What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Singing, Part 2)

churchofchristSo in the last post I asked why God teaches us to sing as Christians. It’s not a test of our faithfulness. God teaches us to sing for a reason. And until we grasp the purpose of singing, we really have no business being doctrinaire about the rules for how to sing in church.

So let’s start with the lyrics. Obviously, if the songs are spiritual songs, hymns, or psalms, the lyrics will praise God or carry another spiritual message. The lyrics matter because they carry a rational message that those singing and those listening hear.

But why sing the message? Why not just read the poetry of the lyrics? Why add music — especially given that we often get so distracted by the music that we miss the words entirely?

Well, there are several reasons. First, poetry allows thoughts and emotions to be conveyed that aren’t conveyed nearly as well by simple prose. It is, by definition, not easy to explain, but it’s obviously true. There’s something about saying “The Lord is my Shepherd” that communicates more powerfully and truly than “The Lord leads me.” Right? “Shepherd” as a metaphor carries far more meaning than “lead.” Indeed, we could spend quite a lot of time pouring over what “shepherd” means in Psalm 23 — because so much meaning is packed into that simple metaphor. This is much of the beauty of poetry.

It’s also true that poetry is better at communicating emotion than prose. When we’re in love, we’re tempted to write poetry because we want to communicate feeling, not information — and poetry is really good at that.

(Psa 137:1-6 ESV)  By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.  |
2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

Do you feel the composer’s despair? His lamentation?

Second, adding a tune makes the poetry all the more memorable. This is why we remember the words to the hymns of our childhoods. We’ll die knowing the words of far more hymns than sermons.

But it’s not just our memories that are affected. Because we sing these words and sing them together, we become bonded to each other. Singing is intimate. I mean, who among us would readily sing at work or on a bus or on the city streets? Singing is reserved for family and friends — and so singing at church helps us realize that those there are family and friends.

A well-crafted tune connects the words not only to our memories but to our emotions. We feel the sadness or joy or grandeur more because the music helps us connect the lyrics to our feelings. This is the same reason TV and movie directors add background music to their productions — the music affects our feelings.

Therefore, I get really frustrated with song and worship leaders who lead bad music because the bad song has “great lyrics,” arguing that the lyrics are what “really” matter. No!! We are taught to sing because the melody and the harmony matter, too. Otherwise, we’d be taught to do dramatic readings of the lyrics. (And this is why singing is so much more affecting and powerful than congregational readings.)

Moreover, singing together helps build us into a spiritual community. Many “spiritual disciplines” are individualistic, as though we are saved without regard to the church. Singing is one of the disciplines that actually helps form us into community.

I can listen to a sermon in my car. I can pray at home alone. I can give a check in the mail. But the Lord’s Supper and the song service are by their very nature community practices that should build us together. They teach us to consider each other as family and to truly love those eating or singing next to us.

Hence, our congregational singing has to be conducted in a way that allows us to sing together — where we can hear our fellow congregants. When the band or praise team or song leader is so loud that those of us in the pews can’t hear each other, we lose much of the purpose of the song service.

Of course, we can also be helped by a solo or quartet or other performance piece — sometimes quite a lot. But when the entire service becomes passive — listening to others — an essential element of the assembly is lost.

After all, we assemble to be together so that we grow together, not so that the preacher or song leader can conveniently reach out to a group of individuals solely as individuals.

Now, there’s a danger that, as we with a legalistic heritage tend to do, we go to extremes and declare, for example, solos wrong because solos are less likely to help us grow together. But the same is true of sermons — right? Sermons, like solos, can give us a shared experience and lesson that unites us to a degree, but we achieve a far greater degree of unity as we pewsitters sing harmonies together.

And so it’s not either-or, but both-and. And there’s no magic formula for how much of each we need, but we definitely need some of both.

In short, and to get back to the theme of this series, I believe the Churches of Christ need to be careful to preserve true congregational singing, in harmony, even as they move toward instrumental music.

I do not like the trend toward leaving aside the sheet music (the notes) in exchange for words projected over a picture of a waterfall — on the false assumption that most visitors can’t sight-sing and don’t care to sing harmony (which also assumes that they don’t care to hear sight-singers singing harmony even if they can’t participate).

I find that assumption arrogant — as though only those with a Church of Christ heritage enjoy singing harmony — and shortsighted, because over time, we’ll raise up a generation that doesn’t know how to read the music (because the notes will have been hidden from them), and we’ll devolve to unison singing — which will tempt us to make up for the poor singing with too-loud instruments.

Don’t do it. Martin Luther had it right — harmonies matter, and there can be no harmonies without sheet music.

And, no, the altos can’t pick the altos out of the praise team and follow them without sheet music. Just try it with a brand new song you don’t know at all. It’s not easy — and why do we want to make it hard to harmonize? For a PowerPoint waterfall? Oh, please … that might have been impressive ten years ago, but surely we’d rather sing well than look at screen saver-type pictures projected on the church wall.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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48 Responses to What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Singing, Part 2)

  1. Alan says:

    Based on what I’ve read, harmony in congregational singing is a relatively recent innovation. Early church singing was apparently in unison.

