Speaking Sound Doctrine


Divine Worship

IV.               Singing

A.           An Act Of Worship:  Singing Spiritual Songs

The following passages show that singing spiritual songs is indeed an ordained sacred service for expressing reverence, supplication, and an offering to God.

Hebrews 13:15  Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

Revelation 15:3, 4  They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: "Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty!  Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! 4 Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?  For You alone are holy.  For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested."

In Hebrews 13:15, "sacrifice" translates THUSIA, which we examined earlier in connection with Mosaic worship forms (Hebrews 9:9).  In Revelation 15:4, "worship" translates PROSKUNEO, indicating profound reverence and homage.

B.           The Essence Of Singing

In order to understand what we are actually supposed to be doing, we will first examine the scriptural terminology involved in singing.  Consider the following keynote passages:

Matthew 26:30  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Ephesians 5:18, 19  … be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

Colossians 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

All Greek definitions to follow are from J. H. Thayer.

1.       The specific action defined

·         "When they had sung a hymn" translates HUMNEO {hoom-neh'-o} meaning: "1) to sing the praise of, sing hymns to 2) to sing a hymn, to sing…" (Acts 16:25; Hebrews 2:12).

·         "Singing" translates ADO {ad'-o} meaning: "1) to the praise of anyone, to sing."

·         "Making melody" translates PSALLO {psal'-lo} "to sing a hymn" (1 Corinthians 14:15; Romans 15:9; James 5:13).

2.       The specific action described

We understand that we are to sing; now consider what, exactly, the scriptures specify we are to sing.

·         "Psalms" translates PSALMOS {psal-mos'}, the noun form of PSALLO, meaning, "a pious song, a psalm."

·         "Hymns" translates HUMNOS {hoom'-nos}, the noun form of HUMNEO, meaning: "1) a song in praise of … God, 2) a sacred song, hymn.

·         "Spiritual songs" translates ODE {o-day'} PNEUMATIKOS {pnyoo-mat-ik-os'}.  PNEUMATIKOS means, "belonging to the Divine Spirit; in reference to things emanating from the Divine Spirit or exhibiting its effects and so its character,… divinely inspired, and so [suggestive] of the Holy Spirit."  ODE, the noun form of ADO, simply means "a song."

The English word "sing" has many different meanings, but the definition that conforms to New Testament usage is "to utter words in musical tones and with musical inflections and modulations" (MW).

C.           God's Purpose For Singing

We understand that we are to sing spiritual songs; we will now consider what God specifically intends that we accomplish with this activity.  God has a reason for every instruction He gives us.  His word may not always reveal His reasons or at least not all of them.  Furthermore, we may not always understand why God has given us various instructions with certain limitations.  So it is with worshipping God in song.  God has revealed some reasons for His will, and some things that God has not purposed become evident as well.

Romans 12:2  Prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

1.       Biblical Observations

In Old Testament history, singing has always had an important role in man's relationship to his Creator:

·         Moses sings of the deliverance from the Egyptians (Exodus 15:21).

·         Moses writes a song as a witness against Israel's idolatry (Deuteronomy 31, 32).

·         Debra and Barak sing of their victory over the Canaanites (Judges 5).

·         David, throughout the Psalms, reveals his joys, sorrows, hopes, and fears (Psalms 30:2-4).

·         The Song Of Solomon tells of the closeness of a pure marriage relationship.

As we turn to the New Testament, our source of authority in the church today, singing in worship is seen in many circumstances and has many purposes.  Let us now examine these New Testament references.

2.       Praise

Through the psalmist, God demonstrates His strong desire to receive our praise.  The point is not that God needs our praise, but He appreciates our praise.  Furthermore, our praise can lead others to Him.  Honoring God in song is to be something we do gladly, willingly, and joyfully, not as drudgery or under compulsion.

Romans 15:9  …and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: "For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name."

Hebrews 2:12  … saying: "I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You."

3.       Edification And Encouragement

Singing plays a part in edification.  Words are often easier to remember when set in melody, meter, and rhyme.  Many truths of the Bible and the nature of God can become engraved in our hearts by the familiarity of song.

1 Corinthians 14:12-15  …Let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel…. 15 What is the conclusion then? … I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.

Ephesians 5:18, 19  And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

"Speaking" translates LALEO {lal-eh'-o} whose meaning includes "to use words in order to declare one's mind and disclose one's thoughts" (JHT).  Singing is a powerful communication tool whereby we speak one to another.  The messages we bring to each other in harmony with God's word cause us to be filled with the Spirit.  In addition, we build up each other and encourage one another to be strong in the faith.   Our love for God and one another grows as we blend our voices together in spiritual songs.

