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 OPC Directory for the Public Worship of God.

As public worship is for the praise and glory of God and the building up of the saints, not for the entertainment of the congregation nor the praise of man, the character of the songs used therein is to befit the nature of God and the purpose of worship. (DPW II.B.2.b)

Choirs were used in the worship of God in the Old Testament 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 the musical selections that are found in both the original and revised Trinity Hymnal, as well as the Trinity Psalter Hymnal (to be released spring 2018), 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).

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 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 give 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 from one of the approved hymnals.

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 detracts from the message of the text, which should predominate. I personally dislike professionally prepared prerecorded accompaniment tracks. There is something artificial about most of them—especially exotic orchestrations. A simple piano or organ accompaniment is far preferable.

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. Scripture directs,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16, emphasis added).

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.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.

The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.

You will receive an answer by email. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

Return to Formatted Page