The Place of Singing in Worship

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(University of Education,Winneba, Department of Music Education)


In the preface to the 1933 Edition of the Methodist Hymn Book it is written:

Methodism was born in song. Charles Wesley wrote the first hymns of the Evangelical Revival during the great Whitsuntide of 1738 when his brother and he were "filled with the Spirit", and from that time onwards the Methodists have never ceased to sing. Their characteristic poet is still Charles Wesley. While for half a century hymns poured continually from his pen on almost every subject within the compass of Christianity, and while no part of the New Testament escaped him, most of all he sang the "gospel according St.Paul." He is the poet of the Evangelical faith. In consequence Methodism has always been able to sing its creed.

From this quote some key words stand out which could inform our discussion this evening. These are Revival. Spirit. Song. and Gospel. It could be seen that the Wesley brothers, the forebears of Methodism, were great poets and singers. But perhaps what is more crucial about their singing was that:

  1. They were filled with the Holy Spirit.
  2. They were very well acquainted with the Scriptures.
  3. Their singing issued from and aided their spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Their singing occurred at a time of great activity of the Holy Spirit - Revival. Thereby they have left a legacy of repertoire rich in poetic andl11Llsical qualities that continue to inspire Christians of all persuasions. Without the Spirit that inspired their songs does not contemporary singing of those same songs amount to mere relics of that revival? Rather ironically "filled with the Spirit"' has been bracketed as though it is not supposed to be a normal experience of Christians.

From the title of our discussion ,ve also find the keywords "Singing" and "Worship". I would like to take a look at each of them separately, and then explore the relationship between them.


Singing is basically the declamation of words with music; a song is thus a poem plus a melody. Because of the depth of meaning which a poem or melody can convey taken separately, when they are brought together in song, and particularly when it is directed towards God, singing becomes the highest form of expression of the human heart to deity.

People usually sing about what they love or what excites or moves them deeply. After the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15) Moses and the children of Israel sang. They literally said, "The Lord is my song". In other words, the Lord is the theme of my singing; He has given me cause to sing. and something to sing about. Thus they celebrated the deliverance hom the Egyptians in song. This was obviously spontaneous singing led by Moses. From that time on individual and group singing went on, and developed among the people of God. reaching a climax in the elaborate music programme of David. which utilized specially trained singers (Choirs) and instrumentalists (Orchestra).

Examples abound of individual and group singing in the Bible, from the Old Testament right up to the time of Jesus Christ and the early Church. It could, however, be said that it was David who set the standard of singing in the Bible, and the Book of Psalms of which he was the major contributor was regarded as the Hymn Book of Judaism.


In his encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (John 4), Jesus gave some important insights into true worship.

  1. Worship is not limited to a geographical location (vs. 21)
  2. Worship should be based on knowledge of the object of worship (vs.22)
  3. Worship is closely related to salvation (vs. 22)
  4. Worship is to be in spirit and in truth (vs. 24)

These are summed up in John 4: 24: "God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth". In other words, God is not physical, flesh and blood, and any worship that thrives principally on externalities like mere ritual, form, elaborate church buildings, or even good singing and sophisticated musical instruments/equipment only is not acceptable to Him.

A rather startling aspect of Jesus' exposition on worship was that God was (and maybe is still) seeking true worshippers (vs. 23). One outstanding implication of this is that none of the worship that had gone on up until that time, which, of course, included Jewish worship, had been pleasing to him.] Indeed, if there had been no fault with the first covenant a place would not have been found for a second one (Hebrews 8:7, 8). A logical explanation for this situation is that since man is spiritually dead because of sin (Romans 3: 23; Ephesians 2: 1), the human spirit is incapable ofrelating to God. It is only through the experience of the new birth (John 3), when the human spirit is made alive by the Spirit of God, that humans gain the capability for truly relating with God, rendering Him true worship - in spirit and in truth.

From Jesus' perspective, therefore, true worship could be described as the expression of adoration, thanksgiving, reverence, praise, and honour by the regenerated human spirit to God. Worship is a human response to the activity of the Spirit of God within.

