What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Singing, Part 3)

churchofchristDoes God care at all about the quality of the singing during the Sunday morning assembly?

I’ve often heard the platitude that God cares nothing about the quality of the singing, and so I wonder if that actually holds true on close examination.

The question is not whether God finds poor singing “acceptable” — meaning, I suppose, that God gives credit for having performed one of the five “Acts of Worship” despite how poorly the act of singing is done.

That’s a  check-the-box approach to Christianity and worship that I believe to be entirely foreign to the scriptures — both testaments. Rather, I’m asking whether God might be disappointed when we do a poor job of singing when we could easily do better?

And I’m not asking whether we have to be perfect in our singing (which is undefinable to me), but whether God expects us to be concerned about whether we’re on key, on the beat, in harmony, and otherwise singing well  — assuming we aren’t tone deaf or otherwise incapable of singing on key, on the beat, in harmony, etc. (“God does not exact day labor, light denied.”)

And why or why not?

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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18 Responses to What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Singing, Part 3)

  1. rich constant says:

    thought u all might like this little read


    … 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:
    1) Invitation/Call to Worship (Ps. 95.1)…


  2. Ray Downen says:

    It is suggested that we “come into the presence of God” when we assemble as disciples of Jesus Christ. He’s obviously not with us each day wherever we are as the body of Christ. It’s just on Sundays that we’re “with God.” Is that what having God’s Spirit in us means? Are we really to believe that God cares more about what we do “in church” than what His church does each day? Why would ANYONE think that way?

  3. Brian B. says:

    This is one of those inconsistencies in CoC messaging. God is not concerned about the quality of our singing, but many folks who say that will turn around an get offended if you are not properly dressed for Sunday morning assembly because God expects you to give your best. So we may sound terrible when we sing, but at least we look good doing it.

  4. Ralph Williams says:

    Why would anyone think that we are not in God’s presence unless it’s Sunday? Does he just go away somewhere during the week?

  5. Ray Downen says:

    I figure Jay is not suggesting that we are not walking with Jesus except when in a group, but any emphasis on the assembly as if it were more important than daily life implies that how we live each day is less important than what we do on Sunday mornings. And the many divisions in Church of Christ congregations are differences of opinion on what is “permitted” on Sunday mornings (and evenings) in the “church house.” That Jesus wants us united rather than divided is less important than that we force everyone to act according to a pattern of our devising.

    We are encouraged to not forsake assembling. We are also encouraged to live daily for Jesus. The purpose for which we should assemble is clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 14:26. It’s to encourage one another! It’s to find out who has needs that can be met by a brother/sister believer, and to offer help where needed. It’s to learn together, being taught by our ELDERS, of which the church should have several, depending on the number who normally attend (the more attenders, the more elders are needed). It’s to praise Jesus and the Father together, expressing our thanks for all their goodness to us. We surely should assemble, and not just on Sunday mornings. And we should respect our God by our clothing and by our words and by our singing, as Jay says. We should give our BEST to God, including our best musical abilities. Some have so little ability to sing pleasingly that it might be best for them to refrain from singing, of course. But Jay is surely right that we should care about what we do together and give attention to doing our best for one another and for our God.

  6. ALAN says:

    Can anyone show me a single scripture indicating that Christians assemble on Sunday for the purpose of *worship*? Or that our singing is supposed to constitute *worship*? Such concepts are deeply ingrained in our thinking. But I don’t see it in the scriptures. It seems to me that the purpose of coming together is to encourage one another – to edify the Christians, as Paul put it (1 Cor 14:26).

    The notion of coming to church to perform five prescribed acts of worship sounds way too Catholic, too Jewish, maybe even too pagan to make sense to me. It’s like we’re trying to appease God, to make amends for our deeds — as though our acts of worship somehow sooth his anger. That’s not what I read in the scriptures.

    There are multiple words in the NT translated into the English word “worship”. None of them is used in the context of a Christian worshiping God in the Christian assembly. Not even once.

  7. Skip says:

    Alan, I believe I can find scriptures that show the church together in corporate worship. One example is:
    Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
    1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
    Hebrews 2:12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
    Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
    Hebrews 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.
    1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

  8. Charles McLean says:

    I think this question comes down to a matter of honor, not a matter of rule. And as it is a matter of honor, we are not equipped to judge how another man honors God. (See Jesus’ observation about the widow’s mite.) I am perfectly happy to leave to the Holy Spirit just how much effort a person will put into the quality of his singing -or playing, for that matter– and decline to judge whether or not he has worked hard enough at it to honor the God he worships.

    As to how this plays out in the meeting, the standard there is how we can benefit each other in the Lord. If my singing is so loud and off-key as to be a serious distraction to those who are singing along with me, perhaps I should back off the volume a bit. OTOH, if our brother is worshiping joyfully and occasionally a half-step flat, who are we seeking to benefit when we press him to develop his musical ear? Let’s not kid, this is entirely for OUR benefit, and is based on our musical sensibilities, not on his worship. We are herein edifying ourselves, not our brother. If we will take the perspective of treating another as more important than ourselves, most of this will become a non-issue.

    As a musician, part of this “caring for each other” is the developing of reasonable competence, that my playing may support and encourage another’s worship instead of distracting from it. Our choices, from song selection to arrangement to amplifier volumes, should stand first upon blessing others, and only then on our own desires. Sometimes, songleaders and worship leaders are not the best at keeping this in the proper order.

