Let the People Sing!

If we would have happy churches, let the people sing! If we would have victori­ous and conquering churches, let. the peo­ple sing! If we would have churches filled to capacity, let the people sing! If we would have men and women and boys and girls everywhere know of the Saviour and wor­ship Him with spirit and understanding, let the people sing!

Secretary, Church Music Department Sunday School Board,
Southern Baptist Convention

* Dr. W. H. Sims is secretary of the church music de­partment (educational division) of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is the author _ of several books and editor of the journal The Church Musician and of The Baptist Hymnal. He carries heavy responsibility, and with his large staff provides much of the inspiration and guidance in the growing choral work of the Southern Baptists. —Editors.

MUSIC has always been a part of worship. In almost every book of the Bible we find psalms, hymns, songs, and many references to music and its use in worship. The Old Testament speaks of four thousand Levites being set aside as musicians, and emphasis is given to the importance of music in the worship of the people.

It is significant that one of the books of the Bible should be a hymnbook. The book of Psalms, made up of 150 beautiful and poetic expressions of praise, adoration, pen­itence, consecration, devotion, and prayer­ful intent constitutes the Hebrew hymn­book. In temple worship, in the synagogues, and in family gatherings music was an ex­pressive part of worship exercises.

Although the Old Testament makes much of music, it is brought to wondrous focus in the New Testament through the singing of the angels at the birth of Christ, the singing of the disciples with Jesus at the Last Supper, the singing of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, and in the admoni­tion of Paul that we teach and admonish one another through psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Thus, music in Biblical times was always identified with worship, which has progressed on wings of song. This accounts for Christianity being known the world around as the singing religion— religion in a major key that is joyous, exultant, jubilant, and victorious. Not a reli­gion worshiping a dead hero but one hav­ing the song of redemption, the resurrec­tion, and the second coming of our Saviour who is risen!

I remember seeing my grandfather many years ago saddle his horse to go to what he called his appointments. At the back of his saddle he would place his bags in which two books were always a part of his equip­ment. These were his big, well-worn Bible and his hymnbook. I have thought often about those two books and how faithfully he carried them to every church he served as he rode from one to the other at the weekends after hard days of labor in the fields.

In thinking of the two books we recog­nize immediately that the Bible is God's divine, inspired word and that the hymn­book is man's attempt to express himself in praise and adoration. We see the Bible as God's expression to man and the hymn­book as man's expression to God. The Bi­ble points the way of salvation and the hymnbook helps to express gratitude for salvation. The Bible tells us how to live and the hymnbook expresses the joy in Christian living. The Bible tells us of the Saviour and the hymnbook witnesses to His saving grace. The Bible reveals God to man and the hymnbook praises God in the rev­elation. The Bible presents great truths and doctrines and the hymnbook helps to trans­late them to the masses. Thus it is that the Bible and the hymnbook form companions —one from God to man and the other from man to God.

We are living in a day when there is a great consciousness of the value of music in worship, education, and evangelism. Practically every thinking church wants to have a program of good music. But the difficulty comes sometimes in the definition of "good music." Often a church is said to have good music if it is singing only the music of the masters. At other times it is good music if it is what someone considers to be good. There may be many definitions of good music. To me, good music in the church is music that produces the greatest spiritual results and continuous growth. It must have cultural and aesthetic values and high standards, but at the same instance it must have spiritual qualities and be meas­ured by a spiritual rod as well as by other means. Its final test comes in the salvation of the lost and the lifting of the redeemed into a closer walk with God. If it fails to convict the sinner and to lift the saints, it fails to meet the standard of good music for the church.

As we think of music in the church we recognize also that it is not an end in itself. Much of the music of the world is designed as music for music's sake, to entertain, to create certain rewards, to be remunerative, or to bring glory to an individual. In the church, however, it is a means to help the people worship God more acceptably, par­ticipate more actively in worship, learn sound doctrine and scriptural truths through the singing of the hymns, and a means to glorify God. The time is long past when music is used to take up time as preliminary exercises to settle the peo­ple. On the contrary, it is used from the very first note of prelude to the last note of the postlude as a means of worship, as an instrument in molding and integrating the congregation, in polarizing the people's in­terest, and in unifying their minds and hearts in an atmosphere that will enable them to worship more acceptably.

In the average church service there are usually five elements contributing to its continuity. These are singing, praying, Scripture reading, giving of gifts, and the sermon. Of these five elements the one in which the people may audibly and actively participate is the singing.

