Hope Network Newsletter: The New Testament Encourages Special Music in Worship (Mar 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

by Calvin Warpula; Introduction by Lynn Anderson
March, 1993

10This is the second of three columns on the power and place of music in worship. I wrote the introductory article in last month’s Wineskins, and invited Calvin Warpula to write this installment. Calvin and I obviously tune in to our music on different wave lengths. My style is anecdotal and conversational; Calvin’s is more academic, even polemical. But I hold Calvin in profound respect and warm affection. This article is an edited version of the paper Calvin delivered at the Petit Jean Minister’s Retreat in 1992.

I believe that all types and formats of vocal music are scriptural and can be used as needed or desired. God is not as concerned about when, where, who, and how many sing at one time, as he is the meaning, purpose, and devotion of their praise. Nor does God care about song books, shaped notes, four-part harmony, communion cups, or contribution baskets.

I believe that to insist on having only simultaneous congregational singing is to make a creedal law beyond scriptural authority. Those who insist on “simultaneous congregational singing only” use several elements which were not in the early church: a song directory, harmony, modern music and poetry, and modern aids such as song books, shaped notes, and pitch pipes.

I believe that the Jews of both the Old Testament and the New, as well as the early Christians, enjoyed various styles of vocal music and we should, too.

I also believe we should let individuals and congregations use the musical format they like without judging them. We do not judge over song books, overhead projectors, and style of songs, whether they are Bach, Bill Gaither, or Stamps-Baxter; neither should we judge over whether one has a solo or choral group.

I believe that simultaneous congregational singing has great benefits and is a rich, meaningful heritage to be preserved.

It is possible for special music to be abused. However, every good thing can be abused, including preaching or congregational singing. The abuse of a good thing by some is no reason to disallow the proper practice of that good thing by others.

A Basic Assumption

Items of worship which God has approved without specifying how they are to be fulfilled can be fulfilled by any method which does not violate some other principle of Scripture. Since singing is an item God has approved without describing the methods by which it is to be done, it can be done any way one chooses as long as the method does not violate another principle of Scripture.

God-approved items that can be carried out in expedient ways without violating any other principle of Scripture must not be prohibited in the church today.

Special music is such an expedient that does not violate any principle of Scripture, and must not be prohibited in the church today.

Principles of Use for God-Approved Items

Singing to praise God and to edify the church is clearly God-approved (Ephesians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 14:26; James 5:13). Congregational singing, special music, preaching, praying, teaching, or serving that violates one of thee principles is wrong. Special music does not necessarily violate any of these principles, any more than congregational singing does.

Here are principles of Scripture that govern the use of items which God has approved:

  • Do everything in love (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1).
  • Do nothing for pride or human glory (Philemon 24; Romans 12:1-4).
  • Do not divide the body (1 Corinthians 3:16).
  • Do everything to the edifying of the body (1 Corinthians 14:4, 5, 12, 17, 19, 26).
  • Do all things decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).
  • Do nothing for selfish exhibitionism (1 Corinthians 12:7, 25, 26).

Does special music violate any of these principles of Scripture?

Special Music is Generally Accepted Outside the Regular Worship Services

Special music and choruses are generally accepted throughout churches of Christ as long as they are not in the “regular worship service.” Special music is heard at lectureships, youth meetings, funerals, weddings, church-wide area singings, and other special events. Several questions will help us focus on the inconsistency of this practice:

1) What circumstances and scriptures permit special music at funerals, Sunday afternoon singings, choruses before and after regular services?

2) Can we explain from the Scriptures why special music is scripture at one time and is not scriptural at another time?

3) What is the essential difference between a special singing group singing songs to the congregation at 11 a.m. Sunday during the “regular worship service” and in singing the same songs to the same people at 2:30 that afternoon in a special period of praise?

4) Are there other items that are approved by God for all Christians to offer in worship to him outside the “regular worship services” but are not approved by him to be offered during those services?

5) Where do the Scriptures speak of a “regular worship service” in contrast to other gatherings of Christians for the purpose of praising God?

Scriptural and Historical Evidences That Encourage Special Music

I. Praising God is both saying and singing words that honor God.

The believers praised God (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:46; 13:3; Ephesians 1:3-15). Praising God means saying or singing words that honor God. There is no significant difference in singing praises and saying praises. What can be said in praise to God can be sung in praise to God.

The meaning of the word “hymn” which occurs in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Colossians 3:16 is “any poetical composition in honor of God or suitable for use in a liturgical setting, i.e., worship. Such poetical pieces could be sung or chanted or recited antiphonally as in a responsive reading” (James M. Efird, “Hymn,” Harper’s Bible Dictionary, ed. Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: harper Collins Publishers, 1985, p. 413).

