“Singing Solos, Quartets, Etc.”

By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.

Since I have never been asked to sing a solo or in a quartet (in fact, I was once asked to sit at least four pews back so the song leader could sing), I thought I would tackle the thorny problem presented by my friend and brother Weldon Warnock in the April 2, 1987 issue of Guardian of Truth on the above subject.

In this article, “Confusing Law and Expediency” of which the above title was a subheading, brother Warnock said some good things that need to be said. I commend most of the article. He is a good writer and stirs our thinking at times when it needs to be stirred.

On the matter of solos and quartets in our worship assemblies, I suspect that there is not a nickel’s worth of difference, if that much, in what I encourage and practice and what brother Warnock encourages and practices. He says, “I doubt there have been many preachers in the last 25-30 years who have been more outspoken against choirs, quartets and other ‘specials’ in the church than I have.” I have not heard Weldon speak on the subject, but knowing him as I do, I can imagine that he has spoken with force and in no uncertain terms. So, if you are thinking of soliciting Weldon Warnock to help you get the brethren to let you have a choir, quartet or solo singer – you would be ringing the wrong number. You won’t get any encouragement from him.

Now, having said all of that, what is the problem? Why do I feel the need to reply to his aticle? Where do I differ from brother Warnock?

Brother Warnock believes solos, quartets and choirs are lawful (authorized in the New Testament) and objects to them only on the ground that they are inexpedient with grave danger of abuse.

I believe there is another reason to object. I do not know a passage that clearly establishes their lawfulness – brother Warnock’s observations notwithstanding.

He bases his case on one verse – 1 Corinthians 14:26. He says, “1 Corinthians 14:26 plainly shows solos were sung in the assemblies of the first century church, even at the same time that Paul wrote Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. These passages in Ephesians and Colossians did not condemn and preclude what I Corinthians 14:26 allowed, namely, solo singing, and neither do they today” (all emphasis mine, EOB). He follows then with a paragraph showing why he believes 1 Corinthians 14:26 applies today. He then assumes what I believe he has yet to prove: “It is strange to me that solo singing was scriptural for the first 65 to 70 years of the New Testament church, but sinful today. It is also strange that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 allowed solo singing then, but not now. Indeed, it is strange.”

You see, he interprets any difficulties (?) in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 in the light of his plain (?) passage of 1 Corinthians 14:26. It seems to me that it ought to be the other way around. It is not at all plain as to what use was made of the psalm in 1 Corinthians 14:26. The only way that one can know that it was sung before the assembly as a solo is to assume it. The passage simply does not say what the brother who had it did with it. He may have simply passed it along to the congregation for them to sing. It is listed with several other things miraculously received by members of the Corinthian church who had spiritual gifts. The following verses tell about the use of tongues, their interpretation, and prophecies. They were to exercise these gifts “each in turn” or “by course” with others keeping silent. But, not one word is said about the psalm. Yet, brother Warnock says it was plainly sung as a solo and assures us that such was done during the first 65 to 70 years of the New Testament church. A few times in my life I have received a good song (a piece of sheet music) and carried it to the assembly. It was pasted in the front of the song book and we learned and sang it. It was not given to me by the Holy Spirit, but nevertheless when the church came together I had a psalm. I did not sing it as a solo (to the relief of a lot of brethren), but simply passed it on to the assembly for all of us to sing.

1 Corinthians 14:26 is dealing with things being delivered to the church by inspiration. Various members would have various types of inspiration. Some, no doubt, received psalms from the Holy Spirit. They could deliver these songs to the congregation without necessarily standing before the congregation and singing a solo. To say that this is a clear example of solo singing in the first 65 to 70 years of the New Testament church is to assume more than the passage says or necessarily infers. I believe that such an interpretation contradicts what is clear, to me at least, in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.

The Ephesians passage says, “speaking to one another (heautois) in psalms.” The Colossians passage says, “Teaching and admonishing one another (heautous) in psalms.” In both passages Berry’s Interlinear renders the pronoun, “each other.” This is a reciprocal pronoun. Of “reciprocal,” Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language says, ” 1. done, felt, given, etc. in return; as, reciprocal tolerance. 2. on both sides; each to the other; mutual: as, they felt reciprocal affection. . . . 5. in grammar, (a) expressing mutual action or relation: as, each other is a reciprocal pronoun.” Reciprocal pronouns describe action that is reciprocated. It is not a one way street. The same action is returned by the other party.

Both Thayer and Vine point out the reciprocal nature of the pronoun (heautou) in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16:

“3. It is used frequently in the plural for the reciprocal pronoun alklou, allelois, allelous, reciprocally, mutually, one another: . . . Col. iii. 13,16. . . ” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, J.H. Thayer, p. 163).

“(b) different forms of the plural of heautou ‘of himself,’ used as a reciprocal pronoun, e.g., Eph. 5:19, RV, ‘one to another’ (KJV, and RV marg., ‘to yourselves’; . . . ” (W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, pp. 446,447).

So, any effort to obey these two passages needs to include the idea of reciprocity. If there is to be singing that does not include that element – the authority will have to be found elsewhere. Any arrangement (solo, quartet or choir) that precludes it does not fit these two verses. These verses are talking about reciprocal action.

Thayer gives other passages to illustrate the reciprocal nature of the pronoun. Here are the references as translated in the New King James Bible: “And they reasoned among themselves” (Matt. 16:8).

” . . .they said among themselves” (Matt. 21:38).

” . . . And they were astonished beyond measure, saying among themselves” (Mk. 10:26).

“And they said among themselves” (Mk. 16:3).

“And they reasoned among themselves” (Lk. 20:5).

“. . forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).

“. . having fervent love for one another” (1 Pet. 4:8).

“. . minister it to one another” (1 Pet. 4:10).

So, it seems to me that 1 Corinthians 14:26 is the more obscure passage to be interpreted in the light of these two plain passages, instead of the other way around.

When brother Warnock receives a psalm, we will be glad for him to bring it to the assembly where I attend – but he will have to do it so as not to violate the reciprocal action of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.

Too be sure, brethren, congregational singing fits into what is authorized in these verses – beyond the doubts of anyone that I know. Even brother Warnock says that solos, quartets, etc. should not be used in our assemblies. Brother Warnock and I will continue to encourage brethren to practice only congregational singing in our worship services. So, don’t anyone get excited that we are about to part ways over this “issue.”

It has been simply my purpose to show why I believe that solos and quartets should be opposed on grounds other than that they are merely inexpedient. I do not believe that anyone has proven them to be scriptural. While those who oppose them only because of abuses may presently strongly object to their use – I fear that the seeds of justification are being sown by their writings for the next generation to use them, having been convinced by the writings of this generation that they are indeed lawful. They may not perceive the abuses and dangers as we do. Brethren, think about it.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 11, pp. 326, 342
June 4, 1987