Scripture is silent on worship music styles. It is because of this silence, that I can confidently say that God has given us freedom in this area. If He wanted to only sanction a particular style for worship music, He would have said so. He would not have forgotten to mention this in His revelation to us.
So how do we handle this freedom? While there are no Biblical prohibitions in regards to musical styles, there are practical considerations.
If one were to perform “Mary Had A Little Lamb” in a heavy metal style, there would be a sense of conflict between the message of the music and the style that would cause most people to laugh and not take the music seriously. If one were to play a dirge at a funeral in an upbeat, poppy style, or play wedding reception music in a style more suited for a requiem, there would be a cognitive dissonance, a disconnection between the style and the message of the music. This would be akin to a preacher dressing in a clown suit while delivering his sermon on Sunday morning.
These considerations limit the practical boundaries for worship music. There is a reason why heavy metal music tends to have aggressive and dark lyrics. Those lyrics fit the emotions that the style inspires and invokes in the listeners. There is a reason why pop music tends to have upbeat lyrics, country music tends to tell colloquial stories, blues tends to be dominated by themes of struggle and even depression, etc…
Another boundary for worship music is that the music must be congregationally singable. Some songs are great, but difficult to sing. They might work well as a special, but not as a congregational worship song. Some musicians complain about an over-simplistic approach taken with congregational worship music, but this is a necessity for most congregational music, especially congregations who no longer have the liberty of music books with scores where the melodies can be read.
So all of these considerations can help us to identify musical styles that can best be suited for worship. We’re looking for simpler forms of music that are styled in ways to inspire our imaginations to see God for who He really is, celebrate His goodness, the salvation that He has given us, and the fellowship of other believers.
This excludes complex music styles like some forms of jazz, fusion, progressive rock and classical. This excludes dark styles like heavy metal (unless we want to start singing songs about God’s judgment and end times :-)). This excludes the “All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down”, country western styles that evoke images of drowning in our sorrows, but not bathing in the goodness of God. None of this is a judgment against these styles as sources for entertainment. But they fall short of presenting the truths that worship music should carry.
Styles of worship music that might fit the above criteria include, hymns, done in a classical, southern or urban Gospel style. Contemporary worship music, which is really Christian music done in a pop/rock or even modern country style, also fits the bill. But as we will see, the church’s worship music should be “purpose driven”. That purpose is summed up in the next installment, The Three E’s.