Someone once asked me whether the people in a certain religion sing during their worship services. I had to stop and think about it. Music and song certainly does exist in the cultures where this religion is prevalent. In fact, they enjoy a rich heritage of religious music. Nor, is their musical tradition obscure. It has had a major influence on the music of other cultures. The thing which stumped me is whether music or song has a role in their formal worship services. Chanting is certainly employed. Some of it may even be considered musical. Perhaps one could say that these chants are songs. However, something which is beyond question is that you will never encounter any musical instruments within the walls of their places of worship – certainly during their times of worship. Some sects of this religion go so far as to totally ban all forms of music whether secular or sacred.
For some reason this bias against music and song in worship really bothered me. I couldn’t understand why, until I started thinking about the character of God. When we think about the nature of God, we often consider His characteristics of love, grace, compassion, justice, faithfulness and the like. However, what I hadn’t realized until the question about the other religion was posed to me is that song is also a part of God’s nature.
When we look at mankind we see indirect evidence of this. Genesis 1:27 states that God created mankind in His own image. Something which all races and cultures have in common is music and song. The styles and modes of song differ from place to place, but there is no human culture in which there is no song at all. Since song is universal, and since mankind is made in God’s image, we can say that song is a reflection of one aspect of God’s character.
However, there is also direct evidence in Scripture that song is part of God’s nature. Hebrews 1:3 states that Jesus “...is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, ...” (NIV) Then, in chapter 2, verses 11 through 12 it says, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”” (NIV)
To put it another way, since Jesus is the exact representation of God, and Jesus sings, then singing is a part of God’s nature. (In case anyone balks at the notion of Jesus singing. Take a look at Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26.)
There are even more direct statements which indicate that song is part of God’s nature. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (NIV)
Psalm 68:6 confirms this as well. “God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” (NIV)
Since we have been created in God’s image and since we are being recreated into the image of Christ, who is the exact representation of God, it follows that it is not only appropriate for us to sing, it is imperative that we sing. We cannot become like Christ and God if we do not sing. This also means that any religion which discourages or forbids singing (and there are some like the one I was asked about) hinders people from becoming like God. It prevents people from being restored to the divine nature we once had before sin entered the world.
Here’s something to think about: In recent years with the proliferation of “praise teams” and the like who “lead” the church in worship, we have gone more and more from a participatory model to one of performer-audience. I understand why this happened. Churches hoped to attract more people by the excellence of the music – particularly in this day and age when the common person has access to so much high-quality music outside of the church assemblies. The average, untrained person in the pew simply cannot compete with the musicians on stage. A second trend which favors the trained musician is that vast majority of contemporary music is hard for the average person to sing. The melodies are not memorable, and the timing is complicated. To put it another way, most contemporary “praise” or “worship” songs were written for soloists, rather than with congregational singing in mind.
However, this emphasis on professionalism has a downside. If you look around most worship services you see very few people singing. Most are merely listening to the band and the vocalists on stage. I can’t help but wonder if our bias toward the performer on stage is counterproductive. Are we hindering the very thing which we hope to accomplish, which is to help people become more like God? Are we stunting the development of their divine nature by suppressing their song? Perhaps it’s time for us to reevaluate. Perhaps it’s time for us to let the people sing!