Why Do We Do That? – Congregational Singing
Adapted with permission from Christ Church Presbyterian, Evans, GA.
Perhaps the shortest answer to the question of why we sing congregational songs is, “because that’s what Christians have always done.” The singing of congregational hymns and songs extends back into the Old Covenant. For instance, we find Moses and the children of Israel singing to the Lord a great hymn of deliverance (Exodus 15): “The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” The Old Testament is also peppered with the command, “Sing to the Lord!” We can safely assume that a command given nearly seventy times was indeed obeyed by God’s people.
In the New Testament it is clear that singing songs and particularly hymns was a regular part of Christian worship, likely carried over from the pattern of the Synagogue. Most famously we read in Matthew’s gospel (26:30) that following the institution of the Lord’s Supper Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn before they went out to the Mount of Olives. Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Pontus, provides extra-biblical evidence in a letter he sent to Emporer Trajan in 112 or 113 A.D.
“They [Christians] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.”
Simply defined, a hymn is a song of praise to God. A more useful definition includes the following qualifications, born out over the history of the church: 1) a metrical poem of several stanzas, 2) filled with truth that is in accord with the Holy Scriptures, 3) possessing a tune appropriate to be sung by a congregation. Why should a hymn have several stanzas? Even though we live in a culture of sound bites and 15-second news summaries, the truth of the gospel requires thought and meditation upon significant truths. If our hymns don’t foster such truth-thinking, what will prepare our minds and hearts to hear the Word read and preached?
The sermon is the primary means of communicating the gospel in worship, but if it is surrounded with simplistic elements that neither embody nor encourage developed thought, the preaching of the Word will come off as obsolete. This may explain why many churches so easily replace the sermon with a skit or some other emphasis other than preaching – as it fits the surroundings better!
Why should a hymn or song be filled with truth as taught in Scripture? While the sermon proclaims the gospel and the truth of God, so too should our songs. Hymns and songs teach our heads and our hearts at the same time. They are a means by which the Word of Christ dwells in us richly (Col. 3:16), and so it is of eternal importance that our hymns be rich with truth so that they might carry Biblical message straight to our hearts permeating both our conscious and subconscious minds. It is impossible to overstate the need for theological care in selecting hymns and songs.
At CCC, we desire to incorporate a blended style of singing. And so at times we will sing old hymns that date back centuries and at times we will sing newer songs that teach the truth of our God and His Word to our hearts and minds. Often you will find a blend of old lyrics to more modern tunes. Regardless of style and song choice, may God help us to preach, pray and sing the Gospel through means that ring true to His Word and the eternal Gospel that it contains!