Matthew 26:30  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:26)

This remarkable snapshot of Jesus comes shortly after He reveals Judas as His betrayer and shortly before His ordeal in the garden.  Imagine how Jesus must have been strengthened by this singing.

4.       Teaching And Admonition

The following passage shows that singing is an effective method for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in the righteousness of God's inspired word.

Colossians 3:16, 17  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

"Teaching" translates DIDASKO {did-as'-ko} whose meaning includes "to impart instruction, instill doctrine" (JHT).  "Admonishing" translates NOUTHETEO {noo-thet-eh'-o}, a compounding of NOUS {nooce}: "1) the mind, comprising alike the faculties of perceiving and understanding and those of feeling, judging, determining…" and TITHEMI {tith'-ay-mee}: "1) to set, put, place" (JHT).  A putting to mind, admonition is instruction in God's word and includes speaking both words of warning and correction as well as words of encouragement and guidance.  In the noteworthy passage that follows, the multi-purpose nature of singing is most clearly demonstrated. 

Acts 16:25  But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

The verse plainly states Paul and Silas were singing praises to God.  They had just been beaten and thrown into prison, so they were no doubt thanking God that they were counted worthy of that and seeking His protection, as was done before (Acts 4:29; 5:41).  As they sang, they were speaking to each other, which certainly gave them courage to bear the trial.  The inspired writer makes the point that the prisoners were also listening, and the gospel message heard by the jailer that night in those songs obviously touched his heart (verses 29-34).

5.       Expression And Thanksgiving

In many of his psalms, David pours out his heart to the Father expressing his innermost feelings.  Singing is a medium through which we also can do the same.  When we feel happy, sad, lonely, afraid, excited, or worried, singing is a means of expression and sharing.  James relates this thought:

James 5:13  Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing psalms.

Ephesians 5:18-20  …giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:16, 17  …and whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

God has richly blessed us with spiritual blessings through Jesus His Son (Ephesians 1:3-6).  We have a lot to be cheerful about, and singing hymns of praise is one way we can express to God our thankfulness.

6.       Conclusions

In conclusion, for our songs in worship to be instructional, they must be word-based.  Singing is a medium which God has ordained for His word to richly dwell in us, giving us wisdom (Colossians 3:16).  We are filled with the Holy Spirit by speaking to one another His words of truth (Ephesians 5:18, 19).  Unintellectual sounds and vocalizations, such as whistling, humming, scatting, and noises of the mouth to imitate strings, horns, and drums, are incapable of producing instruction in the word.  We therefore have no authority to perform these in worship.  Moreover, for our songs in worship to be spiritual, their messages will pertain to things of the Lord, such as His divine character, word, work, love, praise, and church, rather than things of the flesh or of this world.  Secular and patriotic songs in other circumstances are good, but they have no place in divine worship.

The religious world has unfortunately altered God's simple, divine purposes and design for singing.  As with all areas of our service to God, we must remember His purposes and strive to be pleasing to Him rather than ourselves (Acts 5:29).

D.           The Attributes Of Singing In Worship

1.       With the heart

Scripture indicates that our song service to God is to be sincere, from the heart.  God is as much concerned about our attitude and manner of doing things in worship as He is about the actions themselves: the spirit and the truth (John 4:23, 24).  Even though we may be performing service in conformance to every detail of divine law, God is worthy of more than worship characterized by mindless routine.  God has never been satisfied with superficial worship demonstrated by a mere outward show of reverence (Samuel 16:7; Matthew 15:8).  In Leviticus, we earlier noted that the burnt offering sacrifices were to be of animals young and healthy, without blemish or defect.  Correspondingly, the singing we offer in worship should reflect an effort to the best of our ability.

1 Corinthians 14:15  …I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.

Remember from our earlier studies, PNEUMA, translated "spirit" in this verse, indicates that our singing should be heart-felt, in sincerity, in sensibility, and devoid of worldly distractions.  We are to teach and edify others with our singing, but half-hearted, nonchalant participation will have little influence on others for good, and it certainly does not honor God as He deserves.  Conversely, if we are singing with a cheerful heart, as if we believe what we are saying, it will be evident to others.

James 5:13  … Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing psalms.

Ephesians 5:19  …Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord….

