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The Worshiping Church: A Singing Church


Many people know that Johann Sebastian Bach was a great composer. He was also a devout Christian. At the end of each of his compositions Bach affixed the letters SDG. These did not stand for his name but for the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria, which means “For the glory of God Alone.”

Bach was right about the sacred value of music. Today’s reading shows that music played an important role in the early church’s worship and devotional life. Music was one of the ways the church communicated the message of Christ (v. 16); God’s people used it to teach and to reinforce what was taught. Music served the same function as preaching. The church employed music to teach and admonish.

It is unclear what differentiated psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from one another. New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce speculated that psalms may have been drawn from the Old Testament Psalter, hymns might have been Christian canticles, and spiritual songs may be extemporaneous songs that were sung “in the Spirit.” We can at least say that the early church saw value in worshiping with different musical forms or styles. It seems likely that this diversity of styles was for the benefit of the worshipers. There is no biblical evidence to suggest that God prefers a particular musical style. His desire is that these things be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (v. 17).

Since the goal of sacred music is to teach and admonish, it is reasonable for us to expect to “get something” out of worship. But it seems unlikely that the church will be able to employ a style that pleases everyone. Patience and sensitivity are needed as the church sings to God and to one another.

Apply the Word

Diversity in musical taste is not the greatest problem for the church; rather, the problem is our tendency to regard those whose preferences differ from ours with contempt. Even if you don’t prefer some of the music in the church, try to listen to its message. Ask the Lord to help you learn and grow from the songs in corporate worship.

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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