Your Church Needs You to Sing
October 5th, 2019
Article by Nick Aufenkamp
Pastor, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Your brothers and sisters in your local church need you. They need you to show up. They need you to be engaged. And, perhaps more than many of us realize, they need you to sing.
Congregational singing can be polarizing. For some people, singing is their favorite part of the church’s gathering. Others prefer to arrive on Sunday mornings just as the worship team is wrapping up and the sermon is about to begin. For those in the latter category, perhaps you’re highly self-conscious about your lack of ability to carry a tune, or maybe you don’t jibe with the style of music your church’s hipster music director tends to choose.
Whatever the reason, I want you to hear that your church suffers when your voice is silent.
The Bible is full of singing and songs. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if God’s divine speech, by which he spoke the world into existence, sounded more like a song than a seminar. Adam’s first words to Eve are beautifully poetic (Genesis 2:23). The largest book in the Bible is a collection of songs. At least once, if not more often, the apostle Paul quotes or crafts what seems to be an early Christian hymn (Colossians 1:15–20). And Jesus himself sang (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26).
And for good reason: singing uniquely engages our heads and our hearts, our intellect and our affections. That’s basically what Paul says in Colossians 3:16, where he connects “the word of Christ dwell[ing] in you richly” with “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Good songs take the truths hovering in our heads and sink them down for our hearts to dwell on.
“When life is falling apart, your singing becomes a forceful testimony to the faithfulness of God.”
We experience the power of singing in songs like Horatio Spafford’s famous “It Is Well with My Soul.” As we sing the third verse, we cannot help but feel the solemnity of the line, “My sin — oh, the bliss of this glorious thought — my sin not in part but the whole . . .” Yet suddenly the minors of the first half of the verse give way to the bright major chords of the second half, and we confidently declare, “. . . is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more: praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” And as we sing, we feel the major lift of the music raise our hearts to soar in proportion with the glory of that truth.
Sure, we could speak the lyrics, and the truth in them should still move us to worship. But the elements of rhythm and melody arrest our affections in transformative ways not typical of speech alone.
But congregational singing isn’t only about you and engaging your emotions. It is that, but there is more. In Colossians 3:16, Paul also instructs the church to continue “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,” and he implies that congregational singing is one of the means of doing so. In Ephesians 5:19, Paul makes the implication of Colossians 3:16 explicit, telling the church to “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”
Singing is vital to the edification of the church. And it’s not enough that just a few people sing — Paul is telling you to sing for the benefit of your brothers and sisters. But how does your voice benefit your church — especially if your singing voice sounds like a dog’s howl?
The power of your participation in congregational singing is not in the quality of your tone but in your voice’s testimony to God’s faithfulness. Your participation in singing signifies to all those around you that you love Jesus and trust his gospel. By heartily singing, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” you are exhorting those around you to lay hold of that precious truth. By singing of your sin and salvation, you are instructing your church, spouse, children, friends, and neighbors in gospel truth.
What about when you don’t feel like singing, though? When your soul is downcast, and your faith is diminished? These are the times when your church needs your voice the most.
“Good songs take the truths hovering in our heads and sink them down for our hearts to dwell on.”
The gospel is on full display in our weakness. When all is going well for you, and life is sailing smoothly along, you should sing — but it’s less surprising when you do. When all is going well, it is surprising when you don’t sing.
But when life is falling apart, and trials threaten your security, that is when your singing becomes a forceful testimony to the faithfulness of God.
In your church, the most prominent leaders of congregational song may be up front on a platform. But the most prominent leaders aren’t always the most powerful leaders. In fact, in my years as a worship pastor, I have found that the most powerful leaders of congregational worship are almost always found in the pews:
- The expecting mother who suffered a devastating miscarriage the day before, but through the tears sings out, “In Christ alone my hope is found; he is my light, my strength, my song.”
- The young professional who, because of his Christian convictions on sexuality, was fired from his dream job on Friday, but who arrives on Sunday and belts out, “How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent word.”
- The divorced woman, battling loneliness and depression, who declares, “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him — how I’ve proved him over and over.”
- The 76-year-old husband and wife who recently buried their youngest daughter and two granddaughters, but still sit in the second row on Sunday morning — as they have for the past forty years — and cry out, “He will hold me fast. He will hold me fast. For my Savior loves me so. He will hold me fast.”
These are the folks whose singing can spur on my faith as much as any sermon. Their act of declaring the faithfulness of God through their participation in the church’s songs makes me love the truth we are singing with affections that I could never muster if I were singing on my own. The songs of suffering saints speak life to my soul.
So, when the music starts this weekend, don’t underestimate what happens as you sing. You are engaging your heart, teaching those around you (and receiving teaching), and declaring God’s faithfulness. The simple act of lifting your voice in song may well be the most significant way you serve your church this Sunday.
Nick Aufenkamp is a pastor at Cities Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He and his wife, Hilly, have three children. Nick and the Cities Church band have produced an album of worship music called Be Still, My Soul.
