April 04, 2018 Q & A

Music in Worship


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.


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.



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