Philosophy of Church Music

Dr. Stanlas Man

I. The Origin and Nature of Church Music

  1. Music is created by God from nothing (ex nihilo). It was given to mankind to be used and enjoyed. (Gen. 1; I Cor. 8:4; Rev. 1:8; Ps. 24:1, 102:25-27)
  2. The fundamental elements of music (i.e., musical tone and rhythm) cannot be categorized as “sacred” or “secular”. When God created everything in this world, everything was good because “He saw that it was good”. (Gen. 1:9, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) The meaning of the word “good” (טוב — towb) means perfection and self-sufficient. [footnote 1]
  3. Music can greatly affect the temperament of humans. (I Sam. 16:14-23, 18:10)
  4. Music has unexplained mysterious power over humans. (II Kings 3:12-16; I Sam. 10:5)


II. The Definition and Functions of Church Music

  1. Church Music is a Sacrifice of Praise (Heb. 13:15)
    In the New Testament, God wants believers to offer to Him spiritual sacrifices, which is different from blood sacrifices offered during Old Testament time. (I Pet. 2:5). To praise God is the spiritual sacrifices that God wants us to offer Him, i.e., the fruit of lips that confess his Name. (Heb.13:15) These spiritual sacrifices are equivalent to the sacrifices offered to God by the Israelites when they worshiped God in the Old Testament. The purpose of offering sacrifices is to express to God our submission, gratitude, confession and adoration.
  2. Church Music is a Tool (Col. 3:16)
    Church music can be used as a tool for: teaching God´s word; admonishing believers among themselves; and expressing believers´ gratitude and worship toward God. (Col. 3:16)
  3. Church Music is a Witness of the Truth (Col. 3:17)
    Apostle Paul taught us that whatever we do, whether in word or deed, we are to do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. This means to bear witness for God. (Col. 3:17) Apostle Paul also taught us in I Cor. 10:31 that “whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” As such, whenever believers use church music in His name to worship God, teach God’s word, or admonish each other, believers are bearing witness of God. Church music is a witness. Believers who use church music are also witnesses.


III. Music and Musical Style of Church Music

  1. The music and musical style of church music can be categorized into “sacred” or “secular”.
  2. The distinction between “sacred” or “secular” of music and musical style has nothing to do with whether the music, in and of itself, is “holy” or “sinful.” (Please refer to the above mentioned in I.2.)
  3. The distinction between “sacred” or “secular” of music and musical style relates only to: 1) the contents of the musical expression (through lyrics and fundamental elements of music); 2) the motive of the composition; 3) the function and use of the music; and 4) the culture and association that is presented and represented by the music.
  4. The distinction between “sacred” or “secular” has nothing to do with the “newness” or “oldness” of the music or its lyrics.
  5. Through music and musical style, the musician expresses his/her personal viewpoints, beliefs, philosophy, and culture. Since human is not perfect, his/her expression of the above-mentioned is also imperfect. Therefore, music and musical style can be differentiated into “sacred” or “secular”.
  6. When a piece of church music and its musical style are said to be “sacred”, both the music and the lyrics must be consistent with the Biblical teaching of “being sanctified”. This means that the contents of the musical expression; the motive of the composition; the function and use of the music; and the culture and association that is presented and represented by the music and lyrics must meet the following criteria:
    • It is written only for God (Rom. 12:1)
    • It expresses and witnesses Biblical truths (I Tim. 1:17)
    • It enables the listeners to associate their minds with “things above” and with “spiritual things” (Col. 3:1-2)
    • It is suitable to be used for various ministries in the church (Eph. 4:11-12)


IV. The Evaluation of Church Music

  1. A piece of church music that is used by God has four characteristics
    1. Motive
      • Sanctified (Isa. 6:3; Rom 12:1) – written for God, used by God
    2. Contents
      • God-centred (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 5:11-14)
      • Expresses truth (Isa. 6:3; ITim. 1:17)
      • Expresses the believers´ worship of God (Isa. 6:3; Rev.4:8-11, 5:11-14)
      • Expresses true spiritual experience and emotion (Isa. 6:3; Lk. 1:46-49)
      • Expresses and represents “spiritual culture” (Isa. 6:3; Rom. 12:2)
    3. Style
      • Sanctified (Isa. 6:3; Rom. 12:1-2)
      • Enables others to associate their minds with and to experience the worship of God in heaven (Isa. 6:3; Col. 3:1-2)
      • Dignified (Isa. 6:3-4; Rev. 5:11-14)
    4. Functions
      • Draws others closer to God (Isa. 6:5; Rev. 5:11-14)
      • Has spiritual impact (Isa. 6:5; Rev. 5:11-14) – Confession and Dedication
  2. Church music must be evaluated from three perspectives
    1. The perspective of being a spiritual sacrifice of praise
      A piece of good church music must be of the highest quality, including the music, lyrics and performance. This is because all offerings to God must be precious and without blemish. (Lev. 1-5)
    2. The perspective of being a tool
      A piece of good church music must express Biblical truth and effectively express the heart of the performers. It must also be suitable for use by and compatible with both the performers and the entire congregation, including their cultural background, language ability, musical capability, intellectual capability, and expressivity. The music and style of hymns (i.e., congregational songs) must express and support their lyrics. Music and lyrics must be compatible with each other.
    3. The perspective of being a witness
      The performers, performance, musical contents, lyrics, and orchestration/accompaniment of a piece of music must glorify God and bear witness to Biblical truths. (I Cor. 10:31) Because there is a clear line between what is of the world (flesh) and what is of the spirit, church music should be different from the music of the world. Church music must bear witness of the culture of the spiritual world and spiritual hope, and therefore should not be secularized (Jn.15:18-19; Rom. 12:2; I Jn. 2:15)