Colossians 3:16  …Singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

The word "grace" here translates CHARIS {khar'-ece} meaning, "…that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness" (JHT).  The original word rendered "heart" in these verses is KARDIA {kar-dee'-ah}, and Thayer's definition includes, "…2a) the vigour and sense of physical life 2b) the centre and seat of spiritual life 2b1) the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavours 2b2) of the understanding, the faculty and seat of the intelligence 2b3) of the will and character 2b4) of the soul so far as it is affected and stirred in a bad way or good, or of the soul as the seat of the sensibilities, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, passions."  We can convey our feelings not only by the words we speak but also by our inflection and tone of voice.  This holds no less true when we sing with meaning.

Two things determine the character of spiritual songs:  the music and the message.  A well written song will have a clear, simple message coordinated comfortably with the music.  However, if the melody is dull and monotonous, the participants may become listless.  If the music and meter is overly complex or awkward, the singers may despair.  If the lyrics are unnecessarily repetitious, the participants may become disinterested.  If the lyrics are overly cumbersome, the singers may be distracted by the words rather than attracted by their message.  In typical congregational settings, it will be difficult to engage poorly composed songs with rousing, hearty participation.  Decency and orderliness may become compromised as well.  Since the songs are for teaching, admonishing, and edifying, song leaders need to be attentive to these matters.  If problems persist, elders of the church need to issue corrective instructions, and song leaders need to submit (Hebrews 13:17).

God has not set rigorous technical requirements that all who worship Him in song must attain in order to be pleasing to Him.  His command is simply that we sing.  Some members refrain from singing or just sing very quietly because they feel they cannot sing well enough.  This does not honor God as He deserves; God judges our hearts and our motives.  He is not concerned whether we get the melody exactly right or if our harmony is perfect.  He desires that we open our mouths and make our voices heard.  That which human wisdom might not perceive as beautiful is glorious to the Lord.

1 Samuel 16:7  For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

Psalm 81:1  Sing aloud to God our strength; Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob.

This is not to say it is unimportant how well we sing.  A careless attitude is unacceptable, and many of us are capable of improving with practice and effort.  Remember that when we come to worship in song, we are in the very presence of a most holy God who created all of heaven and earth, which our service and praise should acknowledge with reverence (Psalm 66:1; 95:1-7; 98:4; Revelation 15:4). 

Psalm 100  Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. 3 Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture….

2.       With the mind

The word "understanding" in 1 Corinthians 14:15 translates NOUS {nooce} observed earlier.  Thayer further explains it as "…the intellectual faculty,… the capacity for spiritual truth,… of perceiving divine things, of recognising goodness and of hating evil,… of considering and judging soberly, calmly and impartially."  This demands that we be attentive to the messages of our songs.  Our hymns, except those set to scripture, are composed by men and therefore may contain false doctrine.  If we are not diligent, we might be teaching error in our singing.  No matter how much we might like the melody or whether we have always sung a particular song for years, should we learn that it contains doctrinal error, we ought not be singing it in worship.

Since scripture reveals that we are teaching when we sing, then all scripture that gives instruction on teaching is justifiably applied to this aspect of singing as well.  Consider the following passages now in light of singing:

Titus 2:1 But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.

1 Peter 4:11  If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.

Just as a preacher must give careful consideration to what he teaches, the song leader must give careful thought to the songs he chooses and the messages they convey.  If we would not teach in a Bible class the message contained in a particular song, then we should not be singing that song, no matter how beautiful the melody may be.

Some of our hymnals today contain songs sung in rounds, where different lyrics are sung over the top of each other in harmonizing melodies.  Some songs contain a descant, which is an alternate and different line of lyrics with a different melody and often in a complex pattern over the top of the normal lyrics.  Though these songs may be pleasing to our ears, the words often become an unintelligible mess.  We are supposed to be teaching with decency, but no one can learn if they cannot understand.  Paul gives clear warnings against such disorderly over-talking, which are legitimately applied to our singing.  We should avoid all such confusion in worship.

1 Corinthians 14:7-9  …Unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken…?

1 Corinthians 14:26-33  …For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

E.           Worship Music History

At this point we will take a step back from the subject of singing in worship today and explore worship music from a historical perspective.  We begin by considering non-worship music.

1.       Secular music

Secular history indicates that the most ancient instruments archaeology has discovered are flutes made of bone with multiple ports.  Later evidences of clay drums and multi-stringed lyres from several millennia later have also survived (WP, Musical Instrument).

