I believe the Bible gives the answer to the anemic, lifeless congregational singing we find in some churches. In Psalm 35:18, David declared: “I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.” Luther said he gave the German people the Bible and the hymn book in their own tongue, “So that God might speak directly to them in His Word, and that they might directly answer Him in their songs.” In a day when Gregorian chant was prevalent, Luther encouraged congregational singing of hymns.
Let’s look at several reasons why congregational singing is so important in the life of a church that wants to glorify the Lord.
1. It Unifies the Congregation
At the dedication of the second temple as recorded in 2 Chronicles 5:13, the Bible tells us, “The trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound.” Even Robert Shaw, the greatest choral conductor of the twentieth century, said, “That’s the point of a choir or a congregation, doing the same thing together at the same time.”
Churches today have people coming from different backgrounds and from distractions and complications of living in the twenty-first century. When the congregation meets, the best way to get everyone thinking together and preparing their hearts to hear the Word of God is congregational singing that is heartfelt and vibrant. It can also a way of reinforcing the gospel message to unsaved visitors.
2. It Is a Great Way to Praise the Lord
2 Chronicles 5:13 goes on to say, “To be heard in praising and thanking the Lord.”
This is a recurring theme in the Bible. When people are right with God, they always seek to praise Him, and one of the best ways for a congregation to do this is by singing heartily together. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” (Matthew 12:34). Because Paul and Silas were right with God and doing His will, they could sing “praises to God,” even after they had been beaten and were in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:23-25).
Proverbs 29:6 unequivocally says, “The righteous doth sing and rejoice.” Does not that principle seem to imply that a congregation whose hearts are right with the Lord will produce music that is characterized by heart-felt singing that glorifies their Saviour?
3. It Is a Wonderful Way to Pray Together
Ephesians 5:19 tells us some of the activities that Spirit-filled Christians engage in, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Think of the marvelous blessing that can come to a congregation as the people with one voice sing a song like “Nearer, Still Nearer,” “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart,” or even “The Lord’s Prayer” itself. Any good hymn book will have many songs that can unite a congregation in prayer.
4. It Solidifies and Teaches Spiritual Truth
Colossians 3:16 says, “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” and “singing with grace in your hearts,” will help the “word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” To quote Robert Shaw again, “The basic premise of music is communication…expressible best by music or possibly even only by music.” This is also the main reason we should be certain our congregational songs are doctrinally correct.
5. It Can Aid in Revival
Psalm 85 is titled “To the chief Musician,” and verse 6 says, “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?” A study of revivals in the Bible and great revivals of the past reveals that they have always been characterized by live, vital, and fervent congregational singing. Henry Halley’s Bible Handbook admonishes its readers: “Under proper leadership, the hymns of a vast congregation could be made to rise like the swell of an ocean’s roar, and cause angels in Heaven to lean over and listen.”
In the book of Nehemiah, (which emphasizes the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the national revival that accompanied it) music and singing play such a large part in the revival that it is mentioned more than twenty times.
In Nehemiah 8 we find many of the elements that are necessary for revival: the reading of the Word of God (verses 5–8), the people bowing their heads and worshipping the Lord with their faces to the ground (verse 6), the people weeping over their sin as they heard the Word of God (verse 9), and finally, the glorious result of true revival as the Lord works in hearts, “For the joy of the Lord is your strength” (verse 10). The singers then sang, “Songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God” (12:46).
Let’s pray that God would revive churches today with a resurgence of congregational singing that exalts Him!