Singing is an important part of our worship. The following texts of scripture call us to sing:
- Deuteronomy 31:19—“Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it” … and then follows the song of Moses.
- Psalm 33:3—“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”
- Psalm 96:1—“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.”
- Ephesians 5:18-19—“…
In the vision recorded in Revelation John often hears the saints above and below singing praises to God.
There are many surprising twists and turns to church history, and some of them have to do with singing. Before the Protestant Reformation, laypersons were expected to stand mute as the music was given to the priests and cantors. The clergy sang long-winded Latin sequences that were incomprehensible to the people.
Under the influence of the reformers the church in Geneva banned all music from worship so that there was no singing at all. John Calvin and other ministers, concerned about a coldness of worship, tried unsuccessfully to introduce congregational singing for the edification of the people and the praise of God. At first they were unsuccessful in convincing the council to allow singing in the worship service, but their persistence paid off and the council relented. The following, dated 1541, was recorded in the minutes of the church council:
It will be desirable to introduce songs in order the better to incite people to prayer and to the praise of God. To begin with, the little children shall be taught, and then in course of time the whole church will be able to follow.
Worship without singing is cold and sterile. To quote Calvin, “…we know from experience that singing has great strength and power to move and to set on fire the hearts of men in order that they may call upon God and praise him with a more vehement and more ardent zeal.”
And so, we sing, also in Reformed churches—thanks in part to John Calvin. But what are we going to sing as we worship God? How are we going to sing? What principles and criteria are we going to apply to the matter of singing?