Written harmonic musical notation has been discovered in an Iraqi cuneiform engraving estimated as dating from around 2000 BC, but its exact interpretation is uncertain.  Secular historical records indicate that different geographical regions and cultures developed their own nomenclature and notation methods through the centuries.  Though not revealed in scripture, in the early days of the church, the Greeks had a method using musical symbols placed above the text of a hymn.  This method fell out of use with the decline of the Roman Empire.  Musical notation began to become more standardized into nearly what we have today in about the seventeenth century AD (WP, Musical Notation). 

Sacred history confirms that harmonic musical instruments were developed just eight generations removed from Adam and in the same era as the metal crafts (Genesis 4:21, 22).  Singers and harpists are next mentioned in Genesis 31:27.  The timbrel also mentioned is a hand-held percussion instrument that could have provided rhythm for the often associated dancing (Exodus 15:20; Judges 11:34).  David in his youth, being an accomplished harpist, is employed as King Saul's personal musician to calm his troubled soul (1 Samuel 16:14-23).  In the days of David and Solomon (circa 1000 BC), Hebrew music and poetry flourishes.  Solomon acquires instruments of all kinds and employs many singers in his personal service (Ecclesiastes 2:8).  During the time of Daniel in the Babylonian empire, symphonic music is a signal for a time of idol worship (Daniel 3).  New Testament writings portray singing and instrumental music as a common part of secular life (Matthew 9:23; Luke 7:32; 15:25; 1 Corinthians 14:7, 8).  Though little is known of exactly how the music of antiquity may have sounded, there is evidence that harmonic modes and rhythmic patterns were well understood from ancient times by gifted musicians with superbly crafted instruments.

2.       Music for divine worship

a.    Old Testament worship music

In the days of Samuel, a school of prophets are evidently trained on wind, percussion, and stringed instruments, which they use in their service (1 Samuel 10:5).  David arranges a talented choir and full orchestra for tabernacle worship with a skilled conductor (1 Chronicles 6:31-47; 15:16-24; 25).  In the inauguration of temple service, Solomon likewise arranges musicians and choirs (2 Chronicles 5:11-14; 7:6).  Having purged the nation of idolatry, Hezekiah and Josiah both restore these worship functions which the Lord had originally commanded through David and the prophets (2 Chronicles 29:25-28; 34:12, 13).  After the return from Babylonian and Persian captivity, the repair of the temple's foundation is celebrated with instruments and songs of praise (Ezra 3:10, 11).  Nehemiah restores the worship music at the dedication of Jerusalem's rebuilt wall (Nehemiah 12:26-47).

b.    New Testament worship music

In previous sections we have cited every New Testament passage that mentions music in the church.  Amazingly, instruments of music in worship are conspicuously absent in the New Testament.  The great emphasis and detailed explanation of instrumental worship music in the Old Testament stands in glaring contrast to the New Testament.  In the record of the life of Christ on earth, the Holy Spirit, through the inspired writers, intentionally choses not even once to mention the instrumental worship music in the temple then lawful under the Mosaic dispensation.  In the inspired historical record of early church worship music, we find singing – specifically, exclusively, and consistently.  In the church today, if we are committed to following the instruction of the Lord as revealed in scripture alone, singing is just what we will do (Leviticus 8:4, 5).

F.           Instrumental Music In The Church

Despite no mention in the New Testament of instrumental worship music in the church, many religious organizations today are commonly using it.  We need to examine whether there is authority for this practice.

1.       Efforts to justify the instrument in worship

Many attempts are offered by religious institutions to validate the use instrumental music in worship today.  We will now examine these arguments in the light of scriptural authority.

a.    Argument: The Bible nowhere says not to use instruments in worship.

The absurdity of this reasoning becomes obvious when we attempt to apply it to any other matter of life.  For example, if a drug prescription specifies that the dosage is two tablets per day, it is foolish to think we can safely take four, because it doesn't say not to.  The silence of God authorizes nothing in the church today (Acts 15:24).  It is completely reasonable that if God wants instrumental worship music in His church, He would have mentioned it.  However, as God specifies singing, He establishes an exclusion; He does not need to also list all the other music forms not authorized.  Moreover, the onus for providing authority for an action rests upon the one who would perform it (1 Peter 3:15).  It is not the responsibility of others to prove it is unauthorized. 

b.    Argument: Instruments are just expedient tools, like songbooks and computers.

Expediencies do not add to, subtract from, or in any way alter the essence of the action performed.  For example, whether we eat a cupcake with a fork, a spoon, or our fingers, we are still doing nothing more or less than eating a cupcake.  However, if we eat a cupcake with ice cream, we are now doing more; something else has been added.  In similitude, if we sing while reading the notes and words from a songbook or computer screen, we are still just singing.  However, musical accompaniment is not a singing aid; it is an addition and is therefore not a mere expediency for singing (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 4:6; Revelation 22:18).

c.     Argument: An instrumental song can remind listeners of familiar lyrics, teaching them.

