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Come Let Us Hum – AP

 

This weeks article in Australian Presbyterian…

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

(Psalm 95:1-2)


How important and essential is singing for the Church? There have been those on the extreme end who have argued that there should be no singing at all in the New Testament church. And there are those who seem to think that ‘worship’ is all about singing and music. In between there are all kinds of practices and opinions. I suspect that many Presbyterian churches are not known for their enthusiastic singing – but if we are to be faithful to the Scriptures, we must recognise that congregational singing is an essential element of Christian worship. We are to ‘speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19).

“The messenger of Allah said, “Whoever listens to the entertainment (song and music), lead will be melted inside his ear on the day of judgment.”

In this we are different from Islam. I used to belong to a church which had acapella singing of psalms only. In its Gaelic version it sounds like nothing in the Western world! So much so that I had a Muslim friend mistake Gaelic psalm singing for Islamic chant! Recently I have been reading a bit about the Islamic attitude to music – in general it’s not positive – certainly when it comes to dance and instrumental music. Even listening to ‘entertainment’ is wrong and will have severe consequences on the judgement day.  “The messenger of Allah said, “Whoever listens to the entertainment (song and music), lead will be melted inside his ear on the day of judgment.”

It seems that our Western governments have, at least temporarily, become ‘Islamic’ in this regard. For example, it is now illegal in California to sing in church – as it is in Scotland and Victoria and NSW. The NSW government regulations (which may be just about to change) tell us that five people in a music group can sing providing they are 1.5 metres apart and not facing each other. Congregations are not allowed to sing. There is good reason for that. There is significant evidence that Covid 19 can be spread through the air, by droplets. Singing increases the chance of these droplets being spread. There have been examples of choirs in the Netherlands and US which ended up being ‘super-spreaders’.

However, there are other factors to consider. Firstly, where choirs did become super spreaders they were generally indoors, with poor ventilation, practising for a period of hours. The situation is somewhat different in a church where there is plenty of spacing, a howling gale and a short service! In other words, both extremes are not good for making policy for all. The BBC carried a report suggesting that speaking loudly is as bad as singing quietly. Presbyterians can be quite good at the quiet singing! Perhaps Presbyterians should be allowed to sing, whilst Pentecostals are banned?! It would make as much sense as some of the other petty rules that are being enforced.

 

There is also an element of hypocrisy involved in the government regulations. I can’t sing in my socially distanced, well ventilated local church – but I can sing when I go to the Sydney cricket ground! In California Governor Newsom will prosecute you if you sing Amazing Grace in church, but sing it on a protest march with thousands of others and you are fine!

 

 

The trouble is that our governments tend to regard churches as a non-essential activity – unlike shopping, sports, protests and casinos. And they regard singing as a non-essential part of that non-essential activity – so when it comes to regulations being dropped, I suspect that singing in church will be permitted about the same time as large raves in nightclubs are. Sadly, there are too many of us in the church who have gone along with, and fed the idea that singing is a non- essential part of public worship. I would suggest that those who think like this should read Rob Smith’s Come Let Us Sing – https://ap.org.au/2020/09/16/come-let-us-sing/

in order to get a more biblical position. Any command of God is not an optional extra. The old Puritan principle (known as the regulative principle) still applies – we should neither add to, nor take away from, the commands that God has given us in worship. God does not just tell us that we should worship – but also how we should worship. It is not up to the State to do so.

In a time of emergency, there may be exceptional circumstances, where for a limited period, we comply with government guidelines as regards our public worship. But we should never let that become a habit and never give up on the principle that the State has no right to tell us how, or who, to worship. Given that NSW and Victoria have had no community transmission for weeks and the chances of Covid being spread in church are almost as low as those of getting TB, we can only hope that common sense, rather than fear and politics will prevail and that the ban on singing will be lifted ASAP. As I write I hear that we will be permitted in NSW to sing in outdoor gatherings – which may mean we can hold outdoor carol services, provided that masks are worn! I hope and pray that a day will soon come when I will never hear in a church – ‘come let us hum’. Instead, I look forward to Psalm 95 being read as our call to worship and in churches throughout the land, the call to ‘shout to the Lord’, being enthusiastically obeyed (although the call to ‘clap your hands’ may require a bit of culturally adaptation and renewal).

The Importance of Preaching in a Post-Covid World – AP

Come Let Us Sing – Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs in the Covid Time – AP

 

15 comments

  1. Whenever I listen to Bach or Handel there is always a frisson of nostalgia for the Kirk .

    After all , which religion could boast adherents of such belief – grounded, musical and mathematically – inspired notational genius.

  2. Yes – absolutely the government has no right to be telling us how or who to worship. On the other hand you rightly say that some seem to think “worship” is all about singing and music.

    I wonder if what was meant for evil is being used by God for good? What if more of a contemplative worship such as silent meditation advocated by the World Community for Christian Meditation is what have been needed in order to hear and discern “the still small voice” with contemporary “worship” drowning that out?

    Of course there will be worldly powers encroaching on the church and a need to keep the wolf form the door, just as there being a need to stop such powers telling parents how to raise their children when parents know better.

    So – I’m not entirely convinced there is “hypocrisy” to the degree you assert David. Inconsistencies, yes and in these unprecedented times, there will be mistakes made by governments and other bodies in the learning process of addressing challenges and difficulties that have no read map. Remember when civil engineering was in its infancy and bridges wobbled and collapsed before engineering standards were introduced?

    However, I do wonder if we have been sold a dud with this. I wonder to what extent the cure has been worse than the disease with current approaches to the pandemic. How much mental health problems, delays to cancer treatment etc have been caused with long term effects (e.g. death) that statistics in the here and now will not show. The damaging effect on the economy is obvious.