  2. Price says:

    Interesting…. I wonder if the first century church with their Gregorian chanting felt the same way about congregational singing ? One thing for sure, each few generations change the music to what they would rather have and the “old folks” don’t like it and the young folks do. If you live long enough it will change. Personally, I hated to see the song books go. If you want to read music and sing now days, you have to join a choir or chorus. The CoC’s that moved to unison singing blew it… what were they thinking? I’d rather have a piano with my song book than unison singing… Not that “worship” is the same as “music appreciation” but you’re right, when people can’t read music, a capella will be gone forever…

    Oh, and there is something in the brain that retains things taught by music… Can you complete these jingles? Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz _________________________…..or Winston tastes good, like a _______________________. Neither of these commercials have been on radio or tv for 30 plus years… I can’t believe that many or perhaps even most of us can remember of VBS songs…

  3. Good and powerful message!!

  4. John says:

    Wonderful article Jay. Price, great point. The singing of what I call, “Unison off the wall”, was the wrong change. The harmony was a great plus for the CoC, and it could have remained a positive, unique characteristic if the change had gone in another direction.

    The change of which I speak would be a change in hymns; getting away from the Stamps-Baxter selections and adopting hymns that add more elegance and grace to the worship.

    I am sure someone is now saying, “Elegance and grace is not the purpose of the singing”. No, but it helps to be the light and city on the hill, especially in areas where country music is not the “all in all”. Besides, that is why we build nice church buildings, is it not, when a simple cinder block building would serve the purpose?

  5. Gary says:

    As someone who has struggled with depression all my life I have often noticed how my singing in congregational worship so often lifts my spirits and lessens my depression in a way that singing by myself does not.

  6. David Himes says:

    Actually, I have to disagree a little with the premise that people cannot “pick up” the harmonies. I will acknowledge that not everyone can.

    However, one Wednesday night a group of men met and one guy picked up his guitar and began singing what was a new song to the entire group. As we sang thru the song a couple of times, I began singing a tenor part … another tenor across the room also began singing tenor … and it turned out we were singing the same thing.

    So, we both made up the same tenor part to the song … perhaps unusual, but not impossible.

  7. David Himes says:

    I share your concern that instrumental music tends to reduce the amount of congregational singing, and that is a bad thing.

    But it also does not have to be that way … for example, many congregations of the International Churches of Christ have robust congregational singing and are not hesitant to use instruments.

    We need to recognize that some songs seem better with instrumental accompaniment, some are better a cappella and some are better as pure instrumentals. And even these variables can change with the context or place in the worship service.

    For example, I’ve often wished for Chris Rice’s piano renditions of classic hymns during the Lord’s Supper.

  8. Alan says:

    Musical preferences are very tied to culture. A cappella harmonies aren’t the preferred style everywhere. If the church is to reach “all nations” we need to be open to styles that other cultures prefer. After all, we’re supposed to “speak to one another” in song. It’s not all about what the singer prefers. How’s the Hispanic musical mix at your church? Or the black gospel music? etc…

  9. Charlie says:

    Well said. I love congregational singing. I don’t read music and I can’t. “carry a tune” in a bucket. But in over 60 years of “following along” I have trained myself to be able to follow the notes and sing the bass part especially if there’s a good bass singer close by that I can “key off”.
    I hadn’t realized how much I missed the notes and how often I’he gone back to “unison” when the notes aren’t there because we “project” words only on the screen. We still have the books in the pews and I think I need to stop being so lazy and use one. God Bless

  10. Roger Woods says:

    Jay, Thank you for making a good case for preserving true congregational singing. I’ve really appreciated Keith Lancaster’s efforts to encourage this too. Part of the drive away from the sheet music is the desire to sing the latest and greatest hit from the contemporary Christians music scene. Just this past Sunday (Easter) a first time visitor was moved to tears by the acapella congregational singing. You are right singing is more than entertainment.

  11. As one who spent many years leading singing in the CoC, and almost as many as a musician and worship leader outside the CoC, I see a bit of all of this discussion. First, the idea of music dominating participation: yes, it happens too often. Happened where I attended this past Sunday. But this is a matter of training of leaders and musicians, not a fatal flaw. A good question to pose to church musicians is, “If nobody in the audience sang, would it change anything you do?” Musicians are taught to play, worship leaders are not much taught how to love the sheep more than the song set. They are not taught the difference between worshiping and leading worship. But this is not difficult to re-orient, not at all. But complaining, “It’s too loud!” or “See, that’s what you get when you use instruments!” does not accomplish this purpose.

    Harmony singing among the congregation is almost exclusively a CoC tradition, and only really suits acapella worship. I once sang that tenor part in the pew of a Baptist church I was visiting; nearly gave people whiplash. I got offered a spot in the choir before I got out the door. But I like this music tradition– because I can already do it. Where it already exists, why not feed it? But sight-singing by shape notes is pretty much limited to CoC and Sacred Harp. I would not think to put up sheet music in a service of any other denomination. When you have musicians to provide music to follow, you don’t have to be able to sight-read. By the way, I have spent many lovely hours listening to harmonic worship singing in African churches where sheet music was entirely unknown. They do it without the help of Luther or Bach or Tillit S. Teddlie.

