Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 6, 2014

A Higher View of Church Musicians

I’m teaching a class on the book of Psalms right now for my Sunday morning Bible class at St. Mark’s. The first three weeks are covering “background information” on the book of Psalms (types of Psalms, the organization of the book, poetry, the church’s use of the psalms), and then we’re going to study selected psalms (some chosen by the class) over the last seven weeks of this study. In the course of reading about some of the lesser-known authors of a few psalms, I came across the following quotation from one of the volumes in the People’s Bible, a WELS-produced Bible commentary. And since I haven’t been saying much lately on the blog, I figure that it can’t hurt to quote someone else — in this case, our seminary‘s president.

I appreciate the higher view of church musicians represented by this quotation. We could view our musicians as “hired hands” — and in the days before MIDI, a church without an organist or pianist in its membership would need a hired musician for there to be any music at all during worship. But when the musicians who accompany us in worship share a common confession of faith with us and express that confession by the music they select or the way they bring out a hymn’s message in its performance, we have so much more than a practical service provided to our church. We have a musical expression of faith and fellowship that stands alongside the proclamation of the gospel in Scripture and sermon and sacrament. Surely that deserves our encouragement and support!

With that, here’s a quote worth pondering from the volume of the People’s Bible on 1 Chronicles. This paragraphs come from the comments on 1 Chronicles 6:31-53.

For the first time in our book, we meet David as the great organizer of Israel’s temple worship. We will meet him again later in this same capacity. Noteworthy too is the high prominence given to music in the worship of the one true God. Of all the duties of the Levites, the ministry of music is listed first. There are many artistic gifts that God gives, and there are many forms of service. None serves the message of the gospel better than music.

It is worthwhile to note that the Levitical musicians were regarded as much more than simply blowers of horns, bangers of cymbals, and pluckers of strings. They were viewed not as entertainers or performers but as servants of the Lord. Under David they had a call into a type of public ministry. They delivered God’s message to the people through words matched with music. As we glance at the titles over Psalms 39, 42, 44 through 49, and 73 through 88, we notice that many of the same names listed here reappear there as authors of those psalms. These musicians were inspired biblical poets as well as composers. …

What can we take away for ourselves from all this? Certainly we are not bound by Old Testament forms and regulations. It would be a misapplication of Scripture to say that we must have called musicians just as David did. That was then. This is now. The Christian is free to choose, to select, to adapt, to create.

Yet isn’t it a good idea to prize and develop musical talents among us? Rather than taking a low view of organists (“anyone will do; all they do is depress keys”), shouldn’t we cultivate an attitude among us that sees them as offering great service to the Lord? Are we quick to criticize our instrumentalists because they hit a couple of wrong notes or play a hymn faster than we might like it? And are we slow to recognize the humble spirit of service that they display Sunday after Sunday? What kind of hymn writing is being done among us? Do we leave all that sort of thing to those whose doctrinal pedigree is suspect? What place does music take in our church budgets? Is it somewhere behind office supplies and parsonage upkeep? The prominence given to musicians in Israel suggests we ask ourselves questions like these.

Few things serve the gospel like good words matched to good music. God understood that. David understood that. It is good for us to understand that too.

-Wendland, Paul O. 1 Chronicles. 2nd ed. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 2002.

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Responses

  1. Well said … and quoted!


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