Can You Worship Without Music?

I have often wondered what would happen if we got music out of the way, especially in its upfront dress, and spent abundant time in interceding prayer, reading and searching the Scriptures, sitting in silence, prophesying and perhaps only then singing and making music. Stated another way, I wonder if Christians would be able to enter into such personal and experientially ecstatic praise of God – corporately or privately – without music, with just the Word, words about the Word and sheer silence within which the work of the Spirit cannot be related to or equated with anything we craft or shape.

…I would encourage all contemporary songwriters to go beyond the usual worship-related constraints and to explore the whole counsel of God, the extreme width and depth of the human condition, to leave no doctrinal stone unturned and to make sure that the body of Christ is fully equipped to sing its way through the entire catechism of the work of God. This is what the tradition of hymnody has done for the church and what, so far, the contemporary music movement has failed to undertake.

– Harold Best, Unceasing Worship, 139-140


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  1. I appreciate the thought, and the challenge. đŸ™‚ However, I (as a musician) am also thankful for God’s creation of music and its unique abilities to aid in His worship. I don’t think it be the end all, but certainly a gift worth praising Him with/for.

  2. Leah, thanks for your comment. Best is an accomplished musician, so I don’t think he’s bagging on music. But I think he would want to ask you: what do you mean when you say that music has “unique abilities to aid in worship?”

    His thesis is that worship is what you do with all of your life. And so as soon as we say that music is “unique” in its ability to help us worship, we have elevated music to something beyond what God intends it to be.

    I can’t recommend Unceasing Worship highly enough for the way it is making me think hard about worship.

  3. I’ve read Unceasing Worship a few times. . . love that book. I think it’s important to state, though, that Best is trying to chop down a paradigm, so that he can create a new one. This leads to a bit of overspeak at times, like in Bob’s previous post, where he actually contradicts himself a bit in the span of a few paragraphs:

    “It is erroneous to assume that the arts, and especially music, are to be depended on to lead to worship or that they are aids to worship or tools for worship. If we think this way, we fuel two untruths at once”

    “At the same time, I want to be among the first to celebrate the power that resides in the arts. They do contain enormous power of their own kind…”

    It certainly sounds like the arts “help” in some way. Not in a salvific way, of course. . . there is one Mediator.

    But, I believe even Best recognizes that Music does “aid” in worship. . in what way? Well, perhaps in the way the bible speaks about it, as we are commanded to “sing” to the Lord (an oft repeated command in the scriptures).

    Some truths are so Glorious that you need to sing them, not just recite them. To connect truth to emotion and passion (or perhaps better said. . spirit and truth) is what the bible tells us music is used for. We don’t need to be afraid of instruments and passionate singing.

    Of course, when the music becomes what it’s about, and takes away from the truth, instead of giving the truth a passionate, full throated hearing. . . then we have a problem.

    That’s why Best’s book is so great, it tears down the “need” for music, while lifting up and celebrating the biblical reasons for music. It’s a gift, . .not the giver of anything.

    We should be cautious about emotional manipulation and over-wrought lyrical earnestness that makes the power of the music the main thing. But, we should also be free to use the gift God has given us to passionately declare all the He is, and all that Christ has done for us, in a biblical way (i.e. loud, with skill, resounding, and with many instruments).

    Do we need music? No, but to minimize it’s use where the bible doesn’t, instead of receiving and using it as a gift would be tragic as well (see Church of Christ).

  4. To be clear about the “aid” issue, . . I think Best, in the midst of saying music does not “aid” worship, actually shows how it does. (and I read him as saying he thinks it does. . . he just wants to define “aid” very carefully)

    Not “aid” in the sense of a non-negotiable, required, “I can’t worship without it” idol. But, “aid” in the sense of wrapping our hearts around Truth as well as our minds. That’s a help to us. That’s an aid. We were given music in the church for that purpose (among others).

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