    The real emotional impact of music is a bit off-putting to those of us who were reared in a hyper-rational, anti-emotional form of worship. But our emotional being is part of us, part of our created nature which can reflect the glory of God. Part of that glory is in music, whether here or hereafter.

  12. Monty says:

    My daughter attends Harding University and this past week-end she attended worship with a big CofC in Memphis 1400 people(progressive with instrumental and a choir). Her first time at such. She isn’t against instrument but she commented to me yesterday that the band and choir drowned out the congregational singing, which she didn’t enjoy, and I wouldn’t of either. I have been to several Christian concerts and enjoy watching artist perform, but the part the crowd seems to like the best is when the band stops playing and everyone joins in acapella.

  13. Mark says:

    Which congregation Monty?

  14. Monty says:

    Mark, don’t know. Said for Easter they met all together in a civic-center. So, whole church could meet at one time for Easter.

  15. Mark says:

    Thanks. That’s ok.

  16. Michael says:

    Jay, you’ve hit upon one of my pet peeves. For years the congregation where we worship has projected song lyrics up on large screens. Now I’m not an accomplished musician, but I can follow shape notes in a songbook. When asked about ceasing to use the books and learning new songs, our elders responded by authorizing a “praise team” where individuals sing the various parts while using microphones to broadcast their voices. It is next to impossible to follow someone in this manner, let alone learn a new song, especially for the alto and tenor parts. Our congregational singing has devolved into at best two-part harmony, but more often than not it sounds like unison. It seems a shame to me that one positive thing that churches of Christ were once known for is slowly disappearing. As one that grew up with monthly “singing night” and summer “singing school”, I miss the a cappella four-part harmonies of my youth.

  17. Joe Woolbert says:

    The following purposes have been left out of the list:
    1. It gives worship participants the chance to exercise during the hour to hour and a half worship period thus easing restless in the congregation and facilitating concentration.
    2. It expands and exercises the lungs of the participants delaying the onset of CPD.
    3. It gives the preacher a last chance to organize his thoughts before the sermon.
    4. It fills the time the preacher needs to privately address the needs of persons responding to the invitation.
    5. It makes for a nice start to the assembly to get everyone’s attention focused in the same direction and to get quiet.
    6. It sets a worshipful/joyful/reverential/(supply your own adjective) mood in the assembly.

    These are only of a few of the supplemental purposes that I could think of. Only one problem I found with the article and my supplements to the list; I’m at a loss to identify one scripture that says that any of them are God’s purpose for the apostle’s instruction to sing.

  18. Paul didn’t tell us everything there is to know about worship, or about music or singing, for that matter. I would suggest he didn’t intend to. I think this is a common mistake in our approach to many things. We want to know about X, so we get out Strongs and figure that’s all there is to it. The Bible was never intended to be an encyclopedia.

  19. Mark says:

    The reason most song leaders only sang v 1,2,&4 was because they smoked and only had a finite amount of lung capacity. As time went on it became v 1&4.

  20. Jay Guin says:

    Joe wrote,

    I found with the article and my supplements to the list; I’m at a loss to identify one scripture that says that any of them are God’s purpose for the apostle’s instruction to sing.

    So easy to be negative.

    So what does the Bible say is the reason to sing in the assembly? Why does God want the lyrics sung? What does singing add to the activity that is important to God? Or is it just an arbitrary command given to test our exegetical skills?

    Why does he evidently want us to compose lyrics, set them to music, and sing them? Why not just read the poetry silently? Or have someone read the poetry to the church? Why add melody??

    BTW, Ulrich Zwingli had his congregation read the songs silently, on the theory that Eph 5:19 says to make melody “in your heart.” The statement that the melody will be in our hearts excludes having the melody somewhere else, such as on our lips. Sounds silly, but I have trouble seeing where his logic fails under the Regulative Principle. And Zwingli was a founder of the Reformation — and no intellectual slouch. Where is he wrong?

  21. I recommend staying with your areas of expertise and not delving off topic into music.

  22. As a musician myself, I think Jay is speaking pretty reasonably to the issue, especially as it can be applied to current CoC thinking.. Dwayne, usually when someone tells you to stay off a particular topic because it is not your “area of expertise”, he has a specific objection to something you said. Would you please share your particular issue here, rather than just a vague growl? Music is within MY area of expertise, so perhaps I will understand.

  23. Alan says:

    To me this article is different from most of Jay’s writing. Normally Jay builds his case on an exegesis of the scriptures. Here the case is built on what seems good to the writer. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you recognize that this is what is happening.

    Musical preference is inherently a matter of opinion. Maybe certain styles and techniques will be advantageous to the future of the church. Maybe choices we make now will affect the kind of growth we get, as well as the quantity of growth. Maybe we should be concerned about that — or maybe not. It’s worth discussing. But it’s not a matter of biblical right and wrong. The scriptures are silent on the matter.

  24. Alan makes a good point and one worthy of a separate discussion. When and how do we mature beyond the foundation of “biblical right and wrong” and move into “living by faith” or “walking according to the Spirit”? Is there more to life in Christ than assuring that we are not in violation of some biblical imperative? Is “following Jesus” the same thing as “doing only what is authorized”? Is there a “right and wrong” in a particular circumstance beyond a specific biblical rule?

