By Sewell Hall
The concept of restoration is exciting. A notable example of it in the Old Testament took place in the reign of Hezekiah. This good king opened the doors of the temple which had been shut during his father’s reign. He repaired the building and directed the Levites and priests to reconsecrate it. On a given day, “he arose early” and with a great host of princes and people went up to the temple where the priests began again to offer the sacrifices ordained by the law.
“And when they had finished offering, the king and all who were present with him bowed and worshiped. Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped” (2 Chron. 29:2930).
Restoration for Hezekiah required restoration of worship in song. Restoration of the New Testament order requires the same, for worship in song was a significant feature of the New Testament church.
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write to the Ephesians: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19).
Through the years, there have been, many deviations from these inspired instructions. But we can only hope to please God if we return to the practice in which this church was instructed. To do so requires at least five things.
Restoration Requires Singing
Jesus Himself sang (Mt. 26:30). The application of Psalm 22:22 in Hebrews 2:12 suggests that just as He is with us at His table in His kingdom, so He sings with us in the congregation: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will sing praise to You.” His servants sang in times of persecution (Acts 16:25) and they were encouraged to sing in times of joy (Jas. 5:13).
Nothing more than singing can be rightly read into any of the verses relating to New Testament worship in song. There are other ways that a song may be rendered. It can be played on an instrument and it can be whistled or hummed, but these are not mentioned. Only singing is mentioned. Any effort to worship God in song by doing any thing other than singing is without divine authority and constitutes an addition. Addition is the opposite of restoration.
Restoration Requires Singing To One Another
Colossians 3:16 says that as we sing we are to be “teaching and admonishing one another.” Some think they see solo singing in this and Ephesians 5:19. If so, each Christian must sing one for the admonition is to all. Careful consideration, however, will suggest that Colossians 3:16 no more implies solo singing than Colossians 3:13 implies solo forgiveness for the language is the same.
Commenting on Colossians 3:13, Vincent in his Word Studies says, “The latter pronoun emphasizes the fact that they are all members of Christ’s body – everyone members one of another – so that, in forgiving each other they forgive themselves.” Similarly, as we teach and admonish one another in song, we teach and admonish ourselves.
Using trained choirs in a service places a premium on human art and often silences the voices of those whose hearts are most closely attuned to the divine nature. This was not the practice of the early church. A congregation singing together, fulfills beautifully the admonition of Romans 15:6, “that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Restoration Requires Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs
It is the words that qualify a song as a psalm, hymn or spiritual song. The surpassing importance of the words is evident from several considerations. The Psalms were songs to be sung and God preserved the words for us; but He gave no indication of their musical setting. In the New Testament, the emphasis is on “speaking” and “teaching and admonishing.” If the words are what the Lord is concerned with, it is understandable that instruments of music were omitted from New Testament worship. They can neither speak nor teach and admonish. Far from aiding verbal communication, they tend to obscure the words.
The melody and harmony are the aids God has provided for verbal expression. This fact provides the criteria by which the music of a song is to be judged. If it complements the words, deepening the impression upon our hearts, then the music is suitable. If the music, however, is so appealing that it dominates our attention; if it is so difficult that it demands all of our thought to sing it; or if it suggests secular connections which distract from spiritual concentration, it is unsuitable.
This may well be the area where many of us need most to concentrate our attention in restoring worship in song. The music – the alto or bass leads, the rhythm, the interesting harmonies have tended to dominate our choice of songs so that many scarcely know what they sing.
A good congregation selects preachers on the basis of the sound and edifying content of their message rather than on the basis of their voices, the appearance or pleasant pulpit manner. Songs should be chosen for the same reasons. Read over the words first to see if they are spiritual and edifying. Then evaluate the music to see if it is suitable as an aid to the expression of the message of the song. Only if it passes these tests should a song be used in worship.
The oldest uninspired hymn we have (written about 200 A.D.) begins:
Shepherd of tender youth,
Guiding in love and truth,
Through devious ways;
Christ, our triumphant King,
We come, Thy name to sing,
Hither our children bring
To shout Thy praise.
Compare this with some of the trite, repetitive, materialistic, human-oriented songs that many congregations sing exclusively, over and over, Sunday after Sunday. Overemphasis on the pleasing sound of the music is an error not far removed from the use of instruments for the same pleasurable aesthetic experience.
Restoration Requires Melody in the Heart
Many people do not sing, even in the assembly. Among those who do, many show little interest; they are obviously drawing nigh to God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. Such singing must be as boring to the Lord as it is to human auditors. How different is the singing of individuals and congregations whose songs are an overflowing of hearts filled with melody (Eph. 5:19) and grace (Col. 3:16)!
We can possess this melody in the heart. It is the result of being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). This is accomplished as we “let the word of Christ dwell” in us richly (cf. Col. 3:16 with Eph. 5:18-19). If we do not feel like singing, there is something missing from our heart that should be there. A period of reading the word, meditating on it and adjusting our thinking and action to harmonize with it will change our attitude. When our hearts are once again like those of New Testament Christians, we will have no difficulty restoring New Testament worship in song.
Restoration Requires Singing “To the Lord”
Even though our songs are to teach and admonish one another, the true object of our songs, as of all worship, is the Lord. We sing to please Him, not men.
Singing to the Lord is difficult for two classes of people. Those who sing well are tempted to sing for the praise of men rather than for the glory of God. One who sings poorly may be tempted not to sing at all because of concern about the critical judgment of other people who hear. We must train ourselves to think of the Lord and to know that He is pleased with out singing if it expresses our love for Him.
It is often said that our services are dull, that there is not enough emotion, that they are stilted and formal with too little involvement of those in the pews. Sometimes there is ground for such criticism and we wonder what can be done to make our assemblies more moving and meaningful. Restoration of worship in song as practiced by the early church is surely a legitimate solution to this problem. If a visitor to our services hears the melody in our hearts enthusiastically expressed in united singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs unto the Lord, even without seeing evidence of inspiration, “he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”
Guardian of Truth XXX: 11, pp. 343-344
June 5, 1986