Through this exercise they have oppor­tunity for individual and corporate expression of praise, prayer, testimony, love, and service. Thus it is necessary always to give ample time to the singing participation of the people. In the other elements of the service someone else leads in prayer and in the reading of the Scripture. The pastor usually delivers the sermon, and everyone cheerfully participates in the giving of gifts. Therefore the people must actively participate if they are going to maintain the interest they should. This calls for planning and concentration on a good mu­sic program.

The question then comes, If we are to have good music in our churches, what types of music should we emphasize? Im­mediately we would say that the music must fit the design of the service. There are serv­ices when the emphasis is entirely upon worship by redeemed people. There are times when an evangelistic appeal is the primary design. There are times when wor­ship and evangelism are emphasized to­gether, and still other times when doctrine and scripture constitute an educational ap­proach in the learning processes of the con­gregation. Thus it becomes necessary to se­lect the type of music best suited to the serv­ice being planned. Note that we say being planned. When music is not selected with the service in mind it can be entirely in­appropriate and unsatisfactory and pro­duce the opposite of the results desired.

Paul gave us the music formula in Colos-sians 3:16 when he said: "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." Thus we use psalms and hymns and spir­itual songs. The psalms constitute much of the larger forms of music such as an­thems and fine choral music used by choirs.

The hymns are songs of praise such as we use in worship, and the spiritual songs are the gospel songs of today in which the gospel is magnified and personal experi­ences and testimonies are given.

Sometimes there is confusion in the mind of the one selecting the music as to what is a hymn and what is a gospel song, when should each be used, and how can we dif­ferentiate between the two. Perhaps we might make this observation: The hymn is more objective in nature while the gospel song is subjective in nature. The hymn is usually words and music of expression di­rected Godward while the gospel song is usually words and music of impression di­rected manward. The hymn usually ex­presses praise, adoration, devotion, conse­cration, and prayer whereas the gospel song expresses personal experiences, gospel truths, testimonies, and scriptural graces. The hymn is usually very strong in reli­gious content while the gospel song may not be so strong and may use more imagery. The hymn is usually good poetry and sound in musical form, while the gospel song might not be nearly so classic in po­etic form and is usually very simple in har­monic structure.

The hymn has the characteristic of be­ing doctrinally sound and scripturally true, while the gospel song may give more atten­tion to personal experience and testimony. The hymn is usually accepted by the church as related to all denominations, and stands the test of time. On the other hand, the gospel song is not used by all churches and it has the characteristic of rising and diminishing in popularity like the popular songs of today. The hymn seldom has a chorus while the gospel song usually has one.

Perhaps one of the best ways to approach the selection of the music is to give it an oral reading. What does the hymn say? Is it really worth while? Does it add spiritual strength and character to the service? Does it stir the soul and create a worshipful at­mosphere? Does it appeal mostly to the head, the heart, or the heel? Does it honor God? Is it scripturally true and doctrinally sound? If we ask these questions of the music as it is selected for use in our services, we are well on the road toward having the music best suited for developing a worship­ful congregation.

Worship leaders desire to do all that is possible to help the people worship in the right spirit. They use the best choral music for the choir; they select appropriate hymns; they use the standard gospel songs; they utilize the finest instruments available; they use graded choirs, ensembles, and soloists; and they inaugurate a training pro­gram in music so as to develop leaders and an appreciation and love for the place of music in worship, education, and evange­lism. To do this the leaders organize and maintain a comprehensive music training program that embraces the entire congre­gation. They organize choirs at all age lev­els, develop organists and pianists and in­strumentalists, conduct regular classes in music as well as music training schools and special music-emphasis weeks. This involves fine promotion so as to develop a singing church.

The church should remember that Chris­tianity has always been a singing religion. It must ever be if it is to maintain the mov­ing spirit that has characterized it through the centuries. The singing of God's people in apostolic times, in the crusades, in the Reformation, in the great evangelistic re­vivals, in the worship, education, and evan­gelistic emphases of today, has been and is one of the dynamic and unconquerable forces of Christianity.

If we would have happy churches, let the people sing! If we would have victori­ous and conquering churches, let. the peo­ple sing! If we would have churches filled to capacity, let the people sing! If we would have men and women and boys and girls everywhere know of the Saviour and wor­ship Him with spirit and understanding, let the people sing!


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Secretary, Church Music Department Sunday School Board,
Southern Baptist Convention

January 1961

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