Question and Answer

Music in Worship

Question:

Could you give me some ideas as to types of music that are appropriate in the OPC worship service? What is the function of the choir in the OPC? Are solos appropriate in the service? Are choral responses appropriate? I guess what I am requesting is a guideline for music in the OPC.

Answer:

There is a variety of opinion among OP churches on these questions. Some have choirs, others don't. Some have special music in their worship services, some do not. Perhaps I could do no better than to quote a paragraph from the Directory for Worship, Chapter 3, Paragraph 6, Page 140-141 in the 2000 edition of The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church:

"As it is the aim of public worship to glorify God, prayer and praise should predominate in congregational singing. Let every member of the church take part in this act of worship. It should be performed not merely with the lips but with the spirit and the understanding. Since the metrical versions of the Psalms are based upon the Word of God, they ought to be used frequently in public worship. Great care must be taken that all the materials of song are in perfect accord with the teaching of Holy Scripture. Let the tunes as well as the words be dignified and elevated. The stately rhythm of the choral is especially appropriate for public worship. No person shall take a special part in the musical service unless he is a professing Christian and adorns his profession with a godly walk."

(The male personal pronoun is not to be construed to exclude women.)

Choirs were used in the Old Testament worship of God and are therefore not forbidden, so choral responses reverently executed today are not forbidden. Similarly, special music is referred to and is therefore not forbidden.

Although a few Orthodox Presbyterian congregations sing only psalms (and do so without instrumental accompaniment), in almost all OPC churches both hymns and psalms with instrumental accompaniment are encouraged.

All that are found in both the original and revised Trinity Hymnal are acceptable as fulfilling requirements for both words and music for worship in song—not only for the congregation, but also for choirs or other forms of special music.

This does not mean that other hymnals may not be employed, though special scrutiny needs to be used both as to lyrics and tunes. So also shorter praise songs (including portions of Scripture set to music) require like scrutiny.

What it all boils down to is the exercise of judgment on what is and is not true to Scripture, as to words, and what is appropriate for the worship of God, as to music. The Session of your church should provide the guidelines of what music is appropriate for worship. If in doubt as to the suitability of certain musical renditions, the Session may be asked to render its approval. This does not imply, however, that those responsible for other than congregational singing must require individual approval for everything sung or played that is not in the Trinity Hymnal.

In the church where I worship, the Session has approved a number of Scripture Songs and other short songs of praise. Occasionally these are used in the public worship service or in non-worship meetings (prayer meetings, Bible studies, Sunday school, etc.).

Finally, I would suggest a few things to watch out for as, in my judgment, inappropriate. Some would disagree, but I mention them for what they're worth.

Beware of making a "performance" out of special music. Excessively loud accompaniment to a solo or other vocal combination "says" that the soloist is accompanying the accompaniment! I personally dislike professionally prepared taped accompaniment to solos. There is something artificial about most of them—especially the exotic orchestrations. A simple piano or organ accompaniment is far to be preferred.

I love to sing, and I've done a good bit of solo and duet singing in church, but, as I've grown in grace through the years, I want the message (a biblical message) to stand out. In the end, I prefer that the hearers be blessed rather than charmed! In a word, ask yourself whether the worshipers are more conscious of you (soloist or instrumentalist) than of Christ.

A further word about instrumental music in worship. Used as an offertory, a prelude, or a postlude, loud, bombastic instrumentation should have no place in the worship of God. But variations on well-known hymns are appropriate if they are not ostentatious. A guitar can be played as tastefully as a piano or organ.

As I said earlier, some would exclude all but congregational singing because they don't want to draw attention to man, but to God, while others carefully select special music and use it for the same reason—to glorify God. I hope my comments are of some help to you.


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