This is a frequent question for many people as we discuss various local churches. And it is not an unimportant one! God has commanded us to sing – and so how we do it is an important consideration. Do we actually sing, or just murmur? Are the singing and music done reasonably well? Even questions of style, while not fundamental, contain a layer of importance. Singing is a big part of what the church does when she gathers to worship her King Sunday by Sunday. And so it’s not wrong to ask: What’s the singing like? And if we are going to ask the question, we should not only want to know what the answer is in a given local church … but also what the answer should be! What should the singing be like? And, boy, are there some good answers in Colossians 3.16:
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Looking at that verse (and a couple of others), let me piece together a brief philosophy of singing in the local church. (Note: Italicized emphases within scriptural quotations are mine, and not original to the biblical text).
So then, our singing should be:
Biblical: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you … singing.” That is to say that the content of what we sing ought to be word-driven – not based so much in the sensory perceptions of the song-writer, but seeking to put into poetic language the truths and emotions and ways of thinking and praising that we find on the pages of “the word” (including the “psalms”, Paul says)!
Christ-Centered: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you … singing.” Not every song needs to be directly about the gospel and the cross of Christ. But we do well to be sure that we do sing of these matters consistently. Christ crucified, risen, and reigning – these are the high water marks of biblical revelation, and ought to be so in our singing as well.
Vertical: “Singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Our chief goal in singing praise to God is to sing praise to God – not merely to gratify our own desires. That’s not to say that our singing and music should be deliberately unappealing to the human ear! It should be beautiful – but primarily as a gift to God, and a reflection of His own beauty; not for the sake of entertainment.
Edifying: While we sing primarily to God, we should also sing in such a way that, by our very singing, we are “teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” This is where, once again, scriptural lyrics are important; and where beautiful singing can help us remind each other of our beautiful God!
Simple: It seems to me that New Testament worship did not come with very many accoutrements – the human heart and voice being the instruments of praise upon which Paul places his emphasis in Colossians 3 (and Eph. 5.19!).
Congregational: “Singing with thankfulness in your hearts [plural] to God.” Paul’s emphasis seems to be on singing together … not merely listening to the singers on the stage, but joining our hearts and voices in one song.
Reverent: “God is in heaven and you are on the earth” (Ecclesiastes 5.2). So let us beware of flippancy or gimmicks, but approach the throne with reverence and humility. As A.W. Tozer has said, you don’t go into "the presence of the Queen of England" and start "telling jokes about queens"! How much less, he says, in the presence of the King of kings!
Joyful: After having spoken of reverence, let us also say very clearly that reverence is not the same thing as formality or tedium! Let us sing with gusto and passion and joy! “Shout joyfully to the LORD all the earth” (Psalm 100.1).
May the Lord bless us as we sing is praises together from week to week!