"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

You're No Ding-a-Ling If You Don't Sing

"The very refusal to sing may be itself a song." Spurgeon's Treasury of David
 
There's an article making its way around the Internet entitled Why They Don't Sing on Sundays Anymore. Author Thom Schultz conjectures that 'not singing' in church is a problem. In fact, the very use of the pronoun 'they,' as in they don't sing anymore, but I do (or should), indicates the belief that something is wrong with the people who don't sing in church.
 
Thom Schultz is not alone in his opinion that people who don't sing in church have something wrong with them. The old hymn Marching to Zion  attributes true  Christianity to the singer, and consigns the person who doesn't vocalize a tune to judgment:

Come, we that love the Lord.
join in a song with sweet accord...
Let those refuse to sing,
Who never knew our God...
 
 
I take a much different approach. It's my belief that there are a multitude of good reasons to not sing during corporate worship, and even more reasons to not make it an "us vs. them" argument between those who love to sing (and do) and those who are not motivated to sing out loud (and don't.).
 
When Israel was taken captive into Babylon, the Scriptures said, "they hung their harps in the willows"  and refused to sing (Psalm 137:2). Charles Spurgeon, in his Commentary on Psalm 137, quotes another pastor who writes: 
The question "How can we sing?" gives us a striking example of the variety and the versatility of true worship. The very refusal to sing may be itself a song. Any real utterance of good thoughts, whether they be thoughts of gladness or thoughts of sorrow, may be a true hymn, a true melody for the congregation, even though it may not breathe at every moment the very thought of all the worshippers. "How shall we sing?" is itself a permanent hymn, an inspired song, for all the churches.
I can think of at least five good reasons why a Christian might refuse to sing:

(1). When the Christian feels forced or pressured to sing.  The moment a worship leader, pastor, or some other religious officer presses the gathering to sing, with either guilt or shame for not singing, the believer perhaps should refuse to sing. The Babylonians told Israel that they (the leaders) would be delighted to hear joyful songs of mirth from the assembled Israelis. The Israelites flat out refused to sing for anyone but the Lord.

(2). When singing out loud is associated with being Spirit-filled. Many people in the business of vocal performance (choir, worship leaders, etc...) often wrongly give the impression that because they sing, they are 'filled with the Spirit,' and because others don't sing, they are not. However, Ephesians 5:18-19 says something quite different:
"Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the spirit...speaking to one another in psalms and hymns (note: a synonym for psalms) and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord."
 This text says nothing about vocalizing a song with a tune or in harmony. The emphasis on being filled with the Spirit is on what is in your heart, not what comes out your vocal chords. It is quite possible that the person who never opens his mouth during a song is as much filled with the Spirit and 'making melody' as the person who vocalizes the worship, because they both have a melody and  song in their heart. Speaking, by the way, is not the same thing as singing. If someone wishes to imply that something is wrong with you spiritually if you don't sing, then maybe you should take that as an occasion to refuse to sing out loud and continue with a melody in your heart to demonstrate that the true Spirit-filled life is not measured by the vibration of one's vocal chords.

(3). When a Christian realizes he can't sing in tune. The idea that a person who can't sing in tune should sing 'louder' and with more gusto in corporate worship because that "honors God" is ridiculous. Truth is, it's no sin for those of us who can't sing in tune to not sing out loud. It's interesting that the etymology of the word "symphonic" finds its origin in the Greek language. It is used in context with the rejoicing in the home of the prodigal when he returned. The family began to "celebrate" (Luke 15:24) with symphonic sound. No father in his right mind would ever celebrate the return of his son by using a harpist whose strings are out of tune. So the notion you sometimes hear in church, "It's noise that honors God! Even if you can't carry a tune, sing with gusto!" is foreign to logic, biblical worship, and public etiquette. It is much better for many of us to 'make melody in our hearts' because it's impossible to make melody with our mouths.

(4). When the heart is moved by a song sung or words spoken by others. Sometimes the best time to not sing is when the heart is being moved by the words of a song or a message through the vocalization of another. To sing out loud at that moment would detract from the symphony being played in your own heart. There's no sin in being moved within by the vocal performance of another! Truth be known, a Christian man or woman could worship God at the local symphony, or at a ballet, or at a rock concert because he or she is overcome by the goodness and grace of God in a phrase used, a song sung, or the Spirit moving internally as life is lived at the moment! The notion that there is something 'sacred' about church and everything else is 'not sacred' is foreign to the teaching of the New Covenant. Hearts can be moved anywhere and at anytime, and if you are singing and making melody in your heart--even at a corporate worship service led by a choir, band, or vocal worship leader-- one doesn't have to sing out loud to honor God.  

