Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Let Us Sing

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16, NIV)

Those of us in the Churches of Christ have heard this scripture so often in reference to (i.e. in defense of) our practice of acappella worship that often we have missed the simple admonition to sing as a way to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. In other words, there is something spiritually formative about singing.

In a recent Breakpoint essay (“How Good It is to Thank the Lord,” 7/1/09) Chuck Colson references an article by theologian T.M. Moore entitled “Whatever Happened to Singing?” Moore considers the increasing tendency of worshipers to simply listen to the praise band (or praise team, or other singing worshipers) rather than join in the singing, and concludes that they are missing out not just artistically but spiritually. He notes that “Scripture gives us no specific guidance in how to listen to music. Music, according to the Bible, is not the spectator sport we have made it out to be.” Instead, he says, we find many commands to sing, and indeed, earlier generations of Christians sang on all sorts of occasions. Early Christians sang as they went about their chores. Celtic Christians considered singing an important spiritual discipline for progressing in the life of faith. Christians in the 16th to 19th centuries wrote songs for the various daily tasks they undertook, not just to relieve boredom but to consecrate their work to God and exercise their spiritual “muscles.”

In Acts 16 Paul and Silas have been arrested in Philippi for hindering the spiritual-commercial enterprise of the owners of a slave girl who predicts the future. They have been stripped and beaten and tossed in jail. Around midnight, Luke tells us, they “were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (v. 25). An earthquake happens and the jailer guarding them prepares to kill himself. But Paul remonstrates with him, whereupon he asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” His subsequent baptism seems sudden, but consider this: He has been listening to Paul and Silas sing hymns to God, possibly for hours! Singing hymns forms us spiritually; it also witnesses to others.

I shared a few weeks ago in our assembly that after 27 years as a Christ-follower, worshiping in the churches of Christ, I still don’t know how to read music and I don’t sing well in four-part harmony -- I tend to sing the part of whoever is standing next to me. I don’t know an alto from an Altoid, and when you say “soprano” I think HBO drama series. My kids tell me that I clap out of rhythm (confirmed by our Worship Minister) and I sway out of rhythm too. But I love to sing. And I am always a little saddened to observe the surprising number of people in any given worship assembly who stay quiet. As one good man put it dryly, “The congregation sounds better when I don’t sing.” I’ve heard him sing and he’s got a point! But he is missing out on a spiritually formative exercise, and God is missing out on hearing his voice.

As Moore puts it, “Singing hymns deepens us theologically and puts us in the company of the great unseen host who have gone before us and surround us as faithful witnesses to the Lord.” Aaaaaamen. Sung in my best tenor voice.


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