There are pros and cons to involving arts in the worship experience. My uncle once told me that he thought people tend to confuse an aesthetic experience with a religious or spiritual one. I think, however, that it’s inaccurate to think of them in such a compartmentalised way. I think this compartmentalisation is responsible for the imbalance people may feel when one thing is given too much precedence in a worship service. One doesn’t want any particular part of a gathering to take excessive importance and over-shadow the reason for getting together. Our ancestors quarrelled over whether to have pipe-organs and pianos, and now drums and guitars for fear people would worship the music, yet they often ended up following fallible men who used other self-aggrandising means into folly anyway. Music wasn’t the problem, rather it was putting all of the worship experience into one action or one person. This is likely where the popular practice of tearing down musicians originates: we perceive one person receiving more recognition than we like, and so we denigrate their offering by accusing them of ‘Performing’ with a capital ‘P’ instead of worshipping. I’ve been on both sides of this. My musician pride brought me to call out others on their self-aggrandizement because I would rather have been the one doing the performing. The sin was mine in that case, and it took me being the accused to realise that performing is performing whether it is in church, in the practice room, or on a public stage. Worship may be many things, but performing can always worship. It’s the responsibility of those involved in making it or receiving it to make it so. You can’t rely on a guitarist to “Enter the gates.” You have to open them, yourself.
Ultimately, I go to kirk to be ministered to by the Holy Spirit. This takes the form of lots of things: Listening to a message, reading/studying scripture, experiencing worshipful music through singing or listening or playing, hearing stories and testimony, solitary and communal prayer and meditation, and simply being with other people who are seeking God. For myself, the musical experience is one which God makes use of to soften my heart and break down the imaginary barriers I have placed around myself. I think one utility of music is to mark off a time and place, establishing a sacred space in which people lower their guard a little. It’s like the “thin places” experience people report from visiting sacred sites like Jerusalem, Iona, or any other place thought of as an area in which the veil between the words seems somehow thinner. It may simply be a state of mind in which a person is more focussed on the eternal. Regardless of what it is, it is something that I think Christians try to create through song, prayer, meditation. Sometimes it’s called “entering the gates”. We need something that says, This time and this place is a space where we are reminded that God is immanent – not because He won’t be here if we don’t do it, but because we might miss out on an opportunity to experience Him if our attention and our intentions are unfocussed. Music, more than anything helps me (admittedly a musician) to accomplish an arrival at that state-of-mind-and-spirit wherein I’m more conscious of my spiritual senses and the gentle whisper and nudging of God (1 Kings 19:11-13 — http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Kings+19%3A11-13&version=NIV). One place wherein I find God is the whispered, dying vibrations of the last note or chord of a piece of music. That, to me, is a sacred place that is no-place and a time that is no-time in which I’m most aware of the closeness of the Teller of My Story.