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The Singing Church

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The W's and H of Worship  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:41
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Music can be one of the most controversial parts of worship. Psalm 96 gives us the guidelines to create the light of understanding, rather than the heat of controversy.

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We have now come to the most controversial topic in our series on worship—MUSIC. This is perhaps where the worship wars have been most visible. I saved this topic for last, not because I feared conflict and controversy, but because I believe 90% of the conflict over music is caused not by music itself, but by not understanding the foundational principles of worship. Now that we have learned the foundational principles of worship we are prepared to examine music in a more helpful way that will create the light of understanding, not the heat of controversy:
Our Scripture lesson today is taken from Psalm 96:1-4.
Psalm 96:1–4 ESV
1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! 2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
From these four verses we learn three things about the Singing Church:
The Singing Church Sings to the Lord! (vs. 1)
The Singing Church Sings of God’s Glory! (vs. 2-3)
The Singing Church Sings with Joyful Fear! (vs. 4)
Many of the worship wars over music have been caused because people have forgotten the truth of verse 1.

The Singing Church Sings Unto the Lord!

Three times in the span of just two verses we find the command to “sing to the Lord.” It has been said that in worship, there is an audience of One. God is the one for whom we are singing. We are NOT singing to attract “seekers.” We are NOT singing to keep “baby boomers.” We are NOT seeking to keep senior citizens happy, and most certainly we should NOT be singing to please ourselves! We are singing to God and for His pleasure!
With this in mind, lets be clear about one thing: a sure way to displease God is to sing with a spirit of conflict and selfishness!
During my time as pastor of a church in Holland, MI during the 1990’s there were a number of years that we had heated conflict over music. Our situation was not unique, churches all across America were being torn apart over music. One of my young elders became so distressed by what was happening, that he confessed one evening to the other elders, “I wish we would just remove all music from our worship service! I don’t even enjoy singing anymore.” As he said this I could not help but think of what God said through the prophet Amos so many years ago:
Amos 5:21–24 ESV
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
God hates worship that violates His standards of justice, righteousness, love and mercy. Two weeks ago we read from Romans 15, I would like to remind you what Paul teachers us about the necessity of unity and love in worship.
Romans 15:5–6 ESV
5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we firmly place in our minds the idea that singing and music is to please God and not ourselves, there is the harmony that allows a congregation to sing with one voice.
There is another aspect to “singing unto the Lord”: We are singing to glorify Him, not ourselves. This is our second point that is taught to us so clearly in verses 2-3.

The Singing Church Sings of God’s Glory!

Let me read these two verses again so they are fresh in our minds.
Psalm 96:2–3 ESV
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
Our songs should primarily be about what God has done for us, not about what we have done or will do for him. We “tell of his salvation.” We declare “his glory” and “his marvelous works.”
In this series we have learned that our worship must be regulated by the Word of God. The Psalms are given to us by God as an example of how we are to “sing unto the Lord.” In the Psalms, God’s people confess their sins, their fears and their love for God. They also make their vows unto God and promised to serve Him. But these confessions and vows are always in response to God’s mighty acts of salvation. The focus is clearly on God, not on us.
Many songs that are sung in churches today are more about what we are doing for God, than what God is doing for us. Moreover, some songs are not all that clear as to who they are directed to. Taken outside the context of a church and they could just as easily about about someones boy friend or girl friend!
Again lets remind ourselves what we learned in Hebrews 12.
Hebrews 12:28 ESV
28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,
We must always carefully examine the songs we sing with “reverence and awe” for God and ask the question: “Does this song glorify God?”
This brings us to the final point:

The Singing Church Sings with Joyful Fear!

Verse four says:
Psalm 96:4 ESV
4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
You may have noticed that for this final point I said “the singing church sings with joyful fear.” Biblical fear and joy are not conflicting emotions, but complimentary emotions. In Psalm 2 we read these surprising words:
Psalm 2:11 ESV
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Think of it this way, your joy is only as great as the object of your joy. When the object of your joy is a God who causes you to tremble, your joy is so great that it causes you to tremble with delight!
To help us understand what singing with joyful fear looks like, I want us to look again at verse 1.
Psalm 96:1 ESV
1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Throughout the bible we find the call to “sing a new song.” This is often misunderstood as a new composition—as if the church should constantly be writing new songs. This is not a all what this means. The call to sing a new song occurs in Scripture when God has advance redemptive history through a new mighty act of salvation. For example: The Exodus, which led to the Conquest, which led to the establishment of the Davidic Dynasty, which led to Christ’s redemptive work, which will led to the New Heaven and New Earth! In other words, the call to “sing a new song” is a call to keep our songs up to date with redemptive history.