(5). When your circumstances are such you don't feel like singing.  Sometimes, as Spurgeon points out, the refusal to sing becomes a song itself. When Israel was in captivity, they felt sorrow and sadness, and refused to sing songs of mirth. When a best friend or a loved one dies, and you enter into a corporate worship on Sunday morning, you may not feel like singing "Oh Happy Day!" You are more real, more God-honoring, and more legit as a Christian by refusing to sing out loud under those circumstances. You don't know what is going on in the heart of the person seated next to you. If they are not singing, it could be within the heart God is giving them another song, another message, another moment of healing for the soul.

So.... it would be far better for faithful followers of Jesus Christ to refrain from making judgments on others by whether or not they sing in church on Sunday and remember that you are no spiritual ding-a-ling if you don't sing. (Update: One reader sent me a link proving some who sing shouldn't). :)


41 comments:

Brindusa said...

Maybe it's got something to do with this: http://worthilymagnify.com/2014/05/19/crash/

I'm all for not singing when pressured or when feeling moved... or when having any other legitimate reason... But I see the sense in what this article is saying -I've been (not often!) in settings where the 'worship team' performance was so loud, it was ludicrous to expect the 'audience' to sing much, we could hardly hear ourselves. That 'worship team' in my opinion clearly defeated its purpose... I didn't see much worship going on, I was just concerned for our ears.

Wade Burleson said...

Yep, I get that.

That's probably why you should find a 'style' of worship that is more conducive for YOU to have a melody created within your heart, while...

At the same time recognizing the style you find distasteful might be doing that very thing in the hearts of others.

:)

Bob Cleveland said...

I'm glad you said this. It's about time, and then there's that whole "You have to stand up to sing" thing. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to stand for the sermon?

But I'll add one more thing: I won't sing anything that's not applicable to me. There are several hymns; the one that comes to mind is "Coming Home". If I wouldn't say "I've wandered far away from God" to you in a conversation, I'm not going to sing it, either.

Brindusa said...

Well, I understand, but I don't think the 'style' is the problem really. :-) The author of that article I posted said that it's not a matter of disliking contemporary music in favor only of hymns of such... But when 'stage' music is so loud that it's deafening... not much singing is really possible. I'm personally much more relaxed about music these days than I used to be, when I would reject anything having any kind of beat, practically anything in any way contemporary. That's not what I'm doing now... So I think it's definitely wrong to put pressure on people to conform outwardly and sing something, but in some settings, things are done so that it's nearly impossible to have the people sing... not in a good way.

Robbin said...

I am musician and vocalist. I grew up on both hymns & contemporary music. I have helped lead worship and I have been in the seats. I have to say there are more times that my voice is silent during corporate praise and worship than singing. I spend that time to listen to His voice. Sometimes I am moved to sing aloud and sometimes I'm not. There are times I am totally consumed by the words of praise to Him & sometimes totally consumed by Him washing over me through the music.

Its all in the heart of the worshiper--- Just my two cents!

Jack Carver said...

We had a youth revival meeting that featured rather loud worship/praise music. An older couple was there and simply stood and smiled when the music and singing started. Later asked what he thought about the music, the husband responded with a smile, "Oh, we can't stand that music, but our grandkids love it!" His was the sweetest praise I experienced that evening.

Terry said...

It seems to me you might have missed the point of the referenced article.

Heather said...

Love it! And I am also no ding-a-ling if I don't always stand when everyone else does, close my eyes on command, laugh at the speakers jokes, sing the high women's parts on songs, do that prayer-pose thing that Christians do, shake hands during the greeting time, put something in the offering plate, or even turn up at the building every Sunday.

I call it freedom.

I also often notice the people who cannot stand, who are new, who are holding a child, who might be uncomfortable for whatever reason and I like to think that I might make them feel less alone by joining them in being different.

Beside, Sunday mornings are one of the most interesting times to watch Social Proof in action. And if people are busy conforming to social proof, can they be being Bereans when it comes to what they are hearing?

Anonymous said...

I think you should not sing if you do not agree with the words ("not applicable" to one's self is an instance of that)

I have not stood in church when having severe back and hip pain

Anonymous said...

Southern Baptist Music leading into worship has some how came off the rails. Cant really explain it, but it seems like such a challenging and orchestrated production. There seems to be some sort of pressure on music ministers to come up with a production that might earn them an Emmy or Grammy award. Especially Christmas and Easter Musicals - WOW!!! If my music minister doesn't think home crowd is talented enough to support his production, he will go out and hire folks to come in. I am just saying, there doesn't need to be that much pressure nor do these things have to be that great.

