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Division over music styles displeases God, Mohler says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Too often churches divorce the Word of God from the songs they sing in worship, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“In these days, it is the case that in the local church worship is often one of the most controversial issues,” Mohler said Oct. 19 in a chapel message, “Does God care what we sing?” based on Colossians 3:15-17, in conjunction with Southern Seminary’s 39th annual Church Music Institute, held Oct. 19-21.
“That which should most unite the people of God, a congregation at worship, has now become a divisive issue, as matters of taste and preference and style predominate in congregational discussions,” Mohler lamented. “One of the most important marks of the people of God is the mark of unity, and if nothing else, we know that division and debate over the issue of music in worship is a sign of disunity. It cannot be pleasing to God.”
Personal taste often divides congregations more than doctrinal or ecclesiastical issues, Mohler said. The sin of pride is usually the chief culprit for dividing a church when it comes to music.
“Our preferences must rule,” Mohler observed, noting that people argue certain music doesn’t speak to them or they can’t sing certain songs reverently.
“Many of our most precious and, to us, persuasive theological arguments are barely disguised arguments for personal preference,” Mohler said. “It just so happens that so many of our arguments from the Scriptures, clothed in rich theological terminology, come down to a justification of what we like and what makes us most comfortable.”
He pointed to the number of churches which offer “a cafeteria line of services. Something for everyone, but what you end up with is as many churches, as many different congregations, as you have worship styles.
“Something is wrong here and that which is wrong has more to do with theology than with taste or music,” Mohler said.
The lordship of Christ must determine what is sung in worship, he explained. Limitations in worship music should be set by vocabulary and content, not by the tune.
The prerequisite for worship music is the Word of God, Mohler said. “This means that a biblically illiterate congregation is automatically going to fail the test of singing God’s song God’s way.”
One of music’s main purposes, Mohler said, is teaching and admonishing believers. The absence of such teaching leads to spiritual poverty in many churches.
“One of the great divorces that is very dangerous in our churches is the divorce between the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the song,” he said.
In Colossians, the Apostle Paul uses three words for what Christians should sing: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, Mohler recounted.
“Unless these three words refer to one song, there’s a license for a variety of musical forms in congregational singing,” he said. “We dare not sing what we do not believe in our hearts.”
True worship must be God-centered and God-directed, Mohler said. “We forget that it is God who is the Sovereign and we who are the subjects. The God-directedness of worship is not just one form of worship. It is the only form of worship.”
Mohler said he had developed a new appreciation for praise and worship music because much of it is God-directed, simple and Scripture-based, as are many of the church’s best-loved traditional hymns.
Both hymns and praise choruses, however, may also be “crude” and “self-directed,” he said, thus the kind of music Christians sing in worship should be based on theology.
Great leaders throughout church history, such as Augustine, Calvin and Luther, have been concerned that music does not override worship, Mohler said. “If you find yourself humming the tune rather than reciting the words, you have heard the wrong thing, and the music has not served the glory of God but robbed him of his glory.”
Mohler preached his sermon on his 40th birthday, an event celebrated by the Southern Seminary community following the chapel service. Students and faculty members sang “Happy Birthday” and presented Mohler with an oversized birthday card.

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  • Laura Rector