In the book, Fool’s Gold- Discerning Truth in an Age of Error (Crossway Books, ISBN 158134726X), John MacArthur, general editor of the book also writes one of the chapters that focuses on “What the Bible Says About Contemporary Worship Music.” In this chapter MacArthur quotes an article by Nathan Busenitz called “A Checklist for Church Music.” I think Busenitz’s list gives us a number of biblical principles to guide worship leaders in music selection. Here is his list and comments:
1. Is your church music God-focused? Without a question, true worship must be God-centered (Exodus 20:3-6), for He alone is worthy of our praise (Psalm 148: 13)….Anything short of God-centered worship is idolatry (Jeremiah 2:13, 27-28) and false worship is unacceptable (Deuteronomy 12:29-31; 16: 21-22, Galatians 5:19-21). . . Because biblical worship demands a God-centered focus, church music (if it is to legitimately be called worship music) must begin and end with Him.
2. Does your church music promote a high view of God? Too many Christian songs come dangerously close to violating the commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7) by treating Him in a common, almost mundane fashion. Our music must clearly convey the majesty, glory, and honor of God (Hebrews 10:31, Romans 11:33-36, Revelation 14:7).
3. Is your church music orderly? The God whom we serve is a God of order… the apostle Paul commands the Corinthians that “all things [in the church] should be done decently and in order” (I Corinthians 14:40). Ephesians 5:18 commands believers to continually be under the control of the Holy Spirit at all times. Church music, then, should never encourage participants to exchange the control of the Spirit for the control of some other force – be it emotional, psychological, or other. Rather church members are to be under the influence of the Spirit-empowered Word of God (Colossians 3:16). Mindless emotionalism, often hyped up by repetition and “letting go,” comes closer to the paganism of the Gentiles (Matt. 6:7) than to any form of biblical worship.
4. Is the content of your church music biblically sound? Lyrics should be both intelligible and biblically accurate – readily conveying scriptural truth to all who sing them (Ephesians 5:19-20). Lyrics should never be trite or flippant in their treatment of great biblical themes. Instead, church music (no matter the style) should deepen the biblical and theological understanding of the congregation. A song that is inaccurate, out-of-context, or trite only hinders the spiritual growth of those who sing it.
5. Does your church music promote unity in your church? As noted above, the primary goal of church music is worship. Yet, Scripture also speaks of Christian songs as a form of edification (I Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 5:19-20). Because the church is a body (I Corinthians 12), our worship toward God includes our service toward others (Romans 12:1-9). The goal of corporate worship then is to glorify God while serving others. With this in mind, the right approach to church music never selfishly demands personal preference, but always looks out for the interest of others (Philippians 2:1-4).
6. Is your church music performed with excellence? Church music, along with everything else we do, should be done for the glory and honor of God (I Corinthians 10:31). While a church may not have the resources to hire a full orchestra or recruit a large band, the music should still be done wholeheartedly and with excellence.
7. Does your church music prepare your people for the preaching of God’s Word? Times of singing (when God’s people speak to Him) should never overshadow or eclipse preaching (when God speaks to His people through His Word). Instead, worship through song should compliment the proclamation of the truth. Church music that takes place before the sermon should prepare the congregation for what the Holy Spirit wants them to hear. And church music that follows the sermon should be an appropriate response to what has just been received (Colossians 3:16-17).
8. Does your church music adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ? Paul commands us to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior … in everything” (Titus 2:10) and Peter exhorts us to “proclaim the excellencies” of God (I Peter 2:9). Church music, then, should be a wonderful witness to the greatness of our Lord and Savior. It should never tarnish His reputation or confuse unbelievers as to what the gospel teaches.
9. Does your church music promote passionate worship? Church music should never be boring, dry, or stale. After all, God is not boring. And heaven (where the primary occupation is worship) is also not boring (Revelation 4 and 5). While maintaining a proper respect for God, biblical worship is always brimming with personal passion and Christ-exalting emotion. The expression of this passion and Christ-exalting emotion will manifest itself differently in different congregations. This passion must be expressed in and orderly, Spirit-controlled manner. Nonetheless, passionate worship – sounding more like a lullaby than a glorious anthem – is not really worship at all (John 4:23).
10. Is your church’s philosophy of music based on biblical principles? Church leaders should not simply adhere to certain standards because they have always done so. Nor should they blindly permit just any type of music to be played in their church services. Instead, they should search the Scriptures (like the Bereans of Acts 17:11), determining the biblical principles that undergird a right philosophy of music in worship.
from A Checklist for Church Music – an article by Nathan Busenitz.