Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why Should We Sing in Church?

I'm reading a book called The Life of God in the Soul of the Church by Thabiti Anyabwile. Chapter 9 is an interesting chapter entitled, Sing to One Another. I thought I would quote and summarize some of the chapter because I think there is a lot here worth thinking about. I would be interested to get your take on these thoughts.

Anyabwile begins this chapter with a quote from a blog article called "The Slow Death of Congregational Singing". He quotes the author as saying, "I turned to a friend next to me and commented, “No-one’s singing”. He looked at me as if I’d just observed that no-one was flying. Of course they’re not singing; we haven’t really sung here for years. Whatever was happening that morning, it was most decidedly not congregational singing. In many churches, genuine, heartfelt congregational singing has been in its death throes for some years now."

Is there anything wrong if God's people don't really sing when they gather, but perhaps listen to others sing to them? Is that a problem at all?

Anyabwile asks five questions: What is singing? Why are Christians motivated to sing? Who should sing and to whom should we sing? Which goals ought there to be for our singing? How should we sing?

What is singing?  According to Ephesians 5:19, singing is a form of speaking. To sing is to speak in melody. It's a form of communicating ideas and emotions with the voice and tune.

Why are Christians motivated to sing? First, Christians sing because they are filled with God's Spirit (Ephesians 5:18,19). Second, Christians sing because they are thankful (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16).

Who should sing, and to whom should we sing?  All Christians are priests. There is no need for a special class to lead in the worship experience as was the case in the Old Testament. All Christians are to 'make music in their heart to the Lord.'  To whom should we sing? According to Ephesians 5:19 we are to speak to one another in song.

In this section Anyabwile says something very interesting. He tells about an occasion when he was singing in the congregation and made eye contact with a friend. He first felt awkward but then realized that they were in community singing the truth about God. Then he writes:

"What are we taught to do as children when someone is speaking to us? We're taught to make eye contact. People who make eye contact politely engage in what you're saying. The eye contact communicates respect, attention, and interest. So it is when we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The eye contact with the people we're speaking to in song asures the other person that what we're doing is real and we're not alone. On the contrary, avoiding eye contact indicates rudeness. We should make brief but good eye contact with those around us."


But why don't some sing congregationally?  He gives several possible reasons, but then he writes:

"But perhaps the most fundamental reason for the decline of congregational singing is a wrong understanding of the public gathering of the church. Our conception of Christian faith has become too privatized. Too many Christians think the public gathering of the church is basically a couple of hundred people having their personal quiet time in the same place. We tend to think that what matters is how we individually engage with God. We think we're in our 'personal space' and others should not intrude.We don't think of our public services as conversation, speaking to one another."

Which goals ought there to be for our singing?  1) To edify others (1 Corinthians 14:26). 2) To give thanks to God. 3) To be filled with God's Word (Colossians 3:16). Singing is not only speaking; it is also teaching. When we sing we are teaching one another. Therefore singing must be Word-centered and Christ-centered. Thus the church should be intentional and careful about who teaches, and what is taught, through song. Those who are in the choir or who sing as part of a praise team or in special music are part of the teaching ministry of the church.

Anyabwile asserts that "it's wrong to divide the ministry of the Word from the ministry of song, to divide the activity of singing from the activity of instruction. If we say of a church, 'I like the singing, but I can do without the Word,' or if we say, 'I like the preaching/teaching, but I can take or leave the singing,' we've missed something very vital.

What should we sing?  Because the Scripture teaches that we should sing to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, we should sing in a variety of forms, in types of songs and music blended together for praise to God, and encouragement and instruction to one another.

As far as lyrics are concerned, we want specific and detailed ideas regarding the glory and love of God for us in Christ Jesus His Son. We don't want generalities and allusions that confuse the world and the church. Our lyrics should be accurate, not false or misleading. Our lyrics should be God-centered and not man-centered. We want to sing songs rich in accuracy and truth, specific about the Lord and His work, and holy, not secular, because they enrich our knowledge of our Savior and His salvation.

Most of the content of this blog post is direct quotes or paraphrases from The Life of God in the Soul of the Church  by Thabiti Anyabwile, published by 9Marks, Christian Focus Publications


Anonymous said...

I believe the songs should be the type that people CAN sing along. Familiar and easy enough. A melody that lends itself to be sung.
I really don't believe that during worship we are singing psalms and hymns to EACH OTHER. I feel it is sung to God. Interesting point: that we should look each other in the eye. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but no. That would be uncomfortable for me. Many sing with eyes closed and hands raised in worship to the Lord.
I find that sharing of songs hymns and spiritual songs come into play on Facebook, handwritten notes and letters to others, and in conversation.
Interesting article. But maybe making it more than it needs to be. Just singing to the Lord in praise from a grateful heart. Melody

Roger said...

I think the author was referring to the passage in Ephesians that says singing to one another in Psalms, etc. I don't know of any other time that we sing to one another other than in worship services. He wasn't exclusive that that is the reason we sing. He included praise and thanksgiving, worship, etc. Obviously we do share lyrics in written form to one another, but I think he would say that isn't singing.

I agree that making eye contact is uncomfortable. He acknowledged that in his book, but said we should learn how since we are singing to one another.

I just thought it was an extremely interesting chapter, bringing up many things I hadn't thought about before. I think it's worth delving into more.