In that regard, external expressions of worship like singing. bowing, kneeling, dancing, hand clapping, raising hands, and so on become significant only as expressions of the inner spirit (or attitude), quickened by the Spirit of God responding to God. Consequently, if the human spirit is not regenerated, all external expressions of worship including singing, no matter how beautiful, are noise in God's ears (Amos 5: 21 - 25). To put it another way: It is only as a new creation (2Cor.5: 17), when God has imputed His own righteousness to a person (Galatians 2&3) that he/she is capable of true fellowship or communion with God. That is true worship. Each person has to make a personal response to God; and the response is acceptable to Him only when the spirit of that individual has been born of God.

Another possible implication is that God was more interested in individuals having an intimate relationship with Him through H is Spirit than just being part of a crowd of worshippers.


Singing is as close to worship as breathing is to life, and to praise God is the highest calling of humans. Once the human spirit is quickened or made alive by the Spirit of God, singing becomes a natural and spiritually meaningful expression. Two key New Testament passages, Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18, 19, give three categories of songs that may be sung in Christian worship. These are: Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs.

Time and the scope of this discussion do not permit much elaboration these forms of singing. Suffice it to say that Psalms may be simply understood to mean the portion of the Bible bearing that name, and similar portions of the prophetic writings. A Hymn, according to St. Augustine, is "A song with praise of God"; while a spiritual song could be considered a spontaneous (previously unlearned) song inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Psalms did not originally have elaborate melodies or tunes. They were chanted over a rather limited melodic contour. Though the Psalms suggest instrumental accompaniment no original tunes have been preserved. Hymns, on the other hand, had well-crafted melodies, and specially-written religious poems, which have endeared them to believers for centuries. The tunes were usually composed by accomplished musicians, and in four-part harmony. Spiritual songs could be impromptu words to existing tunes, existing words to spontaneous tunes. or that both the tune and words are spontaneously sung. The singer does not need to be a musician, or even have a good voice. He/she may sing as he/she is led by the Spirit.2 It is usually a very personal song to God. Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1: 46 - 55), though Psalm-like, could be considered a good example of a spiritual song. Every Christian is supposed to sing such songs to the Lord.

Beside these categorizations, two very important characteristics of singing in worship are worthy of note in the Colossian and Ephesian passages referred to above: 1) It must be Scriptural and the singer must be filled with the Word of God. 2) It must be spiritual, that is, infused with the Holy Spirit. and the singer must be filled with the Holy Spirit. It must be emphasized that without these two elements, which also characterized the singing of the Wesley brothers, supposed Christian singing in worship is reduced to mere entertainment.

It is quite obvious at this point that singing in worship may involve the whole congregation (Exodus 15), individuals and small groups (Luke 1:46-55; 67-79; Judges 5), or specially selected and trained singers (1 Chronicles 15:16-25; lChron. 25).

The Choir

Probably before concluding, it would be in place to say a brief word specifically about the role of the choir in worship. About all that have been said concerning singing in worship apply to the choir, plus much more. The precedent of Choirs in the worship of the people of God was set by David. The records indicate that after he had made a random selection of Levites to sing for thc purpose of bringing the Ark of the Covcnant back to Israel (1 Chron. 15), he established a music academy attached to "THE PLACE OF SINGING IN WORSHIP" the temple worship wherc singers and instrumcntalists were trained specifically for the temple service (1 Chron. 25). The fact that the membership of the choir was drawn from the Levitical family. and that they were robed. and supported as other Levites. strongly suggest that they \vere expected to live up to a high moral and spiritual standard as other Levites who ministered in the temple. In othcr words. thc members of the Choir \vere considered as ministers just like other priests and Levites. In addition, a high level of skilled singing was expected of them (1 Chron. 15: 22). The aggregate of these is that the Choir was to be. more or less. a worship leading team.

Within the context of these Biblical categorizations, anthems may loosely fit under hymns. The simple Hymns have to do more with congregational singing, while anthems, or sophisticated hymns, as they may be described, have to do with Choirs or trained singers Ebibindwom, lyrical singing typical with the Methodist church of Ghana, could be classified somewhere between Psalms and Spiritual songs.


It must be admitted that this is not a detailed presentation in terms of the two key words of Singing and Worship. It is hoped, however, that this affords some insights that would, at least in some humble measure, enrich your singing ministry. A major point that bears reiteration. in conclusion. is that singing in worship is meaningful and acceptable unto God only when it issues from a renewed spirit.