We are most familiar with the power of advertising jingles that have lyrics promoting a product with rousing instrumental accompaniment.  With repetition, the music itself without the lyrics or perhaps just the rhythm pattern alone can conjure in the mind the memorized lyrics, reminding us of the product.  The argument holds that we can put to mind gospel truths the same way.  One fault in this reasoning is that it assumes everyone is already familiar with the songs.  If they are not, the music to them is meaningless (1 Corinthians 14:9-11).  This also contradicts the specific command to speak when we admonish one another in song (Ephesians 5:19; Hebrews 13:15).

d.    Argument: Instrumental music is no different than using a pitch pipe.

The argument reasons that if an instrument can be utilized to determine the starting pitch for singers, so can it be utilized in accompaniment for the entire song.  First of all, what others are doing is not a valid source of authority for what we do.  Furthermore, if we are to sing together in decency and order, some method of determining the proper starting pitch is necessary and unavoidable.  We therefore have authority for any expedient way of doing this, as with a pitch pipe.  To the contrary, instrumental accompaniment is by no means necessary or unavoidable and so is not comparable.

e.    Argument: If David used musical instruments in worship, so can we.

David used instruments in worship because God specifically commanded him to do so (2 Chronicles 29:25).  However, he lived under the dispensation of the law of Moses given to the nation of Israel exclusively.  This law has been obsoleted by the new law, which contains no such commandment.  In addition to instrumental worship music, the law of Moses also required Sabbath and festival observance, tithing, circumcision, and animal sacrifices, which David kept with diligence.  We have no justification to adopt part of this non-applicable law but disregard the rest (Galatians 4:21-5:4).

f.     Argument: Instrumental music sounds better and is more stirring.

We are in no position to advise God what is better.  In the time of Moses, Korah and his followers think it would be better if others than only the sons of Aaron have the honor of burning incense before the Lord, as was commanded.  Though we might think this is a small matter, this notion is deemed as outright rebellion to the Lord, and the retribution for it is severe and tragic (Numbers 16, 17).

g.    Argument: The Greek word "PSALLO" literally means to pluck a string.

All languages in use are in constant change, so there is often a difference between a word's origin and its current meaning.  Therefore, in order to understand a statement from former times, we must know what the words meant at the time of the writing.  For example, the King James Version translators in 1611 render the Greek word ANASTROPHE {an-as-trof-ay'}, meaning "manner of life" (JHT), as "conversation" (Galatians 1:13), which was then appropriate but has now come to mean "discussion."  The Greek word "PSALLO" had also changed its meaning by the time the New Testament was written.  Though its earlier meaning was to pluck or twang as on a stringed instrument, every reliable Greek lexicon notes that, in the New Testament, it means to sing praises.  Of the five times the word appears in the New Testament, it is four times rendered "sing" in every credible English version.  In Ephesians 5:19 where it appears with the word "ADO," it is rendered "making melody" to avoid the awkward and redundant translation: "singing and singing in your hearts."  Even if the more generic English rendering "making melody" is assumed to include more than singing, the instrument is specified: the heart.  Moreover, if the ancient meaning "to pluck" is applied, every worshipper must be playing an instrument, not just the orchestra members, as we see in many churches today. 

h.    Argument: God gives special talent to some; it is fitting that they use it to His praise.

God blesses many especially talented individuals other than instrumental musicians, such as gymnasts, jugglers, sculptors, comedians, and illusionists.  We can certainly honor God in a general way of daily life by pursuing all these interests with diligence and decency, but there is no plausibility forcing the conclusion that, simply because God bestows these gifts, He necessarily sanctions any of them for special worship services.  We will engage further discussion on the meaning of praise later in this series when examining errant worship forms.

i.      Argument: The use of harps in worship is authorized by examples in Revelation.

In Revelation 5:8; 14:2; 15:2; and 18:22, harpists and the sound of harps are mentioned.  In each case, John is recording what he sees and hears in heavenly visions.  The language is intensely figurative and filled with symbolic imagery, which we are not to take literally.  Moreover, there is no command issued here to us for instrumental worship music.  This is also not an approved apostolic example of instrumental worship music in a church assembly.  Furthermore, the fact that harp music appears to an apostle in heavenly visions with clear symbolic significance does not necessarily infer that it is authorized literally in the church on earth.  These are the only methods by which we can establish authority in our religious practices.

