In the book Fool’s Gold – Discerning Truth in an Age of Error,” edited by Dr. John MacArthur (Crossway Books, ISBN 158134726X), MacArthur has written a chapter on worship music titled, “Solid Rock? What the Bible says about Contemporary Worship Music.” In the chapter he addresses the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s phrase – ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ (Colossians 3:16).
MacArthur states that “the greater significance of the expression of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” seems to be this: Paul was calling for a variety of musical forms and a breadth of spiritual expression that cannot be embodied in any one musical form. The strict psalms-only view (which is gaining popularity in some Reformed circles today) allows for none of that variety. The views of fundamentalist-traditionalists who seem to want to limit church music to the gospel-song forms of the early twentieth century would also squelch the variety Paul calls for. More significantly, the prevailing mood in modern evangelical churches -where people seem to want to binge on a steady diet of nothing but simplistic praise choruses – also destroys the principle of variety Paul sets forth here.”
MacArthur continues sharing that he “believes the Protestant evangelical community erred a hundred years ago when the writing of hymns was almost completely abandoned in favor of gospel songs. The error was not the embracing of a new form. But the error lay in utterly casting aside the rich heritage of hymns-along with the didactic, doctrinal richness of Christian music that had edified and sustained so many generations. And I am convinced Christian songwriters today are making a similar mistake by failing to write substantial hymns while purging the old hymns from our congregational music repertoire and replacing them with trite praise choruses and pop-song look-alikes.” (p. 119)
There will be some who will disagree with MacArthur’s view of contemporary worship music styles which he discusses in the chapter, but his view on this passage brings some clarity in light of trends in today’s church.