Anonymous said...

Also, if you don't feel like clapping, you don't have to clap/

Anonymous said...

To 12:04

Yes, SBC music is becoming more horrid every day. The "Ministers of Music" are the reason ie I have never met a good one. Worship is supposed to be about the people of God coming together in unison to ascribe worship, honor and glory to God collectively not in a perfirmance manner ie sitting around listening to "if I could hear my mother pray again or God of Earth and Outer Space"

Grace to all

Bill

Romans 5:1

Christiane said...

Some of the 'Canticles' of sacred Scripture:

the "Canticle of the Three Children" (Daniel 3:57),
the "Canticle of Isaias the Prophet" (Isaiah 12),
the "Canticle of Ezechias" (Isaiah 38:10-20),
the "Canticle of Anna" (1 Samuel 2:1-10),
the "Canticle of Moses" (Exodus 15:1-19),
the "Canticle of Habacuc" (Hab., iii 2-19),
the "Canticle of Moses" (Deuteronomy 32:1-43),
the "Canticle of Zachary" (Luke 1:68-79),
the "Canticle of Mary" (Luke 1:46-55),
the "Canticle of Simeon" (Luke 2:29-32)


and the Psalms may be sung as prayer, also, as in this example based on David's Psalm 23:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0kxWXHETlU


In patients with Alzheimer's, words may leave them, and memories, but strangely, and maybe by the grace of God, they can sing hymns still.
I don't know this, but I suspect that at the core of our being, the Holy Spirit prays for us when we can no longer voice our prayers. Perhaps those patients' songs are being sung 'in the Spirit'?

I think it may be true.
In any case, it is a great and beautiful mystery, this singing.








Victorious said...

There seems to be some sort of pressure on music ministers to come up with a production that might earn them an Emmy or Grammy award

Love this! So true. :( And imho, that "production" mentality has led to a whole entertainment culture in our churches.

Wade Burleson said...

Bill,

We have a couple of really good worship ministers. Sorry for your experience, but when you have good ones, it can be a wonderful blessing to many people.

The Govteach said...

It could be like the church my 83 year old mother attends, the 55+ crowd will not go into the sanctuary during the " praise music" because the music hurts their ears, never mind they've asked to turn it down. As one of them says, we need to pick our fights, and there are more serious ones in which to do battle.

Connie said...

Sing or not, it is up to you personally. If we were really there to worship God as He deserves, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Anonymous said...

Well, so much for corporate worship.If I don't like the song I just won't sing. If it doesn't appeal to me I just won't participate. If the sermon is on marriage and I am single I will just stay home, or worship on the golf course. I don't care much for meeting strangers so I will just remain seated during the fellowship time when everyone stands to greet one another.

In my mind corporate worship is about cooperation, and sometimes, cooperation means doing something that may not be personally pleasing.

How happy would you be if you went to the ballet and only about half of the members chose to dance? I think I would want my money back. When God observes our corporate worship I sometimes wonder if he isn't thinking the same thing.

Allen said...

One you miss, if the lyrics don't line up with scripture.
Do the math on the number of music people listed in Ezra with the number of others when they went back to build the temple. .05%

Victorious said...

When God observes our corporate worship I sometimes wonder if he isn't thinking the same thing

No doubt He's got His scorecard out to grade our performance. /sarcasm

Wade Burleson said...

"How happy would you be if you went to the ballet and only about half of the members chose to dance? I think I would want my money back. When God observes our corporate worship I sometimes wonder if he isn't thinking the same thing."

God wishes 'what' back? Obviously, it's not 'money,' so what does he wish back? His grace which he 'freely' gave us? His 'mercy'?

I believe it is the very notion that when people 'don't do it right' (listen to sermons, sing songs, go to church, give, etc...) then God 'wants his ___ back' is the root of our dead churches.

:)

ScottShaver said...

Along these same lines, I refuse to take part in "Simon Says" cues from worship leaders to answer questions in the affirmative or likewise if not sure of the question.

Showmanship pure and simple.

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

I’m surprised you didn’t mention some of the main reasons why some do NOT sing. Some comments have brought them out.

1. LOUD! My dad always said the first sign of idiots: liked noise.
Once I left the music service, crossed the street and still got my ears knocked off from a new sound system.

2. Contemporary vs. hymns (old vs. new songs)

3. Old songs sung to a different tune or new words added.

4. STANDING! Stand, stand, stand. (Doubles the life of pew pads.)

5. Song leader vs. Song Performer. A ‘performer’ keeps his eyes shut in his ‘own world’.

Tom Kelley said...

