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Monday, October 13, 2008
Sing! Sing! Sing!

What is it about singing? Why is singing so important, so significant in worship? After all, at the very heart of the Scriptures is the tiny book entitled, "The Song of Songs."

Alyssa left a comment in the prior post with this quote that has raised these questions for me in a fresh way.

"We sing in worship to engage and express our affections. There is no other reason to sing.
If we aren’t dealing with our affections in worship, we might as well just read the lines of the songs dryly together in paragraph form without any music. We worship with music because God has created music with a certain nature where it tends to move our affections deeply."

- Jonathan Edwards

It made me think if a couple of Chris Tomlin songs from his last two records--- i.e. "How can I keep from singing," and "Sing. Sing. Sing." These are songs about singing itself. Think also about, "How great is our God. Sing with me." It's not enough to say it is it? We must sing it. Song happens when words take flight, when poetry combusts, when lyrics dance.

Here's a question though: Can we over-rely on "singing" in worship? Can music play too central a role in worship? Is the Spirit of God mediated through music? Or is the Spirit primarily mediated through Word & Sacrament? What is the role of music and song in worship? How many times have you referred or heard someone refer to the musical portion of the service being the "worship," seemingly relegating the rest of the service to another category altogether. What's with that? Any comments?
posted by John David Walt | at 10/13/2008 08:40:00 PM



Blogger dan said...

When I look for job postings on my denominational website, I notice that many churches are looking for youth/worship pastors? They're looking for somebody to work with the youth, and also lead the singing in the services...

this understanding of worship assumes that leading worship requires the ability to sing and play an instrument...which means I am not qualified to be a worship leader.

1:13 PM EDT  
Anonymous john page said...

Yep, "we had good worship last Sunday" typically means the band was good.
Taize services have singing/chanting without music sometimes, so perhaps it is the singing, with out without music that kicks things in. Doesn't it hit a completely different area of the brain than mere words spoken?

Singing vs. sacrament and Word - both/and I think.

For me, singing opens up my heart and awareness of God in ways that just listening or praying or anything else can do. Doesn't mean other aspects of "worship" don't, but singing makes the connection in a unique way.

5:25 PM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

good conversation, jd. i guess we can over-rely on anything other than God. back to the dance - isn't it the Spirit in us that leads our spirits to respond to the presence of Love itself in our midst? Isn't the Father mediated through the Son mediated through the Body of Christ coming together, the Word being spoken and explained and the Sacraments? Does not all this occur within te movement of the Spirit and then the Spirit of God responding to these beautiful things in our midst through us and with us in return.

I'm sure that's off, but that's kind of how I experience it these days.

6:07 PM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

btw...you ever heard anyone sing "in the Spirit?"

6:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Rob said...

p.s. i slammed twitter on my blog.

3:56 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't singing a liturgy as well? If it is I think that maybe we do emphasize that one particular liturgy too much sometimes. We need to do the work of worship together when we meet, singing together is a way of doing that, but it shouldn't be the only way. So prayer, Sacraments, listening to the Word, etc are all ways of participating together in a liturgical way.

Singing is a mystery to me though still. I don't always 'get' why songs are what they are or do what they do.


12:39 AM EDT  
Blogger JAy. said...

I agree with John and MC on this one. Worship should be experienced with word, song, and sacrament. Maybe you don't do all three at each service, but I think that you need all three to really be in communion with God.

Why does singing carry the emotional weight that it does (and always has, if you think Song of Songs and Psalms)? Well, I think that may be a question that we won't know until we get to Heaven. Until then, I will be happy to let music carry my spirit as it frequently does!

5:11 PM EDT  
Blogger Joshua Andrew Smith said...

Jonathan Edwards also said, "True Religion, in great part, consists in holy affections." It reminds me of Robinson's famous plea that God would, "tune my heart to sing thy praise." The song is often played with the minor 6 chord played in the 9th measure, around the time we sing "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it," giving us that pathos of longing to accompany the logos of our depravity. Music has the uncanny ability to connect the realities of the intellect to the realities of the heart when used well. We return to the major cadence in the next part of the verse when we come to "Here's my heart, Lord take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above," and we are resolved both in the truth of the words sung and the spirit with which they are given. Music has been given special dominion over this phenomenon of unity. It joins the heart, soul, mind, and strength of a man as we see him cry out in his depravity to the God who alone can save him, encouraged by melody and harmony to express with everything he has in his person this deep declaration.

