Singing is a prominent part of our divine worship. It also finds a place in the daily life of the Christian. Many a song is sung by God’s children in their homes, and many a soul loves to utter itself in this manner. In our Divine worship it certainly is an integral part. The redeemed child of God immediately feels that his serving God would be incomplete without it. How our older members love those Holland psalms! And I’m sure that the Psalter finds as much favor with many of us.
This truth certainly is not a phenomenon. God has made us to sing. Not only has He created us with a mouth by which we can speak and sing, but has given it as a means for the soul to utter itself. Such the soul of the redeemed child of God does too. Rejoicing in the deliverance from sin, in being a participant of that marvelous grace and love of God it must speak, and does so in this aesthetic way by means of song and praise. In heaven there certainly will be much singing. The saints worship by means of singing, according to the book of Revelation. And how often don’t we read of the angels singing unto the most High?
The purpose of this article, however, is to show how we must do that, or how not. The question before which we are placed is not whether it should be hymnology or psalmody but whether it should be done by the congregation itself or by a choir. Should the choir in public worship be recommended and permitted, or condemned? As Prot. Ref. Churches we condemn such. We must have nothing of it. But why? O it’s so easy to condemn such and claim it to be erroneous, but why? Or do we forbid it a place among us merely because it is found in the modern and superficial churches of our day? Do we not enjoy the singing of a good choir? I’m sure most of us do. Suppose once that the choir of Dr. Fuller of Los Angeles would sing some of our psalter numbers. I’m sure we’d all think it to be wonderful. Why do we then deny such choir worship in the church?
Let us first turn to Scripture. From it, it is evident that music has always had a place with God’s people. Singing was done both by the people and the choir, and mark you by the choir in public worship. The Israelites sang songs unto Jehovah after the deliverance thru the Red Sea, we read of the song of Deborah and Barak, much singing was done by the great musician David, and also by his contemporaries. And so we can go on. We read of such in connection with the angels in the fields of Ephrata, the N.T. church, the saints in heaven praise Him who is worthy to open the book, and sing the song of Moses and the Lamb. But during the time of David and other kings they also had choirs. And, as mentioned, they found their places in public worship, and perhaps almost exclusively. Time and again we read that they sang praises in the house of the Lord. David evidently had many choirs totaling the large number of 4,000 singers. These various choirs had leaders as to be expected of whom some were Jeduthun, Heman, Gershon, Kohath, Asaph and Merari. These names often are mentioned in the prologues of many psalms from which it seems that David wrote many psalms in order that they could be sung by these choirs.
No different has it been in the N.T. since the age of revelation. Singing at all times was a part of the worship of God also in the form of choirs. Men like Chrysostom, Ambrose, Ephraem Syrus, and Ignatius are mentioned in connection with the history of singing in the church. Some raised strong opposition against the songs of the heretics others put songs in rhythm, and still others at that time already strongly opposed all hymnology in the church and defended psalmody. The first Council of Braga (353 A.D.) even expressly forbade the use of any human composition in public worship. Nothing was permitted except the psalms and hymns of the Old and New Testament. But interesting it is that choirs at that time already were used in public worship, and that they went hand in hand with the song worship of the church. In the Greek and Latin churches singing has been restricted to the choir and the clergy from the 6th century unto our very day. In the eve of the Reformation, choir singing in public worship seems to have been very prevalent, even to the extent that it general was the only form of singing in the Divine services. But also in respect to this the Reformation brought tremendous changes. The credit for this must be given first of all to Martin Luther. Luther was the man who openly and seriously condemned the choir in public worship and brought singing back to the congregation. And Calvin built upon this foundation. Not only did he also oppose the choir, but he also rooted out all hymnology in Divine worship and introduced psalmody. And it was during the time of Calvin and through his influence that the composition of the rhythm and notes of many psalms took place. In the Dutch language this work was not completed until many years later.
The exponents of the choir in public worship always were many. It is also quite natural that they sang hymns almost exclusively. Result was that the Reformed Church of the Netherlands also found herself placed before this question. She, as we may know, pitted herself against this form of liturgy, and strongly defended the views of. Luther and Calvin. This position was also taken by the Synod of Dordt. And what about the choir in public worship since that time? The best and shortest answer I can give is that history has repeated itself time and again. No different is it in our day. The situations in our day are no different than those of the leaders of the Reformation.
In respect to this matter, history teaches us something in very plain terms. In the first place that the conservative church has always opposed choir singing in public worship. But in the second place that (the first step to choir worship is hymnology in the church. These are facts and therefore not to be denied.
The question, however, that arises is: what is wrong with this form of worship from the view point of principle? For what principle reasons do we oppose it? Negatively, certainly not because the choir attempts to beautify the singing of the songs we sing. Harmony and the singing of different parts certainly is proper. We should keep that in mind with our congregational singing too. At some times and some places it is very poor, and therefore could and should be improved upon. Our very form of worship must be to the best of our ability. God is a God of harmony and order. In heaven the singing will be perfect, with perfect harmony and beauty. Such singing we never hear nor will hear on earth. The shepherds near Bethlehem heard a little of it and how they were enraptured and fascinated.
But positively, we oppose the choir in public worship exactly because they bring this very thing to the extreme. All people are not good singers. Some members are very poor singers and monotones sometimes are not a few. Therefore the exponents of the choir worship believe in picking out the best singers in order that they may sing their songs in the most beautiful way according to their ability. The results, however, are evident: (1) That the singing is taken away from the congregation, to whom it has been given. Singing is part of the, worship of the congregation; so it has been and will be in heaven. It is a God given means by which the soul can utter itself. Singing is one form of audible response of the soul chat has been redeemed from the depths of misery and tasted of that marvelous redemptive grace of God. How proper singing is for him! He must sing and loves to do so. But what a poor soul who is deprived of such actions in public worship, and must listen to someone else do so, here the choir. (2) The second result stands in close connection with the first. The choir has one aim: to beautify and improve upon the singing. That is the very reason for its existence. Result is that the form of singing becomes the worship itself. Songs are no more utterances of the soul. The one and only question is how nice and appealing they can sing. Reality teaches us that in listening to such a choir there is no utterance of the soul, nor a personal praise of God, but one attempt to note the harmony and beauty of the singing itself. After the service remarks are made: wasn’t that singing just wonderful, or some criticism is given. But the one purpose of singing has been lost. Our forefathers felt this very keenly too; even to the extent that every organ- player who attempted to display something extraordinary or exceptional ability was immediately forbidden all playing. And in passing we can remark that we do well to keep this in mind when listening to any singing or any other w 1 of choir. Isn’t it always our first inclination to take particular notice of the singers, the harmony, etc., and pay no or little attention to the words and our worship of God by means of them? I’m sure no can deny this.
One question however, to my mind can still be raised. What about the choirs of the O.T.? To be sure we can’t just brush them aside. Fact is that as mentioned, they did sing in public worship, in the house of the Lord, and as it seems to me they only. I can’t find a passage in Scripture that speaks of the people doing such. To this question I think there is only one answer, and a very proper one. It is quite evident from the related passages that all the choir singers of the commonwealth of Israel were taken from the tribe of Levi. I Chr. 24:5;; ; ; ; . The singers were thus taken from the Levitical tribe as well as the priests and other workers in the house of the Lord. And like the priests represented the congregation in their service, so the singers represented them with this form of worship. It is natural then that the N.T. brings about a change. We have all become prophets, priests and kings. Now we all worship in the house of the Lord, live with God in the new and more blessed communion, the tabernacle of God is with men in principle, and therefore we all sing. We all must sing. The choir is entirely out of place. And the church of the N.T. continued daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.