Of course, you need to understand that I don’t believe that singing praise is necessarily commanded in the New Testament. Nor is accompanying it when one does sing. Nor is singing / accompaniment forbidden. Singing is encouraged; singing is exemplified; that’s all. So you may need to visit some of my other posts first, before you object to the current one.
First of all, if God commanded everyone to sing with heart and voice, it would be impossible for people who have no vocal cords to obey, and there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t have vocal cords, from birth defect to injury to surgical removal due to cancer. It would also be impossible for a mute person to obey; someone whose neural network doesn’t connect like most folks’ do in the speech and communication area. God doesn’t seem to be in the business of excluding people in the kingdom described in the New Testament. He once excluded eunuchs from His tabernacle, but not from His kingdom. (It was even prophesied in Isaiah 56, a chapter which writes in the formerly exiled.) Surely there a but a few people who cannot sing in either heart or voice – and fewer still who cannot be uplifted by hearing or seeing it (as would be the case of many deaf people who still seem to thoroughly enjoy the rhythmic interpretation of ASL, for instance).
Secondly, if New Testament scripture legislated singing, that sort of law would have to get into all the details about how to sing; whether to sing with accompaniment; what kind of accompaniment is permissible … and so on and on and on. Instead, we have instructions that encourage us to sing together, praise together, build up each other. We have an example where that happened in a dark jail cell in Philippi, where required accompaniment on an instrument would have been likely impossible to obey. Christians being hunted down for lion fodder in the late part of the first century (and later) would have given away their location in the tombs had they worshiped in celebratory song accompaned by loud instruments. On the other end of the spectrum, we have an example or two in a vision of heaven where God gives each saint a harp and voice and where a cappella singing probably would not be required. Heaven is free from threat; enough harps are played that it’s as loud as an ocean or thunder. It doesn’t make sense to require instruments where they are not needed nor forbid them where they are useful.
Thirdly, there are times when people don’t feel like singing – at least, not like singing songs of joy and adulation and exuberance. Captive Israel didn’t feel like singing when dragged away from their homes to Babylon, and there on the poplars they hung their harps (Psalm 137). You can’t wring blood from a turnip. And you can’t wring songs of joy from a depressed heart. Scripture recognizes that. The Holy Spirit of God recognizes that, when inspiring such lamentations. In fact, there’s even a short book of them right there in the Bible. Paul even instructs us: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Maybe our worship, its planning and expectations of others during it should recognize this as well.
Fourth, if we take the Lord at His Word to Mary through the angel or through Jesus to His disciples – that with God, nothing is impossible – then He could just as easily tune out the sound of instruments He might not want to hear today as easily as He could refuse to listen to them in the disobedient days of Amos 5:23. In fact, if there is anything that this chapter makes clear, it is that God is concerned about the hearts and lives of those who worship Him in song; if those are not right, those songs are just “noise.”
If there is anything that approaches legislation in scripture about singing, that’s it:
So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. ~ 1 Corinthians 14:15
… speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, ~ Ephesians 5:19
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. ~ Colossians 3:16
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. ~ James 5:13
I think perhaps there has been so much emphasis on the imperative nature of the word “sing” (and on the interpretation of it as a command) that we have virtually ignored the modifiers which address the spirit, the mind, and the heart. Singing is not something done with just the body; the larynx, tongue, lips and lungs … the fingers, hands, arms, and feet. As worship, it is something that pleases God and expresses love and builds us up – like everything else – when it is done with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). This isn’t so much command as common sense.
What is the point of worship if it is not felt within as well as expressed without? What meaning is there in it if it is done solely as an obedient response; an obligation; a requirement to be carried out out of fear or duty or both — or just habit?
What would it look like if the spectators at a sporting event or the audience at a rock concert expressed their appreciation because they were told they had to; it was expected of them; it was customary? That it didn’t matter how well it went or how they felt about it or whether they felt anything about it – just respond or else? And they are to respond only by nodding quietly or repeating a soft-spoken approval while seated in a very restrained fashion; no applause; no standing; no variation; no innovation permitted?
Who would go to an event like that? Who would pay to go to an event like that?
(Yet we hope people will flood into our churches in droves, with generous hands doling cash into the collection coffers!)
Fifth: Maybe song isn’t legislated because song isn’t always given. In scripture, songs are given and called forth by God (Psalm 40:3, Psalm 42:8, Psalm 65:8; Job 35:10, etc.). Can God expect in return from us what He has not first given us? Perhaps the time is not appropriate for song; a time to weep rather than laugh; a time to mourn rather than dance (Ecclesiastes 3). Still, there is a time for song, and surely God knows when to give it. The fact that songs are often given by inspiration may help account for the fact that the phrase “new song” occurs so many times in scripture.
Sixth – and then I’ll step down from my soapbox and prepare to be pelted with all of the objections that can be gathered and slung – perhaps the Bible doesn’t legislate song because song has so many purposes and uses:
- Expressing praise, thanksgiving; praying (Exodus 15, Nehemiah 12; 1 Chronicles 16; most of the Psalms; Luke 1)
- Teaching, witnessing (Deuteronomy 31)
- Celebrating (1 Samuel 18:6; Psalm 45)
- Mourning (as above, plus Amos 8:3; Micah 2:4)
- Going to worship as well as being at worship (all of the Psalms which are “songs of ascents”, like 120-126ff)
- … and doubtless many, many more.
If the legislation required loud volume and jaunty pace, the songs of mourning would not sound right. If a song-law demanded softness and deliberation, then the exuberant songs that should burst forth from man, beast and nature itself would be defeated. If instruments were commanded for all, how could the song of a single soul walking in the woods or hanging out wet laundry be worship; if accompaniment were forbidden for all sorts of song, how could the “Hallelujah Chorus” achieve its full glory?
Like the Sabbath, song was made for man rather than the reverse. It is a gift of God to help us express what we feel toward Him and to the uplifting of others.
All right. That’s pretty much the extent of my wisdom on the matter. God’s wisdom exceeds it considerably. And that keeps leading me to the conclusion that songs of worship and praise and edification are encouraged by scripture – rather than regulated, codified, decreed, systematized, criminalized, enforced, prosecuted, sentenced and convicted.