Why do we have Congregational singing in the Churches of God? Is there any reason why YOU SHOULD sing in church? Here is an important article by a staff member of the Correspondence Course.
MANY of the churches of this world have form and ceremony. The average Sunday church devotes at least one third to one half of its service to congregational singing. Perhaps, because of this, the question has come to mind, "Should we be singing in the services of the Church of God? Isn't congregational singing just another carry-over from paganism? The real question we need to answer is, "Where does congregational singing come from? Who determines whether or not you and I will sing in church?"
Did you know that God has already decided this question for us? It has been in our Bibles all this time! But first, let's consider some ideas we may have been entertaining. Some members of local congregations have assumed that their voices are weak and squeaky. Because some have never learned to carry a tune, they think that their voices would detract from the service. Some others may feel that the sound of their small voices is not going to make much difference whether they sing or not, so THEY DON'T! At first glance, these may seem like good reasons for not singing, but they really are not even good excuses! Some have their minds centered on themselves and have not been able to put their hearts into singing because of self-embarrassment! Now let's notice the surprising historical record of congregational singing. Amazingly enough, even secular scholars must admit that "for the origin and idea of Christian hymnody we must look, not to Gentile, but to Hebrew sources" (Ency. Brit. vol. 12, article, "Hymns). Some of the Psalms of David were written specifically to be sung by groups of people! Notice the inspired subheadings to Psalms 45, 46, 47 and 48. These subheads should not be in small type as in the King James version. In the Jewish translation they are properly in large type! David employed many choirs to sing the melodies of the Psalms. He had choirs composed of men and others composed of women. Notice in the subheading to Psalm 46, the Hebrew tells us this was a song "upon Alamoth." Properly translated, this is, "a song to be sung by the young women." The voices of girls made a beautiful contrast to the deep, resonant tones of male bass and baritone singers. Notice also, the overwhelming majority of Psalms are designated, "To the chief musician." He was the choir director and orchestra leader — the leader of the song service! Simple songs were sung by the whole congregation under his direction. More complex ones were specially sung by choirs on the Sabbath and Holy Days. Jesus Christ left us an example to follow! When He gave the final instructions to His disciples before His crucifixion, He concluded by singing with them a psalm. The record is found in Matthew 26:30 — Jesus Christ sang with the disciples who later became the Apostles of the New Testament Church! Do we find that the early New Testament church continued the practice of unified, congregational singing? Turn to Colossians 3:16, and see the positive evidence that THIRTY YEARS after the death of Christ, in a Gentile area, the customs of the Church of God included congregational singing! The Apostle Paul says, "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." How were the Colossians to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly? By singing psalms and other songs! How were they to sing? With their WHOLE HEARTS, as though they were singing with Jesus Christ Himself!
Apostasy Corrupts Church Music
Soon after the death of the apostles, congregational singing received the death blow! As early as the second century, these-so-called "church fathers" introduced the beginnings of the modern chants and meaningless responsive singing that has been adopted by modern churches. Socrates, the church historian, attributes to Ignatius, a "church father," the introduction of chants and antiphonal singing after he had had a dream in which he claimed he saw "angels" singing and chanting praise to the trinity! In recorded musical history we find little evidence of congregational singing from this time on. Hillary of Pottiers and Ambrose of Milan carried on congregational singing until the time of Pope Gregory the Great. This Pope made the famous — originally heathen — Gregorian Chants popular.
Reformation in Church Music
Until the time of the Protestant Reformation, congregational singing was practiced in remote areas of France, Portugal, Sardinia and Bohemia. A few pieces of this music has survived in Germany since the 12th century. These were Dark Ages indeed for the beautiful church music that had inspired singers in the days of David. No longer were people familiar with the accounts of spiritual edification that the Apostles and early church received from singing hymns together. Nevertheless, in spite of persecution, the true Church of God, with Jesus Christ as its living Head, had preserved the proper forms of congregational singing, while hiding on the borders of the Roman Empire. This was dramatically brought to light when Martin Luther attempted to revive congregational singing. He found that instead of having died out, congregational singing had been preserved among the people of God! "The persecuted Bohemian... churches, settled on the borders of Moravia, sent to Luther one Michael Weiss, who not long afterward published a number of German translations from Old Bohemian hymns" (Ency. Brit., vol. 12, art. "Hymns"). These Bohemians were the last surviving remnant, the small persecuted vestige, of God's people who had fled beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. These people had preserved and practiced congregational singing through the centuries! Soon after the visit of Michael Weiss, Luther began work on the first Protestant hymnal. This was the beginning of Protestant congregational singing as we know it today. Had God not preserved the light of His true Church we still might be hearing only the chants of the Middle Ages in the world.
The JOY of Singing
Singing aloud as part of the congregation helps you share with others the joy you feel. But God knew some people would not voluntarily sing — and would miss a tremendous blessing because of their timidity. So He had to command congregational singing as a part of worship services! Throughout the Psalms there are many clear-cut, straight-from-the-shoulder COMMANDS to sing and praise God in song! Notice Psalm 92:1. David reminds us, "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to SING praises unto thy name, O most High" Psalm 96 repeats the command, " O SING unto the Lord a new song: SING unto the Lord, all the earth." Psalm 98 enumerates the reasons why we should praise God, and tells us HOW: "Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm" (verse 5). Notice Psalm 100. This is another clear command to praise God, as the subtitle of the psalm indicates. The first verse has been poorly translated as "noise" in our King James version. Read it in the Moffatt translation: "Shout praise, all the earth to the Eternal." This is not a command to make a discordant noise, as the King James translators imply, but to make a stirring cheer in praise of the Eternal God. No one denies that God was praised in congregational song in the Old Testament Church. The New Testament reminds us that God does not change (Heb. 13:8, Mal. 3:6). He therefore still commands this type of musical praise in our worship of Him. God expects us to follow the example of David in the Old Testament, and Christ and the Apostles in the New Testament Church. Ephesians 5:19-20 shows the effect God's Holy Spirit has in a really converted Christian. "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..."
Sing in Church!
In the swelling hymns, in the inspiring Psalms of the Bible, there are deep spiritual messages. These are not merely notes to be sung, but words to be sung, understood, and emotions to be experienced! As the voices of all the congregation rise in song, we all experience the unity and fellowship with one another and with God as He originally intended. Hymns are a means whereby we as a congregation can take part in praising God when we come before Him on His Holy Days. Through hymns we have a part in the worship service, we can give thanks to God our Father and to Jesus Christ the living Head of His Church. And remember, the best way to learn to sing is by singing — every Sabbath! Wherever you are, God in Heaven ENJOYS hearing YOU sing in church!