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Why do we sing?

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

I became a Christian from a non-Christian family, but I had always loved to sing. I grew up singing in choirs and into my hairbrush. I sang while cleaning, walking, and waiting for the bus. It was my happy place. After becoming a Christian I went to church twice every Sunday at a traditional Presbyterian congregation, a highlight was singing. I didn’t mind which songs we sang, old or new, contemporary or traditional.  I was in a young, adventurous congregation and I was part of a team who turned pop songs into Christian songs. Singing was an unquestioned part of my Christian life.

When I took the time to think about why Christians sing, the first place to go was: Ephesians, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, ( Ephesians 5:19)

In every church, one of the greatest sticking points is usually music. Some adore organ music and see it as the embodiment of all that is holy about church. Others raise their hands when they are moved by singing more contemporary songs. I have been in churches with a team of amazing musicians, some of international renown.  I have been in churches where there is only an acoustic guitar played by the pastor. I have been urged to “not perform” while song leading and have strained my voice trying to project without a microphone. We need to reconcile a number of biblical commands to resolve how to worship God with music and singing without falling into the fear of “performing” and to correct hyper-holy perspectives about instruments, song choices and atmosphere. Here are three main points to get us started thinking about church and music.

We are called to Sing together (but that's not the only way to worship)

The psalms are thick with the word “sing”! David urged God’s people to sing, he sang frequently in praise and thankfulness. In the new testament, there are often commands to sing when in gathered worship. There is a great emphasis on the mindful aspect of singing. Singing songs that teach the congregation, songs that are useful for growing the mind as well as the spirit.

  • So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.(1 Corinthians 14:15)
  • Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, (Ephesians 5:19)
  • Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)
  • Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.(James 5:13)

There are no prescriptive texts about instruments

In the Old Testament, many instruments are mentioned for using to praise God. Although we cannot take these as prescriptive of our corporate worship, they give an idea of how corporate singing occurred in the Old Testament. Cymbals, harps and lyres are mentioned in Second Chronicles, lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals are mentioned in Second Samuel.

So how do we reconcile church music tradition with the commands of scripture? Should we have congregation members trained in the lyre and harp?

In the Balaclava congregation we use Worship Lyric Videos, Emu Music and various other Youtube videos to lead us in singing. It allows us to focus on other acts of service at church and select music that we believe is best for building up the congregation. In the St Kilda congregation we use a combination of organ and videos to lead the singing. We like the organ but sometimes there are other songs we would like to sing with the congregation that are not written for the organ.

Songs should be “great to sing”

Given that we are commanded to sing in the bible, and the commands centre around encouraging one another and not around a specific style of music, we aim to select songs with three different qualities.

The melody is comfortable and pleasurable to sing

In previous eras, many people sang at school or work, or even at the pub on Fridays. We were a culture of singers. Some of the melodies from these eras assume a wider range for singing or a higher or lower singing register than many people have. Therefore older songs may need to be transposed or arranged differently to make this easier. Singing can make you breathless and faint if a song is too slow, or hurt someone’s throat if they are too high. The worst is when people do not sing at all!

The words are rich and encouraging

We select songs from across all kinds of church genres, contemporary, traditional, pentecostal, indie or pop. However, they must first be enjoyable to sing ( see point a) and more importantly, have great quality and theologically powerful lyrics. Singing about repentance, grief, joy and truth is more potent when the words are well written, but they must also be reliable and true from the bible.

The songs speak to our community

Sometimes we will select songs from Anglican, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Lutheran or more broadly contemporary sources as we know that our congregation is made up of people from different places. Sometimes we introduce new songs that many of us are not familiar with as they fill a gap in our theological teaching. Some songs are arranged for organ, but others are piano, others have a full band. We prefer worship videos with text and good cueing so that the congregation can sing and be in harmony with one another.

Worshipping together in a physical space and singing is one of the greatest joys to share with our community together. We can share our pain and sorrow, our delight and joy and be reminded of rich biblical truths. May God bless our singing together to glorify Him and build up the people in the congregation.


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