Sings in Harmony with God’s Redemptive Song

The New Covenant church is no longer to sing of the Exodus or of the victories of the Conquest of the Holy Land, but of the work of Christ!
A good example of what this looks like is Issac Watt’s Psalter. He correctly understood that the Christian church could not sing the Psalms in their original Old Covenant context, they needed to be updated to the context of the New Covenant. Let me show you what I mean by looking at his version of Psalm 96:
The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts Psalm 96: Christ’s First and Second Coming

Sing to the Lord, ye distant lands,

Ye tribes of every tongue;

His new-discovered grace demands

A new and nobler song.

Say to the nations, Jesus reigns,

God’s own almighty Son;

His power the sinking world sustains,

And grace surrounds his throne.

Let heav’n proclaim the joyful day,

Joy through the earth be seen;

Let cities shine in bright array,

And fields in cheerful green.

Let an unusual joy surprise

The islands of the sea:

Ye mountains, sink; ye valleys, rise;

Prepare the Lord his way.

Behold, he comes, he comes to bless

The nations as their God;

To show the world his righteousness,

And send his truth abroad.

But when his voice shall raise the dead,

And bid the world draw near,

How will the guilty nations dread

To see their Judge appear!

Joyful fear makes sure that focus of our songs is on Jesus!
The second thing Joyful Fear means is that the Church...

Sings in Harmony with God’s Holiness

I take this from what we have been learning throughout this series—God is holy and he calls his people to be holy. In worship, the church is called out of the world. The last place worldliness should be found is in Christian worship!
Let me remind you what Scripture means by “worldliness”. It does not mean any and everything that is found in the world, but rather it refers to the spirit of rebellion against God that is found in the world. In all genres of music there are certain styles of music that inflame worldly lusts. By the same token, in every genre there is music that does not. It is true that many of the old hymns make use of the folk tunes that were sung in pubs, however there were tunes that were NOT used because they were too worldly! This takes prayerful discernment, but common sense goes a long way. If you have doubts about the appropriateness of a particular tune, it is better not to use it.
But it is not just the tune, but the words we need to be concerned about. The church that sings in Joyful Fear...

Sings in Harmony with God’s Word

This goes back to the Regulative Principle we have talked so much about in this series. The only acceptable worship is that worship that conforms to the Word of God.
This is especially important when it come to the content of sermons and of songs; it is through the sermons and songs that God teaches is people. Songs have a way of sticking in our memory. We have all had the experience of a song playing in our mind throughout the day. If the theology of a church’s songs is solid, there is a good chance its people are solid theologically. We squander one of God’s greatest gifts if we sing songs that are theologically weak or even worse in theological error. Let’s make sure the songs that are playing in our heads are teaching us good theology in accord with the Word of God!
Of course, songs do not have their full impact on us if they are not sung, which leads to the finally point: A church that sings in Joyful Fear...

Sings in Harmony as a Congregation

The Dialogical Principle teaches us that God speaks and the people respond in “one voice”. Some Reformed churches have taken this so far as to only have congregational singing. I do not necessarily believe we have to go this far, but I do believe that congregational singing should predominate the Christian worship service and what non-congregational music there is should be used to aid congregational worship, not as a form of entertainment.
We are celebrating the 500 anniversary of the Reformation this October and one of the great reforms of that period was the recovery of congregational singing. During the Middle Ages congregational singing had all but disappeared from the church. People would go to the great cathedrals of Europe and passively listen to choirs singing. Martin Luther changed all that and got the people singing again!
Today I fear that the church is entering into the same error. In high churches, people passively listen to beautiful choirs and orchestras. In contemporary low churches, people passively listen to “praise bands” and “worship teams.” On the surface, in both these types of church, congregational singing appears in their order of worship, but the songs demand such a high level of skill that the average person just stands their and listen to the choir or praise team sing. I am sure you have been to churches like that, you look around and no one is singing!
Congregations can learn new songs—I personally would love to have us sing more Psalms. As we heard in the Law of God today found in Colossians 3:12-17, God commands his church to sing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We have hymns and spiritual song covered here a Greene Valley—but it bothers me that we sing so few Psalms, when we have such a clear commandment to sing them! As we find Psalms set to singable tunes and hope we will us our projection system to be obedient to God and start singing Psalms again! However, we can’t introduce too many news songs (even Psalms) at once and maintain good congregational singing. Good congregational singing must be a priority.
One of the great strengths of our congregation is that we are a singing church! Let’s take what we learned today and become even better! So let’s review what we have leaned.
A Singing Church Sings Unto the Lord
A Singing Church Sings of God’s Glory
A Singing Church Sings With Joyful Fear
In Harmony with God’s Redemptive Song
In Harmony with God’s Holiness
In Harmony with God’s Word
In Harmony as a Congregation
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