Congregational singing is a hallmark of the Christian church. For centuries the redeemed people of God have used song as a way to worship. There is even an entire book of the Bible that was written originally to be sung by God’s gathered people, the book of Psalms. Yet somewhere along the way it seems as though we have gotten away from the congregational nature of singing in the church. Oftentimes today, the music portion of a church’s worship gathering is led by very talented musicians accompanied by a highly professional stage production. There is nothing wrong, per se, with striving for excellence in corporate worship. Yet the slick professional musical production teaches, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that music in worship should be left to professionals. This is a detriment to the church, and the recovery of congregational singing would richly bless the life of the local church.
Why is it important to prioritize congregational singing in the life of the local church? The answer is deeper than the modern “worship wars” of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. So to answer the question of why, let’s look at three main markers that display why congregational singing is important. As a guide to the importance of congregational singing, I will reference the recently released Together For The Gospel: Live V album featuring Matt Merker (Getty Music, 2022). In its run of nine total conferences, T4G stood as an example of the importance and beauty of congregational singing. Each of the three markers we will discuss are present in the recent T4G live album and the four previous album recorded at the conference over the years.
Congregational Singing is Biblical
They first reason that congregational singing is important in the life of the local church is because is is biblical. All throughout the pages of scripture, we see that as a result of God’s grace his people have sung to him in worship. We see this in Exodus 15, after the Lord delivers the Israelites from the Egyptians at the crossing of the Red Sea. Moses leads the people to sing a song to the Lord. As mentioned above, the entire book of Psalms was compiled as the hymn book of ancient Israel. The people would sing these psalms in gathered worship at various points during the year as they celebrated various feasts and festivals. Many of the psalms are not celebratory or light hearted. In fact, many of them were written to be sung during times of grief, mourning, and repentance. Therefore teaching the people of God to sing to the Lord in worship in all seasons of life. For he alone is worthy to be worshiped at all times.
In the New Testament the emphasis on singing in worship was carried on by the early church. The Apostle Paul in letters to two different churches encourages them to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart” (Ephesians 5:19, ESV. See also Colossians 3:16). Worship in song will manifest itself in various forms depending on the tradition. Some traditions only sing the Psalms. Other traditions only sing hymns that are hundreds of years old. More modern traditions allow for a mix of traditional hymns with newer songs as well. There are differences in whether the congregation is accompanied by a piano and organ, or a full band. Many churches opt to sing a cappella with no instrumental accompaniment. Yet the importance of singing in the life of a local church abides because it is profoundly biblical.
Congregational Singing Reinforces Biblical Doctrine
Biblical doctrine can be learned in a variety of ways: preaching, small group discipleship, and personal study. Another way that biblical doctrine can be learned is through music. There is something about singing that helps us memorize things. We have all had a catchy toon with silly lyrics stuck in our heads. This is a perfect example of the power of music in memorization. What better song to get “stuck” than one teaching deep biblical truth! For this reason it is crucial that the songs sang in corporate worship are biblically faithful and full of substance. Too often today, songs sung in church have little substance and could be confused with a Pop radio love song. Many older hymns were full of deep biblical doctrine and helped reinforce that in the hearts and minds of the congregation.
While many older hymns do teach deep biblical doctrine, there are also newer songs that follow in the footsteps of hymn writers of old. Examples of these songs can be found on the new T4G album. Songs such as “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death”, “In Christ Alone”, “What Er’ My God Ordains is Right” and “Christ is Mine Forevermore”. In addition the album features older hymns such as “Crown Hum With Many Crowns”, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, and “Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross”. All of these songs, whether old or new help to teach and reinforce biblical doctrine.
Congregational Singing Encourages the Church
Biblical truth is both taught and caught. What do I mean by that statement? The precious truths that are revealed to us in the Bible are both taught through preaching, discipleship, and personal study. Yet they are also caught, gleaned from watching other believers hold fast to biblical truth in all seasons of life. It is encouraging to be surrounded by the family of God singing in worship together to the One who has redeemed them. Additionally, it is especially edifying to see and hear others in the congregation who are going through a difficult season singing to the Lord despite their circumstances. For this reason, it is important to leave space in a worship set for the accompaniment to drop out or scale back so that the congregation can hear one another singing together. Worship is not simply a personal experience, it is a corporate experience. This is one reason why the scriptures command us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves (Hebrews 10:25).
This aspect of corporate worship is modeled on the new T4G album. For much of the album, the conference goers can be heard over the accompaniment of Matt Merker. The sense of gospel hope is felt on the live recording, one can only imagine what it was like in the room during the conference. One of the main purposes of the T4G conference was to train and equip pastors/church leaders to better serve their local churches. This was achieved through world class preaching/teaching, as well as the times of singing. Although the T4G conference has ended, it’s legacy will endure for generations to come.
So we end where we began, congregational singing is a hallmark of the Christian church. As we have seen, it is profitable for reinforcing biblical doctrine, and encouraging believers in the church. Most important, however, congregational singing must remain in the corporate gathering because it is biblical. The church is extremely blessed to have resources made available through songwriters such as Keith and Kristyn Getty, Matt Boswell, and Matt Merker, among others. Worship Pastors, I would encourage you to incorporate some of the songs from the T4G Live V album into your weekly song rotation. Yet we are also indebted to songwriters of the past such as Charles Wesley, Martin Luther, Fanny Crosby, John Newton, Bill and Gloria Gaither, and many more. I would also encourage you to reach back into the hymnals of church history and bring back some of the older hymns of the faith. Not simply because they old, but because they are rich in biblical truths. May the church sing deep truths about our most worthy God each Lord’s Day. Soli Deo Gloria.
Zach Kendrick is the editor of Reading For The Glory
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