Attending church, a stranger is struck by the fact that here, alone in his experience, adults sing. Christians enjoy singing and have services with singing. Indeed, 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 our homes, our groups and our schools. Singing is integral to Christian worship. Why?
A song is music performed by a single voice, with or without instruments. You can have a single voice, duet, trio, quartet, ensemble, choir, chorus and so on. Music heightens the effect of the words allowing them to be projected with more passion than in speech alone. Wordy songs may be epics telling stories of events. Folk songs are usually sung by untrained people who sing songs related to their work or experiences. Art songs are carefully taught and conform to a strict interpretation and virtuoso performance. Popular songs emphasise rhythm and accompaniment rather than the words. Today's popular music so supported by bands that without accompaniment modern popular songs are rarely sung. What is the background of our singing?
1. SINGING IN THE BIBLE.
The Development of Hebrew Music goes back to those who realised she or he could make music and create 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
The Influence of Pagan Music was due to Israel being at a geographical crossroads. Gen. 37:25 Some Israeli men married foreign wives. Solomon married an Egyptian woman whose dowry included 1,000 musical instruments and musicians to play those instruments in the Egyptian way. Hebrew religious leaders avoided sensuous pagan music. The prophet Amos condemned those "who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp" Amos 6:5
Daniel 3:5-15 tells of the persecution of those who refused to worship the pagan king at the sound of special orchestral music. This passage also describes the instruments used. "8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "O king, live forever! 10 "You have issued a decree, O king, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon--Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego--who pay no attention to you, O king." Their refusal to worship the gold statue of the King at the sound of the music led to their being thrown into the fiery furnace.
Of course, there were times when the soothing strains of David's lyre refreshed a tormented Saul 1 Sam 16:23. Music was an important part of everyday life. Merrymaking, weddings, and funerals were not complete without music. Even war relied on music, with special instruments sounding the call to battle. The Hebrews developed the shophar, an instrument like a trumpet with piercing tones Exod 32:17-18 Merrymaking and frivolity called for the light, happy tones of pipes or flutes. Judg 11:34-35; Matt 9:23-24; Lk 15:23-25
The Use of Music in Worship was as an accompaniment to ritual. Temple music consisted of singers and an orchestra. David established singing and music as part of worship 1 Chron 15:16 "David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brothers as singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals." The types of instruments were restricted in the temple orchestra to the big harp, the lyre, the ram's horn, the trumpet, the timbrel and cymbals. After the Exile when the temple was rebuilt, the orchestra was re-established Neh 12:27 and the pipe, flute and vocal music became more prominent in worship.
Instruments not allowed in the temple were played at feast days when women singers and musicians were allowed to participate. The first appearance of story music was when Miriam, Moses' sister, sang with joy after the Jews escaped Pharaoh's men Exo 15:21 "Miriam sang to them: "Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea." There is a modern chorus about this today. Many of the Psalms were sung in verses by choirs. The Hebrews came to consider the story songs an essential part of their worship.
David believed even the universe sings and in one hymn of praise sings: 1 Chron 16:31-34 "Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!" 32 Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! 33 Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. 34 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." Job quoted God as saying (38:1-10) "The morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?"
So Believers were encouraged to sing to God. David wrote hymns, psalms and tunes, inventing instruments and using the court resources to develop a Temple orchestra. Naturally Christians were encouraged to sing. 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 in the Revelation described Heaven with believers singing 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.
Many hymns in the ancient Church were written to spread teaching. Christians marched through the streets singing hymns to popular tunes.
During the fourth and fifth centuries music in the church became more highly developed. A soloist sang the psalm and the congregation responded at the end of each verse with a refrain chosen from the psalm. These psalms became popular being sung in church and in the home in many countries.
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, known as the "father of hymnody in the Western church" developed the Ambrosian chant. Two centuries later, Gregory the Great added four more scales to the four scales of the Ambrosian system, creating the Gregorian chant called "the greatest revolution in the history of Christian singing." It spread rapidly throughout the entire West giving beauty and solemnity to worship. Some were on last year's classical hit parade.
In the Medieval Church, singing became more sophisticated in hymns, including hymns 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"; from the 12th C. our Advent carol "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Then the singing of hymns by lay people was banned. The Council of Constance in 1415, decreed: "If laymen are forbidden to preach and interpret the scripture, much more are they forbidden to sing publicly in the church."
The Protestant Reformation argued Worship belonged to the whole congregation not just priests. Martin Luther's influence on music in worship was revolutionary. He wrote clearly with music close to the hearts of common people. One of his enemies wrote, "Luther's songs have damned more souls than all his books and speeches."
The Evangelical Revival had a profound effect on Christian singing. Isaac Watts 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. John Wesley wrote in the preface to the Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780): "The hymns are not carelessly jumbled together, but carefully ranged under proper heads, according to the experience of real Christians. So that the book is, in effect, a little body of experimental and practical divinity." 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 and "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know" Anna B Warner
The Twentieth Century has seen strong theological hymns such as "God of grace and God of Glory" Harry Emmerson Fosdick and light "Scripture in Song" choruses of the last two decades. These are usually repeated and often need their context explained.
Just inside the main entrance of Westminster Abbey in London, on the floor in the centre aisle is a large brass plate in memory of W.H. Auden, a leading poet of this century. Engraved are these words:
"In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise."
There is something incredibly healthy about learning how to praise God in good times and in bad.
Nothing so demonstrates spiritual maturity than our practise of praising God in song in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. At the birth of Jesus, singing filled the skies over Bethlehem, "suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Lk 2:13-14
It is not surprising to find Paul saying then: "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples." Rom 15:11 Ever since the people of God have learnt to offer praises to God. Reginal Heber wrote:
"Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee."
Henry Francis Lyte taught the church to sing:
"Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven,
To His feet thy tribute bring."
Christians sing. Because in their hearts there rings a melody of heavenly harmony. Christians cannot help but sing. Praises to God naturally flow in singing. To sing is to release the spirit within. To sing is to praise the Creator in whose honour the stars sing in their orbits. To sing is to unlock the bands of depression and set the human heart free. To sing is to renew the reserves of courage that enable you to cope. Sing! Nothing lifts the spirit, emboldens the nerve and encourages the heart like singing! Sing when you walk. Sing in the car. Sing silently when you are awake at night. Sing to God the Father. Sing with the Spirit. Sing to the Saviour. Sing in praise. Sing in celebration. Sing of your Redeemer! As we sing a melody of heavenly harmony, make you commitment to follow the way of Jesus. Knowing Him gives you the reason to sing!
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
DANIEL 3:5-15, COLOSS 3:16
WORSHIP OLD & NEW R Webber Zondervan, 1982.
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