What Musical Instruments Should Be Used for Worship?


Back in 2011, Mark Galli announced the end of the worship wars (though he admits Christian churches are still maintaining a “tense truce” on music matters). Much of the last 20 years have seen churches grapple with the “elements” of worship.

Music in Christian WorshipShould churches use drums? Are pianos and organs more “worshipful” than guitars? How about fog machines, colored lights, and electric guitars? These are the kinds of questions Christians got tangled in throughout the 90’s and into the turn of the new millennium.

I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment to ask what musical instruments you think are best for worship. –So, which musical instruments do you think should be used in worship? Make your case in the comments below.

Would you like to know which instruments are actually spoken of in the Old and New Testaments? You might be surprised at the sounds associated with biblical worship:

  • Pipes (flute-like instruments): Matthew 9:23, Revelation 18:22
  • Lyres (like a hand-held harp): 1 Corinthians 14:7; Revelation 5:8
  • Cymbals and gongs: 1 Corinthians 13
  • Trumpets: 1 Cor 14:8, Revelation 1:10, Matthew 6:2
  • Harps: Revelation 18:22

Christian Rappers Neither Disobedient nor Cowards


Last week, the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) unleashed a maelstrom of confusion and discontent among Christians over the place of Rap in Christian worship. As is always the case in situations like this, there is inevitably more heat than light. Emotions are running high, and unfortunate (and unnecessary) divisions are now forming.

Form Worship RapAfter watching the video of the NCFIC conference, I was, frankly, embarrassed—embarrassed for the panelists and also embarrassed by the panelists. It was not their finest hour. Nevertheless, my aim here is neither to “pile on” criticism nor offer correction. Others have done that much better than I ever could (see Ligon Duncan’s comments here).

My aim is redemption and clarity, a word of edification for rappers and non-rappers alike. However clumsily and (perhaps even sinfully) the comments were made by the NCFIC panelists—one panelist (Geoff Botkin) called Christian Rappers disobedient cowards (and has since had to apologize)—still, there may be a helpful lesson embedded in the NCFIC critique. The lesson I have in mind is the distinction between form and content in worship.

Music itself is devoid of content. Music is, by definition, form. Content must be added to musical forms if we are to have songs which serve to praise God. Those who advocate for a kind of 4/4 Classical form of music—as though God’s metronome cannot accommodate syncopation—miss this basic point that music itself is all form. Why would it be that the music of Beethoven and Bach is allowed in the worship service while that of BB King and Flame is not?

Typically, one might argue that Beethoven is more refined than Flame, but are we sure that is God’s measure? Neither form existed in the wilderness wonderings of ancient Israel. Neither form existed in the early church of the New Testament. Neither form existed in the Protestant Reformation. Both forms have evolved post-Reformation. So, neither is prescribed for Christian worship.  Both are forms of music which developed culturally.  Lest we become like Islam—sanctifying a particular cultural norm as divine—we ought to re-think offering canonical status to any cultural norms.

Musical forms are always contextual, largely dependent upon the instruments available in a given region. Why sanctify white, American pianos, organs, and guitars? On what basis? Is Beethoven really more holy than BB King? Is Mozart more pristine than Flame? A music leader once shared with me a telling story on this matter. His church was quite traditional—a high culture, hymn singing church. They began the service one morning with a traditional hymn built on the platform of a classical piece of music by Beethoven. Part of the way into this classical hymn, a young man—a visitor that day—went screaming from the service, running down the aisle and out the front doors.

Church members followed up with the man to determine what had happened. He told them that he had been a member of a cult group and was recently saved, miraculously redeemed by the washing of water with the word. He then explained that he had been brainwashed by the cult group. The cult used Beethoven’s music to alter the minds of unsuspecting youth. When this man heard Beethoven’s music being played at church, he freaked—thinking the church was just another brain-washing cult!

The point is that Classical music is no more holy than hip-hop. Both are contextualized vehicles upon which the content of Christian lyrics is free to ride. The aim of Christian musicians should be to utilize any and every form of music to the glory of God. Some songs need to be driving and forceful, while others should be irenic and serene. Different instruments accomplish different things and ought to be employed in diverse ways to glorify God. The content of the Christian message ought to determine the form of music used. If the content of the message is from Hebrews 10:24-25, for example—a message to stir one another up to love and good works—then the form of the music ought to be “stirring,” such as the form used by the group Downhere in their song, “Stir.”

Pianos, keyboards, organs, banjos, and didgeridoos are all—equally—instruments which ought to be used instrumentally as vehicles to carry the content of Christian proclamation and praise. Let us not sanctify any instrument or form over another—such sanctifying leads only to unfounded self-righteousness. And it is ugly. If we were to consider any instruments holy in themselves, then, surely, it would be those instruments found in the Scriptures. Surprisingly, no one is arguing for the holiness of a trumpet or pipes or cymbals, yet these are the instruments actually found in Scripture, along with harps and lyres.

We will build up our people best if we keep them focused on the content of our message rather than on the form of our music. Use whatever gets the point across to the audience assembled. Forget attempting to sanctify the style of your musical preference.

Gordon Lightfoot’s Good Question (and God’s great answer)


One of the greatest secular songs ever written, Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald stands as a monument of musical story-telling.  Inspired by a Newsweekarticle of the November 10, 1975, events that led to the loss of the Great Lakes’ greatest ship, Lightfoot penned a masterful poem capturing the weight of the

Christ theology lightfoot edmund fitzgerald

Source: Wikipedia

tragedy both lyrically and musically.

