Spectators or Participants? (OR Why we sing Hymns, part 2)1
This is the second post on the philosophy of worship music at Redeemer Church. In the first post, I reflected on the importance of content. A song that has no biblical content, a song in which Jesus' name can be replaced with "Baby" and still make sense, is not one that we should be singing in the public worship service of the church.
In this post, I want to address another very important factor in choosing and playing worship music: participation by the whole church. In order to fully appreciate this factor, we must remember that before the protestant reformation, congregational singing had been essentially removed from the worship service. When we think of Martin Luther, we think of the man who nailed the 95 theses to the church door at Wittenburg, who stood up to the Catholic church at the Diet of Worms, and whose influence led to the recovery the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone. All of this is true and too be celebrated. Lesser known, however, is that Luther and the reformation also returned congregational singing to the churches. Historian Robert Godfrey reflects on the changes:
By the late Middle Ages the biblical call to song had become muted. The worshiping congregation did very little singing - only a few responses like the Kyrie eleison, the Gloria in excelsis, and the Sanctus. Most singing was done by choirs composed of monks or clerics. Choir music - in the churches that had them - was often elaborate and sophisticated. The Reformation made a big change in the church's singing. Congregational participation increased dramatically. Each of the major Reformers - Luther, Zwingli and Calvin – had musical training and had the skill to write poems and tunes.
Before the reformation, in other words, God's people were essentially spectators when it came to singing. Part of the reformation included making them participants again. What motivated the change? The Bible. Scripture holds out singing praise to God both as a command and a privilege of all of God's people, not just a select few. Consider, as just one example, what Paul writes to the church of Ephesus:
"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 5:18-20)
One could also walk through the Psalter and see how important singing praise to God is for every one of God's people. This truth has important implications for worship music in the church today. First, it teaches that worship music in the church is not intended to be a performance for the congregation, but sung by the congregation. A church service is not a concert. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be entertained by great music, but that is not the role of music in church. Any church where only a small minority of the congregation is actually singing (like the worship team), or any church that intentionally shapes its music to entertain, has, somewhat ironically, become more catholic than protestant on this point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a worship team in and of itself, but they should be leading the congregation in song, not singing for the congregation. A second implication is that music selected for church worship must be singable. If the music is too complicated to be sung by the congregation, it's probably not an appropriate for use in the public service.
Christian, rejoice in the fact that you can publically proclaim the name of the Lord in song, and do it with gusto! What a great privilege and calling we have to "Sing Praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name."