Solos, Quartets: A Response

By Weldon E. Warnock

Our differences, however, in opposition to solos and quartets are the following: Brother Bragewll opposes these practices because he believes they are unlawful, and I oppose them because I believe they are highly inexpedient, leading to praise in public worship becoming theatrical and mere entertainment. The crux of this exchange, by and large, revolves around three passages – 1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16. We will analyze these texts in response to brother Bragwell’s interpretation of them.

1 Corinthians 14:26

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” My contention is that this verse plainly teaches that at Corinth (obviously, other congregations, too), a brother would sing a solo before the assembly that he received from the Spirit, or perhaps he composed himself. Paul said in I Corinthians 14:15 that “I will sing with the spirit.” (The context favors Spirit, not spirit. The song was imparted most likely by the Spirit here, as well as v. 26.)

If the man in v. 26 brought the song so that he and all others could sing it together, why would not the man in v. 26 who had a doctrine or a revelation also just bring the instructions/teaching and hand it over to others for them to teach the assembly? Each one (those so gifted) hath a psalm, each one hath a doctrine, each one hath a revelation. One brother had a song to sing, another had a doctrine to teach and another had a revelation to give.

Wonder how a brother in that day would have proceeded in getting all the assembly to sing together a song he had received from the Spirit? He would not have brought copies to pass around. He could not have sung it through once or twice for the others to have learned it because he would have been guilty of singing a solo, which we are told is unlawful. Suppose he read it? Is it permissible to read the song, but not sing it? Then, there is the problem with the tune. How do we learn that without songbooks and shaped notes?

Kittel says, “in 1 Cor. 14:25 psalmon is a Christian song that is sung by an individual at workship” (Theo. Dict. of N.T., One Vol. Ed., p. 1226). Thayer states, “the phrase echein psalmon is used of one who has it in his heart to sing or recite a song of the sort, 1 Cor. 14:26” (p. 65). Findlay comments, “‘Each has a psalm (to sing) – a teaching, a revelation (to impart) – a tongue, as an interpretation (to give)” (The Expositor’s Gr. Testament, Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll, Vol. 2, p. 912).

Charles Hodge says, “One was impelled by the Spirit to pour forth his heart in a song of praise. Comp. v. 15” (1 Cor., p. 300). H.A. W. Meyw observes, “has a psalm ready, i.e. he feels himself qualified and constrained to sing aloud such a spirit-given song. It is not, however, the glossalalia psallein which is meant” (1 & 2 Cor., p. 329). Conybeare and Howson translate the passage, “If when you meet together, one is prepared to sing a hymn of praise. (Life & Epistles of St. Paul, p. 409).

Charles J. Ellicott says, “The psalmos here mentioned was probably a hymn of praise, under the influence of the Spirit, and so extemporaneous in its nature” (1 Cor., p. 277). Henry Alford stated, “Whenever you happen to be assembling together the present vividly describes each coming with his gift, eager to exercise it” (The Greek Testament, p. 598). We also read, “Each one.’not that everyone present would of necessity take part; rather it indicates the general distribution of gifts throughout the local church. Has a hymn, a lesson ” (T he New Layman’s Bible Commentary, Editors: G.C.D. Howley, F.F. Bruce & H.L. Ellison, p. 1452).

More sources could be quoted, but these excerpts will suffice to show that the weight of the scholarship favors my contention that 1 Corinthians 14:26 teaches solo singing was practiced in the early church. The aim was for edification, not exhibition of talent or entertainment. Wonder if some of us had been preaching at Corinth if we would have allowed a brother to sing before the assembly as taught in 1 Corinthians 14:26? It seems to me that brother Bragwell is the one who has the problem of harmonizing 1 Corinthians 14:26 with Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, rather than I. There is nothing said, nor implied in 1 Corinthians 14:26, about a brother bringing a song for all the others to sing. He sang the song himself.

Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16

We are told that 1 Corinthians 14:26 does not permit a solo in the assembly of the church because it would violate Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Would it? These two passages say nothing about singing in unison. They simply state that we are to teach one another through singing. This is done by congregational singing, whether in unison or antiphonally. We can also teach one another through solos. At Corinth one brother would sing a song, perhaps followed by another, and then another. They were speaking to one another. The two passages say, “speaking one to another in psalms and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19, ASV), and “. . . teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).

It is interesting how Conybeare & Howson translate these two passages. “Let your singing be of psalms an hymns and spiritual songs, and make melody with the music of your hearts, to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. Let your singing be of psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, sung in thanksgiving, with your heart, unto God” (Col. 3:16). But this translation seems to be strained and unnatural. The weight of scholarship is according to the rendition of the verses in the preceding paragraph.

Brother M.C. Kurfees wrote,

There are some things, such as prophesying or public speaking, to which these statements do not apply, for God has legislated here, and he limits public speaking to one person at a time for the clearly expressed purpose of avoiding confusion. Singing, which may be done in concert without confusion, is not thus restricted by legislation. To the Corinthians, Paul said: “When ye come together, each one hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” (1 Cor. 14:26). He here distinctly says that each one hath a psalm, and it will be observed that he does not condemn them for this, but only condemns their doing things without proper order, and urges that all be done to edifying. His admonition for Christians to sing is in the following words: “Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” (Eph. 5:19). He uses the reflexive pronoun, “speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” It is a service rendered by “one to another” or by “one another.” He does not say whether this speaking in psalms and other kinds of musical compositions shall be done by all in concert or by one at a time: hence, either is correct (Gospel Advocate, May 15, 1913, p. 464).

