid for some people than for others. And I have wrestled with every one of them many times over, as one who grew up in the non-IM churches of Christ. I wrestled with them when my Dad played a song from the hymnal in our living room on the organ or piano. I wrestled with them when I first heard The Imperials perform Water Grave. I wrestled with them while I was in a very conservative preaching school and listening to Amy Grant and Ray Boltz and The Imperials on my compact tape player as I worked at my Grounds Maintenance Chief job that helped to get us through those lean years.
But I was never satisfied to just accept the music, even when in High School as a part of the Chorus we had Christmas and Easter programs that included the Hallelujah Chorus(?) and Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee and even Handel's Messiah. I searched the scriptures and read all I could find on why we didn't use IM in worship and what the words meant in the pertinent passages and what the messages of those passages were. I read as widely and as exhaustively as my reading skills and eager mind could find and allow. And I sought to expand my reading as I expanded my skills in reading languages. I spoke with brethren privately who taught me and whom I respected as students of the Word to ask what they taught and why. I studied and memorized all the arguments for and against that I could get my greedy little hands on. I did not just accept that we live in a world moved by music and have not enough control over all that we hear. For a while I even took to using the stairs, no matter how high the climb, to avoid the Musak - so I know what it means to be serious about this.
You know the conclusions I've reached so far. I have not made any of them secret at all. I have poured out my heart here. Would you share with me what you struggle with about IM as well? I hope so - so that I can continue to grow and so encourage you...because I have studied long and hard and have not arrived at perfect knowledge. I live what I know and I trust in grace all along the way. So...will you journey beside me in this study? We may not agree, but I, for one, will be richer for the time spent sharing the journey...and maybe you will, too.