    It has long been our practice to try to develop a “biblical right and wrong” for everything we encounter (particularly and especially in how we do a church service) even if the particulars before us are not even mentioned in the Bible. That fact does not slow us down, because of an apparent NEED for such distinctions. This seems to reflect the need of any society under law, to have issues not specifically addressed in the law come before a judge for a ruling. Once such a ruling is made, this becomes binding precedent, with all the force of the rest of the law. We are a bit shaky in our appointment of judges, but we forge ahead with the process anyway.

    Is this really what Jesus meant when he said “Follow me”? Or is there more to being led by the Spirit than applying our own hermeneutics to the scripture and following the resulting conclusions?

  25. Monty says:

    “Is this really what Jesus meant when he said “Follow me”? Or is there more to being led by the Spirit than applying our own hermeneutics to the scripture and following the resulting conclusions?”

    We just seem to be doing what the Rabbi’s did in creating a fence around the law. Soon the fence becomes the law, which needs even more laws to justify the fence.

  26. laymond says:

    Charles said, ” Music is within MY area of expertise, so perhaps I will understand.”

    Question, what is not in Charles’s area of expertise?

  27. Doug says:

    Some Lyrics you may remember: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me”. That’s several good reasons to sing. Sing because you are joyful about what God did and is doing for you. Sing because God has set you free. Sing because God cares for you. As a church, we should all be joyful and singing is what humans do when they experience joy. Incidentally, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” was my mom’s favorite Christian song.

    As far as harmony goes, the CofC doesn’t have a monopoly on singing in harmony. Lots of denominations sing in harmony. The Independent Christian Church, the Disciples of Christ, Baptists, Methodists, etc. etc. The reason singing was in unison in the 1st Century was harmonization wasn’t known until the early middle ages… before that there simply was no song harmony, it hadn’t been thought of or invented yet.

    As far as singing in harmony when only the words are shown on the screen, I do that all the time and I do it many times on contemporary Christian songs that I don’t know because… I find it easier to sing harmony than to sing the melody. I really don’t know why that is the case, maybe it’s many years of playing a French horn where you rarely get to play the melody but harmony is just easier for me to hear and sing on a song I don’t know well. I make less mistakes when singing harmony. Actually, ask most any musician and they will tell you that it is harder to sing well in unison than in harmony. Note that I said “sing well”. I am a musician and a singer and I have sung chants before and it is much harder to sing well than a song with harmony parts. One voice out of place when you are singing in unison stands out with much great clarity than it would if the song had harmony parts.

    But only a musician cares if people sing well. I don’t think God cares a smidgen and I believe He wants joy, freedom, love and perhaps a bit of His word in our songs. It doesn’t take a musician to do that… everyone can do that!

  28. Joe Woolbert says:

    Jay and Charles,

    My apologies for being perceived as negative. Its an occupational hazard. Engineers don’t judge the glass half full or half empty; we simply point out that the glass is larger than needed to accomodate the given fluid. I hear the comment repeatedly, and in love, I would suggest that the perception of criticism is inferred and not from explicit statements as I have tried to specifically and intentionally limit my comments and observations to my own learning, circumstances, and beliefs. To be clear, I am only offering my own thoughts as supplemental and possibly contrasting information. I am making no judgment on others views; we’ll each stand before God individually.

    With a goal of being transparent, accurate and precise, my intention earlier was simply to illustrate by extending the article’s offered analysis using my understanding of its own processes beyond its stopping point and to make a factual statement based on my level of knowledge. In good engineering practice I was trying to identify my assumptions, bases, and filtering values with the implied assumption that if there are specifics to be added to my knowledge, I’m listening. To further clarify, my comments were being applied by me at a high level (i.e., at the 40,000 foot level) rather than being applied in the weed level (the 1 foot level) to music in particular. My personal (uninspired) assessment is that most of the differences in philosophical outcomes originate at the root at this level. Perhaps these explanations better clarify my intent.

    Let me summarize my understanding of the intention and flow in the article for your further enlightenment of my understanding as appropriate. In the opening paragraph I read, “God teaches us to sing for a reason. And until we grasp the purpose of singing, we really have no business being doctrinaire about the rules for how to sing in church.” Given this overview paragraph to the article, I understood that the article was then proceeding to elocute on God’s reason and purpose. I understood the article to first offer the following purposes/reasons for my grasp as to why God instructs us to sing: 1) to communicate a message (paragraph on lyrics), 2) to convey thought and emotion, 3) to communicate feelings, 4) to enhance memory, 5) to create a bond and the realization of it, 6) to connect words to memories and emotions and 7) to build us into a spiritual community. I then understood the article to argue that logic dictates the following mechanical requisites to accomplish the reason/purpose: 1) it should be done together, 2) the words must be audible, 3) it should involve active participation, and 4) it should create mutual growth. As its penultimate comment, I understood the article to caution against legalism in the following areas: 1) numbers and combinations of singers 2) combination of singing and preaching, and 3) supplanting singing with instrumental music alone. Finally, I understand the article to express a personal preference for harmony and sheet music based on arguments of effecacy.