I agree with brother Bragwell that there should be reciprocity in singing, but just how this would be exercised is not stated in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. In fact, these two Scriptures do not apply exclusively to the worship assembly of the church. They are just as applicable out of the church-assembly as in it. Oh, they include the worship assembly, by all means, but not just the public assembly of the church. I have studied the context, the phrases and the words of these texts, and I do not see the compelling evidence that makes them apply to a church-assembly, only. They would be applicable to any period or place of worship in song.

We sometimes meet in our homes for social activities. Frequently, during these times, we sing hymns. Are not Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 being practiced? Occasionally, three or four of us will continue to sing after the others have quit. Are we sinning? Must all sing or none sing in all situations?

Charles J. Ellicott said on Ephesians 5:19, “Whether the reference is here to social meetings . . . or expressly to religious services … or, more probably, to both, can hardly be determined from the context” (Epist. of St. Paul, Gal. – 2 Thess., p. 128). T.K. Abbott stated, “But the reference (Eph. 5:19) cannot be specially to religious services, as the context shows.” Commenting on Colossians 3:16, Abbott wrote, “Here as there the reference does not appear to be exclusively or chiefly to public worship, for mutual instruction is what is prescribed” (International Critical Commentary, Eph. & Col., pp. 162, 291).

MacKnight stated, “. . . the Ephesians were directed to sing alternately, a custom which was early practiced in the church; and that the apostle recommended it to them to sing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, not only in their assemblies for worship, but in their houses, mentioning, as an example, Paul and Silas singing the praises of God in the prison of Philippi, so as to be heard by their fellow prisoners” (Apostolical Epistles, p. 340).

J.B. Lightfoot wrote, “The reference (psalms, hymns, wew) in the text is not solely or chiefly to public worship as such. . . ” (Epistles of St. Paul, Col. & Philemon, p. 223). William Hendriksen, commenting on Colossians 3:16, said, “His (Paul) admonition, therefore, can be applied to every type of Christian gathering … whether in the church or at home or anywhere else” (Colossians & Philemon, p. 163).

Worshiping God in song is not confined to the church building. We worship Him in praise in various and sundry circumstances. We worship God when we sing at home in our devotions and in our home gatherings of brethren wherein we sing. We worship God when a small group of us sing on a radio or TV program, when one, two or more of us sing at a funeral. It seems to me that we are too restrictive on this matter, and if we follow our reasoning to its ultimate consequence, we would have to have everybody sing in every circumstance in which we sing. The Bible does not teach this.

Brother Bragwell introduced some passages that showed reciprocal action, such as Mt. 16:8; 21:38; Mk. 163; Lk. 20:5; Eph. 4:32; etc. When the disciples reasoned among themselves in Mt. 16:8, did they all speak at once? How many minutes might have elapsed between the speech of the first one and the speech of the last one? Would brother Bragwell permit brethren to sing one at a time? If we sang the way they reasoned in Mt. 16:8 and spoke in Mt. 21:38, we would solo, one at a time. Would we allow brethren to sing in the order that these disciples reasoned among themselves?

In the last paragraph of brother Bragwell’s article, he stated a fear that the seeds of justification for solos and quartets sown today may influence the future generation to incorporate them into their worship. I can appreciate brother Bragwell’s concern, but I have heard the same anxiety about other matters from brethren concerning expedients. One brother I debated on “women teachers” said our practice of putting women in the classroom to teach children would lead to their being put into the pulpit to preach. Should we stop having women teachers because of a potential danger? Should we declare women teachers unlawful in order to head off the possibility of women evangelists?

A brother asked brother E.G. Sewell if singing different parts of music would lead some to the opinion that instruments are admissible. Sewell replied, “No, it is not the singing of the different parts of the tunes that cultivates the desire for the organ, but a worldly freshly mind and a mere desire for the fine music and have something to attract and entertain. . . ” (Queries Answered, p. 609). Methinks this is also true with solos and quartets.

Brother Kurfees wrote in the Gospel Advocate that solo singing is lawful, but inexpedient, and nobody was influenced to adopt solos from his article. Brother R.L. Whiteside, author of an excellent commentary on Romans, and Query Editory for the Gospel Advocate for several years, wrote, “To the Corinthians, Paul said, ‘when ye come together each one hath a psalm’ (1 Cor. 14:26). A solo is sometimes very effective; so also is a quartet. But no one wants either as a regular diet. In solos there is a temptation to sing for show, and a poor solo or a poor quartet is a mess” (Reflections, p. 372). Who has started practicing solos as a result of brother Whiteside’s observations?

Again, may I say that brother Bragwell and I stand side by side in our fight toward all unauthorized innovations into the church. I appreciate him as a man, as a Christian and as a preacher of the gospel. I trust this exchange will be profitable for all that read it.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 11, pp. 327-329
June 4, 1987