June 18, 2018

Worship in Song

By Ralph Gentry

Ordinarily every sermon and article on this subject is almost exclusively devoted to a study of the unscripturalness of using mechanical instruments of music in public worship, that is, when the church is assembled to engage in worship. We may have neglected to study about singing itself. Perhaps we have not placed enough emphasis on the fact that singing can be unscriptural even without the use of mechanical instruments. May a religious song be sung for entertainment if on television, in the home or at social gatherings? May the instrument be utilized when such a song is not being sung for the intent of worship to God? Are we authorized by the scripture to sing a spiritual song without intending it as worship to God?

Some time ago a visitor to the services asked me, "Why do you sing in worship?" This was an unusual question. Can you answer?

An Authorized Avenue of Worship

First, what is worship? Webster defines it as: "To pay divine honors to; to adore; venerate; to idolize". Thus, our acts need not be restricted to public affairs in order to constitute worship. But whether public or private, such must be performed "in spirit and in truth" (Jno. 4:24). "In spirit" has been interpreted as "in sincerity and humility". While every worshipper must be humble and sincere, such an interpretation is incomplete. Jesus said, "God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth". That is, one must worship God in that which God has given (the spirit of man in the image of God) as capacitated to commune with God who is Spirit. Thus, our worship is essentially spiritual in nature and as contrasted with the materialistic concepts and demands for worship under the Mosaic Covenant. In order to be spiritual our worship must be performed through the media of acts commanded in God's word, hence, "in truth". God knew in which outward acts man would be enabled to render a spiritual worship and ordained such to be performed. Additional acts incorporated into our worship constitute vain worship (Mk. 7: 6,7) due to a rebellion of the spirit or mind of man and the rendering of a worship that is merely outward or with the flesh of man. Our worship must be characterized by an understanding of and obedience to the Divine Will. God has, therefore, authorized singing of certain types of songs to be utilized in worship. The Scriptures teach by command, example and necessary inference. Singing as an avenue of worship is taught in each of these three ways.

We are commanded to sing. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3:16). "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). "In any merry? Let him sing psalms" (Jas. 5: 13).

Approved examples of singing are found in these passages. "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives" (Matt. 26:30). "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them" (Acts 16:25).

Singing as worship is necessarily inferred in these passages. " . . . For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto the name" (Rom. 15:9). "Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee" (Heb. 2:12). "I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also" (1 Cor. 14:15).

However, among these scriptures only Heb. 2:12 and I Cor. 14:15 specifically refer to and have primary application to singing in public worship. James 5: 13; Matt. 26 30; and Acts 16:25 refer specifically to singing in private worship, that is, among an individual or group of individuals, not the church come together. The rest of these passages can have application to singing in either public or private situations. Neither is exclusively mentioned or inferred. Therefore, the principles contained in these passages apply as much to singing in private worship as to public worship. Keep this thought in mind as you continue to read this article.

Addressed to God

The Being to whom our singing of these songs is to be addressed is God. "To the Lord" (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16); "Praise unto thee" (Heb. 2:12); "Sing unto they name" (Rom. 15:9); "Sang praises unto God" (Acts 16:25).

God's silence must be respected as authoritatively instructing us of those things not a part of His Will. When God has specified certain things to be done in a specific manner, we may understand all else to be excluded as no part of His Divine Will in the thing under consideration. This reasoning is sometimes styled the "law of exclusion". Accordingly, we argue that the specific command to "sing" excludes the playing of an instrument in worship. What some among us have not learned is that this exclusion applies with equal force to private worship. Likewise, this law excludes singing praises to any other than God at any time. It forbids singing for entertainment and calling it worship. We must sing these songs to please God, not men. If our songs are not directed to God, it is not true worship and has no scriptural place in worship. We may as well pray to be heard of men as to sing religious songs for entertainment during a religious service. While our singing has a teaching and admonishing function as well as a medium of praise to God, still, primarily, we are not to sing in order to be heard of men.

Spiritual Songs

God has ordained that in worship spiritual songs are to be sung. And that spiritual songs are to be sung as worship (Col. 3:16). Our songs in worship must be spiritual in contrast to such sung among heathen revelry (Eph. 5:19). We are not to sing any other than spiritual songs in worship. Neither are we to sing spiritual songs for purposes other than worship. What proves the one, proves the other by the same scripture and by the same law of exclusion. This law forbids singing jazz, boogie and secular songs of any kind in worship whether public or private. Remember, Col. 3:16 and Eph 5:19 are not passages dealing exclusively with public worship. This law also forbids singing spiritual songs for entertainment anytime and anyplace. God has specified that spiritual songs are to be sung in worship to God.

Using spiritual songs irreverently is to desecrate things divine. Using the name of God or heavenly things without proper significance attached thereto is to take His name in vain and to profane holy things. To "profane" is to "make common." See Ezek. 22: 26. The New Testament warns, "Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright" (Heb. 12:16). There is no reason to sing a religious song unless it is sung to God. We must mean what we say and what we say of things divine must be expressions of sincerity and genuine devotion. Setting words to ausic doesn't change the nature of the words anymore than setting an embrace to music and calling it dancing. If we can sing such words for entertainment then those same words without being set to music can be said for fun and frolic. If we can sing spiritual songs for entertainment in private, then we can sing spiritual songs for entertainment in public and for the same reason.

Some will say, "I will sing a spiritual song but won't worship by it, therefore, I would be authorized to use a mechanical instrument of music with it". This reminds me of the argument advanced by some in attempting to justify the use of church kitchens. They will install a kitchen in the church building and then argue it is alright to use it because the building isn't sacred. They conveniently overlook the fact that the installation itself was unauthorized. In this manner, some overlook the fact that singing a spiritual song for purposes other than worship is itself unauthorized. A spirflual song is not to be made carnal.

Augustine wrote that he feared music appealed to him strongly because of the esthetic pleasure it afforded him rather than because of the sacredness of its words. A timely warning, I believe, to us.

Truth Magazine IX, 3: pp. 17-18
December 1964