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|26th September, 1999|
Attending church for the first time, a stranger is struck by the fact that here, alone in his experience, adults sing. Not only do they enjoy singing but have ceremonies about singing. So unique is a group of people singing in Church that without the congregational singing Australians would never learn to sing. People will sit as an audience and listen to others sing. But when they go to the cinema they do not join in singing. There may be chants at football matches but apart from the chapel attending soccer fans of the UK, the spectators do not sing. Even the singing of the National Anthem at sporting occasions becomes a drunken shouting interspersed by jeers and cheers. Yet at church we sing. We sing in worship, at weddings, at funerals, at celebrations, at Easter, at Christmas, in homes, groups and our schools. Singing is integral to Christian worship. Why?
1. SINGING IN THE BIBLE.
The history of Hebrew music goes back to the first person who heard rhythm as he beat a stick. As people began to realise they could make music, they created more complex instruments. David invented a number of instruments, and formed a chorus of 4,000 to offer praises to the Lord "with the instruments which I made to praise" 1 Chron. 23:5. David composed songs, such as his lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan and most of our present Psalms. The soothing strains of David's lyre refreshed a tormented Saul. 1 Sam. 16:23 Music became an important part of everyday life.
Merrymaking, weddings, and funerals were accompanied by music. Merrymaking called for the light, happy tones of pipes or flutes. Judges 11: 34-35; Matt. 9:23-24; Luke 15:23-25 Even war relied on music. The Hebrews developed the shophar, an instrument like a trumpet with piercing tones. Exod. 32:17-18 Music served as an accompaniment to ritual in the Temple. 1 Chron 15:16 David told the Levites to appoint "their brothers as singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals." A feast had music, dancing women, singers and musicians. Their story songs were a part of their worship.
David believed even the universe sings. When David set up the Ark of the Covenant in his new capital Jerusalem, he composed a hymn of praise: 1 Chron 16:31-34 "Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!" Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the LORD." Job quoted God as saying 38:1-10 "The morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?" Sometimes in difficult situations it was hard to sing. The captive Hebrew slaves were depressed thinking of their loss of freedom, their exile into a foreign land, and their removal from worship and their homeland: 137:3 " By the rivers of Babylon our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy. They said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?"
Christians are encouraged to sing. When Paul and Silas were thrown in the jail at Philippi, we read: Acts 16:25 "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them." The early Christians sang even when persecuted, such was their joy. Paul advised: Eph 5:19 "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord." Col 3:16 "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." James 5:13 advised "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise." John described Heaven with believers singing Rev 5:12 "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!" The Bible sings! God is a singing God.
2. THE CHURCH ENCOURAGED SINGING.
The early Church used hymns to spread teaching. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, known as the "father of hymnody in the Western church" developed a large body of church music known as the Ambrosian chant. Two centuries later, Gregory the Great added four more scales to the Ambrosian system, creating the Gregorian chant called "the greatest revolution in the history of Christian singing." It spread rapidly throughout the entire West and gave a beauty, dignity, and solemnity to the liturgy. CD's of Gregorian Chants topped the charts. In the Medieval Church, singing became more sophisticated in the chant and hymns.
Some early hymns are still used today: Theodulph of Orleans wrote, "All Glory, Laud, and Honour"; Bernard of Clairvaux, "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" and "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded." But the singing of hymns in the church by lay people was banned. The Protestant Reformation argued Worship belonged to the whole congregation not just priests. The Moravians published the earliest Protestant hymnbooks in 1501. Martin Luther used their hymns in his hymnbook. Luther's influence on music in worship was revolutionary. He was well-trained in music and had the gift of writing clearly and creating a music able to be sung by the common people. His work was so effective that one of his enemies wrote, "Luther's songs have damned more souls than all his books and speeches." John Calvin restored psalm singing. Hence Presbyterians sing many Psalms. For him hymns were man-made, whereas the psalms were the inspired Word of God.
