Ah yes, the infamous worship wars of the modern church. Some like hymns, some like contemporary, some like post-modern, etc. They have been dividing the church as far back as the first organs being brought out, to Bach’s musical cadences which “sounded like the devil,” to the introduction of hymns which were rejected by the exclusive psalmody church people as being too worldly, all the way to today. Bear in mind that this is not a comparison or contrast piece about hymns and contemporary worship songs. Both have their pros and cons, but that is a completely different post. What I am proposing is that all believers join together and engage in spiritual warfare through the songs that we sing regardless of style. Keep in mind Ephesians 6:12 which says,” For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (NIV) Now I have yet to see a fist fight break out in the congregation or chairs flying across the sanctuary, but sometimes because of the emotional connection we have with music, we tend to be very staunch about our tastes and musical associations that we argue and divide over it. Instead of using that passion against each other, why not direct it toward God, while using it against the forces of evil? Note: I am not necessarily referring to CAC, but the Christian church as a whole. I am blessed to be part of a church that is very harmonious (no pun intended) when it comes to musical style. Still this is something we can all benefit from and be encouraged by.
The fact is that music is a militant force. It unites and rallies people. Think of national anthems, high school fight songs, movie franchise theme songs/music, etc. The Bible is no exception to that. 2 Chronicles tells the story of King Jehoshaphat and the threat he received from the armies of Moab, Ammon, and Edom. Jehoshaphat knew that his own armies were no match for those of his enemies, so he wisely turned to the Lord fasting and praying. The Lord responded through the prophet Jahaziel saying, “do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15b ESV) and then when they went out to battle, “he appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures forever.’” (2 Chronicles 20:21 ESV) Then when they looked out over the wilderness, God’s people saw that their enemies had destroyed themselves completely.
This is an example of music and faith being used to come against evil, the possibly unarmed singers marching before the armed soldiers. When we unite with one another and sing with conviction, “in Spirit and in Truth” as Christ said, we battle against evil as the body of Christ. John Piper says in his sermon, “Even though the victory belongs to God, the human means through which God gives victory is the ministry of the choir.” Piper goes on to say, “the enemies of God are thrown into confusion by the songs of God’s people. Or to put it another way, God has appointed the use of spiritual songs as an effective weapon against his archenemy Satan.” (Piper, John. “Ambushing Satan with Song,” Bethlehem Baptist Church, 1985.
Music as a battle cry is certainly not a case of old wineskins. A New Testament example that comes to mind is the story of Paul and Silas as outlined in Acts 16. After being stripped and beaten with rods and then locked in stocks inside the prison, they proceeded to pray and then praise God in song. And we all know what happened. The Lord sent an earthquake so great that it opened the doors and unlocked their restraints. In this case, it allowed the Philippian jailer to be convicted and come to a place of salvation along with the rest of his household. The same thing happened. The Lord appeared and demonstrated His power, which resulted in the liberation of His people; all because Paul and Silas sought the Lord and out of their faithful hearts sang praises to Him.
So what do those two stories have in common outside of the obvious, “they sang and God showed up?” Both Jehoshaphat and the children of Judea, and Paul and Silas came from a place of brokenness and hopelessness. The former knew they did not stand a chance against their enemies and faced fear, and the latter were ruthlessly beaten and locked in what seemed like inescapable prison. In spite of the state in which both were in, they chose to seek the Lord, united as one. Out of that, songs flowed out of them. Don’t misunderstand me. We cannot simply sing away our problems. It is not a self-help remedy for the issues in our lives. Rather it is a result of the Spirit of God living in us, and our joining together as the body of Christ to combat the enemy. In both passages, the prayer precedes the singing, and we should in kind, pursue the Lord to where we can sing from a genuine place of worship. God wants and uses our brokenness and inadequacies, such as a comparatively dwarfish army or a circumstance of entrapment for His victory. Bob Kauflin writes, “God isn’t looking for something brilliant, He’s looking for something broken.” (Kauflin, Bob. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, 2008) So whether we are overcome with financial struggles, family issues, physical illness, or just flat out can’t sing, God wants us to join together and sing His praises as our battle cry. Imagine what victories God will accomplish when His church joins in prayer and in one voice, singing with unbridled worship, with our hearts broken for Him.
To Sing or Not to Sing? To Sing TOGETHER!
Let us put aside dividing barriers among us as believers and unite as one body. The apostle Paul says ,” If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV) Yes we need God first and foremost, but we also need one another. Division lowers our effectiveness as God’s army and affects everyone. Musical style is only one way that believers choose to divide themselves over. In the case of the Corinthian church, Paul warned of dividing over spiritual gifts. There is a myriad of other ways that division can be present in the church. This should not be, as we are all made to drink of one Spirit. In essence, we are in and of ourselves, a frail and diminutive people, incapable of victory. Despite that, God has declared the battle as His own and has invited us to unite in His Name, and lead the charge together in song. Meanwhile, the Lord fights the battle as our faith filled notes permeate the air.
But why singing? Can we worship and seek the Lord without singing? You bet we can, and we should during the “noteless” majority of our walk with Christ. However, we as human beings are wired to sing, whether we are gifted singers or not. Our God is a singing God as described in Zephaniah 3:17 and He has granted us that same ability, in or out of tune. Some of the most sincerely worshipful singing I have heard has been grating and as far away from pitch as could be! We cannot help but sing what is in our hearts and about what brings us joy that God has given us such a powerful way to worship Him and fight sin. So let us pray ever fervently, in desperate hunger for our God that transcends mere emotionalism and sentimentality. And then us sing together, praising Him for His enduring love, and let it be our battle cry as we march into the throes of darkness.