At Morningside Baptist Church we consider several important balances of music-making. Christians have debated each one vociferously over the centuries, but each one is also very important to us.
Singing and Playing
Here we sing and also play. Instruments are also implied in Ephesians 5:19 and are commanded throughout the psalms. Song, however, is the core of our music. Even most of our instrumental pieces are arrangements of songs. There’s nothing wrong with purely instrumental music, but during musical selections we try to make it easy to meditate on biblical lyrics—even when no one’s singing. In fact, we often include a cappella singing at some point in most of our Sunday morning services.
Participating and Presenting
We make music all together and also listen to each other. Some academics distinguish “participatory” and “presentational” music, and we definitely want to have both.*
The Bible commands us to make music together. No one gets to leave music for everyone else to do. But we also want to allow those willing to prepare ahead of time (“rehearse,” we sometimes say!) room to use their skills for the good of our church family. That’s one of the reasons our choir sings in almost every Sunday service and that a service without at least one more musical presentation is rare indeed.
It’s a high calling to present sacred music to others, and we have several accountability measures in place to help ensure that those presentations do bring about good for the church family. A church-wide worshipful response to the greatness and goodness of God is always our goal. And participation-based music—congregational singing—is our primary method for achieving it.
Old and New
We use old and also new songs. The core of our repertoire is a fairly small set of widely known psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that have helped Christians for centuries: “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” “And Can It Be", and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” come readily to mind. We also want to reflect the songs that have helped our own church family, including songs that aren’t as widely popular anymore but have lived inside many of us for many years.
On the other hand, Scripture commands us to sing “a new song”—and however you interpret those passages, we think “new” should at least mean “written during our lifetime.” And since we are blessed with a mixture of people from children to octogenarians and even above, we want that “lifetime” to include songs less than 20 years old. Occasionally, though, we actually get to hear world premieres from songwriters in our own church family.
Psalms and Hymns
We sing psalms—even though most of us don’t know very many. That’s because the biblical commands to sing often include the command to sing from God’s own songbook. “A Mighty Fortress” comes from Psalm 46, “Joy to the World’ from Psalm 98, and the psalm behind “As the Deer” isn’t hard to find. But if we’re going to have new songs, we have to include some new lyrics. And that leads us into our last balance.
Objective and Subjective
If the only thing our songs discuss is the way we feel about God or even what He’s done for us, we are missing out on so much. In ancient Greece, a “hymn” usually referred to a song of praise, listing not actions but attributes of the deity it addressed. And songs like “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Immortal, Invisible” are simply good for us to consider. But it’s one thing to sing the truth—and another to mean it. That’s why we allow room for songs like “Oh, How I Love Jesus” or “Complete in Thee", with its chorus reveling in what God has done, is doing, and will do to me:
Yea, justified, O blessed thought!
And sanctified, salvation wrought!
Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
And glorified I too shall be.
Some songs do a great job at both (“His Robes for Mine", “In Christ Alone”). But we are also happy to make room for a whole song about God’s greatness followed by a whole song about our love for Him.
Taken together, these balances help ensure some real variety in our church’s music program. There are many more we could discuss, like rejoicing vs. lamenting, folk music vs. art music (“classical”), and many more. But these five balances definitely influence our planning every single week.
*Background music is a separate category, but we’re not against that either!