The songs we sing
The songs we sing
Sing praises to magnify God
; Doxology Hymn 64: “Praise to the holiest”
(only verses 1, 6 with “Amen”)
; Call to worship
Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done. Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts. Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. (1 Chronicles 16:8-10)
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,
and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Revelation 1:4-6)
; Hymn No 51: “Holy, holy, holy”
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8)
; Prayer of Adoration, Invocation and The Lord’s Prayer
Praise be to you, O Lord, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
; Scripture Reading Ephesians 5:1-20
; Prayer for Confession of sins
; Affirmation of forgiveness
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever. (Psalm 30:11-12)
; Hymn No 384: “How hopeless was our former state”
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:3-9)
; Prayer for others
; Offering and Dedication
While the offering is taken up, all remaining seated sing
; Hymn no 392: “Today Your mercy calls us”
Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7)
; Scripture Reading 1Chronicles 25:1-7
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Last Lord’s Day evening Kwangho preached a sermon with the same title. The purpose of me preaching this sermon tonight is in no way to contradict or to disagree with the exposition of the Scriptures of that sermon. As a matter of fact I agree with everything said. The purpose of this sermon is to compliment what was said about the songs we sing.
You might remember that the main question asked was “Should we sing Psalms only?” Much was said about the regulative principle for worship, with which all who call themselves serious and faithful students of the Word of God must agree. As someone puts it, “We must worship the correct God the correctly!” That is in essence the Second Commandment.
Kwangho also touched on another principle called the “floodgate” principle. In the strictest sense of the word this argument goes like this: If we do not sing Psalms only, we open the floodgate to all forms of music that might not answer the principles of regulative principle, which is to worship the correct God the correctly.
In this sermon tonight I want us to earnestly look at the Word of God and answer some serious questions about what we sing in the worship. To answer these questions we need to understand that the bridge between the Old and New Testament worship is Jesus Christ. He was the reason for worship in the Old Testament and He is the reason for worship in the New Testament. The Old is fulfilled in the New.
When we understand that the Old was the shadow of what was promised for the New, and that the New is the fulfillment of what was promised in the Old, we must see the connection between the Old and the New. And with this connection is becomes very important for us to understand that the very same principles for worship which figured in the Old are also figuring in the New. We cannot look at the Old and say there is nothing said about worship for us in the Old Testament that applies to us who live after the sacrificial death and atonement of Jesus Christ. The Bible is a unity, but indeed there is development from the shadow to the real. So what is said about worship in the Old applies for worship in the New with the difference that we apply the same principles but now in the light of its fulfillment in the Jesus Christ.
; We can worship God only as He instituted
This is the first and important principle. Now, we don’t have priests and Levites and singers and gate keepers, and of course, a temple anymore. All of these were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
But having said that, does it mean that a Chapter like 1 Chronicles 25 has nothing to say for the church of Jesus Christ in our day? No, that’s where so many make a mistake. ; And where this mistake is made, we must agree that the “floodgate” principle is indeed something we must keep in mind. If we do not understand the principles correctly, we can apply it incorrectly – and that’s when we open the floodgates. And I am afraid, in most churches referring to themselves as “contemporary”, the floodgates have been opened. Henry Grunwald in Time magazine of 30 March 1992 writes:
“The mainstream churches have tried in various ways to adapt themselves to a secular age… The major Protestant denominations also increasingly emphasized social activism and tried to dilute dogma to accommodate 20th century rationality and diversity. But none of these reforms is arresting the sharp decline of the mainstream churches. Why not? The answer seems to be that while orthodox religion can be stifling, liberal religion can be empty. Many people seem to want a faith that is rigorous and demanding.”
; David, the inspired musician of God
I disagree with the translation of many translations which translates the first verse of 1Chron 25 as if David worked together with the commanders of the army. Indeed, the word used for leaders here may in some cases even refer to princes, but interestingly four uses have to do with the work of the Levites in the tent of meeting (Num 4:23; 8:24).
Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 4:23, 8:24)
From amongst these men David appointed the rulers, or leaders or princes.
; Careful regimentation
David, as a man of enormous talent in music and poetry worked together with these men ordained by God to regulate the worship. No doubt service for the Lord is seen as involving total dedication and careful regimentation, and since God is Lord of hosts and also a God of order and not disorder, enthroned between the cherubim housed inside the tent of meeting, work associated with the tent may be considered spiritual war. Hence, these leaders were also seen as commanders of war.
But these people were not just any people and the ministry of their task was not just left to them to decide how and what they should do.
; Singing is a form of Word proclamation
When verse 1 refers to the singers who had to prophecy, the meaning is clear from the rest of the Scriptures: singing is proclamation of God’s will. And the emphasis does not lie on the individual, or even the congregation: ; it is focused on God and his mighty deeds of creation, mercy, love, righteousness, judgment and greatness.
This is the principle we have to put before the floodgate: singing is proclamation, it is Gospel in song. It therefore must meet the principle of Biblical theology. ; Singing is dogma sung. It is not a sentimental reference to my need, saturated in individualism as we hear today. If what is sung cannot stand up against the doctrine and dogma of the Bible, it is nothing less that idolatry.
It is therefore safe to say that the church have to sing Psalms. We are negligent in this matter. Psalms are the purest example of praise. Unfortunately we don’t hear it today, at least not in the Presbyterian Church. Perhaps we need a fresh translation of the Psalter for singing in worship.
But Psalms are not the only to be sung. ; As we heard from Ephesians 5 there are also hymns and spiritual songs. There are two major words used in the Old Testament for songs. The one of course is a psalm and in general it refers to the collection of what is contained in the Bible as the book of Psalm. There is another word also another word which by contrast is not confined to the Psalter and within the Psalter itself is used both as a title and content.
One such a reference is found in 1Chron 15:16:
David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brothers as singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals. (1 Chronicles 15:16)
Another example of singing that was not necessarily limited to Psalms is found in 2Chron 29:27
Hezekiah gave the order to sacrifice the burnt offering on the altar. As the offering began, singing to the Lord began also, accompanied by trumpets and the instruments of David king of Israel. (2 Chronicles 29:27)
To guard the floodgate is to have songs based on passages from the Scriptures. Some call them paraphrases. We are in need of more of these.
; Singing is service to God
The word used in 1Chron 25 for service is know through the Scriptures as service in the presence of God. The Greek word here is what we know in English as liturgy. The main principle here is even the musicians and singers performed a very important ministry to compliment all the elements known as worship of God. They could not do it is they wished. Even in this regard we read:
These are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the Lord after the ark came to rest there. They performed their duties according to the regulations laid down for them. (1 Chronicles 6:31-32)
Singing and music is not something standing on its own feet within worship. ; (Worship Team)
; Singing and music is part and parcel of worship with the proclamation of the written Word in the centre. Singing is a way to help God’s people respond to the expounded Word. Let’s apply this principle: because the minister is called to preach the Word of God faithfully and to administer the sacrament faithfully to the Word, the ; music must equally be a faithful expression of Biblical worship and doctrine. Because Bible exposition is important, singing flowing from it is equally important: Both must meet principles laid down in the Word of God: both are elements of the Worship of the living God. It speaks for itself then, than music and singing was never meant to make those who attend feel welcome, or to tickle their heart strings so they may be emotionally hyped up. ; Music is a ministry ordained by God to assist his people to sing his praises.
; Musicians in worship are skilful people
Once again 1Chron 25:1 helps us. And this is where the contemporary music in some churches fails dismally. Every man and his dog are welcome to write, compose and play music. Never or hardly ever are the musical quality, theological and doctrinal correctness approved. Some lyrics cannot stand the test of the Scriptures. The melodies are not exemplary of skilled composers. The language is hopeless and in more than one instance the repetition of basic cords and very shallow words make up what is presented as worship. This is not good enough. Listen to this verse:
Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it. (1 Chronicles 15:22)
; Are we not supposed to give to God only our best? Is it good enough to sing a song because someone felt it was some revelation to him or her? Even our Rejoice! Hymnbook does not always meet the standard, but let’s at least look at the musical, poetical and linguistic quality of the majority of the hymns. When it comes to spiritual songs, which in general today are understood as choruses, about all these principles fly out the door.