Somehow, I fail to see how a spiritually-charged def poetry jam would hold the same weight.

1:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Marcus G said...

Clearly we are talking about corporate worship gatherings (and taking for granted the worship of our daily lives, which sings a different song - that of beautiful deeds lived kindly).

Given that, I wonder if you might agree with me when I postulate that our worship is a response to God's love? (And that this response might be praise or awe, thanksgiving or intercession, wonder, love or dancing joy.)

For our response to be corporate, all sorts of things have to be in place. I'm going to take them for granted.

But also - our response must be total. Not half-hearted. Not the thing of a part of our minds. Not the dog-eared offering of a spare part of our life. The Biblical call is that our worship offering is our best offering.

The use of music in worship has always been because (so far) no one has found anything better to engage heart and mind, emotion and will together as we come into God's presence and respond to His love.

Sure, bad music might not do this too well. Bad songs are a turn off - on the car radio as well as in church. But good music, good songs take more of us deeper and further and keep more of us there longer than just about any other corporate experience.

The Bible talks a lot about singing, actually. Thank you Jay for recalling the Psalms, but we might have wandered to the Exodus, or to the Exile, or to Gethsemane. I sometimes wonder if we see it so often it risks becoming a presumed action?

So I'm afraid I dare question Edwards. "To engage and express our affections"? Of course. But not only our affections - please, both we and our songs must be deeper than that, or our response to the deep, deep love of Jesus is running far too shallow.

3:28 PM EDT  
Blogger Rob said...

i think i'm in love with marcus.

8:30 AM EDT  
Blogger chad said...

When thinking of corporate response, what I think of the most are the passages in Revelation like "ὡς φωνὴν μεγάλην ὄχλου" (like that of a great crowd). Public vocal agreement is something that is important in worship-rather it be in song or spoken voices. Especially in the context where alot of younger Christians are not fans of singing in church at all it is important that we understand the nature of communal agreement in the place of worship, whether it be in singing or participation in other forms.

Personally, these last few years I have learned to sing again, and express myself publicly in worship. You really have to get over yourself to participate and not just stand and attempt to look cool.

6:07 PM EDT  
Blogger Kerry Dorrell said...

have you ever thought that (apart from drunken karaoke) corporate gathering in Jesus' name is just about the only setting in Western Culture where people sing together anymore. Of course there are a few feeble voices that insist on singing along with the national anthem at ball games. At its best, corporate worship provides a fully participatory environment for divas and tone-deaf old men alike. Everyone gets to play! And all of that is just from a sociological perspective. Mix in the manifest presence of God, and Wowser!

I think it was Robert Webber who said that the most important member of the praise team is the *congregational voice*

okay, so I haven't answered any of your questions, JD, but I have spouted off a bit about why I like lusty, rustic, emotionally charged singing! Lots of times I like to just stop singing and listen to all of the different voices.

6:53 PM EDT  
Blogger Dean Ober said...

JD, thanks again for hosting this dialogue. My heart has been singing this song of "what worship in the Church looks like" for quite some time now. And the funny thing to me is that singing in worship is just like the opportunity us readers are given here: to comment.
My thoughts go back to the differences between priests and prophets, and identifying where singing fits into that picture.
As prophets are those who declare God's Word, and priests those who speak on behalf of the people to God, public singing worship is clearly priestly in nature. So in the context of corporate worship, we excercise our freedom to relate directly with the Father, as an act of priestly prayer. But what separates this time of prayer from any other is the music that it makes. I think this is an important thing about our perception of worship that is often lost... it's not music until we sing it. I think we often switch that around in our heads when we're joining in a song. It becomes at this point another growth spurt with the Lord, when we take ownership of His gift of singing. We then not only join in singing, but at the same time, the music happens.
I mostly share this because of what the Lord does for a person's singing. Not as a quid-pro-quo (sp?) thing, but as what naturally happens as a result of presenting ones voice to the Lord.
Singing empowers people. What we sing about then becomes the crux point, where our hearts are sifted, and we learn what we're made of.

To emphasize where my heart is at:
The words we choose our congregations to sing determines our service to them. If we make the choice lightly, we are not loving them the way they deserve. We must help them sing what God is calling them to sing. This is where our prophetic and priestly nature is in tension, which in my opinion is the coolest place to be! =]

2:46 AM EST  

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