V. Music Ministry and the Use of Church Music

  1. Music ministry is instituted by God and is given an important role. (I Chron. 15; 23; 28:19-20; Heb. 13:15)
  2. It is God´s will that churches employ paid minister of music to lead and establish a well-rounded music ministry. (II Chron. 29:25 [footnote 2], I Chron. 15:16-24 [footnote 3]; 23; 28:19-20; Heb. 13:15)
  3. Music ministry must participate in and support other ministries of the church. (Eph. 4:11-12) The purposes of music ministry are:
    1. To glorify God (Col. 3:17; I Cor. 10:31)
    2. To pastor the sheep (Jn. 10:11; 21:15-17)
    3. To establish the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-12)
  4. Everyone who participates in music ministry (including the minister of music) must:
    1. Be a born-again Christian (I Pet. 2:9)
    2. Be spiritual and bear witness to God in his/her personal life (I Tim. 3:8-12)
    3. Have appropriate and adequate training (I Chron. 15:23; 28:19-20; Heb. 13:15)
    4. Have proof of being chosen by God (Num. 1:47-54; Eph. 4:11-12)
  5. God is the source of believers´ power to praise and worship. Through Christ and upon reliance of the Holy Spirit, believers are to offer spiritual sacrifices that are pleasing to God. (Gen.1)
  6. It is the duty and blessing of all believers that they may sing praise to God. This is because God has chosen us to be a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (I Pet. 2:5, 9)
  7. Since all believers have the responsibility and privilege to offer to God spiritual sacrifices, being the fruit of lips that confess his Name, music used in the church should be suitable to the entire congregation in terms of their:
    1. Cultural background
    2. Language ability (the congregation should praise God in their mother-tongue language)
    3. Intellectual capability
    4. Musical capability
  8. In music ministry, God requires the church and believers to
    1. Participate personally (Lev. 1:1-17)
    2. Be faithful (I Cor. 4:1-2)
    3. Do their best (Mt. 25:14-30)
    4. Grow continuously (Phil. 1:9-11; Eph. 4:11-14)
  9. The church should use both “new hymns” and “traditional hymns”. “New hymns” bear witness of “God of today”, and “traditional hymns” bear witness of “God of yesterday” [footnote 4]. These two aspects together bear witness of God´s eternal presence.
  10. Hymns used in the church, including “new” hymns and “traditional” hymns, must satisfy the above-mentioned three perspectives on the evaluation of church music.


VI. Church Music and Worship

  1. Singing is not equivalent to worship. Worship does not necessarily require singing. This is because worship is a life that communes with God; worship is not a liturgical expression.
  2. Singing in worship must be supported by truth; recognized by the intellect; inspired by the Spirit; and expressed with emotion. (Jn. 4:23-24; Ps. 47:7; I Cor. 14:15)
  3. The motivational force of singing and worship:
    1. Comes from God (Gen. 1; Rev. 1:8; Ps. 24:1; 102:25-27)
    2. Comes through Christ (I Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:22; 8:6; 9:15; 12:24; I Jn. 2:1)
    3. Is enabled by the Spirit (Rom. 8:6; 8:23; 8:26-27; I Cor. 2:10; 2:13-14; Eph. 6:18)
  4. The role of church music in worship includes three areas:
    1. Sacrifice – Church music is a sacrifice offered to God. It is not an item in a program for our appreciation or enjoyment.
    2. Witness the Truth – Church music is a corporate act of witness in worship. Through church music, we bear witness that we believe and worship the God that is described in the hymns. Through church music, we manifest the body of Christ on earth, and express our eternal hope as a foretaste of worship in heaven (worship on earth is a rehearsal of worship in heaven).
    3. A Tool – Church music is a tool used by God and believers in worship and it has the following functions:
      1. Encourages us to worship: Music helps the worshiper to experience the presence of God. It allows believers to understand why God created humans and it enables believers to look forward to worshipping God in heaven.
      2. Assists us to worship: Believers use music to express their response to God intellectually and emotionally.
      3. Reminds us to worship: Music reminds believers of Biblical teachings, the tenets of faith, the attributes of God, and the experience of the believers.
      4. Guides us to worship: Music leads worshippers into various stages and moods of worship.
      5. Enriches our worship: The expression of believers in worship is enhanced by music and hymns.



[1] Strong Hebrew Dictionary, #2896 and #2895

[2] God ordered prophet Gad to organize the music ministry.

[3] Instituted full time music ministry. God appointed Kenaniah, the head Levite, as music minister to be in charge of the ministry. Heman, Asaph and Ethan were made teachers to teach other musicians.

[4] God places importance on tradition and historical documents. Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mathews is the beginning of the four gospels and it sets out a historical documents, that is the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Only historical documents can bear witness to historical facts, the stories from yesterday. Jesus Christ respects historical documents. When worshipped in the synagogues, and he worshiped in the temple in accordance with the tradition in the Old Testament. He also observed traditional feast days and liturgy. He also read and taught in the synagogues from traditional writings – the Old Testament. He sang traditional hymns from synagogues – the Psalms.