    Here is an odd comparison: worship leaders are a bit like basketball referees. The best ones render their service as inobtrusively as possible, even while they exercise leadership and control of the flow of corporate worship. They make a significant contribution, but their goal is to facilitate edifying worship for others by encouragement, support, and getting out of the way. It’s a good example of a servant-leader.

  9. Charles McLean says:

    Alan, I would agree with your observation, as far as it reflects how we have corrupted our use of the term “worship” and its purpose. If we get together to do five religious acts, so God will not be mad at us until next Sunday, this is not worship. But even within that misguided context, worship CAN emerge among the people of God. (As I have often noted, we often behave better than our doctrine.) When Paul encouraged people to bring songs into their meetings, can we really believe that such songs were never designed to encourage worship among the hearers? Seems an unlikely conclusion to draw.

    And before we toss out the idea of corporate worship, let us remind ourselves of Israel’s experience in II Chronicles 20, and the atmosphere around the throne in Revelation 4-5.

    And let us not bind too tightly the requirements for the word “worship” to appear in a biblical context before we can speak of worship in that context. The words “I love you” do not appear on Jesus’ lips at the crucifixion, and yet this is precisely what that entire event was all about.

  10. Alan says:

    Skip, let me take your examples one at a time.

    The “they” in Acts 13:2 refers back to the prophets and teachers listed in verse 1. It’s not at all clear that anyone else was present — ie, that this was an assembly of an entire congregation. And, it also doesn’t state that it was on Sunday. They were indeed worshiping and fasting. I certainly don’t dispute that Christians did that in the first century church, nor that Christians should do that today. I’m simply noticing that this passage is not an example of the term “worship” being used to describe the purpose of the Sunday Christian assembly.

    1 Cor 14:26 teaches exactly what I said above. The purpose was edification.

    Heb 2:12 does indeed teach that Christians sing praises to God. That’s very consistent with 1 Cor 14:26. The purpose of doing so is to edify — or else it should not be done, according to Paul.

    Heb 12:28 also indicates that Christians are to worship God in an appropriate way. It does not say, however, that this is specifically talking about the assembly, nor does it say it is the purpose of the assembly.

    Heb 13:15 again does not specify the assembly. We should offer a sacrifice of praise wherever we are, and not just on Sunday morning. Similarly with 1 Peter 2:9.

    I’m not disputing that Christians ought to worship God. Of course not. I’m not even disputing that worship occurs at the assembly. It does. But worship should occur everywhere that a Christian goes, 24×7. There’s nothing about worship that is specific to the assembly. The purpose of the assembly is to do something that can only be done in an assembly. The scriptures tell us that the purpose is to edify one another.

  11. Price Futrell says:

    [Psa 33:3 ESV] Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

  12. Alan says:

    One more comment and I’ll bow out of this topic….

    I know my comments about worship and the assembly sound strange to a lot of people’s ears. I’d just ask you to go this far with me: Consider whether we’ve emphasized the wrong things in the assembly. And perhaps it is rooted in a confused picture of what God wants from us.

    The big picture is that God created us for fellowship with himself. We have all messed that up, big time. So God is seeking to bring us back into relationship with him. Everything in the gospel revolves around this point. That certainly includes the assembly. It’s where we are fed, built up, encouraged, edified, urged to be the kind of people God created us to be – people who reflect his image. That’s the purpose of the assembly. It’s not primarily for us to bring something to God. It’s a place where God does something to us, and for us.

  13. Alan says:

    … and *through* us, as we edify one another.

  14. Price Futrell says:

    Psalms 33:3…. Sing to Him a new song and play SKILLFULLY on the strings…

  15. Mark says:

    Alan wrote, “It’s where we are fed, built up, encouraged, edified, urged to be the kind of people God created us to be – people who reflect his image.”

    I think that may be wishful thinking. I always thought people who got even half of that list in any church were the lucky people.

  16. The above discussion of worship and the assembly revolves around the nature of Christian worship and the purpose of the assembly. After developing the concept that Christian worship is our acts of service to others (as Ray has suggested above) in earlier posts of a many part series of blogs, I had this one about the purpose of the assembly.

  17. laymond says:

    There is a program on MSNBC every morning called “Morning Joe” they always ask this question at the end. “What did you learn this morning”.
    Well on morning Jay, I learned , very few people are united on what the bible says. And more important they will never be united. they claim it is a point of freedom, a god given freedom. yes God gave us the freedom to follow Jesus or not, but not the freedom to rewrite the bible.
    Some folks use the Catholics as an example of what is wrong with religion, when in fact that is the only church which seems to be united. Well I may have over spoke because I am not really familiar with all churches. actually the Mormons seem to be united, and so do the JWs,
    And until the CoC have united congregations I doubt they will ever please God as a congregation, I believe this applies to the Baptist also.

  18. Skip says:

    Alan said, ” The purpose of the assembly is to do something that can only be done in an assembly. The scriptures tell us that the purpose is to edify one another.”
    The key words here are one another. This means one-on-one. I can edify others over a one-on-one lunch, over a dinner in our home, over a prayer walk, or at a large assembly. The one another part is not exclusively for the assembly.

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