    Because the later part of the article is underpinned by the prefacing offer of grasping God’s reason and purpose, I don’t think it unreasonable to request citation of scriptural revelation supporting the contention that God had indeed expressed His rationale and purpose as I understood it was being purported. Here too, I will precisely draw the distinction between my understanding of ‘purpose’ and ‘effect’; example in usage, “It was the victim’s purpose to stop the attack and the effect was that the perpetrator died of gunshot wounds”. If God did not reveal His purpose and if the article is supplying a purpose in His name or authority, that case would seem to me to be identical to the case addressed explicitly by Moses in Deut. 18:20. If I am misunderstanding the intention of the article, I will certainly stand corrected.

    In conclusion, I try to be cautious in distinguishing what the Bible teaches outright and what I can logically derive from what it says (again, I am speaking at the 40,000 foot level). I characterize the ‘derivatives’ as extrapolations, and from my engineering training and experience, I recognize the characteristics of extrapolations as 1) the best guess in the absence of real data and that 2) (as only a best guess) extrapolations are potentially and frequently erroneous. As an example, Newtonian physics do not extrapolate to the sub-atomic domain. Quantum physics describes the sub-atomic domain. For me to rationally and accurately extrapolate the explicit teachings of the scripture to doctrines not outrightly addressed by the scriptures would require that my reasoning capabilities and knowledge consistently match those of God in areas where He may not have provided full disclosure. Otherwise, how could I be assured in an absolute sense that my extrapolation contined to be in the appropriate spiritual domain (analogous to transitioning from classical physics to quantum physics). Isaiah’s admonition at 55:6-9 gives me reason for dealing with the ‘derivatives’ very cautiously.

    I trust these further comments provides appropriate context for my earlier comments and express my appreciation for the conversational exchange on the topic.

  29. Hi, Laymond! As to all those areas where I lack expertise, shucks, consult the Britannica. That’ll give you a partial list. But if you have objections to my assertion that I do have some expertise in music, kindly offer your specifics and I will certainly consider them. Seems the least you can do. After all, a good sniper should do more than just “fire for effect”.

  30. Doug juxtaposes musical quality with “joy, freedom and love”. While I probably agree with the observed basis for this, I think this is a wrong conclusion. As a musician, I have probably spent more time than most here in the process of hammering out musical excellence for worship services. Arrangements for multiple voices and multiple instruments, individual and group instrument and voice practices, regular rehearsals, etc. The intent of all this was not personal pride, but a sincere desire to offer a sacrifice with our efforts. And yes, it is too easy for musicianship (which includes vocals, btw) to gain an undue place of pre-eminence for the sake of “offering our best to God”. It is a constant effort for most of us who lead worship to prioritize worship and the edification of our brothers, and to find a way to have our musical excellence support these things, rather than compete with them.

    But the answer is not to simply set aside musical beauty to somehow protect heartfelt worship. That would be to keep the Titanic from sinking by chaining her to the dock. The best thing I think we can do is to be aware of our own limitations and depend on each other to find a godly balance in such things. I find not even a biblical hint of the idea that God does not care whether anyone sings well. The lavishness with which He paints our world with beauty, and his ongoing gifts of musical and artistic talent, seem to suggest that he does indeed appreciate excellence in such things.

    I would agree that it is the matters of the heart which touch him first and foremost. But while we may sometimes get our priorities wrong, it need not be so always. We live, and sometimes, we learn.

  31. Jay Guin says:


    I’ve read your lengthy comment, and take it that your answer to my question is “I don’t know.” And “In the absence of express revelation, we should not state a position.” Right?

  32. Joe Woolbert says:


    Responding to your note time stamped 4/23 at 8:05 pm.

    I am assuming your 4/23 8:05 post refers back to your 4/22 10:49 pm post. As there were numerous questions in the 10:49 post that require me to search the scriptures, I haven’t had the time yet to review the scriptures with a view to seeking the Bible’s answers to those questions. I can say in reply to the second comment of the 8:05 pm post that I wouldn’t attribute to God a position that He has not indicated expressly in scripture as His position. As to whether a position should be stated at all, I believe the Bible requires that, if stated, I be honest and truthful in my characterization of the position. A question you did not ask is whether a position should be staked out on every possible question that could be raised in the area of Biblical silence? I’ll think on that one too but I tend to think not at this point. II Peter 1:3, I believe, suggests that what is expressly revealed is both adequate and sufficient without running down bunny trails.

  33. Joe Woolbert says:


    Following up on my post 4/24 at 12:12 pm, may I assume that my understanding of the article as briefed in paragraph 3 was correct?

  34. Regarding “staying with your areas of expertise and not delving off topic into music.” There are too many items in the blog post to mention specifically. Jay does not address pitch, timbre, intensity, and duration, and neither does anyone else in the comments. Jay has decades of studying the Bible. Does he have decades, years, uh, er, hours of studying music, music theory, and music history? Neither do I. I know what I don’t know (and that is knowing an awful lot).

