The Elements of Public Worship Part V
The Singing of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs with Grace in the Heart
Part 2 of 2
“IT is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing of psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family. In singing of psalms, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief care must be to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.” – The Directory for the Publick Worship of God
Previously we discussed why it is our scriptural duty and privilege to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in the public worship of God. Now we will discuss how we should go about singing them.
The Apostle Paul did not merely instruct the church to sing in its worship, he instructed them to sing with “grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). This means that we are not obeying his command if we merely stand up and sing without thought or feeling. Rather, as we sing, our hearts should be filled with love unto the Lord and with a real desire to praise Him for his majesty and mercy. When we sing of his mighty acts of redemption, we should do so with genuine thankfulness in our hearts as we acknowledge His saving work in our lives. We should also be meditating upon the words that we are singing, and for this reason our songs should always be biblically based and theologically sound. The sung praise of the church should always be in sweet agreement with her confession of faith, and we should never contradict the doctrines we preach with the doctrines we sing. [Let me briefly share a personal anecdote illustrating that point. I recall an occasion many years ago when I was called as a Licentiate to preach in PCA church. Before I preached the congregation stood and sung a popular praise song written and published by a Pentecostal/Charismatic denomination. At one point in the sermon, I found myself in the uncomfortable situation of actually contradicting a teaching that the church had just affirmed in its singing, several people in the congregation realized that, and their facial expressions indicated they were not happy about it. We need to realize that what we sing often has a stronger effect on molding the core beliefs of the people in the church than what we preach and teach.]
The worship of the New Testament church calls for the participation of the entire congregation. Our worship is not a form of entertainment, and the Scriptures nowhere recognize the service of song as something to be performed by the few on behalf of the many. Therefore congregational singing should be something we all joyfully do together. If our worship is to be founded entirely on the precepts of scripture, then it will not include choirs or soloists. The practice of including choirs and then later soloists in Presbyterian worship has become common in “traditional” worship, but that was as a result of the late 19th and early 20th century integration of Episcopalian elements of worship into Presbyterian worship. Several GA declarations in the 19th century decried this trend, but the “liturgical revival” of the early 20th century simply pushed them aside, just as the “seeker sensitive movement” of the late 20th century would push aside the choirs of the former liturgical revival in favor of more contemporary praise bands.
If we do include music in our worship, then its function must be to assist the congregation in their singing of praise. It is the singing of hymns, psalms and spiritual songs that is an element in our worship. Music, on the other hand, is a circumstance of our worship. Just as the sound system helps us to hear the word preached in a large church, music helps us to sing together by keeping us harmonized and in tune. Whether we use a piano an organ or a guitar to assist us in our singing is incidental, the important thing is that our music be reverent, decent, and orderly and that it support our singing rather than overpowering or undermining it.