True worship which pleases God is spontaneous and sincere. It is free. It is unregulated. It is our natural reaction to the greatness of God.
It’s the man beating upon his chest, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). It is King David dancing before the Lord “with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:14).
Too often, churches exhibit such fear-mongering towards worship, you’d think they were still in the Old Dispensation! Instead of doing anything good, their caution prevents worship.
Caution 1: “Singing Must Be Louder Than Instruments.” (??)
For some, there’s a rule that the singing must be louder than the instruments. How is it measured? By decibels? By subjective human thinking? Is there allowance for the rule that our ears hear human vocal range (relatively high in the spectrum) more loudly than bass frequencies, and that bass has to be relatively louder just to be “heard” as equal? The whole thing is an exercise in nonsense.
God cares about whether we believe in Him and love Him. If we like to play our instruments loudly because we are passionate in our feelings, then good! Legislating against it prevents the expression of our love for God, which is a critical aspect of the Christian walk.
Caution 2: “Drums Cannot Be Used!” (?!)
For others, there is a stipulation that drums are ipso facto sinful, and cannot be used! These drums, we are told, originated from African dance ceremonies and always conjure up demons. And the “inverted” rhythm is sensual!
Others say that we can’t “invent” a way to worship God, but must do exactly as He said. (Weren’t all instruments invented? Wasn’t every song invented [we hope with God’s inspiration]?)
But alas! It is an argument from silence. In fact, it is entirely possible that the Bible actually “commands” us to praise the Lord “with the drum”!
“Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: priase him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.” – Psalm 150:4-6
What a beautiful segment of Scripture! Let’s take a look in the original Hebrew:
הַֽ֭לְלוּהוּ בְתֹ֣ף וּמָחֹ֑ול הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בְּמִנִּ֥ים וְעוּגָֽב׃
הַֽלְל֥וּהוּ בְצִלְצְלֵי־שָׁ֑מַע הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בְּֽצִלְצְלֵ֥י תְרוּעָֽה׃
כֹּ֣ל הַ֭נְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּ֥ל יָ֗הּ הַֽלְלוּ־יָֽהּ׃
Halleluhu Betoph U’Machol Halleluhu Beminim Veugav – “Praise Him in/with the timbrel and dance! Praise Him in/with the strings and flute!”
Halleluhu Betziltzilei Shama Halleluhu Betziltzilei Teruah – “Praise Him in/with the cymbals of sound! Praise Him in/with the cymbals that blast!”
Kol Haneshama Tehallel Yah Halleluyah – “All souls praise Yahweh! Praise Yahweh!”
The excitement for God in this passage literally breaks out of the pages!!
I would draw your attention to the Hebrew word behind “with the timbrel” – בְתֹ֣ף – it’s a bit unclear, but the Hebrew “toph” is generally agreed to mean a tambourine, which in the day, may or may not have had jingles; and, may or may not have had a drum head (but probably did, as the jingles do not appear to be common, and without jingles, it would make no noise without a stretched head). So it appears there are three options:
- Something akin to a modern-day open tambourine, with only jingles on a frame.
- Same as above, but with a drum head.
- Drum head only, with no jingles.
It’s not totally conclusive, but there’s a probability that God “charges” us to praise Him with the drum! So, all the carrying on about drums being unacceptable seems to me quite remarkable, but not a bit helpful. When caution prevents worship, I think God is highly displeased!
But I’m still enjoying this passage – let’s go to the Greek Septuagint. It’s the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was fairly popular in the time of Christ on the earth, and which He seemed to quote from quite a bit.
Psalm 150. Verse 4: αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν τυμπάνῳ καὶ χορῷ αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν χορδαῖς καὶ ὀργάνῳ Verse 5: αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν κυμβάλοις εὐήχοις αἰνεῖτε αὐτὸν ἐν κυμβάλοις ἀλαλαγμοῦ Verse 6: πᾶσα πνοὴ αἰνεσάτω τὸν κύριον αλληλουια
“Praise him with timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and the organ. Praise him with melodious cymbals: praise him with loud cymbals. Let every thing that has breath praise the Lord.” (Brenton’s translation of Septuagint, Psalm 150:4-6).
To modernize a bit, I think we could paraphrase as following: “Praise Him with the drums and with great exuberance! Praise Him with the guitar and the keyboard! Praise Him upon the ride cymbal and the crash cymbal! Everything living should praise God!”
The Greek word “τυμπάνῳ” is the etymological ancestor for our word timpani, which is a huge orchestral drum which is slightly melodic. And for those that dislike even a simple piano or organ, Psalm 150:4 tells us to praise God “ὀργάνῳ” – “with the organ” (or, back in the day, perhaps the “flute” – in Greek, literally, “that with which one works(/makes music)” – whatever device you need or want to create artistic music!).
As far as the “backbeat” sometimes created by drums being “sensual,” again it’s an argument from silence.
I could say that red chairs in church are “sensual,” but it’s just as lacking in any concrete proof. In fact, I better shut up before somebody legislates against red chairs!! (I can hear them now: “You can have red chairs in your homes, but it’s not proper in the house of God” – lol!)
The fact is, God created us as emotional beings, and I would much rather that people show that emotion for God, than being seduced by the cheap pleasures of the world! If we are disallowed from seeing God as beautiful and have to have this weird “distance,” then Satan can suddenly tempt us by painting sin as beautiful.
In fact, heartfelt worship has the opposite effect of what so many charge of it – it actually builds up the inner man to withstand temptation.
But at the last, even the hymns that drum-haters adhere to (and which I also love) often have a backbeat emphasis on beats 2 and 4 of the song, rather than on 1 and 3 as they require, so they themselves are not even consistent with their own strange rule!
So whether you call it a “backbeat,” a “rock beat,” or whatever, it’s present in a lot of your hymns, but there’s no evidence against it – au contraire, heartfelt worship is a boon to the Christian life.
Caution 3: “We Need the Right Tone!” (Which is Defined How??)
I’m always leery when someone makes statements that preclude worship based on some subjective, unknowable standard. This is a perfect example. For every thousand people arguing this, they’ll have a thousand different concepts of what the “right tone” is.
The Bible makes it so much easier. Jesus asked us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. That’s it. If we are worshipping God, it’s good.
Don’t get me wrong – soft can be beautiful. Ancient can be beautiful. But so can passionate and loud, so don’t forbid that either!
People have a million different tastes, and as long as a church ALLOWS you to worship God, and does not condemn it, then I suppose I’ll put up with any taste they have. I can discipline myself to praise God no matter what the venue, whether I enjoy the style or not. Because at the end of the day, it’s about God, not my styles.
Notwithstanding, the Bible presented a large variety of instruments in Psalm 150, and I must say that my preference is for worship that is as exuberent, melodic, and heartfelt as possible! 🙂 No underlying ideas that it would be “sinful” if the instruments got “louder” than the vocals, that certain instruments are “off limits,” or that we have to have a nose-bleed zone of only the “right tone” of music allowed.
And alas! Someone will disparage this whole article as an “attempt to be cool” and tell me that “Christianity shouldn’t try to be cool!” But that is a topic for another day, and one which I am definitely planning to write upon. 🙂