  35. Charles Mclean says:

    Dwayne, one need not have a medical degree to discuss how exercise makes him feel better, or to discuss food allergies, or how late night pizza caused him heartburn. Jay was speaking about facets of music and stating that they affect us. This requires no degree in music theory… just about anyone who has ever heard a march by John Philip Sousa can understand it.

  36. Doug says:

    Charles, your comments about my last post imply that I am some kind of flower child. I am not that. And, I was posting about reasons for singing… whether individually or congregationally. It makes no difference to me and I do both. My individual singing has been part of my quiet time for many years and I recommend it to everyone who wants time with God and Jesus.

    I do believe in excellence in singing and was privileged to sing in a very fine church choir for many years. We sang wonderful, beautiful music and sang it very well. I viewed it then and now as a wonderful worship experience. But, I frankly believe the time of the congregation singing well is pretty much past. It used to be said “If you want to hear a church sing well, go to a Church of Christ”. That time has past and the Church of Christ, for the most part, sings no better than any other church. Now, most Churches of Christ don’t believe this and still think that they are superior singers but to a trained ear, they don’t sing well and some of them sing absolutely awful. The reason for this is they no longer practice. The CofC used to conduct singing schools but they no longer practice doing that. My church used to have a quarterly singing session but it was discontinued because of poor attendance. It you don’t practice, you don’t sing well in concert. The Praise team may practice and sing well but the congregation won’t and a good praise team won’t produce good congregational singing by themselves… they may hurt the singing further but they won’t produce excellent congregational singing by themselves alone. That’s what I have observed anyway.

  37. Andrea says:

    Here is an insider tip from the 30-40 progressive CoC demographic: We fill our lives with the music of Hillsong United, Kari Jobe, Chris Tomlin etc. We also listen to Zoe. Most of us don’t know how to read notes. We learn the songs (harmony or melody) based on our daily immersion in contemporary Christian music, and we are passing this learning style down to our children. Sheet music, lyrics only, instrumental, or acapella doesn’t matter to us. We just want to praise Him!

  38. Philip says:

    Thank you for this post and discussion. I will never forget my only son telling me about 10 years ago, as he was in his mid teen years. “Dad it’s not that i dislike your music, it just doesn’t speak to me.” Iv’e thought about that a lot, and in light of our instruction to “speak” to communicate to one another, to make music in our hearts. It has to include, the notes, lyrics and even the style, to reach the level of communication Paul describes with his teaching. We do that with our VBS songs, our children’s songs, I am thankful most grow out of “I’m in the Lords army”. Once again we often miss the principle of what the writer is trying to communicate with what we prefer or want, or have experienced. The most important thing i have ever done is “speak” to my son and his circle of friends with music, words, to the point of even touching their hearts. IT”S NOT ABOUT WHAT I WANT, but about whether we will speak to one another, what needs to be spoken. I love my generation’s music, I am learning to love my son’s music. I am thankful for the communication and the touching of our hearts.

  39. Joe Woolbert says:


    You wrote, BTW, Ulrich Zwingli had his congregation read the songs silently, on the theory that Eph 5:19 says to make melody “in your heart.” The statement that the melody will be in our hearts excludes having the melody somewhere else, such as on our lips. Sounds silly, but I have trouble seeing where his logic fails under the Regulative Principle. And Zwingli was a founder of the Reformation — and no intellectual slouch. Where is he wrong?

    I would like to suggest that the Philosopher’s model is the incorrect solution to the problem and rather recommend the engineering and construction model as a more suitable substitute. God showed us the tenets of this model in the building of the tabernacle in Exodus. To illustrate, I provide the following high level outline of Exodus 25-39 below. I’d be happy to provide a complete listing by email upon request.

    Owner’s/Engineer’s Design Phase and Authorized-to-Construct Final Specification Issuance (Chapters 25-30). Examples: Materials Specification – Exodus 25:4-7. Construction Specification, One Each Ark – Exodus 25: 10-22. Note to Operator – Licensed Use Restriction and Unauthorized Use Penalty, Anointing Oil and Perfume – Exodus 30:32-38

    Owners Implementation Specifications (Chapter 31). Example: Sub-Contractor Selection and Purchase Order Issuance – Exodus 31:2-11.

    Contractor’s Implementation Documentation (Chapters 35:5-39:31). Examples: Specification Review and Construction Planning Meeting – Exodus 35:5-20. Construction Documentation, Accountability and Documentation Tabernacle Conformity With Specifications – Exodus 36:8-38:20.

    Product Delivery, Inspection, and Acceptance (Chapter 39:33-43). Delivery Manifest – Exodus 39:33-41. Contractor’s Conformity Certification – Exodus 39:42. Owner Agent’s Final Inspection and Acceptance – Exodus 39:43.

    In my field of practice we call the preceding the engineering and construction process. In it, a set of drawings and explanatory documents are prepared to communicate the construction details to the contractor. We don’t necessarily disclose to the construction contractor or operator the full purpose and design intent of the product and, if we do discuss purpose and design intent, it is to enhance their knowledge in a narrow area in order to LIMIT their options to ACCEPTABLY accomplish their tasks. Should the contractor perceive some inconsistency within the specifications we will specify an override / default protocol; typically, defaulting to the most detailed instruction level as this level contains the most thought and specific specification and we have not exhaustively disclosed purpose and design intent. If the owner deems the specification is sufficient, complete and implementable as written, any supplementation of the specification by the contractor is subject to forfeiture, rejection or rework at the contractor’s expense and at the owner’s discretion. Further, where a specification is deemed by the owner to be insufficent, incomplete or unimplementable without supplementation, only then is the contractor free to supplement the specification subject to ultimate product conformity with all other given specification elements. This model is a workable process for contractor delivery of the product that the owner wants.