    Still, God has appointed governments. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Rom 13:1). So just as Roman governance was not always edifying to the church (to put it mildly) there still was the principle of not rebelling against the authority.

    Of course where an authority has departed from God then that’s a more complicated story, but we are hardly in an environment in the west where we are being killed, sent to prison or to “retraining camps” because of who we worship and how. But rather what we have is more akin to how the rest of society is suffering in many ways with similar rules being applied.

    So – perhaps one way to adapt to this might be to take up worship in the form of Christian meditation as long as the limits exist on singing and to return to the singing once this becomes available again.

  3. Hi David. Greetings from the homeland. Just one detail that many folk get wrong about the present situation. In Scotland, singing in church is not illegal, but it is not encouraged or advised. I have this from the Scottish Government themselves and also from legal advice. Personally I believe it is one piece of advice we should respectfully ignore.

  4. I am astounded at the fact certain sports grounds are already admitting spectators, and I’ll wager donuts to dollars we’ll begin to see another surge in infections before long and once again, a return to yet another round of lockdowns.

    My mother attends St. Mary’s church in Chester and sings in her church choir – although only six members are allowed at any one time. When she told me this it was not clear if she meant solely during practice or during official ”sing-alongs” . They also wear masks and sit apart as per regs.
    She tells me her church is now closed for the time being as the UK is in another phase of lockdown.

    I find your quote somewhat disturbing.

    But we should never let that become a habit and never give up on the principle that the State has no right to tell us how, or who, to worship.

    How or who to worship – most definitely not. (unless you plan on ritual slaughter? Eid, for example)
    Where? Most certainly they do, especially when multiple participatory gatherings put other non-participants at risk.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the maxim what is good for the goose etc.
    However, what I am struggling to decipher is whether you want Churches to be allowed to be open or all such gatherings (spectator sports etc) closed (to the general public) until we sort out this horrendous disease?

    Without being facetious, are your objections/concerns regarding church attendance based primarily on the loneliness/lack of community for some of the congregation, (understandable) or based on other reasons?

  5. At the risk of being shot down in flames (again): Singing songs of praise is, of course, part of the Christian life, both in and out of church. But the Bible never confuses praise with worship; the two words are always used with fundamentally different meanings. Praise (singing, plus or minus bodily movement depending on your denomination) can be spontaneous, heartfelt, uplifting and, for most people, enjoyable. But it can also be faked. Worship cannot be faked. To worship God is to serve God (Matt 4:10), and this is something done primarily outside church in everyday life. Worship involves faith, obedience, and sacrifice, eg Abraham (Gen 22:5). As one preacher put it, “Praise is cheap, worship is expensive”. We should not conflate the two.

    1. Yes – I hear this mantra repeated many times. Of course worship can be faked…its why the Bible speaks of false worship…anything can be faked….

  6. As a matter of interest, does anyone know if chanting is still permitted in Mosques? When I was able to attend a Church back in August, we were not allowed to sing, but could say the Lord’s Prayer in unison (from our carefully distanced pews.) It struck me at the time that there was very little difference between speaking together and plainsong for example – and is that so very different from ‘chanting?’ Even worse was standing outside, socially distanced at a graveside ‘funeral’ (little more than a committal, but all that is permitted at the moment,) and not being allowed to join in the recorded ‘Open Thou the crystal fountain Whence the healing stream doth flow’ – never have those words seemed more relevant!

  7. Preachers may preach but we get to sing “the wondrous story”. It is rare that preachers lift as music does. Sometimes it remains on the intellectual level, earth bound.
    Musicians can take scripture make it sing memorably, and remain memorable in song. Just as scripture works deep in them, to bring to outward expression in music and song.

  8. Many pastors in CA are fighting against Governor Newsom’s orders. There is also a movement to recall him. People in these hard times need to be able to praise God. In America, we have the First Amendment which is being largely ignored. The Supreme Court did issue a ruling last week about Governor Cuomo in NY limiting the number of people who can attend church. It seems that the unchurched and unsaved are trying to start the persecution in small ways, but they are starting it nonetheless.

  9. “Our dried voices when we whisper together” – TS Eliot, The Wasteland. Many years ago in a school magazine article a bright spark used this quotation to lampoon the collective mainly Presbyterian worship at our school assembly in Ballymena Academy. Even more true now.

  10. the government did an experiment in controlled circumstances which showed that singing was no more dangerous than speaking. I saw it in the news, but it did not get much publicity . I also tried the candle test, which showed that if you sing in front of a lighted candle the flame barely moves, yet if you whisper it goes out immediately. I also read last week of the big highly scientific survey about masks in Denmark, which showed that wearing them had very little effect. Again that didn’t get mentioned. Makes one think.

  11. “The secret to freedom from enslaving sin is worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and be moved by it – moved by who God is and what He has done for you.”
    Tim Keller tweet, yesterday?

  12. It is a puzzle to me why we are not permitted to sing in Church. Last week end a venue in a Highland town held an indoors gig with a live band. There were 100 people in the audience, and they were all singing along to the music. Yet, we have to remain silent in Church. Is there something sinister happening to eradicate the Church??!!

  13. Reading this account of the Spanish flu and the Diocese of Melbourne it seems nothing much has changed in 101 years: “In February the Messenger reported on contradictory statements from those in authority and the varying church responses to ‘the Government Regulations to avoid infection of the disease. In most churches services were held out-doors. Where otherwise the masks were worn by the worshippers, but it was strange and regrettable that there were any exceptions to this rule, because Christian people are expected to set an example of obedience … ” https://www.melbourneanglican.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/The-1919-flu-pandemic-and-the-Diocese-of-Melbourne-2020Apr22.pdf

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