The New Testament does not emphasize the form or style of singing. We have a few fragments of some distinctive Christian hymns (1 Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 5:14; Philippians 2:5-11), but no writer has indicated the manner in which the hymns were sung.

Dr. Cliff Ganus III, Professor of Music at Harding University, has well explained what our problem here may be:

One of the most difficult concepts for most people to understand is that we hear “sing” in a different way than the early Christians did. To use a solo or an ensemble presentation is one that has been rehearsed, that is designed to be musically attractive. To the early church, a solo was a text that was important to the presenter. The music might not have even been rehearsed; rather, it was probably improvised to one of a number of common formulas.

When we read of someone’s bringing special music to a congregation, we think of music. That thought would have been foreign to the early church. A hymn was a text of praise that was joined with a tune. The hymn was important; the tune was irrelevant. Paul would have responded to shows of musical superiority in Corinth as he responded to shows of superiority in tongue-speaking (Letter to Calvin Warpula, May 6, 1992).

Consider these questions:

  • Is there a scriptural difference between a preacher reading a song during his sermon and singing a song during his sermon?
  • Why can one person scripturally read Psalm 23 in the assembly, but another cannot sing the same words on the same occasion?
  • The New Testament contains fragments of some hymns the early church used (like Ephesians 5:14, 1 Timothy 3:16 and Philippians 2:5-11). If a speaker were reading those verses to the church, could he scripturally sing those verses as well as read them?

II. Psalm-singing by the Jews and early church was responsorial, not just congregational.

Psalms had been rising from the Jews for generations in their worship to God. The early church used the Old Testament psalms and may have even composed their own in praising God (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). These words could be said or sung by one person in a group, by several persons in a group, or by all the persons in a group.

Biblical scholars, Jewish and church historians, and hymnologists agree that the singing in early church for the first three to four centuries was for the most part responsorial and antiphonal – not everyone in the congregation sang all at the same time.

Edward Dickinson says the structure of Hebrew poetry indicates that “the psalms were chanted antiphonally or responsively” (Music in the History of the Western Church, 1902, p. 28). The singing of the ancient Hebrews “was not congregational” and “the share of the people, when they participated at all, was confined to short responses” (Dickinson, Music in the History of the Western Church, p. 29).

Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 B.C. – A.D. 50) describes the singing of the Jewish sect Therapeutae: “There is individual as well as choral singing; someone comes forward and sings a hymn to God, whether a new one he himself has composed or an older one by earlier poets, then others follow ‘in due order.’ The rest join in the refrains of the songs sung by individuals.” (The Contemplative Life, 29).

Eusebius (ca. A.D. 260-339) quoted Philo on the responsorial chant of the Therapeutae and said that those were the same customs and forms of reciting hymns practiced in the church of his day (Ecclesial History 2.17).

III. The early church offered special music in praise to God.

When the church at Corinth assembled, different members brought their own spiritual offerings to the Lord. “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26). Paul corrected disorderly behavior but did not forbid the use of such hymns, any more than he did the “lesson, revelation, tongue, or interpretation.” He simply required that all things be done for the edifying of the body. The members offering hymns were singing songs composed under the Spirit’s influence (as in v. 15), or they were ones they had composed or improvised. In either case, the hymns would necessarily be solo offerings since no one else present would know them. The tongue speakers were to speak “one at a time,” and the hymn singers wold also speak (sing) one at a time.

In the Gospel Advocate commentary series, J.W. Shepherd commented on v. 26: “A graphic picture is given of the assembled church, eager to contribute, each his part, to the services” (p. 213). Jimmy Allen of Harding University says in his survey of First Corinthians on v. 26 that “Apparently, there was solo singing by gifted people in the assembly at Corinth” (p. 177).

Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) says that solo singing was practiced in Christian gatherings. Speaking of the Christian love and worship at the love feast, he says, “then each, from what he knows of the Holy Scriptures, or from his own heart, is called before the rest to sing to God” (Apology 39:18, Loeb Classical Library).

G.C. Brewer, a strong leader in our movement five decades ago, said, “It is no violation of anything in the New Testament – for one man to sing to the audience. Nor is it wrong for two persons, four persons, or six persons together to stand before the assembly and admonish them with a song or speak to them through a hymn – provided always, of course, that the singers are themselves worshipers and that they do not do all the singing and thereby take away the right and privilege that belongs to every Christian – to praise God in song” (The Model Church. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., reprint 1969 of 1919 original, 150).

IV. “Speaking to one another” demands mutual encouragement, not necessarily everyone saying all the words all at the same time.

Who is authorized to sing in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16? Is it the congregation together all at once? Is it an individual in the congregation? Is it an individual in a group any time outside the congregational worship? Or is it all of the above?

If it is the individual only, then there is no authority for congregational singing in the New Testament and we must quit singing in church. If it is congregational only, then there can be no individual singing any time or less than total simultaneous congregational singing anywhere, any time.

