When we come together - we are to be together, not alone. Solo-Christianity is no-Christianity. We are called to be God's people together, and true fellowship is a magnificient statement of God's gospel. But it only occurs when we serve one another in love, which requires some interaction. Corporate singing is a time for open eyes. A time for eye contact. A time to meet with another, and remind one another of God's gospel.
Secondly, Christians will sing to one another. Addressing each others souls, calling one another to worship the Lord. This is a vital element of corporate worship. Its eyes open stuff, where we sing distinctively true things about the gospel and our God. We need to instruct one another in the gospel. Reminding one another of its truth. Serving one another by pointing one another to Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, Christians will sing together to the Lord. Addressing God directly, together. This needs to be more "we" than "I". We stand together as the company of God's people proclaiming the gospel. Having called one another to worship the Lord, it is entirely appropriate for us to stand together and declare our praise of the Lord together.
The New Testament teaching about corporate singing is minimal. We have only a few verses in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5. In both cases the goal is to build up the body of God's people. It concerns being a Spirit-filled community growing in God's word. And it concerns having God's word dwell richly in one another. Always a corporate activity.
Another place we can learn from is 1 Corinthians 14. We should observe that only one person in this chapter is ever described as worshipping. This person is the non-Christian who comes into a meeting, is convicted of their sin and becomes a believer.
What is the setting of this response? It is an interchange between the corporate affects of tongues-speaking and prophecy. This is not first about singing, but it does concern speech in a meeting. And our times of sung worship always include words.
When tongues are spoken they act as a sign of judgement on those who don't understand. This is taught as an application of God's word in Isaiah. When what is said cannot be understood its only benefit is a declaration of the judgement of God. An unbeliever comes in and proclaims that Christians are mad, thus they exclude themselves from God's people. This is not a desirable effect!
When prophecy is spoken understanding abounds. When an believer comes in they can be convicted of sin. This tells us something about the content not just the clarity of what is said. For someone to be convicted of sin they need to hear the disctinctively Christian content of the gospel spoken.
What does this have to say to our song choices? We should sing songs that make sense. They should be able to be understood. That means the grammar and the words need to make sense. There are vast numbers of songs that meet this standard, but also vast numbers which may have a good tune but simply make no sense. We should ask ourselves - what am I singing? What am I asking of God? Is this song true? What would it look like if this prayer was answered? If we don't know then this song is simply inappropriate for use.
We should sing songs that are distinctively Christian. That is to say several things. Firstly they should be songs that could not be sung by a Muslim or a Jew or an atheist... true to the gospel not just the words of a love song. Christian songs concern Christian truth, and should therefore be saturated with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Too many of our favourite songs are nothing more than love songs, lacking any distinctive Christian content. They do nothing to have God's word dwell in us more richly. They do nothing to lead us to true Christian worship of our God. Either by leading us to emotionalism or to the worship of some god other than the LORD. To do the latter is idolatrous. Why be subtle and implict when teaching one another about Jesus - let's be explicitly Christian!
Secondly, they should teach us truth in proportion to the emphases of God's word. That is we ought to derive them from scripture - where one doctrine is taught alongside another, our songs should reflect that. This need not mean our songs are always expositions of a passage. But either that or an accurate reflection of a Biblical doctrine. Too many songs over emphasise one aspect of doctrine at the expense of another.
In conclusion, our songs must be Christian. Their content must be clearly understood and clearly Christian. And they must be sung in a Christian manner - sung to one another so that God's word dwell in us more richly, and leading one another to delcare the glory of God's gospel together. Lets not be subtle... let's be explicitly Christ-ian in our songs.
"Teaching and encouragement may be necessary at times, but directing people’s gaze toward God’s glory in Christ is our ultimate motivation and goal." - Bob Kauflin
Related articles here:
The Words We Sing
The Words We Sing Do Matter
Worship Leader: Influential Theologian
Not to us... Psalm 33
Not to us... Psalm 115
Bob Kauflin - www.worshipmatters.com