Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Congregational Singing, Reprise

“The people in the pews have become spectators enjoying a show rather than worshipers entering into the spiritual activity of praising God and admonishing brethren.” – Ken Green in “Balancing Faith and Tradition: Congregational Singing” (In Biblical Insights, June 2004; not available online as far as I know)

Command, principle and example favor congregational singing as the normal way churches should sing in gathered worship. We in America, to a large degree, are far afield from what is normal singing according to the New Testament.

The commands to sing in Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16 are addressed to congregations. In the immediate context of both texts, a plurality of individuals is commanded to “be filled” and “let dwell.” The participles further address this plurality (the congregation) – “speaking,” “singing,” “making melody,” “teaching,” “admonishing”. Taken together this indicates the participation of the whole church.

The terms “to yourselves” and “one another” (heautou) are reciprocal, reflexive pronouns. In their Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Dana and Mantey give Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 as examples of these kinds of pronouns (Toronto, ONT: The Macmillan Co., 1955, pp. 131-132). A reciprocal, reflexive pronoun is used “When a plural subject is represented as affected by an interchange of action signified by the verb...” If only one individual or a select group of singers are active and the rest of the church is passively listening, then there is no “interchange of action” as Dana and Mantey suggest, and the “speaking one to another” is not happening as Paul intended.

There is an example of the disciples singing together that provides information about what they did. This is found in Matthew 26:30 (Cf. Mark 14:26). The apostles sang an hymn with Jesus after the institution of the Lord's Supper before going out to the Mount of Olives. The context and construction of the sentence leave no doubt that they sang together. They sang. They went out. The participle humnasantes (translated “they had sung an hymn”) is plural, as well as the 3rd person plural verb exelthon (translated “they went out”). The people who went out to the Mount of Olives are the same ones who had sung an hymn. This incident is alluded to in Hebrews 2:12.

In addition to both command and example, congregational singing is supported by a New Testament worship principle – New Covenant believers are “an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).” The spiritual sacrifices include “the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips (Hebrews 13:15).” Our worship is a personal spiritual sacrifice to God offered up by a priesthood of believers – not just a few believers who offer up worship for others!

Congregational singing is the ideal that the New Testament holds forth. It is an important biblical concept that shouldn’t be overlooked or hooted at.

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