A wise old seminary professor taught his young pastors-to-be that preachers might think that their congregations got most of the doctrine from the preacher's sermons, but the truth is that most of them get it from the songs they sing in church. I think there's a lot of truth in that. I also think that may be why so few church members these days, who hear only contemporary songs and never sing older hymns, know much biblical doctrine.

Anonymous said...

Tom K

I have no doubt that you are correct on where most get their theology. I've said the same thing for yrs.

Grace again

Bill

Romans 5:1

Anonymous said...

Reason #4 is very good, every word of it, and it applies to so much more than just singing. It's a great mini sermon.

RRR said...

I understood the point of the article being to point out the trend of churches going to a more casual, concert-style form of music and praise rather than the former style of using hymns which is more conducive to congregation participation. I don't know if anything is "wrong" or "better" between the two but they are different and the styles may well impact the consciousness of the person attending and the “spirit” of the service.

Is the primary intent of the service to attract new people and minimize the "church" culture so as to make un-churched visitors feel more comfortable?

Is the intent to "worship" the Most High God and project the sense that those in attendance are in a holy environment and participating in a sacred event?

"Style" definitely has an impact on variables like these.

I'm admittedly speaking in general terms as was the author of that article, but it seems that the “praise band” style is "generally" conducive to a less formal service. Wouldn't you agree?

It may follow that less formality and less participation by those attending lends to diminishing the sense of "sacred worship" by those attending having less sense of participatory worship. What do you think?

As you say, we have choices. We can't insist that someone attends one style rather than another and we shouldn't condemn those participating in either style. Those not favoring the former style of “hymns” most often express the opinion that those styles are “dead”. Those not favoring “praise band-concert” style are often of the opinion that they are frivolous and shallow. I guess that’s why we have two styles these days.

But it may be helpful to monitor and assess implications to see what may best achieve intended objectives. What's your objective in having Sunday morning services?

Tom Ross said...

Last month I went to a denominational conference in my home country where the amplification of the worship singing team and musicians was so loud that the Base, i.e. the low frequency sounds, were powerful enough to cause me discomfort. The pressure wave was powerful enough to pass into my body and churn my stomach contents. I left because I did not want to bring up my last meal within the confines of the auditorium. Any duty of care shown by the "producers" of the sound waves was lacking.

The sound level within an auditorium according to science is most suitable around 85 Db. Apparently this is the sound level that the human ear is designed to work best at. At this sound level, we may not be able to discern audibly the low and high frequencies but the ear will detect and enjoy a pleasant and enjoyable sound to be immersed in and contribute to.

Sadly, many Church auditoriums have not been designed for the adequate transmission and absorption of sound and the sound rings/reverberates off the hard smooth surfaces that line our jam packed compressed auditorium spaces.

The other issue I have is that the ear is designed to operate within a tight sound spectrum range such that if the sound level is very low, i.e. around 50 Db at one metre, we may not be able to discern the sound being made. However when the sound levels are above 85 Db the safe noise level table given in this link is applicable: - http://www.noisehelp.com/noise-dose.html

Articles I have read, suggested that infants should not be subjected to noise levels above 80 Db. Sadly Church worship times are not a safe place for parents to take their small children into, especially when very small.

A worship leader should be drawing the congregation into an intimate personal space where the respective person is able to have a personal encounter with God during the service. I not only do not sing when the worship is loud but I also get up and walk out of the auditorium until the noise levels become acceptable. Sadly I am considered to be the "strange" one in the congregation. A social misfit.

Now if the pastor tells us that we should be caring for each other, then the worship team is giving the wrong message in response to his desired outcome for the congregation to care for one and other. Subjecting people to noise levels that progressively cause them to go deaf can only be described as systematic abuse and is no different to any other form of abuse of the congregation that may go on within a church environment.

Sadly, I believe, the senior pastor of my church, may have damaged hearing because he often goes to the sound desk and adjusts the sound system levels upwards to suit his hearing deficiency. He does not realise that his hearing loss is being made worse by his own actions.

But if I speak out, I am the trouble maker and am hindering his progressive program to reach out to the community.

Tom Ross said...

PS: - Worship is much more than just singing. It is often best exhibited in our tithing, caring, and our sympathetic reaching out to people with needs who may be simply down on their "luck" often by just giving them of our time so that they can interact with someone else.

Anonymous said...

I love good praise and worship and the last thing I would ever desire is to go back to singing out of a hymn book but today's "praise leaders" consist of a guy on a keyboard, a few guitar players, and 6 or 8 people standing up and singing with microphones. The only ones who recognize the songs or know the words are the keyboard guy and his associates. No sense learning the song because it will be months before you see it again.