We need to take the mindset that if we cannot find scriptural authority for instrumental worship music, then we will not do it, regardless of how harmless it may seem or steeped in tradition it may be.

2.       God's Wisdom

From every aspect that we may view the church, we see reflected the wisdom of God.

Ephesians 3:10  …to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

For example, if we look at the church from the standpoint of salvation, we see the wisdom and simplicity of Christ's innocent blood on our behalf.  We contact His blood through the burial of baptism.  Anywhere on earth that has enough water to sustain human population has enough water to baptize people.  This reflects God's wisdom.

Again, if we look at the church from the standpoint of its organization, we see the wisdom and simplicity of having Christ as its sole head with no earthly headquarters and with each local body autonomously guided by their own elders.  This system is flawless and reflects God's wisdom.

If we look at the church from the standpoint of singing in worship, we again see the wisdom and simplicity of praising God through the instrument of the human voice, the "fruit of our lips," (Hebrews 13:15).  Anywhere on earth people are found, there is some form of singing within that culture, and anyone with a mind and a voice can participate.  This also reflects God's wisdom.

God has always chosen things weak and foolish in man's eyes for His glorification and honor (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).  In God's eyes, these things demonstrate strength and wisdom.  God has made it simple for us to serve Him in every respect.

The New Testament scriptures indicate no other musical instrument than the human heart and human voice used by the early church in worshiping God.  If we alter this standard, we are effectively telling God His wisdom is not good enough.

It must be clarified that we are specifically discussing worship music, not secular music.  God is not specifying a prohibition on secular instrumental music, but in divine worship, He has specified what He wants, and we ought not take one step beyond.

G.           Singing In Worship, Collectively And Individually

1.       Mutual participation

God has not purposed that our assembled worship in song should be competitive or for entertainment.  This would lead to opening auditions to select the best singers for a choir or as soloists to display their talents so others can sit passively and listen as spectators.  Though often seen in religious organizations, this does not fit the pattern set in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.  Here, the phrase "one another" translates HEAUTOU {heh-ow-too'}.  Thayer explains: "It is used frequently in the plural for the reciprocal pronoun," therefore meaning "reciprocally, mutually, one another."  In assembled worship, the combined implication is that each one is participating by singing to all others while they are all simultaneously singing to each one.  This is the essence of fellowship (Acts 2:42). 

2.       Private, individual worship in song

Are God's expectations in worship different for a private setting at home alone as compared to a public assembly?  Specifically, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 indicate singing to "one another," but if someone is completely alone and speaking only to himself, can he worship God acceptably with a musical instrument?  Since collective action is different than individual action (1 Timothy 5:16), can we conclude that, if we are not acting collectively, these scriptures do not apply, and hence, instrumental worship music done privately is authorized?

In response to these proposed questions, consider that Ephesians and Colossians say nothing about not playing an instrument in worship; they only authorize singing.  Therefore, any situation where these scriptures are deemed non-applicable could not possibly lift a ban against instrumental worship music, because the texts do not issue such a ban in the first place.  If we are seeking authority for the instrument, we will have to look elsewhere in scripture.  The questions submitted are proposing an abuse of God's silence.

The fallacy of this reasoning becomes more obvious when applied to another worship form.  We have not yet examined prayer in detail, but there is no reasonable basis to conclude that, because scripture nowhere says not to, we are authorized to pray to Mary or "Saint Peter," as long as we are alone or outside a collective activity.  Conclusively, if we intend to pay homage to God in song privately, we will be content with singing psalms, as James suggests (James 5:13).

3.       Coincidental situations

Many of our hymns are composed by adding lyrics to classical and traditional melodies formerly composed.  While we hear these songs performed secularly on radio or television, we might involuntarily think about the words of the spiritual song.  Are we wrong for thinking of the spiritual while listening to the secular?  Similarly, we might coincidentally hum or whistle these familiar tunes as we go about our business and be reminded of the associated lyrics.  Is this carnal mindedness?  In reply, consider that there is nothing inherently spiritual about a melody itself, so we ought not think that we pay homage to God by whistling, humming, or a radio tune.  We honor God in our hearts by continually meditating on spiritual truths, as we are instructed (Psalm 1:1, 2; Philippians 4:8; 1 Timothy 4:15), which we can do while coincidentally doing many other non-related activities.  This by no means authorizes a humming or whistling worship service.

