The Art of Christian Peacemaking

The author Tanya Riches observes that, “The artist has always played a significant role in the church’s witness. Throughout time icons and images, symphonies and overtures have inspired and edified Christians.” On that note, she seeks to investigate if contemporary worship music can have the same effect on Pentecostal/Charismatic worshippers in shaping their orthodoxy (right belief), orthopathy (right emotion/feeling), and orthopraxis (right action) towards loving God and loving their neighbours.

Before I respond to her research investigation, perhaps it might be helpful to understand the context from which I write. Prior to being in the teaching ministry, I served in the largest Methodist church in Singapore as their worship and music ministry staff. In that role, I facilitated multiple worship services that were both formal (liturgical) and informal (contemporary/charismatic) in nature, averaging thousands of worshippers every weekend. Equally important to me is that the Methodist ethos I adhere to calls on its followers to a life of witness that values both personal piety and social holiness. As the author in the book of James observes,

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:14-18, NIV)

Indeed, by observing this principle, it makes our worship practice holistic. It connects orthodoxy and orthopraxis where the love for God is expressed in the love to neighbours. Thus, Riches raises a vital question about the efficacy of the creative arts, particularly music-making, that is ubiquitous in contemporary worship. Can contemporary worship music-making move worshippers towards orthopraxis?

In my opinion, it depends. Studies in music semiology are often wary of attributing impetus to music itself. By this is meant the notion that it has an innate impulse to communicate as well as the ability to move someone to act in a specific manner. Nevertheless, this field of studies acknowledges that creative arts do have sign-function and that the process of music-making does trigger affect (emotion or desire). Columbian ethnomusicologist, Hernández Salgar notes that music, “actively contributes to the creation of our social experiences and identities.”[1] His observation is supported by eminent musicologist, Simon Frith who says,

Our experience of music–of music making and music listening–is best understood as an experience of this self-in-process. Music, like identity, is both performance and story, describes the social in the individual and the individual in the social, the mind in the body and the body in the mind; identity, like music, is a matter of both ethics and aesthetics.[2]

Briefly then, meanings in music are “listener-response” constructions. They are contextually generated by listeners within their context. As Ramón Pelinski notes,

If meanings were inherent in the musical material, the listener would not be able to relate to them; therefore, musical meanings are to be understood as social constructions; this would explain why they are often contradictory (which also justifies the little interest that sociologists, anthropologists, and scholars of popular culture have for sound structures).[3]

So, while music per se does not bear innate motivation, music-making does contribute to the construction of meaning and purpose through its “listener-response” ability. Therefore, singing together enjoins individuals into a collective, connecting the individual psyche to the broader community. Essentially, it can transform the solitary individual effort into a tsunami of thousands that can dramatically transform society. Viewed through the annals of American history, we can readily observe how music-making contributed to social change as recent as the 1960s and 1970s.

In my view, Riches’ research is particularly commendable because she has taken the important step of enlarging the function of music-making in the Evangelical/Pentecostal psyche. Too often for many congregations in this spiritual stream, advocacy for social action for justice and peace is relegated to the margins of its spiritual practices. Worship devotion neither relates to serving in a soup kitchen nor advocacy for the marginalized. For many in the pews, music-making is to experience God in an intimate encounter rather than be confronted by the obvious command of Jesus to go love your neighbour, forgive your enemy, feed the hungry, care for the poor, etc. Through her work, Riches has attempted to “restore the balance” of Christianity to its core ethos, that is, loving God and neighbour. Here I am reminded of Matt Redman’s “The Heart of Worship (When the Music Fades).” In this song, Redman sings,

I’m coming back to the heart of worship

And it’s all about You, all about You, Jesus

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it

When it’s all about You, all about You, Jesus.[4]

When asked about the meaning of the song on a BBC television interview, Redman said,

I guess it’s really about focusing in on what it means to worship and what it’s all about. What’s the purpose of this? And ultimately when I wrote the song, it was to say let’s strip it all back. We’ve got all this music going on. You know. You’ve got all these attempts at song writing and stars but what’s it all about and it’s really just lifting your eyes up towards God.[5]

Indeed, both Redman and Riches have raised pertinent questions about music-making and its relationship to worship that is critically relevant to this time in the history of the church in our relationship to the world. One would be remiss for not responding to what they are saying.


[1] Óscar Hernández Salgar, “Musical Semiotics as a Tool for the Social Study of Music.” Translated by Brenda M. Romero. Ethnomusicology Translations, no. 2 (Bloomington, IN: Society for Ethnomusicology, 2016), 3.

[2] Simon Frith, “Music and Identity,” Questions of Cultural Identity. Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, eds. (London: Sage Publications, 2011), 109. DOI:

[3] Ramón Pelinski, Invitación a la etnomusicología: Quince fragmentos y un tango. (Madrid: Akal ediciones, 2000), 167.

[4] Matt Redman, “The Heart of Worship (When the Music Fades.” Words and Music © 1997, Thankyou Music.

[5] Matt Redman, “Matt Redman talks about writing The Heart of Worship.” The Sunday Hour. Interview. Duration: 0:35” – 0:56” (London: BBC Radio 2, 2013). Accessed March 16, 2020,