The Song Service of the Church-Part 1

There is a more detailed description of all kinds of worship on this same web site at http://www.dovercoc.org/Sermons/worship.html . Here we are focusing upon the song worship of the church.

Worship is evidently an area of high interest to our God. After saying "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20: 3) God commanded that man not make any kind of idol to lesser "gods" or to bow down to them or worship them (verse 5). This was the second commandment. In the New Testament, it was over worship that Herod was slain by God because he failed to give God the glory (Acts 12: 20-23). God pays attention to worship--who is getting it, how it is being given, what the condition of the heart is that accompanies the worship, etc.

It was over the HOW of worship that Nadab and Abihu died (Leviticus 10: 1-3). Who says that the method of worship does not matter? "The things that were written aforetime were written for our learning (Romans 15: 4).

What does the New Testament say of song worship? There are three passages that mention the song worship of God.

I Corinthians 14: 15 says "... I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. " Paul in Ephesians 5: 18, 19 said "And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit;  speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;" In Colossians 3: 16 he said "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. " This is the sum total of the guidance of the New Testament about the musical worship of the church.

In many ways, we are fortunate today that those are the only requirements we face. If we were asked to replicate the musicianship and technical aspects of first century music, we of the 21st century would be faced with a nearly impossible task. Let's deal with that a little later.

Here are the applications of what we have read about the song service of the church:

1. Singing during worship services is not advice. It is a commandment, common across all three passages cited above. The commandment is not to sing well, but rather to participate. The singing that God requires is in the spirit (It touches the heart, the emotions) and the understanding (it touches the mind, the intellect). Singing is not something we can do on autopilot. Our hearts and minds should be engaged as we participate in this act of worship.

2. The term "sing" is exclusive of other kinds of expression. "Singing" does not include whistling, clapping, knuckle-popping, or playing an instrument. The Greek and English languages used here are comprehensive enough to include the words for those other noises if the Holy Spirit, the ultimate author of the Bible (2 Peter 1: 20, 21), had wanted to include them. It was no accident that for hundreds of years after Christ's ascension, no musical instruments were used in church worship. In fact,the term a cappella means "at the church," a reference to singing with voices only.

3. The permissible styles of music literature are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Psalms are quotations from scripture, set to music. For modern examples, see "The Lord is in His Holy Temple" or "The Lord's My Shepherd." Hymns are not 100% Scripture, but have the name of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit in them. Hymns also have a stately, majestic character to them. "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" and "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" are classic examples. Spiritual songs sometimes do not even mention a Diety in them, or do so only in passing, but convey a spiritual thought. Examples of spiritual songs include "If the Skies Above You are Gray," "Standing on the Promises," and "Blest Be the Tie That Binds."

4. Singing is a form of speech to one another. It is for the purposes of edifying, motivating, or instructing others. This has implications for how we sing. How long would we listen to a speaker who was speaking at 60 syllables per minute? Our newscasters on television are coached to speak from 160 words (not syllables) to 210 words per minute, and oftentimes we become impatient with their slow pace. Outside of song books, only about 1 percent of sheet music is written for less than 60 beats per minute. Songs of this speed are usually written to tragedies--a fallen hero, a lost kingdom, or a nation under seige by pandemic--dirges. How can we sing about the wonders of Heaven, or about marching in the Lord's army, at 40 beats per minute? Do we really mean what we are singing?

Overly fast songs can be just as mind-numbing as slow ones if people cannot say the words or keep up. 120 beats per minute is about as fast as most people are going to be able to sing, even on songs that are written like marches. "Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus" and "When We all Get to Heaven" fit most congregations well at 110 to 120 beats per minute. This wouldn't be a good speed for "What A Friend We Have In Jesus."

Sameness is the enemy of concentration. Audiences's brains go to sleep when the same things are happening repetitively. Did you know that some of the most dangerous highways for single-car accidents are on highways that look like straight lines on maps? Highway hypnosis, or going to sleep at the wheel, happens when everything is too predictable. When there is no variation in song services, brains have a hard time paying attention.

Not every song service should be 2 songs, a prayer, a song, sermon, and invitation song. Mixing up the order of worship from service to service is a good idea. There can even be services where the songs are totally embedded within the sermon instead of having singing and sermons exist as separate entities. Vary the character of the songs so that some fit well when sung slowly (adagio, around 72 beats per minute), some are andante (92 beats per minute), and some allegro (120). If in doubt, lean more toward the faster songs. Also, using a pitch pipe will usually vary pitches between songs, since songs in our song books are written in all kinds of keys from six flats to six sharps. Pitching songs with the pitch pipe will not only give variety, it helps pitch the songs in the keys that the composers intended, and the composers are the people who experimented with the song to render it in its most singable version.

In the long term, something that can be done to help worship in spirit and in understanding is to gradually introduce congregations to more and more new songs. There are congregations that get by on a repertoire of 25 or 30 songs, but it can be hard to sing with the spirit and the understanding when you are looking at the same words and melody for the 500th time. Learning new songs can be exciting when the leader has spent the needed time to learn and be comfortable with new songs.

In the next web page, let's look at how first century music was different from what we do now, and how we got there.You're going to meet some surprises and some curiosities in there.

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