The interest of this research is singing and music as one of the significant element of the congregational worship. It is particularly important because it is a response to God in His revelation and encompasses most of the faculties of man in worship. May I seek to echo the words of John Wesley in his advice to hymn singers in what he wrote in 1781:
“Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself or any other creature. Attend strictly to the sense
In singing we have responses that touch on intellectual, spiritual, moral, emotional, and involvement of human strength in worship.
The intellectual response: All spiritual experience begins in the mind because the very starting point is an intellectual grasp of the truth. This is so because of two reasons:
a) God made man as a rational human being in His own image
It is for this reason that God addressed Adam as a rational being immediately after the creation. So then God gave him the responsibility of naming the animals and plants – something he did with an astounding prowess. Adam was able to appreciate a logical argument in which God presented the terms of the blessings in response to his obedience and judgment in the face of His obedience. In response to God then man has to use his rational mind in addressing God. This will have some necessary consequence on the content of music.
b) God revealed himself in intelligible words
God did not leave man with some vaguely defined presence, He spoke to him addressing them. The basic conviction of scripture is that God has spoken meaningful words. His truth is propositional – stated in sentences which man, a thinking being, is able to comprehend and respond to.
Man is now fallen and his heart and mind, the very primary faculties, have been darkened (1Cor.4:4). As a result, man in his fallen state may be highly intelligent and may reflect on his intellectual achievements the fact that the image of God, though sadly defaced, has not been totally lost. Yet this leaves the natural man unable to worship God appropriately. In order to worship God acceptably we must do so ‘in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). There must be a communion of our spirit with God in a living relationship of person to person but we must ensure that we do it in ‘truth’ that is, in accordance to His revealed truth, which we have received.
We must adore the true God, and our approach must accord with the terms and conditions that God has laid down. Both the goal of our worship and means of achieving it are to be governed by the truth of God, which He has revealed in the Scriptures.
The Moral response: As long as man lives in ignorance of God, he will live in ignorance of his sin. This Paul makes very clear in Romans chapters 1&2 and he attributes the problem with godlessness (Rom.1:18). Ungodliness leads to unrighteousness. This Paul again highlights by saying man has suppressed the truth of God and as a result the moral restraints are thrown off and even worse, they fail to worship Him as God, “For although they knew God, they did not honor (glorify) Him as God or give thanks to Him but became futile in thinking, and their foolish hearts darkened… because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (Rom. 1:21, 25, emphasis added)
Once a man accepts the truth, the Holy Spirit enlightens him and then he begins to understand the word of God. Now he not only sees God in his holiness and purity, but also himself in his utter sinfulness and inability. Knowledge of the truth goes together with the conviction of sin and the first response to the message of the gospel is repentance, and then delight in God who saved such a person. When the demoniac at Gerasenes was healed, he begged that he might be with Christ, didn’t he? This means that worship is more than opening up our lips and singing – it is singing what we believe and want are and desire to be in sincerity.
The emotional response: We are creatures who think and act, but we also feel. We smile and frown, we are moved to laughter and sometimes to tears; there is inner warmth and also a chill in our spirits; we can be exuberant and we can be dejected; we can be stirred at an event like a concert to enthusiastic applause or we can be disappointed. Undoubtedly, emotions play a major role in our lives. The two basic emotions are those associated with pleasure and pain. We cultivate experiences or circumstances that leads to our well-being, and avoid any pattern of events likely to cause harm. Men are constituted in such a way that they desire happiness, and try to avoid sadness.
While the Holy Spirit speaks to our minds, we must also realize that He also sometimes utilizes our feelings as He leads from our self-centered sinfulness to faith in Christ. He confronts us with this truth exerting pressure on our feelings so that we are left crying and sorrowful because of our sin. Repentance is often accompanied by sorrow due to the guilt of sin. This is because sin is grieving a Person, the gracious Creator who gave us life. The Holy Spirit not only displays to our consciences the breaches of God’s law for which we are guilty, but He also makes us feel the wretchedness of our rebellion and ingratitude against a loving God. This has to affect our emotions for it comes with heavy pain of disdaining God who wants to do us the highest good. Therefore, songs that express penitence have to come with the feelings of sorrow and somberness.
Faith is also more than response to the Word of God. It is also an emotional love towards the Lord Jesus Christ after hearing the Word. Faith is therefore a delightful response by a person who was lost but can now found, who was blind but now see. There is no question that when a sinner discovers Christ, the Saviour of sinners from eternal damnation, will by all means find delightful joy full of satisfaction for having been known by God and for having been saved eternal peril.
However, it is important that we note the difference between a healthy stirring of the emotions and emotionalism. The latter is when a technique is used which sidesteps the mind and ignores the moral implications of the gospel. It is sadly evident in some meetings, where the atmosphere is deliberately created by means of music or conditioning humor, to make people susceptible. It may also be employed by the preacher who uses a moving story not simply as an illustration but as means of emotional manipulation. It is too often the instrument, which levers people out of their seats to respond to an appeal, which has been accounted by the soft singing, choir, and reinforced by the powerful suggestion of the apparent response by others. This kind of emotionalism is wrong because it elicits a response, but ignores the totality of man’s nature.
A healthy stirring of the emotions is produced by the truth of God applied by the Holy Spirit to the mind and conscience and will. It is from that impact of the Word that the deepest emotional experience emerge, and it is here that we find the secret of the depth of feeling associated in Scripture with the true worship. A true emotional stirring is one that not only stimulates us to worship, but also deepens our spiritual zest and gives us a capacity as well as a passionate desire for deeper experiences of the fullness of God.
Based on these three responses, how shall we sing?