Apart from offering praise to God, the music of a worship service also has the important role of setting the tone of the service. Scripture teaches that music sets the mood. A particular kind of music is for mourning, and another is for dancing (Luke 7:32). When the prodigal son returned, and the elder brother came in from the field, he was able to hear the music of the jazz quartet his father had hired way out in the driveway (Luke 15:25). When Saul was afflicted, a particular kind of music was able to lighten his spirits (1 Sam. 16:16). Music in Scripture is supposed to set the tone. It does not just “go along with” a particular demeanor; it is one of the principal means of creating it.
In our CREC churches, we are trying to set a tone of reverence. This runs contrary to the spirit of the age, which wants an informal, breezy, and casual approach to church. The problem is that God commands us to approach Him in worship with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28). Our God is a consuming fire. This fear is a not a craven fear, the kind that has to do with punishment. It is the kind of fear that is consistent with boldness. We approach the throne of grace with boldness. We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). In order to do this, a particular kind of music is necessary.
We sing the way we do in church, not because we believe that other forms of music are wrong or bad, but rather because we believe they are not fitting for this kind of occasion. A particular kind of music is fine for a kindergartner’s birthday party, but not for worship. A particular kind of rock music is great for driving a big rig on the freeway, but not for worship. A particular kind of jazz is just what you want for the background music of your dinner party, but not for worship.
Of course, reverent does not mean “joyless,” and singing dirges at God’s funeral is the very opposite of reverence. The key is that we are striving to sing the kind of music that accompanies the nature of the service.
One other point should be made, and that is that reverence is to be located in the words and music, and not just in the words. Too many Christians have accepted the false notion that God has not revealed Himself musically in the glories of natural revelation. Music is no more “neutral” than anything else in creation.