“We should stop singing to one another and singing to God.”
Oddly enough, I’ve heard a critique leveled against both hymns and contemporary music. And it’s true that both styles of music will on occasion sing songs more to one another than to (or about) Almighty God. The idea—from whichever side of the fence you are on—is that the music part of our worship time is designed for an individual to focus on God alone. The conclusion,then, is that any music which is horizontal and not vertical is inappropriate.
I get the logic of this but there is one massive thing which causes me to disagree. That massive thing is the Bible. I’ll ignore for a moment the nature of the Psalms—the singing to one another component to them—and just focus on one particular verse in the New Testament:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (Ephesians 5:18-19 ESV, emphasis mine)
Did you notice that? There is a dual component to the way we engage in corporate singing. Yes, absolutely, we should be making melody to the Lord with our hearts. But there is a very biblical component to worship that is focused on addressing one another. Perhaps as we sing theologically rich songs, like some of those precious hymns, we are proclaiming and teaching the excellency of God from one generation to another. Or maybe as we sing some of the emotionally encouraging modern songs we are encouraging one another to hold fast to Christ.
We must not forsake either dimension of worship. To only sing vertically is to forget that we were saved into a people. It isn’t just me and Jesus. My relationship with God is intimately connected to the vital companionship I share with my brothers and sisters. So we need to sing songs together. And to one another.
Likewise if I only sing horizontally I will be missing the personal aspect of my relationship with God. And eventually we won’t have much to sing. Our worship ought to be corporately Godward. There shouldn’t be a deep split between the vertical and horizontal. As we sing about the Lord and to the Lord we are doing this together and encouraging one another.
But let’s stop feeling guilty and pretending like we are displeasing God by singing to one another as well as making melody to the Lord. Both are vital. Both please the Lord.
Now certainly there is a man-pleasing type of worship where our focus in music selection and the songs we sing is whether we like the songs or not. If that is what we mean by “singing to one another” then by all means throw it in the trash. But let’s not forsake this very biblical practice of encouraging and admonishing one another in song simply because we have a terrible propensity to make worship about us.
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