When I first began attending an evangelical, (non-charismatic), Gospel preaching church I could tell something was different. If you had asked me then to describe what I experienced I would say, “something spiritual.” I now know I was experiencing the reality of the Holy Spirit moving on my heart.
Years after coming to faith, and entering ministry, I stopped to consider and dig into what the Scriptures say happens in our gathered time of worship in song.
Briefly, I’ve come to see that several things happen when we gather in person* as the Church to worship – uniquely in song.
- We declare truth
- We commune relationally with God in His Presence
- We submit our lives in obedience to God’s Word
- We engage in Spiritual warfare
- We receive from God
Over the next few blogs, I’ll share what I’ve found as regards each of these areas. (Scripture references are not exhaustive)
1. We Declare Truth
It’s fascinating to me to remember that declare is Middle English: from Latin declarare, from de- ‘thoroughly’ + clarare ‘make clear’ (from clarus ‘clear’)
We “make clear” whom it is we worship – both to the convinced and the unconvinced.
We ascribe to the LORD not only the glory due His Name, but His character He has revealed and that we have experienced.
We sing God’s excellencies, His worth, His character, His deeds, the Gospel.
(Psalm 9, 16, 26, 75, 96, 105, 107 to name just a few)
In fact, “Gospel” means”Good News” or to see it afresh, “Marvelous Proclamation”.
We sing of the God who created the cosmos and calls each of the stars by name, the God who knows every day we will live and each hair on our head, the God who intervenes in every age of Man. He is the God whose nostrils billow smoke and whose voice makes the deer give birth. He is the God who heals the brokenhearted and comforts the afflicted. He is the God who parts seas and overthrows oppressors, who forgives to the uttermost yet will not let the guilty go unpunished. We sing of the tender mercies of a God incarnate, the strong, yet kind sinless life He led. We rejoice and cry in anguish at His cross. We rejoice in His triumph over death. We sing of His ways for Mankind, and of His soon-coming glorious return and Kingdom.
These things are a proclamation and a reminder to ourselves and others as the Church.
Our declarations bring comfort, and warning, and joy as we “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Col. 3:16)
Also see – Ps 29:2, 1 Chron. 16:23-31, Zeph 3:14-15, 1 Cor 11 (the Lord’s table is both remembrance and proclamation) , Col. 3:16, Eph 5:18-19
But this declaration is not just for the convinced – it is also a proclamation, a witness, to unbelievers of the human condition, God’s character, Christ’s works and of the unity He brings to disparate peoples.
– 2 Cor 2:15, Ps 40:3, Ps 18:49 (therefore), Ps 57:9-10, Ps 96, Mal. 1:14 (the way we worship reflects the honour and worth we believe is due our King), Eph. 2:14 & 3:10, 1 Pet 2:9 (that you may proclaim….the you is plural – or as my American friends of the South would say, “that y’all may proclaim”), Romans 15:5-6, 1 Cor. 14)
In our sung worship, we declare the truths of the Scriptures to both believers and unbelievers; the convinced and the unconvinced; saint and sinner.
So, why is this unique in song?
It is unique in song because lyric + melody can stick with us much easier than a 3-point alliterated talk.
Ask someone which they know better:
- Their church’s vision statement or the first verse of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”
- The names of the 12 disciples or the names of Santa’s reindeer from the song Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer.
- The Beatitudes or the bridge to Bohemian Rhapsody (“I see a little silhouette…”)
- The three points from last week’s sermon or the chorus of “Blessed Be Your Name”?
(This again is why our songs must be richly filled with the truth of Scripture, not simply our subjective feelings toward or about God.)
It should be that we seek this type of proclamation in every element of our gatherings – the music, our prayers, the public reading of Scripture, hearing God’s Word explained, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Table.
Yet, God has designed the human brain and music to connect in a powerfully unique way. Consider the numerous stories of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who have mentally ‘resurfaced’ when music from their youth or precious hymns are played/sung.
Why is this unique when gathered in person?
I can be reminded of truth on the radio or CD or Spotify or Youtube.
A couple reasons:
Integrity and exhortation (Ps 51:6) – anyone can sing the words of the greatness of God or obedience and surrender to Christ. But the regular gathering of God’s people allows for accountability in this area. Conversations between friends who truly care about each other like these:
“When we were singing, ‘…my heart’s one desire is to be holy, set apart for You, Lord…’. I do mean it…will you continue to ask me how my struggle with online temptation is going?”
“I know you wrestle often with worry and anxiety, it was good to be next to you as we all sang ‘In Christ Alone’, that Christ is our solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm – when fears are stilled…. how are things going?”
“I know you’re going through the agony of loss right now, but seeing you sing of God’s faithfulness has reminded me that I can trust him in my issues too.”
Unity – this must be observed firsthand. No other gathering of people in the world has cause to display this unity, for, in the Gospel, all are equal in God’s sight in value and dignity and offer of salvation.
A clever video or eloquent message can tell of these things. But the genuine unity of the Church can only be observed in person. Week after week. Life on life. In the worship space and in the foyer. Through joy and challenge; agreement and disagreement. Beyond ethnicity, age, social status, gender, physical or cognitive ability. All are valued in Christ as co-heirs of the kingdom.
In congregational singing, we fill our minds and hearts with memorable phrases of Scriptural truths – may they be declarations of the majestic truths of the word of Christ as we extol and exhort, living out integrity and unity.