Essential Songs

Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
Proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
His marvelous deeds among all peoples.

-Psalm 96: 1-3

It cannot have been long after man first used words to convey his thoughts that he began singing. I can picture Adam and Eve in the garden, their days spent lounging in the shade, snacking on non-forbidden fruit, singing praises to God. Music is not just a fun or catchy form of entertainment. Words set to music are capable of expressing layers of emotion and awakening something deeply ingrained in us that those same words simply spoken can’t convey. Even wordless music holds a power over us, drawing deep-seated, gut-wrenching emotions from our very core. A single song has can bring us to tears, make us stand and cheer, and cause our hearts to ache and yearn for some far-off time, place, or person. Song is a powerful mode of human expression.

Among all the recent health orders and recommendations from government authorities are guidelines on how religious services should be conducted in order to keep everyone “safe.” Side-stepping that gross and misguided overreach of authority for the moment, one of the suggested guidelines in California is; “discontinue singing (in rehearsals, services, etc.), chanting, and other practices and performances where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets.”

While discontinuing singing is likely a difficult pill to swallow for many Christian denominations, and certainly other religious groups as well, as a lifelong Lutheran, this is downright scandalous. It is not uncommon for us to chant or sing more in a service than we actually speak. I literally cannot imagine what a service would look like, let alone feel like if we were to eliminate all singing. It is offensive to my sense of what worship is. Rev. James Hopkins, the guest on this week’s Ringside, lays it out nicely, “[Singing] has been integral since the times of the Bible, singing hymns and songs and spiritual songs. The Bible has a hymnal written into it. It’s not just an option, but God actually created us to worship him in this way. So singing isn’t just an accident in the philosophical sense. It’s integral. It belongs to worship.”

God created us to worship him, and scripture lays out exactly how we are to do that, “Sing to the Lord…” We see it over and over and over again. David and Solomon sing to God all the time, in both joy and anguish. “They call it the Song of Moses, not the speech of Moses. They call it the Song of Mary, not the speech of Mary. The Song of Zechariah. All these things are sung as a response to what God has done. Song seems the natural response of God’s people to God’s actions. It’s just what the children of God do.” Rev. Ross Engel reminds us.

It is just what we do. We always have, and we always will. Are we legalistically bound to sing as a condition of our salvation? Of course not. The fact that we could create a worship service that does not include singing does not mean that we should. The fact that we don’t have to sing, doesn’t mean that it isn’t an essential part of who we are and how we worship. Song is essential, it is a gift we were given, and we should wield it with all the power and conviction it possesses. As James put it, “I will not sit and think quiet happy thoughts to the Lord, I will sing to the Lord!”

The Lord your God is in your midst,
A mighty one who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by his love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.

-Zephaniah 3:17

This article is a brief examination of one of several topics discussed on this week’s episode of Ringside with the Preacher Men. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Ross Engel, guest Rev. James Hopkins, and Tyler the Intern, as they duke it out over the value of singing in worship, the church’s power to bind and loose sins, and whether most pastors have the stones to excommunicate a member, on the latest full Ringside with the Preacher Men episode, “Is Singing Important for Church?”

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