Some believe that “to one another” or “reciprocal speaking” demands necessarily that everybody did everything all at the same time. This is not true for the following reasons:

  • “Teach one another” in Colossians 3:16 does not mean that everybody teaches everybody else all at the same time or we would have the disorderly conduct forbidden in 1 Corinthians 14.
  • Do all the “one another” passages of the New Testaement mean that everyone necessarily does the same action simultaneously? If not, then how do you know that Ephesians 5:19 necessarily means we are all to sing simultaneously?
  • If one person speaking at a time does not rob others of their privilege of teaching one another, then does one person singing at a time necessarily rob others of their privilege of “singing to one another”?
  • If these verses demand that every person in the assembly sing all the words to all the songs all at the same time, then songs would be unscriptural that have predominant parts for altos or basses to sing while others in the congregation are silent. If part of the congregation being silent while one group sings part of one song does not violate the Scripture, then part of the congregation being silent while one group sings the entire song does not violate the Scripture.

In reality, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 do “not tell us who did the singing or when in the worship it occurred” (Ann Draffkorn Kilmer and Daniel A Foxvag, “Music,” Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 771). In contrast to the simultaneous congregational singing view, F.F. Bruce says that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 probably recommends “antiphonal praise or solo singing at church meetings” (The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon and to the Ephesians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 1984, 158).

V. Cheerful Christians were commanded to sing solos and other believers could listen, even in the assembly.

Christians who were cheerful were told to “sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).

  • Would it be scriptural for other believers to hear this solo?
  • Would it be scriptural for this believer to share this solo in the assembly? Can one be “cheerful” in the assembly? Then why can’t one obey the command to sing in the assembly?

Howard Norton comments:

This writer grew up in a church of Christ that had a children’s chorus at every single Sunday service. We also had quartets, trios, and duets; but there are people in our fellowship today who are ready to fight rather than allow an occasional special song to be a part of the worship service. Why? Because their BIble says it is wrong? No, because we have not done it traditionally. Some object to special singing because they fear the entertainment syndrome. We also fear the entertainment syndrome, but even congregational singing can degenerate into entertainment instead of worship (Howard Norton, editorial, The Christian Chronicle, January, 1990).

VI. Where our opposition to special music originated

Since the traditional opposition to choruses among most churches of Christ does not derive from the Bible, then where does it come from? We found that our forefathers (the Campbells, Stone, Scott, etc.) inherited this tradition from their religious ancestors, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. Calvin and Zwingli were Swiss theologians whose religious descendants included Presbyterians, Puritans and Baptists. Almost all of the “Restoration” pioneers came out of this tradition. Calvin and Zwingli placed choruses, harmony, and songs of “human composure” (songs not taken directly from the book of Psalms) in the same category as instrumental music and forbad them all as appealing to the baser elements of human nature and as arising from our desire to be entertained.

The Restoration Movement came to universally accept harmony and songs of “human composure.” Choruses are also now accepted universally among churches of Christ. They are merely restrained in most congregations from singing in “official” worship services. We find nothing in Scripture that requires (or forbids!) such restraint, and we find historically that such restraint arises out of personal taste or the mistaken belief that Scripture requires they be so restrained (Lynn Mitchell, unpublished paper on choral music in worship presented to the Bering Drive church, Houston, Texas).

VII. A closing admonition

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Let us speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent.

We must be careful that we do not force a “pattern” from our tradition where God has not given one. We must allow the diversity of expression God allows while maintaining the doctrinal oneness God requires.

Jesus did not die for choruses or non-choruses, any more than he died for song books, communion cups, church buildings, baptistries, church dinners, Sunday schools, congregational singing, pitch pipes, visual aids, or Bible translations. These are minor, peripheral issues compared to the needs of our dying world for the gospel of Jesus Christ. May God help us all to put first things first.

Let’s not divide the church over means and methods of doing God’s will. Let’s not force our views on anyone else or write laws for God. We must not make laws on styels and formats of singing any more than only styles and formats of serving communion.

Jesus died for all of us so we cold be free from our sins and all human bondage. Let us, as free men and women in Christ, spontaneously, freely, deliberately, and lovingly offer up praises to him who reigns at God’s right hand.Wineskins Magazine

Calvin Warpula welcomes comments, criticism, and suggestions. you may write to him at the Wineskins address. Next month’s Hope Network Newsletter will contain a sermon by Jack Pape titled A New Song. I would like to know about creative music you have heard or used in worship. ~ Lynn Anderson

categoria commentoNo Comments dataDecember 21st, 2013
Read All

About...

Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

Share

FacebookTwitterEmailWindows LiveTechnoratiDeliciousDiggStumbleponMyspaceLikedin

Leave a comment