Specific scriptures from which we may derive principles for Church Music
Controversy over music has a long-standing tradition in Baptist circles. Some of the past controversies include: whether to sing or not; whether to use the Psalms or "hymns of human composure"; whether usual singing (lining out hymns) or regular singing (using musical notation); whether to use round or shaped notes; and whether or not to use instruments.
The best approach to church music is to develop principles based on the teachings of the Bible, and then apply those principles to songs and singing to determine if they are scriptural and appropriate for the congregational worship context.
I Corinthians 14:15: "...I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with understanding also."
Singing should take place with the mind engaged. Therefore, the words should be meaningful and intelligible. We should take thought of what we are singing. Meditate on it. We should not be singing by rote -- if we are not careful we are singing just by memory with no real thought of what we are saying. We also should not adopt a song merely because it has a catchy tune. The words must be meaningful. BUT, while unintelligible songs are worthless, so are those driven by intellectualism alone. Singing is a spiritual exercise, and even the best words become lackluster if there is no "feeling", no "reality", no "spirit". To sing spiritually we must first have the Spirit, and then be in a worshipful attitude toward God. The mind does not exclude the Spirit, nor the Spirit the mind.
Colossians 3:16: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
Ephesians 5:19: "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;"
First, notice that in Colossians singing is associated with the Word and in Ephesians with the Spirit (v.18). This is in agreement with I Cor. 14:15, and emphasizes that the Spirit and the Word are complimentary, not contradictory. The tri-directional purpose may be seen both in Colossians and Ephesians: (1) to others, "teaching and admonishing one another"; (2) for one's self, "in your hearts"; (3) to God, "to the Lord". Singing is a congregational exercise, not merely for the enjoyment of a single individual or a few individuals. Even those who can't or won't sing may be taught, admonished, and spoken to through the song. It must have a meaning, and through the song the congregants speak to one another. Though singing can and will be enjoyable, it is not merely for entertainment. One is not singing just for the benefit of others; it must come from the heart. It must come from God. Singing is worship, and worship must be real. It is more than a form. It wells up inside and flows out. The song should be in our heart before it touches our lips. Finally, the song that springs within us and flows toward others must also be directed toward God in deliberate and sincere worship, praise and honour of Him. Even though the words may be good, and we may be feeling it in our heart, in the final analysis, the song is lacking if not directed to God. All three of these elements should be present in the music of the Lord's churches.
Consider also that these passages are vitally connected with John 4:24: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
These principles suggest:
1. Songs should have meaningful content.
2. Songs should engage both mind and spirit.
3. People should think about what is being sung.
4. Keep in mind the edification of the WHOLE congregation.
5. The heart, more than the voice, should be "in tune".
6. God must be the focus of the song service.
7. Songs that are unintelligible (whether because of senseless lyrics or sounds that overpower the words) should be avoided.
8. The church music should aid and not impede us in worshipping God in spirit and in truth.