Musical Salt and Light

Today, West Sayville Reformed Bible Church will be hosting its seventeenth annual Bible Conference on the topic of “Salt and Light: Christians in the Public Arena.”  In preparation for this conference I’ve been meditating a bit on the church’s interaction with the world.  (As I’ve recently mentioned, the feature article in the October 3rd issue of Christian Renewal is entitled “How the World Sees Us: A Distorted Reflection of the Church”—an excellent overview of this topic.)

Coincidentally, I was also recently listening to the recording of the Semper Reformanda conference hosted by Classis Eastern U. S. last October on “What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?”  Someone made the observation that to the world, the church of Christ speaks a foreign language.  Rev. Bill Boekestein of the URC in Carbondale, PA, was quick to add that the church also sings a foreign language.

Tying these two threads together, I pondered a bit on the effect of church music on unbelievers.  Followers of the contemporary “church growth” movement have typically advocated worship music with the same sound and feel as that of the world.  Attract them with the music, the thinking goes, and win them to Christ.  In the historic Reformed tradition we reject that approach, and rightly so.  But could it be that our worship music has just as profound an impact on non-Christian ears?

Psalm-singing is the complete antithesis of contemporary Christian music for the simple reason that it’s so different.  Latin chants, classical music, operas, jazz, rock-and-roll—whatever the musical tastes of an unbelieving listener, no other genre compares to simple psalm-singing in the common tongue.  When someone off the street walks into a Reformed worship service during a psalm or hymn, their reaction ought to be one of astonishment, or at least mild surprise.  Our music, like the rest of our worship, should attest to the fact that the church of Christ is radically set apart from the world.

With this in mind, how might we use the psalms as a unique way to evangelize our unbelieving family, friends, and neighbors?  It’s an open-ended question, and a hard one at that.  I don’t have the wisdom or experience to offer any concrete answer.  But I’d at least like to ask a few probing questions that might prove helpful:


  • Do you repeatedly explain to your congregation why the psalms are such an integral part of Christian worship?
  • Do you take time to clarify difficult words or phrases in the lyrics and point out the key themes?
  • Do you announce the songs clearly enough that even first-time visitors will know what songbook to use and what page to find?

Event coordinators and group leaders:

  • Do you incorporate psalm-singing into church activities besides worship?  This may sound extreme.  But consider the impact that a well-chosen psalm or two might have on a visitor to a Wednesday night Bible study, or a teen who attends their first youth group meeting.

Church members:

  • Do you sing the psalms as a family?
  • Are you, yourself, familiar with the psalms?  Are you able to bring them up from memory when applicable to teach or encourage a family member or friend?  Can you explain the psalms’ importance to anyone who asks?

My opinion here may be a bit strong, and perhaps it’s not as well-developed as it should be.  Nevertheless, I will present this closing statement for your consideration: I believe the contrast between the music of the world and the music of the church ought to be sharp enough to drop jaws.  Just like our Christ-centered worship and God-glorifying lifestyles, the simple singing of psalms should astonish our unbelieving friends and neighbors.  Biblical worship should sound like nothing they’ve ever heard before—and maybe, by God’s grace, it will be a sound they’ll hear for the rest of their lives.



2 Responses to “Musical Salt and Light”

  1. 1 Brian B October 7, 2012 at 1:38 am

    The contrast between the music of the world and the music of the church — as well as the music we listen to everyday — ought to be sharp enough to drop jaws!!!!!! God’s people need to be more concerned that the music they listen to glorifies God. Brian ( Lacombe, AB)

    • 2 Michael Kearney October 8, 2012 at 10:45 am

      Amen. Our primary concern isn’t shock value–it’s acceptable worship. But I would go as far as to say that the music of the church will astonish the world simply because it is intended firstly for the glory of God.

      Thanks for commenting!


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