Music and Theology

The following devotional is from Tabletalk Magazine from Ligonier © 2017 for September 28, 2017.

1 I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O LORD, I will make music. Psalm 101:1 (ESV) 

Not only was Martin Luther an accomplished theologian and beloved pastor, but he also had some gifting for music. He wrote many hymns, many of which are sung to this day not only by those in the Lutheran tradition but by other Protestants as well. Perhaps the best known is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which is based on Psalm 46. Luther well understood the power and influence of music. His understanding is well captured in his statement that “music is the handmaiden of theology.”

Like a handmaiden who assists her master, music serves theology and the teaching of God’s Word. And like a handmaiden, music can be a good servant or a bad servant. When music is a good servant, it provides the right setting for the teaching of God’s truth and for helping the people of God grasp the deep things of the Lord. Quality hymns and songs enrich our hearts and minds, driving home what God has revealed to His people. On the other hand, when music is a bad servant, it gets in the way of good theology. Poorly crafted music and lyrics promote error. As an art form, music always communicates something, and it can communicate either truth or error.

So many of the fights over music that occur in the church have been over whether we should have contemporary hymns and songs or stick to the classic music of the church. That debate can obscure the real issues. After all, the classic hymns of the church were contemporary music when they were first sung, and some of the music written in our day will undoubtedly endure as classic music for the people of God. No, the real debate is between good music and mediocre or poor music. A beloved hymn is not necessarily a good hymn simply because it is old, for there are many old hymns that teach poor theology. And a current song is not necessarily a bad song, for many current songs teach good theology.

At issue is whether a particular hymn or piece of music, in both the arrangement of notes and its lyrics, is able to convey biblical truth. Good worship music is able to convey something of the complexity of our Lord’s character, and it invites us to increase our knowledge. Simplistic songs often do not do justice to the full biblical truth they seek to express, and they often do not invite us to move deeper into God’s Word to learn more and more about Him. Our goal should be to find the music that is best able to convey God’s truth, goodness, and beauty.

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “Music and Theology

  1. Over the past week or so, I have been reading posts on another blog, a Reformed blog, that is making the argument that music has no place in the church, and that this is supported by Scripture (they say those Old Testament references to music in worship point to worship without music in the New Testament), as well as supported by the early church and the Reformation confessions.

    I am curious if you have any thoughts on this Mike.


  2. They are mistaken. David played the harp or lyre in worship. I have studied this at the original language level. I have no idea how they could come up with that idea from scripture because, especially the Psalms, are full of references to music in worship.


  3. I rarely listen to contemporary Christian radio because a lot of what I hear – and I listen closely for correct doctrine in lyrics – is void of the attributes of God and substance of scripture. I find a lot of lyrics are man centered, which promote no knowledge of God at all. And the “chatter” by the DJ’s at times is just meaningless and annoying to me. They have a whole Bible they could be quoting from, but they speak nonsense sometimes or focus on earthly events, trying to be cool and relevant. So I listen to select CD’s with worship songs that exalt God for who He is and what He has done. I don’t tire of listening to those.


  4. Mike, Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 are helpful in this regard.

    In the Colossians passage, Paul says we are to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and in all wisdom, we are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

    In Ephesians, we see that we are to be filled with the Spirit when we speak to one another, and let our singing be of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We are to make melody with the music of our hearts to the Lord.

    In both of these passages, there isn’t really anything about music as “worship,” but melody as our communication with each other. We should keep in mind here, though, that Paul is contrasting the impure songs of the heathen in their revelry, as well as the singing that often accompanied the pagan Greek banquets. So, Paul isn’t referring specifically to worship in the assemblies, as we’ve come to adopt.


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