By Ron Halbrook
Two of the passages which point to the importance of congregational singing are Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.
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.
Two aspects of worship in song are clearly taught in these passages. The first aspect is singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord – singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. All true obedience to God “presses the faith and submission of the heart of man toward God. All true worship is the outpouring of our hearts unto God. Our hearts should be full of grace, love, and truth of God as we sing praises to him.
The second aspect is speaking to yourselves – teaching and admonishing one another. We teach and encourage one another by the words we sing. Daily, private singing is appropriate and expresses the thanksgiving of the heart to God. “Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (Jas. 5:13). But public, congregational singing adds the dimension of each one who worships God edifying others as they worship God.
These two passages, like every other passage on music in worship during the gospel age, authorize vocal rather than instrumental music. The thanksgiving and melody of the heart are to be expressed by speaking, teaching, and admonishing by means of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Instruments of music such as harps, horns, guitars, banjoes, drums, clarinets, organs, and cymbals cannot speak the truths of God’s Word. The word of Christ cannot dwell in the heart of a mechanical instrument – no such instrument can teach and admonish people with the divine word. Both passages urge God’s people to sing from the heart, but neither authorizes them to play upon a harp.
“By his prophets” the Lord commanded the use of cymbals, psalteries, and harps in the temple worship under the law of Moses (2 Chron. 29:25). While trumpets and other instruments were being played, animals sacrifices were burned (v. 28). The Psalms speak of worshiping God with various musical instruments and with “burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats” (Psa. 150; 66:15). Noah was commanded to build an ark — Israel to march around the walls of Jericho — Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan River (Gen. 6; Josh. 6; 2 Kgs. 5).
We do not serve God today under the covenants and commandments of the Old Testament fathers, but under the new covenant of Jesus Christ.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds (Heb. 1:1-2).
Jesus Christ in the new Testament does not command us to dip seven times in Jordan, to march around Jericho, to build an ark, to offer animal sacrifices, or to play musical instruments in worship! We read his command in the New Covenant to sing in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, but where do we read any command to play?
Christ teaches us to glorify God in our worship rather than man – singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Christ commands personal participation by all saints in worship rather than professional performances by a few – yourselves, one another. Christ commanded our worship to be edifying rather than entertaining – teaching and admonishing.
The modem use of solo, quartet, and choir singing violates the design of New Testament worship. Men are touted and glorified for making a display of their musical “talents.” Not all who make up “yourselves” and “one another” can qualify for the solo or choir, so the participation of all the saints is sacrificed on the altar of professional performance. The 69 program” is sure to be entertaining, but spiritual edification is lost. Tryouts, contests, and competitions are held performances presented, entertainment exalted, and men glorified – in the name of worship. It is all carnality and a vain display of religion “after the commandments and doctrines of men,” “which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship” (Col. 2:22-23). In other words, in the name of doing God’s will men are doing their own will.
True worship glorifies God and edifies saints. As the heart overflows with the word of Christ and the praise of God, we sing with grace. True Christians worship according to the commands of Christ and not according to their own will. New Testament churches find their pattern for worship in the New Testament, not in the Old Testament, not in the vain traditions of men, and certainly not in the carnality of this modern age!
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 14, p. 428
July 21, 1988