Friday 31 October 2014

What songs should the church sing?

This blog title seems so harmless and yet. And yet, so many battles are constantly fought over which kind songs should be sung in the church. I am not sure that I have clear answers for each matter, but my initial comments are these.

Let us be in balance with Scripture. How many times is singing mentioned in the New Testament? It is only a handful of times and here are some of the references: Acts 16:25, 1 Cor. 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, James 5:13, Colossians 3:16, Matthew 26:30. There are also the songs of accomplishment that are sung in heaven, as recorded in the Book of Revelation as well.

However, we must keep things in perspective. In the New Testament, during the expansion of the gospel, we do not find that singing is a primary distinguishing mark of missionary activity and yet today, in some circles, singing receives a highly prized status. It is not uncommon to hear that churches, and now evangelical and reformed churches, that they must sing the latest songs written, as if we need to prove that we are not out-dated. So it appears that singing new tunes, with the latest Christian song-writers is supposedly a mark of being contemporary, progressive, and relevant to the times we live in. This sounds like a persuasive argument, but it needs examination theologically, exegetically and pragmatically.

One of my favourite verses that relates to the content of our singing in the church, is to be found in Ephesians 5:19. It reads: "Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart".
Let us make some comments on this teaching, as given here by Paul.

1. Singing is expected in the church.

2. The content of our songs matters, because we are to "address one another" with these songs.

3. Addressing means that there is a teaching and learning component, as well as encouragement, as we hear the words of what people sing.

4. There is a variety of content of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. In Sheffield Presbyterian Church, we have an inclusive psalmody position. We believe that psalms should be part of our singing but not exclusively. Some have worked hard to try to use this verse to say that each word is another way of saying a different kind of psalm. This is not persuasive in my opinion. If we are to address one another, then this must include truth in the light of the incarnation and teaching of Jesus Christ, his resurrection and the Holy Trinity. These are not found in their fulness in the Psalms.

5. It is hard to hear people's words that they sing, if they are being drowned out by a band with a loud PA pressing down on the congregation.

6. Congregational singing is required in the church, but this is not to be a sing-along-to-a-band.

7. We have no sense in the Word of God that songs and singing are to be a method to lure people into the church. The Songs of Zion to be sung by the church, are for the church, to glorify God and to encourage one another in the truths of the gospel.

Immediately, blood pressures may rise as you discuss singing in the church, and this tells me that music and singing are emotionally powerful, either for good or not for good. Let us remember that the church must be a worldliness-free-zone. We are not afraid of technology, but we are not trying to project ourselves as being "with it", in order to to gain credibility points. If Christians are confused on these matters, then elders must come back to first principles to teach people a biblical foundation, and this includes matters of singing. The reformed church reforms itself according to the principles of Scripture, not pragmatism.

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