This is the pivot on which this series turns. I hope you have a desire to write music, and I hope that you’ve realized that anyone can do it. When you’ve conquered those two things, nothing is able to stop you from doing it, but there is another thing that you need: direction.
You’ve heard the illustration that you can’t steer a parked car? Well, a moving car buzzing aimlessly about is also a problem. You need get-up-and-go, but you also need to engage the steering wheel. That is what the remainder of this series will cover. We need direction in our desire to write music.
We need to identify the type of music we are going to make. First of all, in case you haven’t gotten it yet, I will say it quite plainly: I am discussing writing music with the purpose of honouring God. “Christian music”, “church music”, “sacred music”, whatever you want to call it; its purpose is to glorify the Creator, not the creature. So, in this series, you will not find help in writing music for the next big Disney movie. I will not instruct you in writing pop, rock, or opera. We want to write and play music for the glory of God and for the growth of the Church, and that will inform our choice of “what music”.
[*Note: When I say “growth of the Church”, I’m not talking solely about numbers. That is part of it, as we want to see the lost come to know Christ as Saviour and thus become a part of the Church; but the other part, seen especially in Ephesians 4, is to see each believer grow to be more like Christ.]
Let’s talk a little about style. Oh, boy. Isn’t there enough talk about music styles out there? Well, it is something that we need to face, without prejudice, without bias, without anger, and without agenda. Let’s remember the goal: Glorify God, Grow the Church. Every song fits into some kind of style; some may be so much of a mix that it’s hard to say what style it is exactly, but it identifies with one or more style. New styles come up all the time. You might be surprised to know that there are a variety of styles expressed in a typical church hymnbook. I’m not going to make a big list of all the styles that are out there, but there are essentially three different “styles” of God-honouring music:
ü Spiritual Songs
If you remember, I’ve already referenced Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 in this series, which is where this little list comes from, and I encourage you to study out those passages for yourself. I’m going to take another page out of my English textbooks and do a little compare/contrast on these three styles.
This type of song is pretty self-explanatory. The book of Psalms was used in Old Testament worship and continued to be used when the Church was born; the apostles and other disciples who grew up going to the temple and synagogues would no doubt have been familiar with not only the words of the Psalms, but also the tunes to which they were typically sung.
Throughout history, psalms have been put to music and sung by individuals or groups gathered to worship the Lord with the very words that He inspired. In any language but Hebrew, the words have already been translated, and often they are further adapted to fit rhythm, rhyme, and melody.
Most commentators agree that the concept of a hymn is that of glorifying a deity, used in many different religions. Of course, hymns to the true God is what we are talking about here. The key is that these types of songs are focused on God and His character, usually focusing on one or a few attributes, or perhaps praising Him for His works (what He has done in the past, is doing right now, or will do in the future).
C. Spiritual Songs
The Greek word is “odes” (essentially; it’s really ᾠδή, but whatever), and it seems to refer to poetry set to music. That definition is really broad, but Paul was a little more specific than that. He qualified these songs in calling them “spiritual”. (He was not talking about “Spirituals” that came from the years of slavery in America.) The Greek word that is translated as our adjective “spiritual” is used in various ways throughout the New Testament:
ü As opposed to carnal or fleshly (whether meaning simply earthly or meaning evil/immature)
ü Truths pertaining to God (often referred to as “the things of God”)
ü Actions/results influenced by the Holy Spirit
ü Describing a man that is walking with God
ü Describing a man that is mature in his faith
ü Things that are real but not tangible (ethereal, maybe)
ü Referring to a realm that humans do not see, where angels and demons and God Himself dwell and act
ü Things done or received by the inner man (the spirit/soul/heart)
Obviously, many of these things overlap, but it gives us a good idea of what kind of songs these are to be. They don’t focus on things of the earth, but they focus on the things of God.
So, to clarify the contrast, Psalms are those songs written by David, Moses, Asaph, and others and recorded in the Word of God. Hymns are songs that praise the Lord for Who He is and what He does. Spiritual Songs are songs that view life through God’s lenses. While they have slightly different angles to them, the goal of all of these styles is the same: the glory of God and the growth of believers. Hey, that’s the same goal as we had earlier! These are the kinds of songs that we want to use in our worship and in the encouragement of the Church.
[*Note: If there is a song that you are considering using for worship or edification, take special note of the message. MAKE SURE it fits into one of these three styles! If it is praising anything but God, it is not fitting. If it is not looking at the world through God’s Word, it is not fitting. Too often I’ve stood in church awkwardly not singing because the song chosen was not fitting for God’s glory nor the edification of the Church!]
Soli Deo Gloria!