The Evangelical Revival had a profound effect on Christian singing. Isaac Watts reacted against the limited use of psalm singing. He wrote more than six hundred hymns. The eighteenth century became the first age of hymn singing in England. John and Charles Wesley, were two of the most prolific hymn writers of all time writing 10,000 hymns. They sang of personal experience and evangelism. The subjective experience is seen in the 19th century gospel songs by writers such as Fanny Crosby. Well-known gospel songs include "Just As I Am Without One Plea" (Charlotte Elliott), "Take My life and Let It Be" ( Frances Ridley Havergal).
The Twentieth Century saw strong hymns such as "God of grace and God of Glory" (Harry Emerson Fosdick) and "Scripture in Song" choruses. These need spontaneity in worship. Unfortunately some people associate worship with only singing, choruses especially. They have parts of the worship service marked as "worship" as though we cannot worship in Communion, prayers, preaching and reading God's Word. They do not realise people can worship without music, without even words. We can worship in our listening to God, in prayer and silent meditation. The "Shakers" were an American ecstatic sect who worshipped with cries, shouts, repetitious singing and dancing. The "Quakers" were an English sect who worshipped God without a word being spoken - in absolute silence. In our day, the "Shakers" have won over the Quakers!
3. WE ARE CALLED TO WORSHIP.
The Bible centres round the worship of God. Jesus said: "The time is coming and is already here, when by the power of God's spirit people will worship the Father as He really is, offering Him the true worship that He wants. God is Spirit and only by the power of His Spirit can people worship Him as He really is." John 4:23-24 The public worship of God is the chief end of man. We are to lift our hearts to God through praise, adoration, reverence, obedience, thankfulness and awe. Here you worship God. Strong, regular worship services are the powerhouse of the church. Some of you have neglected to worship God every Sunday. You have become spiritually slack. What are your Christian priorities? Regular worship should be a first priority.
The chief end of man is to worship and glorify God. But many people neglect regular worship of God. In the early Church, some also neglected worship. Christians gathered to celebrate the Lord's Supper, to baptize new members, to read Scripture, to listen to God speak to them through other Christians, to experience healing, to pray and sing hymns of praise to God. But some gave up "meeting together." Heb 10:25.
The early church had its problems with people who stayed away from church. Where churches neglect the worshipping heart, their ministry fails. Once great churches today have little ministry, because they let their worshipping congregations die. Once great missions are only shadows of their former selves, not because the need has lessened or because they could not employ good staff, but because they let their worshipping heart die! Neglect the worship of God and the church or mission dies! It is not enough to go to a home group, a cell group, a Bible study. You need the inspiration of a larger group, the fellowship of people different from you, the discipline of the ordered body of Christ to save you running off the rails, the identification with committed, witnessing people. In the centre of Sydney's central business district, the central experience of the thousands of people touched through the life and work of Wesley Mission, is the worshipping community. It is precisely here where Wesley Mission is different from the other great social welfare agencies operated by denominational boards of churches. For our service to the needy, grows out of the worshipping heart of congregregations of people.
The wise men Matt 2:10-12 "on coming to the house, saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him." Worship of the Christ lies at the heart of a vibrant Christianity. We offer first our hearts in worship. A Gallup Poll taken in Australia asked people about church attendance. The percentage of those who attend every week has gone up. 22% now respond "We go to church every week." The church has the largest membership and attendance of any group, union, political party, club, or association, with one in every five adults attending every week.
People who live in Sydney, need the elevating experience of worship. There is a dehumanizing influence in large city developments, crowded factory areas, impersonal streets and towering blocks of tenements. Concrete replaces lawn. Light poles replace trees. Factories shut off the sunset. Traffic noise substitutes for the song of the birds. Of all people, city people need to worship. And God desires us to worship Him. The church has a special responsibility to provide a place for city people where their spirits can sing, and where their hearts are elevated in worship. Wesley Mission makes worship a central focus.
Worship is central to all we do. We were born in praise to God. Today we find resources and strength for our total ministry through the worship experience of our people. If our people did not gather for worship, to hear the Word of God and to proclaim the Gospel, all point and purpose to all the good deeds of service we undertake, would be lost. Worship is central.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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