Following the Salutation we sing what we call an “Opening Song of Praise”. Our liturgy at Grace contains no less than 5 songs sung by the congregation. In this post we will consider the why and what of these songs in our worship.
The first principle of song in our worship is its dialogic nature. For we see that three of the songs in our liturgy are a response to something that God has spoken to us: 1) God calls us to worship and we respond in a song of praise 2) God assures of His salvation promises and we respond in a song of dedication 3) God speaks to us through the preached word and we sing a song of application. We see this principle in Ezra 3. There we read that the foundation of the temple has been rebuilt; God had fulfilled His promise to return His exiled people to the land of their forefathers. And at that moment the priests
“sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD: ‘For He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.” (emphasis mine)
Similar occurrences in redemptive history demonstrate that this is a regular or established pattern in biblical worship. Consider these examples: 1) Miriam and Israel responding to the LORD’s deliverance from Pharaoh and his hosts (Exodus 15:21ff.) 2) Deborah and Barak responding to the LORD’s deliverance from their Canaanite oppressors (Judges 5) 3) Mary’s response to being chosen by God to bear His Son (Luke 1:46ff.).
This means that when we sing we ought to do so intelligently and thoughtfully or, as Paul says, “with understanding”. (1 Corinthians 14:15) This does not reduce our singing to a mere cerebral gesture for, after all, we are commanded to love God with our heart as well as our mind. (Matthew 22:37) But it does mean that we are required to sing with intent and reason because the very nature of song in worship is directed by the work and purpose of God in history. In other words we should not get so carried away in the moment of song (whether it is because we are focusing on the accompaniment or the sounds of the congregational voices) that we forget the One whom we are praising. Paul assumes this ‘instructing’ character of our songs when he tells the Colossae Christians to:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (C0lossians 3:16)
We should also note here that this would require that the words of our songs be written intelligently and thoughtfully. What songs faithfully describe God according to how He reveals Himself in His Word? What songs faithfully represent our sin, our dire need for divine grace and reconciliation to God? What songs faithfully speak of the good news of Christ’s salvation to us apart from works? What songs faithfully represent God’s His will for our lives? In other words we should not be haphazard in our selection of music and be satisfied with anything but only be satisfied with the best.
The second principle of song is its sacrificial or priestly character. In Hebrews 7-10 the author labours to prove that Christ is the only sacrifice we need in this age for the blood of bulls and goats of the previous era could never take away sins. Believers need not trust in anyone else for forgiveness, atonement, reconciliation, intercession or mediation.
However our high priest has also grafted us in Himself, so that we can take up our calling as priests “by Him [to] offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15 -emphasis mine) We should note here that our singing to God is not sacrificial in the sense of completing our salvation but a matter of “praise” as the author points out.
This is demonstrated in our worship when we sing the ‘doxology’ which functions as a final word or song of praise at the end of our service. We do not come to God to hear from Him and then to sing praises only at that time, but we also praise Him as His people freely i.e. even when He has not spoken.
In this we see the obligation to praise our God. Indeed our songs are kind of sacrificial giving, just as the faithful in Israel would bring their animals to the altar for God long ago. They are a witness to the world of our calling and service in this life as those who are set apart to glorify God (1 Peter 2:4-10) And we are called to do this often, or “continually”, (Hebrews 13:15) because we will never stop doing so. After all we seek the city to come for here we have no continuing one. (vs. 14) The saints of God love to sing the praises of the Lord because they are citizens of a kingdom that is coming, one whose builder and maker is God. For one day they shall sing
“a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.'” (Revelation 5:9-10)
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