In the song, Lightfoot asks a penetrating question: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

The question is an appropriate response to the actual tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The November gale likely stirred the waves to 35 feet or more.  No doubt, the 29 crew members spent the last minutes of their lives in a sinking agony which both lasted forever and ended their lives in an instant. All that remained were “the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”  All crew members were lost.

In those last moments of terror, where was God? Where, indeed, did the love of God go as the captain, cook, and crew were drowning? Lightfoot’s question is a good one, demanding a sober assessment of our theology.

I would answer in two ways. First, the love of God was at the cross in Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches that God is love (1 John 4) and that in His greatest act of love, God sent His son to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16; Ephesians 5:25).  What this means is that God has made provision for us when the time comes to meet our maker.

Lightfoot’s rendering of the “Big Fitz” saga is an epic display of the drama of man meeting his mortality.  On the one hand, Big Fitz was the largest of the Great Lakes freighters; it was a workhouse, annually resetting hauling records which it had broken the prior year.  The ship was a maritime marvel of historic proportions. Yet, as Lightfoot so powerfully puts it, “That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed when the ‘Gales of November’ came early.”

Edmund Fitzgerald lightfoot christian theology godRegardless of our size, success, or seemingly invincible ability to survive, we all will face death. “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).  The fact that death is in the world is undeniable for every living soul. The fact that our “appointment” with death is not ours to determine is likewise undeniable.  The love of God in Christ says that God has taken note of our frames (that we are but dust) and has acted in such a way that we need no longer fear death—whenever it calls upon us to go. God did not have to act on our behalf. God loved us and sent His son as a Savior for our sins. The love of God points to the cross when death draws near.

Second, the love of God points to the Resurrection.  When the November gales chewed the ship and its crew, the Resurrection of Christ was screaming the love of God for all who believe. The Resurrection speaks on the authority of God that death is not the final victor. Though death seems to win in situations of shipwreck, the truth is that Christ has demonstrated the victorious power of life (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).  Christ called Himself the Resurrection and the life (John 11:25) because Christ alone has defeated death.

For all who perished on the Edmund Fitzgerald, it is true that their bodies sank in the rooms of Superior’s “ice water mansions.”  But it is also true that God has spoken for any and all to hear that death need not be the end of the matter.  The love of God screams of victory—of life—in the face of death because of the love of God who sent His Son that we might not ever perish but always have eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am glad Gordon Lightfoot asked the question. I’m even more glad that the God of love has answered it in Christ.

3 Life Lessons from Listening to Groovy Music


When it comes to music, I got stuck in the ‘70’s.  In my mind, very little compares favorably to Carole King or James Taylor—or Gordon Lightfoot, America, or Seals and Crofts.  My favorite Spotify playlist is called “Dad’s Groovy Music” because since the ‘70’s, I have been groovy—the way a 33LP ought to be.

So it’s no wonder that I dig Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s most popular single: Southern Cross. (I know, it’s from the early 80’s, but it has the flavor of the 70’s.)   Ostensibly, the song is about the famous astronomical wonder down under: The Southern Cross.  In reality, the song is about the breakup of Stephen Stills’s marriage.  When understood in this context, the song contains at least three significant life lessons.

First—and I will admit that this first lesson applies more broadly than a single song—Southern Cross is about listening for redemption.  Some would argue that Christians ought not listen to secular music at all because it does not glorify God.  They would say that holiness demands our abstaining from Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I am not mocking their position.  The point is valid. I once cleansed myself of a 130 volume CD collection out of concern for holiness.  Music is a vehicle for carrying a message, and its message can easily carry us away from everything good. Never listen with an unguarded mind.  But if we listen with a guarded mind, we can find hints of redemption.

Here is what I mean. In the Old Testament, God’s people were told to be Holy because the Lord their God is Holy.  The same message is affirmed for God’s people in the New Testament.  But a significant change happened between the Old Testament and the New.  Jesus came, and with Jesus came redemption.  In the Old Testament, holiness took the form of abstaining from things the rest of the nations were indulging.

Life Lesson 1: In the New Testament, holiness looks less like abstention and more like redemption.  Meditate on Paul’s comments in Colossians 2:20-22, and you will see what I mean.[1]  Christians are holy through the redemption of Christ. We are alive to a new resurrected reality and, as such, ought to be those who point everything and everyone in this world to reality of Christ and His kingdom, which has begun.

So, with redemptive ears turned to the message of the Southern Cross, I offer two more life lessons.  These are easily grasped.  Stephen Sills wrote this song after his divorce in an attempt to find healing.  His crying out to his estranged wife is evident in the line: “In a noisy bar in Avalon, I tried to call you.”  He then admits that he understands why twice she ran away.

Southern Cross on Australia Flag

But in the chorus, he makes plain the permanence of marriage: “What heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten.”  Stills even acknowledges that “spirits” are using him, and a larger voice is calling.  He gets that divorce cost him something real.  He gets that he needs something larger than himself if he will heal.  He looks to the heavens for his help but comes up short, finding only the Southern Cross. With redemptive ears, we can hear the permanence of eternal things even in secular lyrics.

Life Lesson Two: God has set eternity into every heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Listen to others with redemptive ears, and you will be able to point them to eternal realities.

Finally, realize that most folks live in a contradictory mindset.  While Stills gets the eternal nature of marriage, he feels also that it is lost. So, he must conclude, “Somebody fine will come along, Make me forget about loving you. At the Southern Cross.”  On the one hand, he sees that marriage is an eternal reality which cannot be forgotten.  On the other hand, when he feels all is lost, he professes belief that someone will come along who can erase it all.

If we listen closely to what others are saying, we might help them see that eternal things are real, and they need not give in to the contradiction.

Life Lesson Three: Eternity is real. Don’t live in contradiction.


            [1] Colossians2:20ff, If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (NASB).