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Why We Sing What We Sing ~ Excerpted from an essay at 9Marks.org

Christians are a singing people.

Muslims don’t gather to sing. Neither do Hindus, Buddhists, or Rastafarians. Christians do. Also, while not everyone preaches, or leads in prayer, or publicly reads Scripture, we all sing.

But what can we say about the nature of a corporate Christian song? What should it be like? Can we sing any kind of song when gathered together?

WHAT A CONGREGATIONAL SONG SHOULD BE

Psalm 96 offers some crucial perspectives regarding the nature of a right song and its effects. Originally written for the covenant people of God for the entry of the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (see 1 Chr. 16), this Psalm offers us much regarding the practice of singing today.

A Congregational Song Should Focus on God

God is at the center of a Christian song. When God calls his people to sing, it is a qualified type of song. In Psalm 96:1, God says, “Sing to the Lord.”

When the church is gathered together in the name of God, the glory of God is the aim of our melody making. We are to sing to him, about him, and for him. We don’t sing merely as the world sings of created things, our song is elevated to the Uncreated One. The songs of the church proclaim the character, attributes, and ways of the God of our salvation.

For those who choose songs for corporate worship, this is a task to be carried out with sobriety. For the main teaching pastor, it is your responsibility to shepherd the congregation into the green pastures of God-centered, gospel-centered songs, and away from the arid plains of theological vacuity, meditations on human experience, and emotional frenzy.

A Congregational Song Should Be Biblical

The songs of the church ought to be built on, shaped by, and saturated with the word of God. Singing is a unique way to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16).

In Psalm 96:2, we see that we are to bless his name. Apart from God’s revelation, we would not know his name, or how to bless his name. Our singing and the whole of our worship must be biblically informed in order to carry out these commands. The songs of the church should be intentionally biblical.

Songs are sermons. Our hymns teach and shape the way people view God, man, Christ, and how we are to live in light of the gospel. Our songs should be held up to the light of God’s word to ensure we are singing the glories of its truth.

A Congregational Song Should Point to the Gospel

We should “tell of his salvation” (v. 2), so that the gospel rings forth as the theme of our songs. If we are convinced of the primacy of gospel-centered ministry, we should surely practice gospel-centered singing. The songs of our churches must be fluent in the gospel.

One approach toward gospel-centered singing is to build on the framework of God, man, Christ, response.

  • We sing to God as the holy creator of all things,
    who is worthy of worship.
  • We sing of man and our sinful nature, our alienation from God, and our need of forgiveness.
  • We sing of Christ who is fully God and fully man, who lived a sinless life and died on the cross to bear the wrath of God.
  • We sing a response. In these songs of consecration and repentance, faith and praise, we joyfully respond to the good news of Jesus.

A Congregational Song Should Be Congregational

The preface to this Psalm says it is to be sung by both Asaph and his sons (1 Chr. 16:7). Christian singing is congregational at its core.

The song of redemption is not meant for one, but for many. In the torrent of individualism and self-help, the people of God don’t sing as a collection of individuals, but as one people united to Christ. Christian singing is not meant to highlight the talented few, but to include the voice of the many. Congregational participation protects the gathering from pageantry and pomp, and provides an environment for an exultant, grace-infused response to the revelation of God.

A Congregational Song Should be Evangelistic

Our singing is aimed at God, but it also rings in the ear of our neighbor. God-centered worship is proclamation. As we sing of the glory of God we understand that all have not seen his glory. As we sing of the goodness of the gospel, we realize that it is not good news to all.

Spurgeon called this Psalm the “Missionary Psalm,” and for good reason. In verses 10 to 13, we see that God-centered singing intrinsically works as a declaration to the lost. God-centeredness and evangelism are not two competing targets but one inside of the other. The worship of God is the aim of evangelism.

In the same breath, we sing of the love and wrath of God. In the same melodies, we declare his holiness and the grave effect of sin. Christ is the king who will come to judge the world in his righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness. We say among the nations “The Lord reigns!” in the hope that men and women will repent of sin and trust in Christ.

A HOLY PRACTICE

The church has been given a song to sing, and Christ is its author, its substance, and its aim.

Singing is not filler time to warm up a congregation for the sermon. Singing is a holy practice. We sing because God has commanded us, and our songs should fill our hearts with delight.

 

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