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Sing, choirs of disciples

By Hedgehog.

I love singing. It may be the Welsh blood that courses through my veins, but I have sung since I was a child. I wasn't quite good enough to sing professionally, but I still love singing.

But why do we sing in church? After all, I can't find a single reference in the New Testament to singing in worship (most translations of Eph. 5.19 and Col. 3.16 tell us to make melody in our hearts, although I note that the Contemporary English Version says 'with all your heart'). Admittedly, we will be singing a new song in heaven, but that's then and this is now.

It is usually assumed that we sing as an expression of praise, worship, adoration etc. Fine, but is it true? I suggest that our people often have less pure motives.

Some sing because they like singing. Others sing because they like the songs. If you don't believe me, look out for those people who do not sing certain songs because they do not like them! Still others sing a certain type of song/hymn with enthusiasm because it serves as a battle cry for their particular faction. These are the people who sing traditional hymns with gusto, but mumble their way through the more modern stuff. These people sometimes exert pressure on the worship leaders to choose only music liked by their faction.

Then there's the issue of how much we sing. For example, not long ago, every Baptist service had four hymns - no more, no less. Now, most include at least 10 modern songs, with perhaps one traditional-type hymn. Do we really need that much singing, especially when it usually means that other things get pushed out, such as Scripture readings? Many services now include lots of songs, but not one single reading of Scripture!

One of the most meaningful services I attend regularly is one where there is no singing. In contrast, there is a strong liturgy, space for quiet meditation and reflection, two Bible readings and a short sermon. The climax of the service is a silent eucharist. Even for a lifelong singer (that is not a misprint!), there is no need for music to enhance the sense of God's presence.

Finally, there is the content of so much of what we sing. There is some extraordinary tosh included in most hymnbooks and songbooks (writer pauses to don tin helmet and body armour, because he is certain to offend someone!). For example, "By your side, I will stay; in your arms I will lay" is fine for some in the congregation, but for a bloke who spent his formative years playing violent, manly sports, there is too much homosexual undertone in that one for me.

Leaving aside the Victorian romanticism of many hymns, and the dodgy theology of others (anyone care to write in with their favourite examples?), I can't resist commenting on the dreary music of some hymns and songs (e.g. "Blest be the tie that binds"), the sexism of others (e.g. "Brother, let me be your servant") and the sheer sentimental drivel of others (e.g. "Living under the shadow of his wing").

On Maundy Thursday last year, I organised a service without any congregational singing. Those who came, who represented all ages and groups in our church, were enthusiastic in saying how helpful, focused and meaningful the service was. So it can be done! Maybe we should try to do it more often.


A lovable, but sometimes prickly fellow

Ministry Today

You are reading Sing, choirs of disciples by Hedgehog, part of Issue 16 of Ministry Today, published in June 1999.

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