"The very refusal to sing may be itself a song." Spurgeon's Treasury of David
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). :)