The Paper Pulpit
There was nothing out of the ordinary happening on the night when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The innkeeper was keeping his inn. Shopkeepers and others were bedded down to get a good night’s rest. Shepherds were out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks. In other words, it was what normally happened every night.
Then, all of a sudden, everything changed. The ordinary was transformed into the extraordinary. That which was natural was infused with the supernatural. The shepherds would never be the same again. For “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ ... And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” It was the Chancel Choir of heaven singing an anthem of praise. Christians have been singing ever since.
There is an old Jewish legend which says that after God had created the world He called the angels together and asked them what they thought of what He had created. And one of the angels replied: “Only one thing is lacking: the sound of praise to the Creator.” So, God created music! Ever since that day, music has been heard in the whisper of the wind, and in the song of birds. And to man God gave the gift of song.
T.L. Cuyler said, “The best days of the church have always been its singing days.” And this is definitely true! Congregational singing allows the entire church to vocally express adoration and praise to God. Special music with solos, duets, trios, quartets, choirs and ensembles help to create a worshipful and responsive atmosphere. Choir practice affords instrumentalists and singers the opportunity to develop their talents in service to God.
It has been said that those who make the songs of a nation can shape its political and moral life. In much the same way hymn writers have shaped the theology of Christendom. God’s Word should always be at the center of both preaching and singing. Though a song has moving music, it is not Christian if it does not offer praise to God the Father, or have God the Son at its center. This does not mean it is bad or evil music, for some of our patriotic songs are in our hymnals and are beneficially used in appropriate services. But their use is not basically Christian.
Although emotional and aesthetic value may be inherent in Christian songs, the basic purpose is educational. A message is being proclaimed, one that is admittedly different than preaching, but which is supportive of preaching. Thus, the key to genuine worship is responsiveness. This is as true of Christian singing as it is of Christian preaching. Preaching is more than pious talk about God; singing is more than melodious conversation about God.
Much of your theology you learned from singing Christian hymns. Analyze in your mind the hymns that have touched and blessed your life most, and it will surprise you the extent to which this is true. It has been said that there are three great books that are necessary to the advancement of the Kingdom of God: the Bible, the hymnbook and the pocketbook. The Bible is the record of God’s self-disclosure to our hearts and lives. The hymnbook is a revelation of the most noble thoughts and intents of the human heart, and of its rational and emotional response to God in worship.
Singing must come from the heart if it is to be adequately expressive of Christianity. It must come from the heart if it is to give personal satisfaction to the singer. If it comes from the heart it will be heard by God as well as by humans. That is why you will always receive a greater blessing from those who sing from their heart – even if they are slightly off key. Any kind of singing which damages or destroys the soul’s relationship to God is out of place in Christian worship.
When the noted agnostic Robert Ingersoll died, the printed funeral notices said, “There will be no singing.” If you plan to attend the funeral of an infidel, agnostic or skeptic, do not look for hymns, anthems, oratories, carols or spiritual songs. Without God, without Christ, without redemption, and without hope, what do they have to sing about?
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.