H.          Expediencies For Singing Spiritual Songs

God has specified what we are to do: sing hymns and spiritual songs.  How we go about doing it – the means, methods, and tools – are left to our judgment, as long as we are doing nothing more and nothing less than what is specified.  Providing that we maintain the spirit and the truth with decency and orderliness, we can expedite this worship function as we deem appropriate.

In this section we will be discussing opinions to an extent.  Nevertheless, God's word instructs us to not be overbearing but to accommodate and tolerate one another in matters of indifference (Romans 14:15-22; Ephesians 4:3; Colossians 3:13).  Moreover, the elders of the church are ordained to rule in these matters, and others ought to be in subjection (1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:7, 17).

1.       Means and methods

We may wonder how early church song worship was conducted and managed in assemblies of over 5000 individuals (Acts 4:4), especially since copying printed material was all done by time-consuming hand-work (2 Timothy 4:13; 2 John 1:12).  For example, apparently, not everyone had their own copies of the epistles but had to rely on having them read to them (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27), so hymnals as we have today must have been unknown to them.  Nevertheless, reasonable methods of expediting singing in early worship are easily imagined.  For instance, the early Jewish Christians previously accustomed to temple music had likely memorized many of the Old Testament psalms put to melody, so these would naturally transition into singing in the church.  It is also reasonable that the leader could sing or read from a scroll a verse of psalm in order to have the participants recite it back in song.

We may also wonder how congregational singing may have sounded when hymns first began to be sung in the early New Testament church, but scripture reveals no specific details about this.  We might turn to secular history to try to learn more, but caution is advised.  True knowledge comes from the divinely inspired scriptures alone (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).  As Paul did not initially rely on "flesh and blood" for his knowledge, so also the words of men have effectively nothing to add for us on this matter today as well (Galatians 1:16; 2:6).  Secular writings do offer some scant information, but in some cases, they are written by those not necessarily fully understanding what they are witnessing and so might lack accuracy (1 Timothy 1:7; 2 Peter 2:12).  Some also are written after the seeds of apostasy had begun to sprout and so also might suggest lawless practices (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

From what the scriptures do reveal, we can gather that the songs were not necessarily primitive, unmetered chants but were by all reasoning richly influenced by the well-developed temple singing intimately familiar to the first Jewish Christians.  We can also be certain that early church singing sounded spirited and respectful. 

2.       Tools and aids

With the invention of movable type printing in the fifteenth century, the practical difference between song worship in the first century and today would be the musical notation methods and the ease and the clarity by which we can now reproduce printed notation.  Many good hymnals are available today published on a variety of media with modern musical notation arranged for mixed-gender four-part harmony.

Certainly, an important part of our singing is the doctrinal purity of our words – speaking in truth and understanding.  Equally important, however, our singing is to be vibrant and engaging – melodies with spirit.  Insuring proper pitch is critical in facilitating spirited singing.  The songs we typically sing in worship today are arranged with good musical technique to accommodate the natural voice ranges of most men and women.  However, if a song in worship is not properly pitched as notated, the singers must often strain to reach notes higher or lower than their comfortable range.  When this happens, even though our hearts are sincere, the decency of the singing is compromised, and the edifying quality is diminished.  To correctly pitch a song, a basic understanding of musical principles is required.  Almost unavoidably, to be sure of proper pitch, some sort of instrument, such as a pitch pipe, is often expedient.

Singing in particular consists not only of verse and melody but also of metered rhythmical patterns of varying speed.  Maintaining appropriate timing and tempo is also critical in facilitating spirited singing.  The songs we sing in worship today are composed so as to express emotion.  A slower or faster tempo is more fitting, depending upon the mood of the song.  If a jubilant psalm is too slow, it will be difficult for the singers to convey enthusiasm.  If a somber hymn is too fast, it will be difficult for the singers to convey gravity, and the words might even become muddled.  When this happens, decency is likewise compromised, and edification is diminished.  To aid in maintaining appropriate tempo, the leader can optionally utilize a metronome, or he can mark the timing by his hand.  Utilizing these tools or methods, we are still doing nothing more or less than singing hymns.

3.       Song leaders

To fulfill the New Testament command to have coordinated singing together within in a large body of people, we must have some way to agree on what psalm we will be singing, at what time we will be singing it, and in what tempo and musical key we will sing.  The need for a song leader is therefore unavoidable.  The elders of the church have the responsibility of managing and regulating the worship activities to insure that decency and order are maintained, and song leaders have the duty to submit to their rule.  In a church lacking elders, brethren will need to agree upon arrangements and either be assigned or volunteer to lead singing.

