Is Congregational Singing Worth the Risk?
In a word: “Yes.”
At least, I think so.
(I am going to put a caveat here: This is 100% my opinion. Maybe you agree, and maybe you don’t. Please remember that difference of opinion is not automatically because of ignorance. Many articles have been written about Covid-19, and not all the ones disagreeing with certain safe practices are conspiracy theories or quack jobs. People on all sides of this have reached different conclusions, and that is okay.)
I love singing. I sing daily with my kids. I host hymn sings monthly in my home. I love singing with believers.
And because of Covid-19, those last two things aren’t happening.
And I miss it. I miss singing with God’s people. I miss singing with our church family. I miss hearing voices united in the praise and worship of God.
When we think of worship, there are two primary conduits…prayer and singing. Talking to God and singing to God.
While we certainly pray in united worship of God, congregational singing is the most uncomplicated picture and practice of unity in worship. Unity is tangibly experienced in congregational singing as many sing the same words at the same time with the same melody.
Hearts and voices are uplifted jointly in the worship of God.
Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men?Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer
It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes….
This is one of the most recognizable refrains from the musical, Les Miserables. It is the rousing finale of both the stage production and film.
Moving on to the opening scene of Pirates of the Caribbean 3:
A whole line of ragged prisoners chained and awaiting their deaths on the gallows. They’ve all either aided and abetted pirates, or are accused of piracy themselves. The scene is grey, depressing and very solemn. A child lines up in his place on the gallows, too short to even reach the noose. Then one of the condemned begins to sing the pirate song, “Hoist the Colors,” and the whole line joins in.
The soldier in charge of carrying out the execution panics and runs to his superior. “Lord Beckett, sir! The people are singing.” The reply? “Finally.”
The singing demonstrated oneness despite (or maybe because of) the desperation of their circumstances.
Since we certainly don’t take our cue from catchy tunes or memorable movie scenes, why would I site these two pop culture references in an AssemblyHUB article?
They both illustrate the power of singing.
Singing conveys emotion, unifies and propels to action.
But for a more godly reference, I give you Martin Luther.
PreReformation there was little to no congregational singing. Generally performers sang the Psalms to the congregation during church services.
The Reformation, which took place in the 1500s, changed this practice. The prominent doctrine of salvation by grace through faith bore fruit in congregational singing. Both John Calvin and Martin Luther compiled or wrote versifications of the Psalms for singing by believing congregations.
The jubilant faith of Luther, his joyful experience of God, his teaching of salvation by grace, caused him to break out in exultation before his God, and his feelings could find expression only in music.Paul Nettl, Luther and Music
Martin Luther believed that music was and is a natural outpouring of our praise to God. To know Christ’s salvation should make us joyful which should in turn cause us to sing about it.
Martin Luther and John Calvin sparked a 500 year heritage of congregational hymn-singing.
And it only took one global pandemic to jeopardize this rich heritage.
Most assemblies have used Zoom or a similar platform since the start of stay-at-home orders. During the virtual meetings singing has tended to go one of three ways:
- Unmitigated disaster. Instruments, song leader, participants’ voices, feedback, noise cancellation technology, time-delay. All added up to an annoying and futile exercise with no one having any idea where anyone else was at in the song. Sigh. Most of us just gave up.
- Nonexistent. Instead of singing, a brother just reads the lyrics of the hymn he is contemplating.
- Done well, but not. The best “congregational” singing experience I’ve had since this all started was when the song leader had a great mic, and muted everyone else, so we all could sing with him. Though we could not hear each other. Just ourselves in our physical location.
I cannot state enough how much I really miss singing in church. But, so what? Just get over myself, right?!
Why do believers sing? Why do we sing together?
The ESV uses the word “sing” 105 times. These 105 times tell us who sings, and why, and what about.
Individuals. Nations. Nature. Priestly choirs. Widows. Those needing and finding a refuge in the Lord. The saints.
We sing to praise the Lord. We sing for joy. We sing to celebrate. We sing a new song. We sing to remember and to be remembered. We sing aloud. We sing as we bring offerings. We sing to God’s name.
We sing because we enjoy singing. Even more than that, we sing because we are repeatedly commanded to sing.
Both articles highlighted the risks of gathering in crowds (including church services), and ways to mitigate those risks. Both articles mentioned singing at church as a particularly high (infection) risk. Both recommended suspending congregational singing, at least until we are in the final phases of this pandemic (almost no active cases).
I would argue that we are at war. It’s not a war against flesh and blood. It’s not even a war against the coronavirus.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:12, 13 (ESV)
This war touches every aspect of our lives. Make no mistake about that. The schemes and machinations of the devil are interwoven into the fabric of our day to day lives.
We are being told that soon we can gather again, but only in smaller groups. Plus we must social distance, wear masks, and not sing. It’s kind of depressing, and it makes me wonder why? Is there actually more to it than fighting germs?
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.1 Timothy 1:7
Is fear propelling our actions, or faith? Fear, or love? Fear, or a sound mind?
Acting from a sound mind would one hundred percent be supportive of thorough hand washing, staying home when you are sick, not touching your face, and covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze. This is just basic hygiene and polite behavior.
But, must acting from a sound mind also include not singing?
Singing is not the only thing under scrutiny. So is “communion.” But, I don’t think the assemblies will just concede that one. There might be possible modifications, but not even a temporary suspension once we meet in person again. After all, most assemblies are still doing a weekly Lord’s Supper, via Zoom, even if they aren’t singing.
Are we asking the right question?
So, if we wouldn’t suspend communion, why would we suspend congregational singing? Singing is certainly no more risky than passing a tray of cups from (germy) hand to (germs) hand, or ripping off a chunk of bread from a communal loaf.
Should the question we are asking even be how to keep safe? God does not command us to be safe (we are commanded to sing). God doesn’t even guarantee our safety. Rather, 365 times in the Bible the phrase or idea of “fear not” is used, implying that there is something to fear.
This topic is something each person, and each assembly, needs to weigh in their own hearts before the Lord.
But eventually it will come to this pass…What’s it going to take? When will we weigh the risk (possibly getting sick, possible death) vs. benefits (fellowship, unity, encouragement, worship), and choose to sing again? Even if the CDC is still against it. When will we deem the risk worth it?
Will the scene in heaven look something like this?
“Lord! The people are singing!”
The reply? “Finally.”