Most of us are probably familiar with Martin Luther. When you hear the name, you probably think of him first and foremost as the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. What you might not know about Luther is that, among all the changes he made, he was responsible for reintroducing congregational singing into worship. A Jesuit priest once complained he, “has murdered more souls with his songs than with his writings and sermons.” Luther himself wrote, “The Devil flees form the sound of music almost as much as from the word of God.”
You see, what both Luther and his Jesuit critic realized is that singing is potent. We raise our voices to praise God and to instruct each other. That is powerful! That understanding is in part what prompted us to host “Singing with the Spirit” this weekend. We appreciate Bro. Myron Bruce coming to present it and I know that we will all grow in our appreciation of singing as we carry these lessons with us. Hopefully I will not step on his toes too much here – this article is intended to complement his work, though it is possible there will be some reduplication, since we are working from the same textbook, so to speak. But I would like for us to briefly consider what makes our congregational singing significant.
- Singing is a way of preaching and teaching Christ. Christ is both the ground and the content of our songs as Christians. In other words, Christians sing about Christ. If we praise God, it is especially for what he has done in and through Christ. If we sing about the Holy Spirit, it is as the give of the risen Christ. If we instruct one another, it is in the new life we live in Christ. So when we, as the body of Christ, sing about him, we are preaching Christ. Our opening song this morning makes this point emphatically: We praise Thee, O God, for the Son of Thy love, for Jesus who died, and is now gone above. Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Hallelujah! Amen! We often think of our singing as primarily vertical in orientation – that is, that it is directed to God. But there is a horizontal component too, that is at least as heavily emphasized in the NT as the vertical: we are having a conversation with each other. Paul refers to addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 5:19). In the parallel passage in Colossians, there is an explicit mention of teaching and admonishing in song (Colossians 3:16). We can think of a number of songs that not only teach but admonish us. I gave My life for thee, my precious blood I shed, that thou migth’st ransomed be, and quickened from the dead; I gave, I gave My life for the, what hast thou giv’n for Me?
- Singing is a confession of faith. Consider what the Hebrews writer says: Through Him therefore let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name.(Hebrews 13:15 AMP) When we sing, we acknowledge God by praising him, telling of his mighty acts, confessing our faith in him, and expressing gratitude for what he has done for us. There is a God, He is alive, in Him we live, and we survive; from dust our God created man, He is our God, the great I Am. These songs of praise and adoration pay tribute to our God. They are a spiritual sacrifice, one of the offerings that replaces those of the Law of Moses.
- Singing exemplifies the unity of the church. Raising our voices together expresses and symbolizes that we are all one people of God,that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:6). Not only does our singing express that we are united to the Lord and each other, it actually helps to accomplish unity. There’s a reason why schools, clubs, and even nations have songs: they create a sense of solidarity, reinforcing who we are and what we believe. Consider a song we sang last night that inspires that dedication. I’m not ashamed to own my Lord, nor to defend his cause; maintain the honors of His Word, the glory of his cross.
- Singing involves the whole person. It involves our spirits and our minds (1 Corinthians 14:26). It involves words with the heart (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16) and the lips (Hebrews 13:15). So our minds, hearts, and speech organs – the intellect, the emotions, and the physical self – are all involved in singing. The tongue is the instrument, created by God, on which he is praised from the heart. It is a reminder of our complete and total dedication to him. You are the words and the music. You are the song that I sing. You are the melody, You are the harmony, praise to Your name I will bring. You are the Lord of lords, You are the mighty God, You are the King of all kings. So now I give back to You the songs that You gave to me, You are the song that I sing.
May we all feel a deeper appreciation for the songs we sing. May our singing be a blessing to us and a pleasing offering to God.
For these doctrinal points, I am heavily indebted to Everett Ferguson, “The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today.”