“Praise Yah! Sing to Yahweh a new song, His praise in the assembly of the holy ones. Let Israel be glad in his Maker; Let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King.”
Remember the dark days of the COVID lockdowns? For most of us, especially those Christians who take corporate worship seriously, we will not quickly forget. We were forced to reckon with the gravity of Hebrews 10:25: “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Many state governments allowed (as if they had the authority to disallow) churches to meet, but congregants were instructed to stay masked and, of all things, refrain from singing. Why? Singing spreads germs, I guess. However, most churches that temporarily closed and switched to online services lost out on corporate singing because people weren’t physically present to join in. When my own church family transitioned briefly to online services, I discovered that corporate singing was what I missed most.
Without delving into a lengthy Biblical theology tour on the topic of corporate singing, I will simply state this: Scripture strongly commands us to sing. Under the Regulative Principle of Worship, which means we should engage in corporate worship as instructed in Scripture, singing becomes one of the essentials of corporate worship. Here are two clear passages that emphasize this:
Ephesians 5:19 – “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;”
Colossians 3:16 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with gratefulness in your hearts to God.”
These instructions have a wide-ranging application to the entire Christian life, closely intertwined with the life of the local church. We have the opportunity and responsibility to offer praises to YHWH both in private and together, as our Triune God is glorified through beautiful, sincere music that acknowledges His righteous character, His magnificent deeds, and His tender heart for His children.
Music is a rich gift given to mankind by our gracious God. I can’t even begin to count the times a good song has changed my mood or frame of mind, whether a solid bop on Spotify, or even more so, a great hymn of the faith. God designed these frequencies and pitches to serve as reminders to us not to be materialists and to recognize that we possess souls that can be moved and affected simply by sounds.
You’re probably thinking, “Man, why won’t he just get to the point?” But I can’t. Our world isn’t merely a series of atoms in chaotic motion, as modern secular materialists would have you believe. This is precisely why we can find ourselves under governments that believe they can simply strip singing from your congregation’s liturgy, as if removing sliced onion from a cheeseburger. “It’s just music. Cut it for a while and just move on,” they catechize.
When believers gather for worship, we will not be denied any piece of that “burger” that God intends for us. No one has the right to take it away from us. As redeemed children of God, we believers have the right and privilege to feast on every dish of grace that YHWH provides when we gather.
Singing on The LORD’s Day is not only crucial from a biblical perspective, but it’s also vital from an experiential and pedagogical viewpoint.
From an experiential standpoint, when a congregation joins their voices together in song, they bond as a community. It brings harmony, both literally and metaphorically. This harmony signifies a shared purpose ― to praise the True and Living God. It reflects the glory of God, whose many perfections, though beyond our full comprehension, paint a simple picture of one Thrice Holy God.
Pedagogy is the method and practice of teaching, and singing provides this purpose as well. We typically think of the teaching portion of the worship service primarily being the sermon, and this is correct. It’s the longest and most substantial time of teaching and exhortation in our worship services, but singing is quite formative as well.
However, the impact depends on whether you’re singing “Jesus is my boyfriend” type songs from the worst actors in the visible church (Bethel, Hillsong, Elevation, Maverick City; I could go on) or genuine worship songs with deep and meaningful lyrics. The popcorn megachurch songs will only teach you to expect dim lights, loud amplification, and a vague yet sweeping emotion (which interestingly is the same sensation that screaming fans get at a Taylor Swift concert, just so you know).
Great hymns of the faith, on the other hand, teach you to see and savor the glory of Christ.
The power of singing in corporate worship comes from the words that are sung. We are called to worship in spirit and truth, and without solid songs that teach the historic Christian faith, you can do neither.
We tend to remember song lyrics with shocking accuracy, and so we tend to believe what we sing. Songs, then, are effective ways of filling our minds with the truth. That is why we long to sing the good hymns (think Watts, Luther, Toplady, even Wesley) or Psalms that are translated metrically well, with rousing melodies that fit the mood of the words.
I have personally witnessed people in advanced stages of dementia, who typically do not speak, sing multiple verses and choruses of hymns when prompted by the first line of music and poetry. It reminds me of Psalm 119:11: “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You” (LSB). Music helped implant the truth of scripture (as presented in those old hymns) so deeply in those saints’ souls that it bypassed their disease-affected brains. How marvelous is that? What a gift of grace it is.
So I encourage everyone ― go to church and sing to YHWH your God. Sing solid theology with good tunes. Teach these songs to your children. Let the sweet music that comes from redeemed hearts flow richly from the doors of your meetinghouse, your home’s front door, and the door to your prayer closet. Magnify YHWH your God in song, no matter who tries to discourage you from singing.
For further reading
October 6, 2023
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