by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: Hebrews 13:12-16
I. Satan never stops in his relentless pursuit of God’s people to lead them astray - I Peter 5:8-9
A. In the past, we talked about the introduction of musical instruments into the worship.
1. We showed from scripture that the practice was not authorized by God
2. We showed from history that the early church understood this and rejected attempts to introduce musical instruments into the worship for approximately 700 years.
B. There is another change to the worship service that is advocated and practiced in some congregations that we need to examine: the use of choirs and soloists
1. I found references to it being advocated during the “open forum” at the 1986 Florida College Lectures. By 1989, there were reports of some congregations using choirs during their worship.
2. It is popular among denominations so it not unusual to find some asking, “Why not us?”
3. Perhaps the problem is that we have become negligent in revisiting many of the old battles so new generations can learn what was obvious to previous generations.
a. Just as musical instruments were popular when people began to turn back to the Bible in the 1800s, so were choirs.
b. Christians hundreds of years ago rejected them for a reason. It was not arbitrarily done.
c. Without learning for ourselves, we are vulnerable from attacks once again.
II. What does the Bible teach?
A. Ephesians 5:17-21
1. Context: Contrasting the Greek debauchery that they called worship (Ephesians 5:18) with the spirit-filled worship of Christians
a. It is worship because it is addressed to God, the Father
2. What is to be done: sing and make melody in your heart
3. Who is to do it: “you” and it is to be done “to one another”
a. Some argue that an individual, or choir, would fulfill this command.
(1) If only some some “understand what the will of the Lord is”, would that satisfy God? (Ephesians 5:17)
(2) If only some “submitted to one another” would we be fulfilling the command? (Ephesians 5:21)
(3) No, we understand that these verses apply to all Christians.
b. Some argue that it doesn’t have to be at the same time, so long as all do some singing at some point.
(1) Again, can we say we don’t all have to submit at the same time, so long as we eventually get around to it at some point?
(2) Or how about Colossians 3:13, can some of us forgive, so long as we all eventually get around to it at some point? (See II Corinthians 2:6-11)
(3) No, we understand that these verses apply to all Christians acting as one.
c. Some argue that listening is implied in these verses. After all, how can you teach if no one listens, so if some sing and some listen, we are fulfilling the command.
(1) Again, using Ephesians 5:21, submitting means someone is being submitted to, so can we say that as long as some submit and some are submitted to, that the command is being fulfilled?
(2) Just as submitting and submitted to can be done at the same time, so can singing and listening.
(3) Just as one doesn’t need to be told to accept submittion, nether does a singer need to be told to listen. Group singing requires good listening skills.
d. The only way to understand these verses is that it is talking about congregational singing where every able-body person participates in the sing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
4. What is to be sung: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
B. Colossians 3:12-17
1. Similar arguments are made with this passage as well.
2. Notice again that the worship is involved: “to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16)
3. Notice again that the whole congregation is being addressed: “in one body” (Colossians 3:15)
4. Notice again that what is to be sung are songs, hymns, and spiritual songs.
5. These verses cannot be fulfilled by only some people acting.
C. I Corinthians 14:26-33
1. The argument goes that speaking in tongues should be done one at a time, revelation should be done one at a time, interpretation should be done one at a time. The passage also says a person has a psalm, so doesn’t this imply a solo?
2. If it did, then that means only solos would be allowed. After all, everything is to be done one at a time.
3. It would also mean that we must be limited to 2 or 3 songs.
4. A person having a psalm to sing doesn’t imply a solo. The song leader today picked out a song to sing. He “has a song.” Yet, we all sang. If this verse meant the chooser of the song is the only singer, then we would have a direct conflict with the passages in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, which indicates all must sing.
D. The writer of Hebrews urges us to offer up a sacrifice fo praise to God - Hebrews 13:15
1. Sacrifices are the giving of something valued to God
2. I find this significant because David once said he would not offer to God something that cost him nothing - I Chronicles 21:24
3. A choir or soloist may be offering up praise to God with their voices, but an audience is merely listening – they are not involved. It is a sacrifice that costs them nothing
III. How did the early Christians understand these commands?
A. Chrysostom (late 4th century to early 5th century) “It was the ancient custom, as it still is with us, for all to come together and unitedly join in singing. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, male and female, bond and free, all join in one song. All worldly distinctions here cease, and the whole congregation forms one general chorus.” [Note: congregational singing was referred to as a chorus in early writings. Not as a select group, but as a group composed of all members.]
B. Ignatius (35 A.D. to 107 A.D.) “And to a man you make up a chorus, so that joined together in harmony and having received the godly strain in unison, you might sing in one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father.”
C. Origen ( 185 A.D. to 254 A.D.) “Chorus is the unison of rational souls speaking the same thing and not having a division.”
D. Eusebius (265 A.D. to 340 A.D.) “The measure of God’s acceptance of the singing of a Christian congregation, and of his delight in it, is the unanimity of mind, passion and sentiment, the unity of faith and piety with which we sing together the melodies of our praises. The same apostle commands us to exhort one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual music.”
E. Notice that these early Christian writers see the united singing of the congregation as a fulfillment of the command of Paul in I Corinthians 1:10
IV. Is non-congregational singing, outside of worship, wrong?
A. No, in James 5:13 we are told to sing when we are cheerful, not just in worship
V. “I agree that these verses do not justify the use of a choir or soloist in worship. But what is wrong if we use them for some of our songs?”
A. First, the burden of proof is on you to prove that God allows choirs and solos in His worship service.
B. Just because we like something is not sufficient reason to permit its use. We are here to worship God, not to be entertained