The Importance of Congregational Singing
Throughout church history, one of the primary elements of the gathered church has been to worship through music. Whether led by an organ, a piano, a band, or a cantor, to go to a Sunday gathering of the church and not participate in music in some form would be quite strange. Some point to handwritten collections of songs from the Middle Ages as the earliest types of hymnals, but these people forget an even earlier source: the book of Psalms! In fact, certain editions of the Bible make it clear that it’s actually a collection of five sets of songs (1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150). So why have these included in the Bible? What’s the big deal about singing?
We are commanded to sing.
Psalm 96:1-2 Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
The word sing appears in the scriptures over 400 times and at least 50 are commands. Singing is a uniquely human activity, and it connects our breath and body to the outside world in a way nothing else can. It does not matter how good we believe our voice is. Much like faith, it is the object of our singing, not the quality of the voice, that matters. Singing and music allows us to express something beyond just words. And imagine this scene from after the last supper:
Matthew 26:30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The disciples are not professionally trained musicians. But under the leadership of Jesus, they sang together as an act of worship. So if we are to follow Christ’s example, then this practice of singing with His disciples is further proof of obedience to a command. We also know that singing will be part of our eternal lives, as shown in Revelation 5:11-13.
When we sing, we connect our hearts to deep theological truths.
Colossians 3:16 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.
It is no accident that singing is found in this list that begins with “let the word of Christ dwell in your richly.” Singing brings an aspect of memory that can help us align our hearts if those lyrics come out of the Bible (or at least Biblical truths). As we jump into the Romans 8 series, we are intentionally singing some songs that are Scripture passages set to music. How powerful to have these tunes playing in our heads and hearts as we go through the week!
When we sing, we connect to those we are singing with.
Ephesians 5:15-21 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Both this passage and the one from Colossians 3 have an important phrase- they both have an element of “one another.” Singing in a group is powerful, because it reminds us that we are not alone, and helps to draw our attention to God as the aim of our praises or pleas. There is value in music used for personal worship time, but the encouragement from the church raising voices together gives gusto to the soul and gladdens the heart. The passage here contrasts the goodness of music to the deceitful “pleasures” or the world. A heart brimming with joy for the Lord cannot help but express itself.
When we sing, we outwardly proclaim the truth of God’s Word.
Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Singing hymns and spiritual songs are a witness not only to the church but also to the outside world. When our lives are filled with music that points us to Jesus, then when others enter into our lives, they cannot help but see how different and unselfish the music liturgy of the church is to most other music available. That doesn’t mean that we must go around and sing aloud in all of our daily tasks. But if we allow the music of God’s people to permeate our consciousness, then it will not be a surprise when you find yourself humming or singing quietly a song that orients your heart towards Jesus.
This is why we make singing a priority in our Sunday morning gatherings. We don’t pretend to be the best, but we bring our best in pointing to THE best, Jesus, our Lord and Savior. And when we consider His sacrifice for us, His love, His patience, His grace and mercy, how can we help ourselves but to sing? No matter how bad you may think your voice is, it is more encouraging to hear an authentic cry of praise than the most beautiful singing without knowing Jesus. Remember that our singing is not ultimately about us, but about God and how we can connect to Him and His people. So, sing! Sing to God! Sing to one another!
Love in Christ,