Dear Strand Baptist and friends
I want to write a few words to you today about congregational singing; and the godly idea I want to highlight is 'singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God' (Colossians 3: 16). The reason I would like to briefly ponder this verse is because of the fact that in our contemporary Christian culture today the voices of God's people are being drowned out by electronic technical instruments. This biblical injunction needs to be heard afresh today in the light of trends in the church. When Heather and I visit other churches when away from SBC, one of the most startling things is the level of church music. On the Sunday prior to my return to SBC I visited a nearby church, arriving 15 minutes before the service (making sure I practice what I preach!). Though there was not a band, there was some 'foreground' music playing. It was so loud I struggled to hear the people welcoming me and had to nearly shout to be heard! Time and again I have been noticing that a shift has taken place in many churches, where the band is taking the centre stage and the congregation a back stage, the instruments dominating the voices of God's people. Naturally I was glad to be back at SBC!
Now, let me say that this is not a sign that I am loosing touch with 'where things are at' today or am just making a personal judgment where there should be liberty and tolerance. No, the fact is that the way of doing church in too many churches is determined more by the culture of the world than the culture of the Word. Congregations are turning into passive audiences instead of active singers. For this reason, I am becoming more and more convicted that congregational singing needs to become the dominant method of music in the church today. Of course that does not mean that instruments are out (or that I am rationalising our present situation at SBC) it just means that music must subordinate itself to the voices of the people of God rather than supplant them. Too often the 'band' has been the tail that wags the dog in congregational singing. I think there needs to be a singing reformation in today's church when God's people will not be happy with the method of music in the church unless the voices of the congregation can be heard above the music. This will reverse the present trend where the style of music becomes the key criteria either for keeping people in a particular church or else for sending them away. It will also facilitate the important biblical (and baptist) conviction that the gathering of God's people is an act of Christ-like active service to all, and not a passive observation by the many of the few.
In the open-heaven visions of the book of Revelation, we have many glimpses of angels in heaven singing the praises of God and the Lamb, but no instruments. So, let's begin to prepare for going there and come this Sunday to sing from our heart the high praises of the Lord.
Love in Christ,