Singing in the Church

By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article Originally Printed July 19, 1976)

The scriptures abound with the fact that the church gathers as a congregation to worship God. Although the word “worship” defies complete defining, we know it involves an expression of heart due to God’s greatness and goodness. The acts whereby worship is expressed are manifested and ordained in the word of God. We realize an act does not necessarily assure worship, even if it is an action found in the New Testament record of the early church. The reason being, “Worship is something presented by us to God, as a willing acknowledgement of our deep appreciation of what He is and all He has done.” What and how we present is governed by the teaching of God’s word, because man does not have the wisdom to know the proper and best way to express his feelings of reverence for God. Furthermore, the whole sphere of worship must be governed by grace and not merit. If man was permitted to create the ways of expressing worship, it would become man-centered and reckoned on the basis of merit or man’s ingenuity. One would not be able to say that worship was divine in origin and nature. Seeing what has happened in recent years, makes it impossible to imagine what actions would be accepted or solicited from man as worship, if man was to determine what is acceptable worship. Historically and Biblically, we see when man has been left to express his feelings of worship without the counsel of God’s word it has led to the elevation of self, the abdication of our capacity to reason sanely, and often to the practice of gross immoralities.

Our Responsibility

When we gather with a group to worship God, it warrants each person to ask himself if the conduct of that gathering in worshipping God agrees with the expressions of worship found in the New Testament. The question of where one shall gather for worship depends not upon “feeling at home socially” or “what best suits your own taste,” but whether the expressions of worship in that gathering are espoused by the scriptures. It is dependent upon the believer’s understanding of the scriptures and what is taught as “the expression of worship” of the early church. Unfortunately, sociological reasons have been the cause for many divisions in the history of the body of Christ rather than “spiritlogical” reasons.

Men of conscience cannot continue to gather where the expressions of worship do not coincide with the counsel of God. Vain indeed is the argument that states a Christian should remain within corrupt practice, so he may be a voice. There are spiritual reasons for separation. The Bible pictures the false teacher working from within, but never the child of God. The flavor of much spiritual detente has the markings of how the Bible states the leaven of sin works and not the purifying element of truth. When the expressions of worship are not ordained of God we must follow the cry of, “let us go forth without the camp” and “better to obey than sacrifice.”

Although this is getting off of the subject, we find it is a sad but a true story that many who left the camp never did attend to the true worship thereafter. They will find no rest for their action, because they were the church and should have begun to obey God’s will with faith in God to provide the needed power. Also, we find how many foolish things have been used by men to justify division. Men have elevated many opinions to the dignity of the ordained will of God to make divisions where none should have ever existed. This is why “unity for unity’s sake” and “division for division’s sake” are not suitable reasons for one meeting his spiritual responsibility.

Singing

One of the overt actions ordained by the New Testament for the expression of worship is singing. Jesus and his disciples engaged in singing during his ministry and the early church engaged in singing; both individually and collectively (Mt. 26:30; Ac. 16:25; 1 Co. 14:15,26; Ep. 5:18,19).

The Bible is terse, but complete on the subject of singing. Did you realize all of the passages mentioning singing in the New Testament can be read in a period of fifteen minutes? Have you ever set down with a Bible and a concordance and read them? Information at our finger tips never used is never gained. Have you ever considered whether the music you utilize in expressing worship is divine in origin and nature or whether it is man-ordained in origin and nature?

A Cappela Music

One of the first things that catches the eye of the New Testament reader is the lack of reference to any kind of music, except singing in passages relating to the church and its expression of praise and reverence. Every reference to music in the gathering of the church on the face of this earth is a reference to singing. No scripture dealing with the church built by Christ has organ, guitar, piano, or horn sounding in the gathering of the church for the gathering on the Lord’s day for the breaking of bread. Such music was not part of their expression of worship. The music was a cappela, i.e.: unaccompanied with an instrument made by man.

Scriptures of Interest

Paul speaks of the difference between Christians and heathen worship. “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord: Ephesians 5:18,19).” The heathens filled themselves with wine to raise their voices, but the saints raised their voices because of being filled with the spirit. The saint raises praises to God, because of the feelings of reverence and adoration within him. Singing is not only the cultivator of disposition, but also the result of disposition.

The Christian heart preoccupied with the grace of God is the stimulant of his expression in song. He sings not for the entertainment of another, but due to the sweet swellings of his own being desiring to praise God.

Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are terms indicating the content and nature of the songs sung by the saints in worship. Song leaders should give more attention to this matter than what they do. It is a very pointed way to improve the overall atmosphere of the assembly. The psalms hearken for us to note the psalms of the Bible and their thoughts. They reveal the personal awareness of God’s hand in one’s life. Hymns in Christian usage indicate direct addresses of praise and glory to the one true God. Spiritual songs pertain to the rousing songs of spirit that counsel us to be zealous and diligent in service. They focus on things spiritual and encourage us to follow God. The kind of song sung should be in accord with our affective state and the affective state of the occasion, so we do not fall into the mere routine of simply leading a song. This cannot be done without the polishing of one’s talents.

Colossians 3:16 compliments the Ephesians verses. The word “dwell” emphasizes the word of Christ should be at home with us, not a mere visitor. We should be comfortable with the word of Christ within us and about us. True singing comes from those with the word of Christ constantly at home in their hearts.

1 Corinthians 14:15 reveals singing involves an attitude of reverence and a discerning mind of spiritual values. One must know and realize the significance of what is being expressed. It is highly likely that verse 26 of the same chapter refers to psalms that were by inspiration and the individual sang a solo or led the congregation in singing of that psalm by refrain.

Historically

The use of instruments of music made by man did not come into public gatherings of the church, until recent times. The organ was placed in the Catholic Church in the year 670 A.D.. This threatened a division, so the instrument was removed until the 800’s. Recent studies reveal it may have been the tenth century before the instrument became an actual part of the service.

Protestant churches and their use of the instruments of music is very recent. Many of the very famous reformers were very outspoken in their opposition to the mechanical instruments of music being used in the public services of the church. If you are a member of some denominational body today and you think there is no significance to the subject under consideration do a little research. You will find the issue is not as outdated as you might think. It is very possible you will be amazed at the changes in belief in the history of your organization. Plus, consider if these changes are founded on Bible understanding or the winds of time.

In Conclusion

Singing is the uplifting of spiritual sacrifice unto God. An expression of reverence and joy cultivated by the word of Christ dwelling in our heart. God’s wisdom permits this expression of worship, because spiritual thoughts are enhanced, truth is expressed, and God is glorified.

The word “a cappela” is a minute summary of history on music in the church. The word is defined as meaning unaccompanied with an instrument. A common derivation of the term signifies as “in the style of the church.”   This should certainly tell us something about the kind of music in the early church. Therefore, let us sing. May we all endeavor in this day of spiritual loss, to respect the wisdom of God and promote with our lives the expressions of worship ordained by the will of God. Once again, we plead with men to represent the truths of God by returning to the Bible as their solid guide.