So, if our Worship Singing must not be “conformed to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2), what are God’s own criteria for this Renewed Pattern for our Congregational Singing?
God’s inspired Word supplies the answer in Two Important Scriptures. The first is Ephesians 5:18-21 – “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God our Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”.
The second is Colossians 3:16,17 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
As far as I know, there are no other New Testament Scriptures which intentionally tell us what and how to sing in Church. These are unique. Every pastor, worship leader, musician, vocal and congregation MUST absorb these divine directions into her or his inmost being. Then out of such a God-filled heart will flow Music and Singing which pleases God.
✔ If you follow these divine directions, you will automatically and unconsciously avoid being “conformed to the pattern of this world”. Your singing will be renewed, and it will bring pleasure to God’s heart. You will “not be foolish, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).
✘ But if you choose to sing the songs you like, or to please the people, just because they are popular, then God will be deeply disappointed with your Sunday worship singing. You will have slipped back into “the pattern of this world”.
Every Christian is aware of the two distinct streams of Singing that can be found throughout the Western Church. This division is deep. It has provoked Worship Wars in many churches. Some people like the stream of traditional hymns. Others like the stream of contemporary worship songs. It seems there is no middle ground.
The Reformation of the 1500s had begun a revolution of gutsy hymns that mobilised the Churches in their campaign to restore the Word of God as the authoritative guide in all matters of faith and conduct. The 19th century missionary and evangelistic movements demanded simpler Gospel hymns. These ‘Word’ and ‘Gospel’ fountains fed the first stream of what are now seen as Traditional Hymns.
In the 20th Century the Pentecostal movement emphasised the power of the Holy Spirit, and birthed many new songs — short and pithy “choruses”. From the 1970s the newer stream of contemporary worship songs began to flow as the new wave of Charismatic Churches impacted the traditional churches. These ‘Pentecostal’ and ‘Charismatic’ fountains fed the second stream which we know as Contemporary Worship Songs (CWSs).
Are these two streams destined to flow forever in different directions, with no hope of merging?
God is backing a Merger! He, the Owner of the Worship House, “brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52) I hear Paul, the most influential Apostle of the New Testament Church, speaking to those who love the Traditional Hymns: “Sing Hymns derived from the Word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16). And I hear him speaking to those who love the Contemporary Worship Songs: “Sing spiritual songs, as those filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18-20). Then I hear him, as he remembers the Jewish synagogue worship, “And don’t forget to sing Psalms as well ~ they are the original inspired songs of God’s people!”
Put it all together, and you get God’s instructions for Sunday’s Song List: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, (Col 3:16 with Eph 5:18-20).
God is looking over your shoulder as you choose the songs for the congregation to sing. Is there a Psalm on your List? Is there a Hymn on your List? Is there a Spiritual Song on your List? He wants to cover ALL the bases. He does not want the Charismatics singing all the Spiritual Songs in their churches, and the Presbyterians singing all Hymns in theirs. He does want an Oldies Hymn List in the morning, and a Youth Song List In the evening. That is divisive. Jesus prayed for unity. All Churches should make sure their Orders of Service have ALL three genres included: Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs.
Am I wrong when I extrapolate this even further? Music preferences are heavily influenced by Culture. I believe God loves to be worshiped in all the cultural diversity of His Church from all nations. “Go make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The two Scriptures which bring together Reformed and Charismatic styles of singing teach us to use a wide range of culturally appropriate musical styles. So that an Afrikaner, Zulu, English, Indian congregant feels at home in at least one genre of song in the Sunday Service. This is Generational too: A Children’s song, a song which teenagers like, and songs which older folk appreciate. ALL genres should find their place in the range of Songs chosen for singing.
Tune in next month when we check out “Psalms”.