The Gathering and Singing: The Focus (pt. 2)

choirPart 1 ended with a challenge for worship leaders in the black church to consider how their music set can bring the most glory to God by assessing solo singing, choir singing and congregational singing.   

Some of you may be wondering why I am taking the time to bring up this particular issue.  Others of you may be wondering if this issue is of any true significance.  Of course the music set of a corporate gathering has no effect on one’s salvation, but it does have an effect on our individual sanctification. I’d also argue that it affects the health and edification of the church.  I stated previously that the church gathers for three basic reasons – exaltation, exultation and edification.  For this to happen, every aspect of the service should seek to serve these three purposes, especially the music, not only lyrically, but also in delivery.  

As I’ve talked to many people who currently attend or who have had the opportunity to attend a black (or predominantly black) church, one aspect that always is commented on was how powerful the praise and worship set was. I usually chuckle because I know exactly what they’re talking about, having grown up in the black church.  I admit that hearing powerful singing and seeing the choir display particular rhythmic movements in unison is great to see, but that also is my biggest concern or critique of these types of music sets.   Due to the immense display of talent, the music set often becomes a performance (singing and the accompaniment) that often times rouses the emotions of the congregation apart from biblical truth. Emotions are often elicited usually through excessively repititious choruses, riffs and runs, physical gestures and extended instrumental showmanship. As this goes on, the congregation becomes passive spectators, rather than active participators. In these instances, the focus is on man and not God.  What was intended to be corporate praise (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) has become a concert.

My estimation is that congregational singing is the healthiest form of music worship for a corporate gathering. If you’re unfamiliar with the term or the concept, congregational singing is the practice of the congregation joining in the music of a church, either in the form of hymns or in the form of the office of the liturgy.  Congregational singing normally doesn’t require many people on the platform or stage.  Also, the musical accompaniment is intentionally lowered so the collective human voice of the congregation can be heard singing.   In doing this, congregational singing does quite the opposite of performance oriented singing as the focus is rightly on Christ and the church is edified, hearing itself singing praises to Christ.  Now I am not saying there are no uses for solos or choirs. I think music sets can wisely employ them, but it must be done in such a way that doesn’t blur the focus of Christ, but rather sharpens it.  

Some might object to all that I’ve said under the guise that I am not respecting deeply appreciated black forms of musical expression or an individual’s talent.  My push-back would simply be to ask if the music set serves to bring glory to the music team or if it edifies the whole church and glorifies Christ.  Think about it.  Let us strive to build up one another for the glory of Christ in our singing.

Grace & Peace,

d.

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The Gathering and Singing: Take Care How You Sing

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In another entry, I wrote about the importance music plays in the life of corporate worship. The importance it plays can be for good or for bad depending on your understanding of the primary or central component of a corporate gathering. One of the recoveries of the Protestant Reformation, argued by Martin Luther and John Calvin, was the preaching of the word. But not only that, but its primacy over all other aspects of a corporate gathering. Since the word is God breathed, sufficient for godliness (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and living, active and able to discern the intentions and thoughts of the heart (Heb. 4:12), the preaching must be the central event of every corporate gathering. Not only must it be central, but the Word must also govern and shape the other events of the gathering, especially the music.

My purpose here is not to argue appropriate styles of music for a corporate gathering, though I think that is a worthy conversation, but to stimulate thought about the lyrical content of the songs we sing in our corporate gatherings. I think the most helpful songs sung in corporate gatherings are those that are shaped by biblical truth and complement the theme and tone of the biblical passage that is preached. For example, can the things that are sung be found anywhere in the Bible? And concerning appropriate themes for example, overly triumphant songs seem a bit out of place if the text preached was a stern calling for the believer to take serious heed of the warnings of God’s word lest he suffer discipline. Simply put, the songs we sing ought to be rooted in Scripture complementing the sermon preached.

Recently during a time of corporate worship I was more cognizant of this and I was greatly edified again by Ada Haberson (1861-1918) and Matt Merker’s song, He Will Hold Me Fast.

When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast (John 6:37);
When the tempter would prevail,
He will hold me fast (Lk 22:31-32).
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path (Matt. 26:30-35; 69-75);
For my love is often cold (Eze. 16);
He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight (Isa. 62:5; Zeph. 3:17),
Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight (Ps. 72:14; 1 Pet. 2:4),
He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost (Ps. 16; Matt. 1:21; John 6:39-40; Eph 1:3-14; 1 Pet 1:3-5; Jude 24-25)
His promises shall last (Nu. 23:19; Isa. 46:10, 55:11);
Bought by Him at such a cost (1 Pet. 1:18-19),
He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died (Isa. 53; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18),
Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10);
He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life (John 11:25-27; 1 Cor. 15),
He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight,
When He comes at last (1 John 3:2)!