    Applying the engineering model, we would ask, Is the specification sufficient, complete, and implementable as written? If yes, implement in conformity. If no, supplement the specification as necessary to achieve conformity with the specification elements; not the design purpose. The contractor is not sufficiently privy to the entirety of the design purposes and intent so as to redesign the specification. In particular as to Ephesians 5:19, I believe the directive is sufficient, complete and implementable as written. And, unless instruments of music constitute the specification as written, I’d suggest that within the context of the engineering model their use as a specification supplement runs the risk of owner rejection.

    BTW, where did the philospher’s go in this process? Last I saw of them, they were still at Exodus 35:5-20 debating whether the drawings being provided in diazo print meant that the owner prefers classical as opposed to modern style. lol

  40. rich constant says:

    might want to check this out


    In Scripture a Spiritually minded worshiper comes to the assembly (i.e. gathering) of the People of God desiring five things:
    1) The worshiper desires to come into the Presence of God (cf. 27.4,8; 42.1-2; 63.1;
    2) The worshiper desires to experience the forgiveness of God (32.1-5; 51.10-12; Isa. 6.1-7)
    3) The worshiper desires to give God a gift (Deut. 16.16; Ps. 69.30-31; 107.21-22; Heb. 13.15)
    4) The worshiper desires to promise God something (Ps. 116; 119.57-64)
    5) The worshiper desires to edify fellow worshippers and to be edified him/herself (Ps. 22.25; Heb.
    3.12-13; 10.25)
    From Psalm 95 we learn a way of structuring the assembly/gathering. This structure helps to highlight the themes listed above:…

    blessings all

  41. Charles McLean says:

    Joe, while your approach is interesting, it in fact does not seem to even remotely touch Jesus’ approach. Jesus’ promise was to send the Holy Spirit who would take what was of Jesus and make it known to us. While this sort of abstraction makes the materialist tremble (or pull out his hair), it is how Jesus chooses to reveal his own will to us. He gave us the Holy Spirit, not the Holy Specifications. To take such an entirely spiritual approach to knowing the will of God and to replace it with a mechanistic and concrete methodology is simply unjustifiable.

    But we do agree on one thing. Zwingli’s readings-in-lieu-of-singing DO track precisely with Calvin’s Regulative Principle. The absurdity of Zwingli’s actions which sprung from a slavish adherence to the the RP is one thing that calls the validity of the RP into real doubt. It’s almost as funny as when the disciples tried to stop a man from casting out demons in Jesus’ name– because he wasn’t one of THEM. When your viewpoint, however well intended, puts you on the side of keeping the demons IN the demonized, it’s solid evidence that your doctrine is skewed. The fact that the disciples could not see the absurdity is not lost on those of us who still see it today.

    And Zwingli’s sons are still alive and well. Sister Margaret can sit in the pew in the auditorium class and read a passage of scripture during the discussion of the scripture with the men. From 9:30 am until 10:15 am, that is. Beginning at 10:30 am, if she does the exact same thing among the same people, it is sin. Her speaking changed from being beneficial to being sinful between 10:15 and 10:30. At 11:45, it will cease to be sinful and again become beneficial, by the work of the benediction. Ask one of the elders to explain such obvious foolishness and he will give you the Regulative Priniciple, with a couple of bible passages attached.

    We used to allow the missionary to show his Africa slides during the service, but showing a Focus On The Family film in the same circumstance was sinful, unless we had the closing prayer first. (“If it’s still, it’s fine, but if it moves, it’s sin!”) No, Calvin’s RP mocks him every time it is carried out to its logical conclusions, and serves no real purpose but to distract us from following the Spirit by offering us a rule instead. A fine man, John Calvin, but one who just got it badly wrong this time, and whose modern adherents are in the same boat.

  42. R.J. says:

    “Any supplementation of the specification by the contractor is subject to forfeiture, rejection or rework at the contractor’s expense and at the owner’s discretion”.

    Yes very true. But only because the contractor’s instructions were to Only execute said project when done as written. Any supplementation would be in breach of contract(in violation of 1 or more terms of the agreement). In all due respect, I don’t where silence fits in.

  43. R.J. says:


    I didn’t mean for every word in my previous comment to be bold. Just the word “Only” from me and “Supplementation” from Joe’s comment.:)

  44. Mark says:

    Rich writes “2) The worshiper desires to experience the forgiveness of God (32.1-5; 51.10-12; Isa. 6.1-7)”

    You mean G-d forgives? Even after baptism?

    In all seriousness, that is a rarely discussed topic in the cofC.

