What music does do is affect us emotionally. It can soften our hearts to listen or inspire a sense of expectancy. It can make transitions seem less choppy. It can cover up extraneous noises and set a reverent tone, as organ preludes have been doing for years. But that doesn’t mean God is making us aware of his presence, or worse, that we’re being “led into God’s presence.” In his insightful book Music Through the Eyes of Faith, Harold Best warns,
“Christian musicians must be particularly cautious. They can create the impression that God is more present when music is being made than when it is not; that worship is more possible with music than without it; and that God might possibly depend on its presence before appearing.” (p. 153)
Everyone knows a synthesizer is not the Holy Spirit. But judging from worship albums, YouTube videos and comments I’ve heard people make, that point might need to be clarified.
So here are three ways a synthesizer (or piano, B3 organ, electric guitar, cymbal swell, etc.) can be distinguished from the Holy Spirit.
A synthesizer points to emotion. The Holy Spirit points to Christ.
Music is an emotional language. It moves us, with or without words), not just affect our emotions. He does that through illuminating God’s Word to our hearts, distributing spiritual gifts and opening our eyes to see the glory of Christ (1 Cor. 2:10-13; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; 2 Cor. 3:17-18). A synthesizer can create an atmosphere of peace. The Holy Spirit actually gives peace as he assures us of our forgiveness in Christ, God’s sovereignty in our lives and his Fatherly care for us.
An ever-present synthesizer can subtly communicate God only works with a musical background. The Holy Spirit gets things done with words alone, or even in silence.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with playing music between songs or when someone’s speaking, and there can be good reasons for doing so. But repetition teaches. If people typically hear a steady stream of atmospheric pads during your church’s corporate worship, they could assume the Holy Spirit is “less present” when the keyboardist stops playing. They might struggle to engage with God in a more traditional church service, where the songs are “interrupted” by prayer, Scripture reading, confessions and creeds. Some might even think the Holy Spirit isn’t as active in those churches, or that those people just don’t “get” worship. If you always play music between songs and under speaking, try mixing it up. Occasionally start your meeting with a Scriptural call to worship rather than ambient sounds. End a song and pray or read a Scripture with no background music. People should know that while music can support what’s being read, God’s Word can stand on its own. Likewise, communion is just as meaningful, if not more so, without a synthesizer in the background.