July 1, 2009
At BreakPoint’s blog, The Point, we had a lively debate over church music—especially the now-common practice of bands performing during Sunday worship.
Much of the debate focused contemporary music versus traditional hymns. But one of our bloggers invited readers to consider another question: Does God intend us to merely listen to music—or to sing ourselves?
Theologian T.M. Moore answers this question in an article he wrote for BreakPoint Online called “Whatever Happened to Singing?” It’s curious, Moore writes, 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 to be.” Instead, we find many commands to sing.
Earlier generations of Christians sang on all sorts of occasions, Moore writes. When they were locked up in jail, Paul and Silas sang psalms. So did early Christians as they went about their chores. As Moore notes: “Celtic Christians considered singing an important spiritual discipline for making progress in the life of faith. Their spiritual descendents of the 16th to the 19th centuries wrote songs for everything from lighting the fire to milking the cows to heading out to sea. They set those songs in the form of prayers to God for blessing, guidance, and help.”
We see this point illustrated in the 1985 film Witness. After the barn-raising, Amish men sang together as they began walking home.
Why do so many modern Christians neglect the practice of singing spiritual songs?
First, it’s much more enjoyable to listen to professional singers than to the sound of our own voices—especially if you have a voice like mine. Second, Moore writes, “singing is hard work.” It “takes a commitment of the mind (in remembering the lyrics, melody, and beat). It takes a commitment of the heart (in summoning up the proper affections.)” It also calls on our strength “(in exercising the voice and lungs).”
It’s much easier to pop a CD in the player.
Third, most of us don’t know many spiritual songs all the way through.
But singing is good for us—which is why we ought to recover the spiritual discipline of singing to the Lord. And when learning the songs all the way through, we ought to look for opportunities to sing “the Lord’s own words back to Him.”
Moms could lead their kids in song on the drive to school in the morning. (It might even help wake them up.) Instead of turning on the TV after dinner, parents might lead their kids in some joyous singing to the Lord. This is a practice in Scotland. Just for fun, we might even dig up those songs Christians used to sing when they lit the fire and milked the cows.
Singing hymns about God’s love and protection can also provide comfort in a dangerous situation—like when a loved one is undergoing surgery, or when you’re driving during a blizzard.
As Moore puts it, “Singing psalms deepens us theologically, [and] puts us in the company of that great unseen host who have gone before us and surround us as faithful witnesses to the Lord.”
So no matter what kind of voice you have, or what day of the week it is, lift up your voice and sing praise to God Most High.
Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.