Singing In The Church Assembly

On May 30th I handled the Adult Bible Study class at the A-Hill Church in Baguio. I tried to make simple the presentation of five interrelated principles and reasons why singing is the music of the church. Or why it is sometimes called a capella. And why in the Churches of Christ we don’t use mechanical instruments of music during our congregational worship.

First, I told the class that reading Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16 is a weak approach of proving that church music is limited to singing or vocal music. Sa Filipino, maraming palusot, maraming lulusutan sapagkat iisang gilid lamang ang masasarahan kapag ang dalawang versikulo lamang ang offense-defense natin.  Kailangan ang limang prinsipyo o limang kadahilanan (o mas marami pa) na magtulung-tulungan upang masarahan lahat ang maaring lulusutan ng nagtatanong.

Secondly, I emphasized  the importance of the principles and reasons that should together be presented inter-relatedly which are the following:

  1. Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.
  2. God is a God to be respected, honored and feared who expects obedience from angels and men.
  3. A specific item on a certain category, if nothing else of its kind supplements or amends it, that item becomes exclusive.
  4. Christ pointed to a shift from a lower to a higher level of worship in John 4:23-24.
  5. God’s law, including seemingly small items, should not be treated as trifling matters.

The above principles should be explained fully well. If these are not recognized as valid, then there is no defined basis for discussion. If one discards item #1 and #2 then there’s no use talking about religion.

Item #3 is difficult for many religion teachers to accept but it is a hermeneutical mainstay of Churches of Christ. If this item #3 is not honored then there is no limitation or boundary on any item of faith and practice in religion. This means that when one item is specified, and nothing else is mentioned on that same level, that which is specified becomes exclusive or the only one in that level. For example, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”  Among the Hebrews the day is specified and it was understood that there was no other day of the week that was equal to it. Any Hebrew dared not change the day. Pigeons or turtle doves (Lev 12:2, 8; Luke 2:24) are mentioned in a certain ceremony. No other verse supplements the kind of birds so those listed become exclusive. Geron, pipit, maya, chicken would be excluded.  On the other hand, in 1Tim. 2:5 one is mentioned acting as mediator, but in Romans 8:26 we are told that the Holy Spirit also intercedes, therefore, one supplements the other. Since the Bible does not mention the Virgin Mary or any beatified saint like Apostle Peter, it remains that only Christ and the Holy Spirit are to be recognized as intercessors.

In the NT “singing” is the music that is mentioned. The Greek term “psallo” as historically defined by the Thayer Greek-English Lexicon (page 675) gives this testimony: “in the N.T. to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song, James 5:13 … in honor of God, Eph. 5:19; Romans 15:9, … ‘I will sing God’s praises indeed with my whole soul stirred and borne away by the Holy Spirit, but I will also follow reason as my guide, so that what I sing may be understood alike by myself and by the listeners’, 1 Cor. 14:15.”  Since singing or vocal music is the one kind of music mentioned, and there is no supplementary provision on that same category or level, it remains that singing is the exclusive kind of music to be observed.

Learn also how the “specific item” when magnified and enlarged becomes a “generic term” in its implementation that would include or would branch into smaller parts. The term “sing” could be magnified/enlarged when implemented. How to implement the act of “singing” and still stick to the action of “singing” necessitates smaller actions but still under the act of “singing.” To use song books implements the act of singing but song books is not a kind of music that is of the same category as “singing.”  The pitch pipe is not a kind of music nor does it produce praise music ; it is used to get the proper pitch for the congregation’s guide to a proper implementation of the command “to sing.” Singing becomes generic and branches into singing the soprano, singing the alto, singing the tenor, and singing the bass. Any action that stems from the authority derived from a specified generic is authorized.

Emphasize the implications of Christ’s pronouncement in John 4:24. There’s a shift from the dominantly material kind of worship in the Mosaical Law (material tabernacle/temple, material altar, material incense, material animal sacrifice, exclusive Levitical priests, physical high priest inside the temple, physical Mt. Zion, material laver for washing, etc.) to the spiritual, heart centered, attitudinal level. From the externally based worship it moves into the higher, internally based worship. From the physically and externally observable kind of worship it moves into the attitude and heart centered worship which only God could discern. It is the spirit dominated human person that comes in contact with the spirit God. The physical body with its individual organs/parts is dedicated as a holy sacrifice. See Romans 12:1; 6:13 & 19; 1Cor 14:15.  It is this spirit dominated human person that vibrates, as it were like the musical instrument of the OT, that makes the music. It is done sincerely, truthfully, cordially.

Singing is mentioned in Matt. 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1Cor. 14:15; Ephesians 518-19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12 and James 5:13. Nowhere is mechanical instrument mentioned among first century Christians in their congregational worship.

No command, no instruction from the majestic, respected, honored, feared God should ever be trifled with.  God’s prohibited fruit at the Garden of Eden is a smaller thing than a harp or an organ, but look at the consequence upon Eve and the whole human race. Angels went beyond the prescribed habitation (Jude 6) and look at the number of evil spirits and Lucifer became a Satan. Onan’s withdrawal was a small thing so was the fire used by Nadab and Abihu, but they were punished immediately. Moses forgot the small matter of circumcising his sons (Exodus 4:18-23), but look at the anger of the Lord which almost cost his life. Look at the small instruction for Moses to talk to the rock  to bring out water, instead he struck it with his staff and God became angry for He considered it irreverent and disrespectful on the holiness of God. See Numbers 20:8-11. Previously in Exodus  17:1-7 God told Moses to strike the rock for water and it was all right. But 40 years afterwards “strike the rock” was changed to “talk to the rock.” This principle is applied in the use of musical instruments. Use of musical instruments was commanded and authorized in the OT, but it was changed, eliminated in the NT. Was it a small matter for Moses when he forgot to talk to the rock as commanded? Did he have the right to change into something that was more dramatic in striking the rock. Did not this small thing cost him not to reach the western side of the Jordan?

Was it a small matter for King Saul to offer the burnt sacrifice when Samuel came in late? God commanded King Saul to kill the disrespectful tribe of King Agag and all animals. Was it a small matter when King Saul spared the enemy King  and the fatted animals which he intend to show his people what great victory God gave them over their enemies? Is this not the same attitude in the use of instruments of music? To praise God say the instrumentalists. But they are like King Saul who intended something to be dedicated  to God’s honor which was not authorized. Did not God say “to obey is better than sacrifice”?

Was it a small matter when Uzzah extended his hand to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling down from a cart travelling along a bumpy road? God’s word says that only the priests were authorized to hold the Ark of the Covenant.  Uzzah was not a priest. He died immediately.

We could go on and on citing cases of small matters that greatly mattered to God. The small matters are meant to show man’s humility and respect for the awesome God.

Our Lord Jesus gives us the path of complete obedience. He became flesh and carried on to the letter all prophecies and promises intended for him. This idea is clear in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Even the matter of being baptized in water. He didn’t have any sin, but since it was a matter that enabled him to fulfill all righteousness, he had to do it. So he made the declaration, “It is finished” at the end of his earthly  life because he obeyed all things that were meant to be obeyed. Which is why  the writer of Hebrews says, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” (5:8) Perfect obedience from every creature is expected by God.  (Eusebio Tanicala)