Marching to the Beat of the Wrong Drummer: Rethinking Loudness in Worship

0718101523a What is the purpose of loud music in church?

Over the past several years, the loudness of music in churches has increased. This loudness can create a feeling of excitement. It can set the tone for the worship service. However, the loudness in many churches is above the threshold that is safe for the ear, this loudness requires ear plugs to prevent hearing loss. Because of the threshold of the music, churches should provide ear plugs for their parishioners and guests. In fact, our churches may be sued for hearing loss of the attendees if we are negligent in protecting our parishioners against physical damage.

When the Lord appeared to Elijah, there was a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire. Certainly there was an abundance of loudness during these events.  But God did not speak from them, in fact God spoke in a “gentle whisper”! 1 Kings 19:12(NIV) In other words, God may not be in the exciting situations we are involved in, but he is in the quietness we experience.

Dr. Barry Blesser (blesser.net) has done a great deal of research regarding loudness. Here are some things he says about loudness that I have applied to church worship. Loudness has three major functions: social reward, biological stimulation, and selective aural focus.

Social Reward

Loud music tends to cause strong group cohesion and a loss of individuality. For example, when we go to an athletic event, the fans are all encouraged to create a lot of loudness. This loudness draws the fans into a coherent group. It also causes a greater flow of adrenaline in the fans and the players.

This sounds like loudness is a great idea, it is good for the congregation to have a united sense of worship. However, what happens if the loudness that is caused by a group that is not there to worship God? What happens if the loudness is created for some other reason? What happens if the loudness is produced to get biological stimulation? What if that loudness is for selfish reasons?

Biological Stimulation

Music changes our emotion state. Soft music can provide relaxation or tranquility but loud music causes arousal. Soft music and loud music produce opposite changes to the emotional state of the individual.

Loud music stimulates the same regions of the brain as euphoria drugs such as cocaine. In other words, loud music functions as a self-medicating drug. Just as drugs tend to overpower cognitive judgment, so loud music also overpowers cognitive judgment.

Like the euphoria drugs, loud music helps us escape the guilt of our sin. It helps us escape the reality of our actions prior to worship. Turning a deaf ear to our sin and it’s guilt, does not prepare us for the presence of the Lord. But perhaps we go to church for the sole purpose of avoiding the guilty feelings we have about not attending or perhaps we didn’t especially want to be in the Lord’s presence anyway.  Like Adam and Eve, we are putting on leaves rather than seeking God’s forgiveness.

Loud music with a strong beat activates the sacculus – the inner part of the ear that controls balance. The sacculus is connected to the part of the brain responsible for all forms of pleasure. However, when the maximum threshold is reached by the ear, the small hairs in the ear that cause us to hear, will permanently break off damaging the inner ear. The maximum threshold varies from person to person. The threshold of the music in many churches is now well above the safe threshold of the human ear.

Selective aural focus

In a quiet environment, one can hear a pin drop or hear people breathing. Loud music makes one deaf to the sounds that we hear in a quiet environment. In other words, loud music tends to dominate our aural focus.

Loudness tends to transport us to another world. It takes us into an environment where we are totally controlled by the loudness. You do not have the ability to block out the music you do not what to hear. We do not have ‘ear lids’ that can close and open to protect us from damage to our hearing. You cannot escape loudness.

Loudness overpowers the inner space of self-generated sounds or pictures. It overpowers our individual ability. It wants to control our entire being.  Loud music overpowers our ability to worship God.

Conclusion

Loud music causes us to lose our individual identity, causing our actions to follow what the crowd wants us to follow. Our Christian walk is individual.  God did not give everyone identical plans for their lives. Psalm 139:14 says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. God did not use a cookie cutter to make our lives. God wants us to live our lives in unity not uniformly.

Loud music in our church service results in blocking other sounds. In fact, it may even block the very words that God wants us to hear.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians says:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:15-20(NIV)

As Christians, our social reward, biological stimulation, and aural focus should be determined by the Holy Spirit, not by the effects of loud music. Paul says we should be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’, not loudness. And it is to come from the heart, not from an man made instrument.

Perhaps it is time for us to rethink the use of loud music in worship?

We live in a society where the number of suicides, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and illicit sexual activity is at an all-time high. People are searching for hope. They are unable to find it, while the Christian faith is built upon the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, we are ashamed to tell others about the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Is our worship music bringing hope to the world or is it covering it up with loudness so the world cannot find it?

 

NOTES:

  1. All Scripture used in this article is downloaded from biblegateway.com
  2. The loudness research in this article was done by Dr. Barry Blesser and others.
  3. The application of the research to worship is that of the author.