Notes on Congregational Singing from a Recent Sermon
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Eph 5:18-19 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.
Our Guides for Singing
The first thing we notice in these passages is that our worship and our singing, specifically, are governed by (1) The Word of Christ and (2) The Holy Spirit. Both are said to reside within us, individually and as a church. The Word is to dwell richly in us (make a home in us), and the Spirit is to fill us. Our worship and our singing in particular is not biblical, is not Christian, is not received as praise before the Lord unless it is prompted, regulated, and guided by the Gospel and the Spirit.
Application: What does this tell us practically? We shouldn’t sing songs just for the sake of singing songs, or just because we like the music, or just because they are popular in the culture (even in the American church culture). We should be careful and thoughtful in picking out the songs that we sing. They should be biblically informed and theologically rich. They should be spiritual and Gospel focused. So then, taking these guides, we should probably rule out many contemporary songs as well as several songs out of the hymnbook. We should not just be guarded against songs that have bad theology, but we should also be defend ourselves against songs that have no theology.
The Purpose of Singing
Next, we learn that we are to teach, admonish, and speak to one another through these various forms of singing. Our worship, totally governed by the Word of Christ, is to be, in all aspects, an opportunity to teach one another over and over again the glories of Christ. There is a pastor/teacher who is responsible for most of the teaching ministry in the local church, but you are also to take part in it through various means but especially by singing out loud. Let your voice be heard! To “admonish” is to exhort, to persuade, to correct, to emphatically encourage. Don’t we all need it?
So, there is the aspect of ministering to one another through song. However, there is also the aspect of singing “unto the Lord.” The gratitude and love we have for the Lord in our hearts is verbalized and expressed through song unto Him.
Yes, you have always been right to think about your singing as your opportunity to praise the Lord, but do not forget that the Lord calls on you to minister to others through your singing. There is even more reason to sing out loud so others can hear you!
Application: Again, practically speaking, this tells us that we ought to choose songs for congregational singing that are “singable.” We should not pick songs that require too much musical talent. They should not be too high ranging, or low, or with music too difficult to figure out. This, too, rules out a lot of music, both contemporary and traditional.
Various Types of Singing
Psalms: Old Testament songs, set to music.
Hymns: Christian songs newly written. There are many examples in the NT like Phil 2 and Col 1.
Spiritual Songs: This seems to be a catch-all category that may include songs of testimony and witness as well as spontaneous songs.
Application: These various forms of singing described show us that the Lord is pleased with us to sing all kinds of songs. We may sing Scripture, ancient hymns, old hymns, new hymns, contemporary songs, acapella, accompanied, bluegrass, Southern Gospel, country, old spirituals, etc. etc. The key is not the style but the content of the songs.