The Jews developed a system for ritual chanting of readings from Hebrew scripture. It’s called cantillation and consists of a series of marks placed within the text to guide the canting of sacred texts during worship. The system is fairly complex, but most congregations have a cantor (a hazzan) to lead them.
(Some missionaries have translated the New Testament into Hebrew, adding marks to allow the text to be canted.)
Many feel that the cantillation marks come to be a commentary themselves on the text, emphasizing musically ideas considered to be important. The marks are called ta’am, which means “taste” or “sense”; the idea is that the accents bring out the sense of a text. (The Jewish Encyclopedia points to Nehemiah 8:8 as the basis for this)
It’s interesting, then, to note that those who essentially chant scripture in their worship consider the basic music they use to be a commentary on the text. How much more could be said for modern melodies and harmonies?
If you argue for church music that emphasizes the text, if you want to avoid the sensationalism and sensuality of modern music, if you feel the need for a theological basis behind every aspect of your church music… shouldn’t you be chanting? Or canting?
Consistency would demand it.
(Since some of this discussion has been prompted by the subject of instrumental music, you might be interested to read what the Jewish Encyclopedia says about instrumental music in the synagogue)