Learning To Sing

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Building on Matt’s post on the vapid nature of most contemporary worship music I want to address a question many have brought up to me and one that I have heard time and again asked to others. It goes a little something like this – “Ok, I buy in principle your argument that today’s worship is weak, but how do we move forward? What should we do instead?”

My answer is simple, yet sadly all-to-revolutionary today – “Our worship ought to be shaped and normed by the songs of Scripture.”

While time could be spent on all the songs of Scripture (something I might take up in weeks to come) for the sake of the argument I’ll take up only one body of work – the book of Psalms.

Here is my main point – Our worship should mirror the emphasis of the Psalms.

This is not an argument for what is known as “exclusive Psalmody” (although you could do a LOT worse than sticking to the metrical Psalms sung by God’s people for generations). I fully get that Eph. 5:19 is in the bible and I love to sing new songs. Matt provided a great list in his last piece of some examples of modern day music that do a good job of doing what the Psalms do. What do the Psalms do? I’ll let Athanasius answer that one – “Whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you need not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.” He then goes on to elaborate with a number of hymns and how they might be used.

Building off of Athanasius’ point I’ll ask this – does the body of songs your church sings express the full range of human emotions? What songs do you sing that mirror the emphasis and tone of Psalm 137, 139, 69, and (my personal favorite) 88? Go read them. Seriously. Then run through the songs you sing and compare.

Each week our churches are full of a wide range of people. Some have had weeks that are rather ordinary and boring. Others have had weeks unlike any other, for good and for ill. Does the mom who just had a baby have something to sing as heartfelt and joyfully as the mom who just lost her baby to cancer?

Our singing is important, more than we often acknowledge. By it we are shaped as the people of God. It is not just there to move us, either to excitement or introspection. It is to remind us of who our God is and what he has done. Often these things throw us off kilter, into a world of doubt and confusion. God is both immanent and transcendent, we dare not pretend otherwise.

The Psalms ought to shape our worship. If Athenasius is right in what he supposedly said, and I believe he is, that while “the Psalms have a unique place in the Bible because most of the Scripture speaks to us, while the Psalms speak for us.” Then we ought to pay close attention and make our emphasis their emphasis. In doing so we will do a better job of giving each other the freedom and ability to express the wide range that is the emotional character of the people of God as we travel together as sojourners and aliens on our way to a better country.

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