Congregational Singing: What's the Big Deal?
Few things distinguish a local church assembly from other types of community gatherings like congregational singing. When we worship God together by singing to him and of him we are participating in one of the most radical acts of gospel witness the world will ever see.
In the New Testament the two foundational passages on singing are Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19. In Colossians Paul writes, “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.” One could write an entire book on all the theology packed in that one verse. But for the sake of space I’d like to make a couple observations.
First, notice how Paul commands us to sing different kinds of songs: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We can debate about what qualifies as a hymn or a spiritual song, but we should not overlook the fact that we are commanded to sing psalms as well! The Psalms were Israel’s hymnal and God also wants his New Covenant church to sing them.
Note also how we are “teaching and admonishing one another” through our singing. This is why the lyrics of the songs we choose are extremely important. Show me what a church sings and I will show you their theology. As much as I would love for people to remember every one of my sermons, what really sticks in our heads as we come home from a church service are the words to the songs. Because of this, it is crucial that we choose songs that are clear on the gospel, biblically faithful, and rich with sound doctrine. Songs that leave the gospel and biblical teaching unclear are not helpful and can even cause spiritual harm.
Next, notice what Paul says in Ephesians 5:19… “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” He says that when we sing we are addressing one another. Yes, we are singing to God, but he is not our only audience. We are singing to one another. Turning the lights off, the volume up, and encouraging people to close their eyes and forget about those around them is actually going against what God tells us in Ephesians! Singing with and to your brothers and sisters in Christ is an essential part of biblical congregational worship.
Finally, we cannot miss the fact that we are commanded to sing. A Christian who doesn’t sing is an oxymoron. It would be like a fish that doesn’t swim. It is our joy to sing of the great things God has done, and to praise him for his glory! But it is not only our joy, it is our duty. Refusing to sing is a disobedience to God’s expressed commandment.
Congregational singing is most certainly a big deal. It not only matters supremely that we sing, but also how and what we sing.
I'm looking forward to singing with you (and to you!) this coming Lord's Day.