The "house-church" doctrine afoot today – advocating spontaneity and casualness in worship – proposes that a designated song leader is unnecessary.  This doctrine also claims that a regimented structure of singing and other worship activities is stifling and that elders have no right to make rules for such.  Instead, the doctrine declares that whoever in the worship assembly has a notion to sing a hymn can assume the initiative whenever he is so moved and begin singing spontaneously while all others join in.  As we discussed earlier, this doctrine is fundamentally contrary to orderliness (1 Corinthians 14:40).  In actuality, there is absolutely no expedient way to put these ideas into practice and expect the congregation to be fully mutually participatory.

The song service is nearly the easiest way that the advocates of casualness and spontaneity can begin to freely introduce their ideas, perhaps starting with subtle changes.  The arrangement of the songs is typically first presumptuously reordered along with the introduction of medleys.  They might next introduce key changes between verses and extensive variations in tempo and volume.  The insidiousness of this is that some modulations may well be effective for edification, but if they are taken to extreme, the congregation can become confused, and disorderliness can result.  Moreover, when the elders ask that this not be done, the change agents typically chafe against the judgment and take it as over-lording.  Elders of a church need to be watchful.  Once disorderly alterations are accomplished in the song service, other worship forms are next targeted.  Those advocating these casual and spontaneous arrangements claim it will elevate worship to a higher spiritual plane, but change for its own sake alone is carnal-mindedness.

Like gospel preaching, the singing in worship needs to be handled by competent and skilled leaders.  Some song leaders believe that they need only to pick out a few songs that they know and get the congregation started; the audience will take it from there.  If they can do only that, they feel they have met their responsibility and are qualified to lead the singing.  We ought not think such service is good enough for our God of supreme majesty.  The scriptures we have observed suggest that song leaders are gospel teachers and should endeavor to incorporate into the song service the characteristics of praise, expression, and edification.  They have the serious responsibility of preparing the audience for other modes of worship while also concentrating on many different complex things at the same time.  To a large extent, in traditional worship services, their work is a central function, coordinating with the other forms of worship.

Effective song leading in public worship is difficult and requires a degree of expertise and practice so that order might prevail.   Not everyone can be an effectual song leader, no matter how sincere they may be.  Unlike leading other acts of worship, song leading is inherently limited to only those who have a certain degree of special, natural ability.  If the leader is not qualified, confusion and disorder often result.  Remember, in 1 Corinthians 14:40, "order" translates TAXIS {tax'-is} whose meaning includes: "…4) the post, rank, or position which one holds … 4a) since this position generally depends on one's talents, experience, resources" (JHT).  God gives each one of us different natural gifts just as he gave different miraculous gifts to early Christians.

Romans 12:6-8  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them:  if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

As with all areas of judgment, there is a call for balance.  We should not get so caught up in precise musical technology that the spirituality and simplicity are lost.  On the other hand, we should not minimize musical technique and expertise to the point that decency and orderliness are lost.

4.       Artistic style

We have no way to know how early church singing sounded, so how is our singing today supposed to sound?  The Bible simply says "sing," but since no musical notation has been divinely revealed, this is left for us to expedite.  To the extent the word "sing" is generic, many different styles and forms of vocal music will acceptably fulfill the command, from simple, loosely metered chants to complex rhythmic and harmonic choral arrangements.

Singing styles vary from place to place, culture to culture, and time to time.  For example, melodic phrasing is distinctly different in eastern countries from what is characteristic of western countries.  In God's wisdom, He allows us to use melodic forms familiar to us where ever and whenever we may live.  We should be careful not to criticize the singing in worship in other places and other times because it is different from what we may be doing now where we live, as long as it is truly singing as the scriptures instruct.  Even today, primitive cultures exist in the world, and we should not expect that the singing in worship there should sound like it does everywhere else on earth.

There is something to be said for decency and appropriateness as well.  In our society, culture naturally places certain expectations upon how songs of reverence should sound.  Though human traditions are not to be our standard of authority in the church, the scriptures make it abundantly clear that our customs must be considered in matters of liberty and judgment (1 Corinthians 8-11; Romans 14).  These principles are legitimately applied to our singing, so we understand that certain musical styles would probably be considered inappropriate for hymns today.  For example, a song in the form of a ninth century Gregorian chant performed in services today might be more of a distraction than if a more modern style were used.  Similarly, a popular form of music today, the rap, would probably have a similar effect of drawing attention to the musical style and away from the spiritual message.  Most hymnals in use today are compiled with appropriateness considered.  We need to be careful that the line of good judgment is not crossed.



Copyright 2014, Speaking Sound Doctrine