By Weldon E. Warnock
Recently, a lady asked: “What is the difference between having a small group of people sing spiritual songs to a congregation of people at a funeral and having a group sing during worship services?” This is a good question! I have heard solos, duets, trios, quartets, small groups, and even the whole assembly, sing at funerals. Why may we have these arrangements at funerals and yet many of us object to the same arrangements as unscriptural during worship of the church?
In my judgment there is nothing unscriptural with God’s people singing any where, whether one or a thousand, providing it is done to God’s glory and for the edification of those who hear. In the New Testament individuals sang psalms. before the whole church. One would sing, and, then, when he finished, perhaps another one would burst forth in song and praise. I do not know the procedure or what all took place, but I do know Paul said, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm. . . ” (1 Cor. 14:26). “Everyone” would be only those who had a gift to exercise. Now, if brethren, individually, at Corinth were permitted to sing psalms, may we not do the same thing? If not, why not?
Lange, commenting on 1 Corinthians 14:26, says the meaning is that “he comes to church in a state of mind inspired by the Spirit, to produce and pour forth some song of praise” (Lange’s Commentary, Vol. 10, p. 294). Bengel stated, “Individuals had a psalm, wherewith to praise God” (New Testament Word Studies, p. 249). Thayer says “the phrase echein psalmon (hath a psalm, WEW) is used of one who has it in his heart to sing or recite a song of the sort, 1 Cor. 14:26” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, p. 675).
M. C. Kurfees wrote years ago, “Hence, so far as the mere question of the number of persons who may sing at one time is concerned, one person or any number of persons may sing God’s praise and impart instruction in the worship of God” (Gospel Advocate, May 15, 1913, p. 464). R. L. Whiteside, gospel preacher and Queries Editor for the Gospel Advocate for ten or more 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 and quartets there is a temptation to sing for show, and a poor solo or a poor quartet is a mess” (Reflections, p. 372).
McClintock and Strong state: “As to the persons concerned in singing, sometimes a single person sang alone, but the most ancient and general practice of the Church was for the whole assembly to unite with one heart and voice in celebrating the praises of God” (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 8, p. 738). We read further, “Each member was invited, at pleasure and according to his ability, to lead their devotions in a sacred song indited by himself. Such was the custom in the Corinthian Church” (Ibid., Vol. 6, p. 758).
Paul wrote, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). The American Standard Version translates the passage, “Speaking one to another.
The thought is not that each Christian communes with himself in song, but they speak to one another in letting others know of their joy, gladness, peace and feeling in the heart, as well as the great truths of the Bible in general. Paul also wrote, “. . . teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16). None of these passages teach how many must sing at one time or in concert. Kurfees said, “. . . we must not erect any one thing into a law, such as fixing the number who shall sing at one time. . . ” (Ibid.).
Motive is a factor that must be appraised as to the scripturality of any or all of our singing. Among denominations, singing, to a great extent, has become show, entertainment, pomp and formalism. Choirs, quartets, solos, etc. are to entertain the audience and to exhibit musical skill. Congregational singing is supplanted by these groups by and large and people become spectators instead of worshipers.
Kurfees again said, “. . we add that, while solo singing, as we have seen, is as clearly within the limits of New Testament teaching as is singing by any number of persons at all, still, as frequently carried out in practice, it becomes a sort of show for the public exhibition of the singer instead of being for the praise of God and for the instruction of the saints, and this of course, is a perversion of the divine purpose of singing. From this point of view, we sometimes find it expedient to discourage solo singing, and exhort all to sing in concert, which does not furnish the same temptation to such perversion; though it must be admitted that the singing, whether done by one person or by any other specific number of persons, or by all in concert, is sometimes perverted from its divine purpose. Assuredly Christians cannot be too careful at this point” (Ibid.).
Marshall Patton wrote, “I think it well to observe just here that in view of the more ornate and artistic type of singing with which we are accustomed, solo singing must be ruled out in our worship today. It would be next to impossible to keep such from converting the worship into a theatrical performance. History does repeat itself! This is not to say under no conditions and at no time could one person come before the congregation and present a spiritual message in song, being truly motivated by that which is spiritual, and which song was received by the congregation in the same spirit. However lawful such may be, remember that history shows that the regular practice of such makes it highly inexpedient” (Searching the Scriptures, June, 1986, pp. 5-6).
We see the danger of so-called “special singing” in the following quotations: “Sacred music must, in the primitive Church, have consisted only of a few simple airs which could easily be learned, and which, by frequent repetition, became familiar to all. . . . Their psalmody was the joint act of the whole assembly in unison. . . . An artificial, theatrical style of music, having no affinity with the worship of God, soon began to take the place of those solemn airs which before had inspired the devotions of his people. The music of the theater was transferred to the church, which accordingly became the scene of theatrical pomp and display rather than the house of prayer and of praise, to inspire by its appropriate and solemn rites the spiritual worship of God. . . . Thus it soon came about that the many, instead of uniting their hearts and their voices in the songs of Zion, could only sit coldly by as spectators” (McClintock & Strong, op. cit., Vol. 6, p. 758).
We conclude, therefore, that any number may sing in an assembly of the church, although I wholeheartedly concur with brethren Patton and Kurfees that such is highly inexpedient in the assembly for the reasons already stated. Having established the principle that solos, quartets, etc. are scriptural, we must also conclude that such types of singing at funerals are also scriptural, and due to the nature of a funeral and the circumstances involved, I believe that such singing is also expedient. If a few sing at a funeral to console and comfort the bereaved and edify those in attendance, they have done nothing more than what God has authorized.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 16, pp. 486, 501
August 21, 1986