Its time for the "worship leaders" to rethink things. The audience isn't singing whether they like or admit it. Just pitch out an older song that people know and watch the level of participation go through the roof.

Anonymous said...

I love good praise and worship and the last thing I would ever desire is to go back to singing out of a hymn book but today's "praise leaders" consist of a guy on a keyboard, a few guitar players, and 6 or 8 people standing up and singing with microphones. The only ones who recognize the songs or know the words are the keyboard guy and his associates. No sense learning the song because it will be months before you see it again.

Its time for the "worship leaders" to rethink things. The audience isn't singing whether they like or admit it. Just pitch out an older song that people know and watch the level of participation go through the roof.

Unknown said...

I have been around along time and have been a Southern Baptist for several decades. What I can't understand is why we have given such a narrow definition to the word "worship" over the past few years. At some point the "music" minister became the "worship" leader. I had never defined "worship" as the music. To me "worship" consists of those "aha moments" during the sermon, or my response to a beautiful Oklahoma sunset while out walking, or the "Isaiah 6" moments when I feel the presence of the almighty God and realize that "Woe is me for I am a (wo)man of unclean lips...) Every minister of the church should be the "minister of worship." Even the "missions minister" because our true "worship" response is to go out and serve others. I am too musically impaired to sing and my feeble attempts at it are definitely not worship--no matter how loud I sing.
Mona Loewen

RRR said...

Music to me is like communication of the soul. It is often the most enriched part of "worship" for me when my Father's Spirit speaks to my heart and gives me a sense of awe and wonder at His nature and reality. Sermons certainly are a critical part of "worship" as well.

I find myself being critical of those who choose a different style than myself. Then I even say words that are critical and can hurt others. I can hear God saying (in a "Bob Newhart" kind of way) "STOP IT!!!"

My church offers both styles in two different worship sessions each Sunday. I know that'a hassle and a lot more work than just having one but it does provide a time where we can all worship as we see fit.

So, why am I even being critical? Must be Satan trying to use me to create division and discord, huh?

P.S. to Brother Tom: maybe you can slip a piece of tissue or something inconspicuous in you ears to muffle the sound so you don't have to walk out. I've done that before.

John said...

Personally, I rue the day someone attended a concert, mistook it for a worship service, and decided their church needed to "worship" in the same manner.

Sharon said...

I love the new songs and the old. I am 69 and have been in Baptist churches my whole life. Sing the old hymns is nostalgic and brings back great memories. I love the new songs because many have fresh and rewarding words. I was reluctant at first but was open to listening. I started listening to christian stations and found the new songs are happy, hopeful and inspiring. Lyrics like "if not me then who", "all the people said amen" "you're an over-comer". How could you not be engaged with this youthful honest sound?

Tom Ross said...

@ RRR

Staying inside with stuff tissue in my ears is like saying amen to something that you disagree with in the theology of the preachers sermon. My body language gives me away if I stay inside and people assume that I have a major problem without considering that the issue without the "t" is not with me.

If you were in the "workplace" would you consider "loud" noise as a health and safety issue if it caused people to lose their hearing.

Some of the best worship times I remember is being high up in the mountains in third world countries where the guitar only has two strings and the power cord does not plug into any wall socket to increase the level of worship sound. I do not have to leave such venues as I can hear the heart of the people singing and know that I have truly found a place where God's presence is revered.

Anonymous said...

My family and I only care for about 2/3 of the worship music at the church where we attend. The main reason is the theological content. Style of music is not our issue. When these songs come we stay quiet.

The church has numerous people who lead worship at various times. When certain individuals lead we are more likely to remain quiet as the songs sung are picked by those individuals.

It's nothing personal against them we just feel they have shown a poor device in their theology.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

I believe a paraphrase of Ecclesiastices is in order here:

There is a time to sing,
And a time to not sing;
There are those who sing,
And those who do not.

And/or a direct quote from St Luke:

They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: " 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.'

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments on singing! A good find fo me, as I have been made to feel guilty for my not singing aloud. A voice you do not want to hear.

Anonymous said...

I'm not against the newer songs and style except I can't stand the worship leaders making people stand for 20-25 minutes. This morning in our church the first set of music (for which we were told to stand) lasted 27 minutes. Takes all the joy out of anything.

Anonymous said...

When I returned to our local SBC church--and we have only one--the sound level is painfully loud.

When I enquired if it was always that way I learned over half the people either just come to SS or else come late to skip the loud music.

No matter what the style, if the majority of your people are avoiding the music, Houston, you have a problem.

Linda