Throughout church history, and particularly in recent decades, the What?, Why?, and How? behind worship through song has been hotly contested and ultimately proven to be a divisive issue in the church. Though Scripture is clear on singing and music in worship to God, local church traditions, cultural norms, and fear of swinging too far one way or the other have led to a plethora of incorrect views becoming widespread, creating extra-biblical notions that can be dangerous.
When there are so many different and competing views, it is imperative that we, in emulating the Bereans, search the Scriptures daily whether these things are so (Acts 17:11). The whole Bible is full of commands and examples of worship through song that we can emulate in our local church body. I will attempt to condense a variety of biblical truths into one paragraph:
The Christian is to sing praises to God, gladly singing a variety of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, both old and new, with and without musical accompaniment to the glory of the Lord. Not only is this an act of worship but also a means of encouragement to fellow saints as we, being filled with the Spirit and letting the word of Christ dwell richly in us, exhort and teach one another.
With this in mind, we must ask: Are we ever justified in withholding praise to the Almighty Lord of the universe who is also our Savior? If Scripture commands us to sing and make melody to the Lord, does silence, selectiveness, or a lack of passion please God? I contend God has given us clear answers in his Word to what worship through song should look like and answers the questions of why and how we sing.
Put simply, Scripture commands us to sing praises to God. We are enjoined to sing a variety of songs and genres (Eph 5:15-21); we are instructed to sing new songs (Ps 96:1); and we are charged to sing to one another (Eph 5:15-21; Col 3:16). These commands are not meant to be boxes to check, but rather the natural response that flow from knowledge of Christ and his promises to us.
Unfortunately, we may not always feel as excited to sing to the Lord as we do when our favorite sports team wins the big game. Often, this stems from a lack of a “why” behind our worship. We know we need to sing, but we don’t understand why we need to sing. The “why” is imperative if we are going to please God with our singing.
Graciously, God doesn’t simply disclose these truths and leave us to blindly adhere to them. Rather, he provides ample justification for these instructions, both explicitly and implicitly. We know from how God responds to genuine praise and thanksgiving that singing his praise greatly pleases him (2 Chron 5:12-14). We know that the Lord has given us salvation, done marvelous works, made the heavens, and that he is to be feared above all gods (Ps 96:1-6). We know that the Lord takes pleasure in his people and “adorns the humble with salvation” (Ps 149:1-4). We’ve seen the apostles sing praises as a form of evangelism and encouragement in times of trial (Acts 16:25).
Beyond all this, we know who the Lord is. He is “the Alpha and the Omega” or the First and the Last (Isa 44:6; Rev 21:6). He is the Creator of everything (Col 1:16); he loves us dearly (John 3:16); he has provided eternal life for those who believe in him through his son Jesus Christ (John 17:3, Rom 5:8), and so much more. We could list all the attributes of God endlessly and never come close to capturing his complete character. With this in mind, should we not feel compelled to respond to God’s command to sing? Has the Lord not told us how he wants us to show him praise and glorify him? Thankfully, he has.
God has told us in Scripture how we should praise him. We are commanded to sing audibly and even loudly with instruments (Ps 33:1-3; Eph 5:15-21), praising his name openly (Ps 149:1-4). Following the examples of the apostles, we can sing in every circumstance, even in the midst of trials (Acts 16:25). We are to sing with our hearts, not as an act or show, giving thanks to God in the name of Jesus (Eph 5:15-21). We are also called to sing with joy and to serve him with gladness (Ps 100:1-5). To briefly summarize the definition I provided above: We are to sing praises to God in worship because he commands it and because he worthy of it. God has given us clear guidelines to sing audibly and joyfully, with a variety of songs, with music, and for the purpose of exhorting one another.
So what does this mean for us? How should we move forward in obedience in light of what Scripture tells us about worship through song? How do we practically apply these truths to singing songs in a church in California on a Sunday morning, or really anywhere at any time? I will close with this brief answer: Sing in church! Sing loudly as you’re able without being a distraction. Address your fellow believers in song and give thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, “for great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” (Ps 96:4).