Worship Music Perspectives

Ruimar DePaiva

"We must make an effort to be open to looking at the issue of sacred music from all perspectives, remembering that people see and experience things differently, depending on age, previous musical exposure, and cultural background."

Since music and religion are often tied together, it can be said that one affects the other. More specifically, the type of religion I profess has to do with the type of music I enjoy. A loose spiritual lifestyle will often include inappropriate and damaging music.

Before we become too judgmental, however, we should consider oneís age and where one lives, since these variables have much to say about choices of music, be it sacred or secular. Oneís background seems to have the greatest power over a personís choice of music. What we are accustomed to molds greatly our entire perception of what is beautiful or ugly, musical or unmusical, right or wrong.

Most readers of Notes are in the Western Hemisphere and are inclined to think of their Western philosophy, views, and choices as the only way, applicable to everyone everywhere. Those from the Eastern Hemisphere must find this at times to be both frustrating and amusing. There have to be allowances for cultural as well as age differences. Even so, the basic principles to be followed around the world would include reverence in Godís house and giving our best efforts as we worship, choosing music suitable for the occasion, and presenting consecrated and clean hearts.

I wish I could be taken to heaven for just one hour just to listen to the music. Oh, how pale our earthly music would sound! I am convinced that heavenís music is unlike any we have heard. Now, the question is, is it more like music from the West or like that of the East? Like primitive tribal music? Or like the music of the Jewish religion with its Middle Eastern flavor and seemingly ancient origin? What part of the globe has music most closely resembling that of heaven?

Or, from what musical era will it be drawn? Will it be music familiar to Adam and Eve, Moses, apostle Paul, the incarnate Jesus, Martin Luther, or the gen-xers?

Of one thing Iím sure, as the Bible states, "...ear hath not heard... the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." Therefore, no one on earth can give the final word on heavenís music. However, while on this side of Jordan, we should offer our best music to God and while doing so enjoy it to the fullest.

I sincerely believe that we need to make more music and talk less about it. While I hear people talking at length about their concerns about the style of music, few go beyond the criticism to constructive suggestions. Good music performed well carries much more weight than many words, speeches, seminars, and angry battles. Our young people should be shown that there are other kinds of sacred music that can be both enjoyable and challenging. We must make an effort to be open to looking at the issue of sacred music from all perspectives, remembering that people see and experience things differently, depending on age, previous musical exposure, and cultural background.

South America is now going through the same phase in its church music that North America has been experiencing. With the increase in instant global communication, Western style, in particular, is being determined by rapid changes occurring in the United States.

Are those in leadership in America being responsible and proactive enough? Classical hymn style is being denied to a whole generation, due, in part, to the fact that musicians of the church are spending most of the time in discussions and "holy cursing" about the perceived problems while neglecting to present enduring music, such as the great hymns of the church.

The challenge is daunting but greater effort is needed to provide balance and attractive alternatives in this time of rapid and significant change in church music. Yes, we must be sensitive to the age and cultural differences that exist, but we should also be leading out in the effort to present our best musical offerings, whatever the differences, as we worship.


Ruimar DePaiva earned a B.A. degree in theology and music and a masterís degree in church administration at Andrews University. While at AU, he sang in the choirs, played clarinet in the band, and studied organ. He wrote the above while doing graduate work, having pastored for twelve years in Brazil where he had also been active in developing a higher level of worship music. Ruimar, his wife, Margaret Ottoni, and 11-year-old son, Larisson, were slain in 2003 in Palau by an intruder intent on theft. They had served as missionaries in that nation for the past 17 months. Palau expressed its grief and honored them and their work by lowering its flags to half-mast and giving them state funerals.

This commentary was printed as a Personal View in the 1999 Autumn issue of IAMA's magazine, Notes