This article was taken from desiringGod.org with written permission from Nick Aufenkamp and Cities Church, Saint Paul Minnesota.
September 29th, 2019
by R.C. Sproul
Soli Deo gloria is the motto that grew out of the Protestant Reformation and was used on every composition by Johann Sebastian Bach. He affixed the initials SDG at the bottom of each manuscript to communicate the idea that it is God and God alone who is to receive the glory for the wonders of His work of creation and of redemption. At the heart of the sixteenth-century controversy over salvation was the issue of grace.
It was not a question of man’s need for grace. It was a question as to the extent of that need.
The church had already condemned Pelagius, who had taught that grace facilitates salvation but is not absolutely necessary for it. Semi-Pelagianism since that time has always taught that without grace there is no salvation. But the grace that is considered in all semi-Pelagian and Arminian theories of salvation is not an efficacious grace. It is a grace that makes salvation possible, but not a grace that makes salvation certain.
In the parable of the sower we see that regarding salvation, God is the one who takes the initiative to bring salvation to pass. He is the sower. The seed that is sown is His seed, corresponding to His Word, and the harvest that results is His harvest. He harvests what He purposed to harvest when He initiated the whole process. God doesn’t leave the harvest up to the vagaries of thorns and stones in the pathway. It is God and God alone who makes certain that a portion of His Word falls upon good ground. A critical error in interpreting this parable would be to assume that the good ground is the good disposition of fallen sinners, those sinners who make the right choice, responding positively to God’s prevenient grace. The classical Reformed understanding of the good ground is that if the ground is receptive to the seed that is sown by God, it is God alone who prepares the ground for the germination of the seed.
The biggest question any semi-Pelagian or Arminian has to face at the practical level is this: Why did I choose to believe the gospel and commit my life to Christ when my neighbor, who heard the same gospel, chose to reject it? That question has been answered in many ways. We might speculate that the reason why one person chooses to respond positively to the gospel and to Christ, while another one doesn’t, is because the person who responded positively was more intelligent than the other one. If that were the case, then God would still be the ultimate provider of salvation because the intelligence is His gift, and it could be explained that God did not give the same intelligence to the neighbor who rejected the gospel. But that explanation is obviously absurd.
The other possibility that one must consider is this: that the reason one person responds positively to the gospel and his neighbor does not is because the one who responded was a better person. That is, that person who made the right choice and the good choice did it because he was more righteous than his neighbor. In this case, the flesh not only availed something, it availed everything. This is the view that is held by the majority of evangelical Christians, namely, the reason why they are saved and others are not is that they made the right response to God’s grace while the others made the wrong response.
We can talk here about not only the correct response as opposed to an erroneous response, but we can speak in terms of a good response rather than a bad response. If I am in the kingdom of God because I made the good response rather than the bad response, I have something of which to boast, namely the goodness by which I responded to the grace of God. I have never met an Arminian who would answer the question that I’ve just posed by saying, “Oh, the reason I’m a believer is because I’m better than my neighbor.” They would be loath to say that. However, though they reject this implication, the logic of semi-Pelagianism requires this conclusion. If indeed in the final analysis the reason I’m a Christian and someone else is not is that I made the proper response to God’s offer of salvation while somebody else rejected it, then by resistless logic I have indeed made the good response, and my neighbor has made the bad response.
What Reformed theology teaches is that it is true the believer makes the right response and the non-believer makes the wrong response.
But the reason the believer makes the good response is because God in His sovereign election changes the disposition of the heart of the elect to effect a good response. I can take no credit for the response that I made for Christ.
God not only initiated my salvation, He not only sowed the seed, but He made sure that that seed germinated in my heart by regenerating me by the power of the Holy Ghost. That regeneration is a necessary condition for the seed to take root and to flourish. That’s why at the heart of Reformed theology the axiom resounds, namely, that regeneration precedes faith. It’s that formula, that order of salvation that all semi-Pelagians reject. They hold to the idea that in their fallen condition of spiritual death, they exercise faith, and then are born again. In their view, they respond to the gospel before the Spirit has changed the disposition of their soul to bring them to faith. When that happens, the glory of God is shared. No semi-Pelagian can ever say with authenticity: “To God alone be the glory.” For the semi-Pelagian, God may be gracious, but in addition to God’s grace, my work of response is absolutely essential. Here grace is not effectual, and such grace, in the final analysis, is not really saving grace. In fact, salvation is of the Lord from beginning to end. Yes, I must believe. Yes, I must respond. Yes, I must receive Christ. But for me to say “yes” to any of those things, my heart must first be changed by the sovereign, effectual power of God the Holy Spirit. Soli Deo gloria.
© Tabletalk Magazine. ● Used by permission. ● Ligonier.org ● 800.435.4343
Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder of Ligonier Ministries, founding pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and first president of Reformation Bible College. He was author of more than one hundred books, including The Holiness of God.
You can listen to the Reformation Weekend 2018: sessions concerning Sola Gratia here.