    Since worship is being discussed. How do you get people to think and/or feel like they have gathered to enter into the presence of G-d when most cofC gatherings for worship are about as noisy as a convention hall and have become a social event? This does not even get into all the seat swapping and saving seats and irreverent behavior that goes on. I was going to ask what spiritual immaturity really looked like, but I think I answered my own question.

  45. Doug says:

    I think if I was told I had to read Tomlin et al’s “Lay me Down” silently, I would wind up singing it in my mind. At least until I hit the “I lay me down, I’m not my own, I belong to you alone”. At that point, I would just have to burst out singing despite the instructions.

  46. Charles McLean says:

    I think somebody grabbed Mark’s seat at church by throwing a sweater over his chair.

    I am not at all sure about the purported “irreverence” of all the socializing before a meeting begins. If we are not to interact with each other, why in the world are we TOGETHER? We could be silent and uncommunicative at home; in fact, the prayer closet would be a MUCH better environment for that purpose.

    Once we got together, were we supposed to become reverential (meaning “Shhh!”) when we entered the auditorium? If so, we should really start calling it the sanctuary, or perhaps “the holy place”, and have the ushers enforce silence– like at the movies. I have been in very loud environments where the presence of God was clearly evident. I don’t think He is as put off by noise as we may be; more likely He would be dissatisfied by our judging of the noisy as being immature. Our willingness to judge others usually doesn’t please Him much. (“I thank you, Lord, that I am not as other men are, loud and immature. Not like me; I sit quietly from the time I arrive until the songleader starts the opening song, just as You have commanded.”)

    In fact, isn’t that when we usually do the announcements?

  47. Nick Gill says:


    Would you argue, then, that Alexander Campbell made a poor decision not to include musical notation in “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs,” the hymnal he published?

    The dangers of “idolatry to technical excellence” and “disunity due to differing levels of giftedness” were not addressed in your passionate advocacy for harmony singing. And if the altos can’t pick out the alto part from the altos on the praise team, what’s the point of the praise team? I am not against them, by any stretch, but what on earth are they for if not that???

  48. Jay Guin says:


    Why on earth would A. Campbell leave out the musical notation? The question is discussed at http://legacy.lincolnchristian.edu/library/hymnals/aux-pivotal.php#9, which lists all the hymnals of the early Restoration Movement. Campbell’s argument was,

    Campbell states the reason for doing this was because of the differences of preference for tunes. Also, not all tunes were “universally known” (p. 4). Campbell encouraged each group of Christians to use their own judgement as, “it is infinitely more important that we should have one pure speech and evangelical psalmody than one and the same tune” (p. 4).

    Makes no sense to me. Obviously, over time the churches wanted the musical notation, and so it has been for a very long time. I’m a fan of Campbell, but he wasn’t right about everything.

    I’m aware of no church that has experienced “disunity due to differing levels of giftedness.” And this does not seem to be a problem when we select who will teach Bible class or preach from the pulpit. Not everyone gets to teach or preach because not everyone is gifted to do so. And in the case of teaching and preaching, the differing levels are very obvious to the church, whereas in congregational singing, the fact that some sing better than others is far from obvious — even if the church tries hard to sing well. (And doesn’t 1 Cor 13 require us to recognize different gifts as different — and Spirit-given and Spirit-decided — and not to pretend that we’re all the same?)

    The church I grew up in routinely had “singing school” and a guest teacher — and we needed it and it helped. No one complained about some kind of discrimination. Even the weak singers appreciate good congregational singing.

    I suppose there have been churches guilty of idolatry to technical excellence. Maybe. But I’m not aware of such a thing, especially in terms of congregational singing. Has any church ever told the weak singers to be silent?

    The fact is that any movement from good to better can be caricatured as movement toward some absurd extreme. If we want better singing by the basses, that hardly means that we going to idolize the basses or silence the basses who sing poorly. It’s quite possible to urge better singing without going to sinful extremes. Even poor basses, such as myself, can get better through training and practice. Why would that be wrong?

    Praise teams are a bit of a puzzlement to me. I sing bass (poorly) and tenor (poorly) and find that I sing much better and more robustly when there’s a praise team. I’ve been at Pepperdine and heard the same crowd sing remarkably well when led by a praise team and not nearly so well when led by a single song leader — a very good one at that. Why? I don’t really know.

    Everyone knew the parts, and so it wasn’t being able to pick out the parts that made the difference. But hearing the group did give, I believe, a sense of the chords that make up the song, and so gave altos, tenors, and basses confidence that they were singing a note on the chord, if not the note intended by the composer. (That’s a guess. Not a theory.)

    Or maybe the praise team gave a fuller, richer sound that encouraged the assembly to sing louder and more robustly.

    I really don’t know. My musical skills are not great. I struggled for my B in musical appreciation — which is surely why I struggle to pick out the tenor line.

    And some churches mic the praise team to blend in with the church so that they can’t be heard above the singing of the audience — making it harder to follow them but, I guess, satisfying some reluctance to have the team “lead” as though that might be wrong.

    Other churches mic them nice and loud (which I prefer) so that it’s at least possible to hear the parts and certainly easier to hear the chords — even if, as in my case, it has to be at a nearly subconscious level. I’ll never know a G7 from a G5 diminished (pretty sure I missed that on the music appreciation test).

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