Being replete with biblical doctrine was the reason why I was so edified by the song. I was singing the Bible! As I was singing, I was being instructed and reminded of the biblical truth of the assurance we have in Christ for our salvation. That is the main point of the song and it is encouraging!!! This is a song I can “Amen!!” simply because of the truth it contains, not primarily because of its melody. A song with great melody, but devoid of biblical truth is ultimately not God glorifying, soul satisfying, faith fortifying or joy intensifying. However, a song with biblical truth, though it may not be your melody of preference, is better for your soul simply because of its content. Consider the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Colossian church:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

(Colossians 3:16, ESV)

Next time you gather for corporate worship, take note of the lyrics and examine the degree of biblical fidelity. May we take care how we sing!

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Gathering and Singing: Gospel Music?

worship 2If you attend some type of worship service on Sunday, you’ll notice that music plays a huge part of the service. It’s so important that churches hire people as their worship leaders, worship pastors, ministers of music, etc. because singing is a huge component of worshipping God. Consider the Psalms, Moses’ songs, Mary’s Magnificat and how the angels sing about the glory of God.

Music is also so important that some people will choose which church to attend or not based on the music alone. Should it be that way? Well, yes and no. It should not be that way if the choice to attend a church or not is purely based on a preferred aesthetic quality of the music. What if said church has expositional preaching, healthy polity, a loving congregation, an evangelistic and missions emphasis, etc. Should the style or tempo of music keep us from attending and joining? On the other end of the spectrum, what if said church didn’t have all of the signs of health mentioned above, but had music to your liking? Should the style or tempo of music be the controlling variable for your attendance and joining? I hope we would say no to these questions.

However, that doesn’t mean that music isn’t important and shouldn’t be considered. So how should we think about music in the life of the corporate church? For our personal use? While this article will not answer this question in great detail, I will offer one foundational answer. Above all, we should be primarily concerned that the Christian music we sing corporately, and privately too, reflects biblical truth, especially concerning the work of redemption. In some circles it is said that churches ought to sing the gospel, pray the gospel, preach the gospel and picture the gospel in baptism and the Lord’s Supper and church discipline.

Have you ever considered if the music you sing during the corporate gathering reflects biblical fidelity? Have you ever considered how or if the music sung during your corporate gathering complements the sermon? Perhaps you might be thinking that I’m putting too much thought into this and that “worship” should be a time in the service where you’re just caught up in the spirit and enjoying the moment. I don’t believe that is commanded in Scripture. I do believe that God would have us to be intelligent worshippers as we sing about biblical truths concerning Him and His works. The mind and the heart should be affected by songs that convey biblical truth. We must be discerning about the music we sing.

In 2010, Marvin Sapp released an album titled Here I Am. Here I Am’s lead single was titled “The Best in Me”. Interestingly, the song peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel songs chart. It charted on secular and gospel charts. How did this happen? How did a gospel song chart in the top 20 on Hit R&B/Hip-Hop chart? I won’t get into all of the red tape concerning the music industry’s charting criteria, as it is complicated. However, one criteria that directly affects music sales are the lyrics. Let’s consider a portion of the lyrics from this song.

He saw the best in me,
When everyone else around
Could only see the worst in me
(Can I tell ya’ll one more time, one more time?)

I said he saw the best in me,
When everyone else around
Could only see the worst in me,
(I wish I had a witness tonight, all I need is one)
Heyyy,

[Choir:]
He saw the best in me,
(When everyone else around me)
When everyone else around (OOOOh)
(Could only see)
Could only see the worst in me,
He’s mine
He’s mine
And I am his
And I’m his
It doesn’t matter what I did
It doesn’t matter what I did
He only sees me
He only sees me for who I am

While this song may have stirred the minds and hearts of many, there is a fundamental problem with it. That fundamental problem is that it isn’t biblical. While it’s labeled a gospel song, sadly the good news is noticeably absent. There’s nothing in this song about the redemptive grace of God in Christ. Perhaps what’s even worse is that it doesn’t convey the truth about the nature of man. As best as I can tell, Sapp is claiming that God continually stands by his side when others won’t because He saw the best in him.

Biblically speaking, there is nothing good in man that causes God to respond favorably to us. In fact, the very opposite is true. The Apostle Paul cites the painful indictment that all mankind is wicked and rebellious in Romans 3:11-18 and Ephesians 2:1-3. Not only are we naturally wicked, but we deserve God’s wrath. However, the good news is that despite our heinous nature and inability to please Him, God, purposing to glorify His grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and patience, sent Jesus to atone for our sins. Instead, Sapp’s song paints a better picture of man than the Bible does and minimizes God’s nature. Sapp’s song is man-centered, not God-centered. Friends, we must be discerning about the songs we hear and sing. They must be measured by the truth of Scripture.

A good example of gospel music is “All I Have is Christ” by NA Band of Sovereign Grace Ministries. The gospel is proclaimed and the focus is on the grace and mercy of God in Christ.  This song is an example of the doctrinal faithfulness that songs should resonate with in our congregational worship and our personal listening.

Grace & Peace,

d.