For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the singers and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. (Nehemiah 12:46)
; Suitable instruments
The question is, “What is a suitable instrument?” It is indeed not an easy question to answer. But it seems to me that the Bible gives us some direction. Only certain instruments were used in public worship. Over and over again we read of harps, stringed instruments, cymbals, trumpets, flutes, lutes, and tambourines.
Heman and Jeduthun were responsible for the sounding of the trumpets and cymbals and for the playing of the other instruments for sacred song. The sons of Jeduthun were stationed at the gate. (1 Chronicles 16:42)
The phrase in Ephesians 5 “to make melody” refers to songs with ; melody and harmony. And this principle was understood by the church for many a century till the arrival of a certain style accompanied by certain instruments where rhythm began to override melody and harmony.
The commonality between the instruments listed for worship in the OT is its sweetness of sound, with perhaps the tambourine the exception. In some instances the word for tambourine may also be understood as the clinging of little bells. Fact is we do not really know what the tambourine or even the cymbal of the Bible actually looked like.
We of course remember the calming influence of the harp music on a disturbed Saul. The lyre was something similar, while flute and trumpets are known for its ability to lead the melody. And according to the number of people set apart for this ministry, we deduce that it was quite a large group of flutists, harpists and trumpeters.
; But the interesting exclusion from this list is the drum. In fact nowhere in the Scripture do we read of drums. Not even with the destruction of Jericho was it mentioned. Why then does it play such an important part in contemporary worship?
Robert Palmer is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and other rock magazines. Palmer has also taught courses in music at Yale, and many other universities.
“The idea that certain rhythm patterns or sequences serve as conduits for spiritual energies, linking individual human consciousness with the gods, is basic to traditional African religions, and to African-derived religions throughout the Americas. And whether we’re speaking historically or musicologically, the fundamental riffs, licks, bass figures, and drum rhythms that make rock and roll can ultimately be traced back to African music of a primarily spiritual or ritual nature. In a sense, rock and roll is a kind of Îvoodoo’ . . . ” (Palmer, Rock & Roll, An Unruly History, p. 53)
It makes one wonder about what Moses heard when he came down from the mountain. He thought there was war going on, but he discovered the real reason for what sounded like war:
It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear. (Exodus 32:18)
The drum was a very common instrument in Egypt and the lands around Israel. Now freshly arrived out of Egypt, they worshipped the gods of Egypt and no doubt they used the instruments of the Egyptians. Did the Lord forget to include the drum as instrument for worship, or it there perhaps another reason?
To conclude, let’s lay down the principles:
1. ; The regulative principle: we need to worship the correct God the correctly. Anything else is idolatry.
2. ; Music is Word proclamation; it must be faithful to the message of the Bible. Anything else is idolatry. It must include psalm-singing, but I argue, not exclusively. We need more Scripture paraphrases. Spiritual songs (choruses) may be simple, but it must still be true to doctrine.
3. ; Music and song is a ministry in the sanctuary focussed upon the God of hosts. If it is directed at the worshipper in the first instance, it is nothing short of idolatry.
4. ;Music and song in the church must meet high standards. It is the domain of skilled people who is gifted to write, compose and accompany God’s people to respond to his grace and exalt his Name. However, the standard must always keep in mind that it is congregational singing. High standard doesn’t mean unsingable melodies. There is a difference between solo songs and congregational singing.
5. ; Songs must be reflect theology and must also be of high linguistic standard.
; Hymn No 55: “All peoples clap your hands”
(Tune 464 – 5verses)
To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24-25)
; Threefold “Amen”