Fee on Spirit-Inspired Singing

Today's Worship Quote is about the Holy Spirit's involvement in the worship life of the Church. Gordon Fee, a professor at Regent College in Vancouver, B. C., explains the passages from Paul's letters about "psalms and hymns and Spiritual songs" (Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5).

Where the Spirit of God is, there is also singing. The early church was characterized by its singing; so also in every generation where there is renewal by the Spirit a new hymnody breaks forth. If most such songs do not have staying power, some of them do, and these become the treasure-trove of our ongoing teaching and admonishing of one another, as well as of our constantly turning to God the Father and God the Son and offering praise by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

- Gordon D. Fee, Paul, The Spirit, and the People of God, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.

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Westminster Divines on Singing of Psalms

Today's Worship Quote looks at the use of the Psalter in the worship life of the Puritans (17th century). Remember, this comes from a time when relatively few people could read.

It is the duty of Christians to praise God publickly, by singing of Psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family. In singing of Psalms, the voice is to be tuneable and gravely ordered; but the chief care must be, to sing with understanding and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord. That the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is to have a Psalmbook; and all others not disabled by age or otherwise, are to be exhorted to learn to read. But for the present, it is convenient that the minister or some other fit person appointed by him and other ruling officers, do read the psalm, line by line, before the singing hereof.

- Directory for the Public Worship of God, Assembly of Divines meeting at Westminster, 1644; in Horton Davies The Worship of the English Puritans (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997).


We've come a long way. It's interesting to me that the church leaders who authored these instructions were addressing many of the same issues that concern us today in our public worship: Why do we sing? What shall we sing? How shall we do it?

Have a great week!

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Bonhoeffer on Singing in Unison and Harmony

The psalmist encourages us to "worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." But what kind of singing is best for praising God? Do we prefer unison singing with instrumental accompaniment? unaccompanied four-part harmony? or a free-form "anything goes" approach to offering our songs of praise? The history of the church offers a wide variety of strong opinions about the "forms" of our worship in song. Today's Worship Quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

There are some destroyers of unison singing in the fellowship that must be rigorously eliminated. There is no place in the service of worship where vanity and bad taste can so intrude as in the singing. There is, first, the improvised second part which one hears almost everywhere. It attempts to give the necessary background, the missing fullness to the soaring unison tone, and thus kills both the words and the tone. There is the bass or the alto who must call everybody's attention to his astonishing range and therefore sings every hymn an octave lower. There is the solo voice that goes swaggering, swelling, blaring, and tremulant from a full chest and drowns out everything else to the glory of its own fine organ. There are the less dangerous foes of congregational singing, the "unmusical," who cannot sing, of whom there are far fewer than we are led to believe, and finally, there are often those also who because of some mood will not join in the singing and thus disturb the fellowship.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans., John Doberstein, (New York City: Harper and Row, 1954), 60.


Unison or harmony? What do you think? Is it a spiritual question or simply a matter of personal preference. Even among those who favor the exclusive use of traditional hymnody in worship, some practice unison singing with one special verse in parts, and some favor singing in four-part harmony with one special verse in unison. How does a strong personal opinion factor in when it comes to matters of corporate worship? Tough questions! Keep singing!

Have a great week!

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Lewis on the Spiritual Value of Music

Today's Worship Quote by C.S. Lewis is another on issues of style as they relate to the music used in worship.

Christian Reflections
By C. S. Lewis

The first and most solid conclusion which (for me) emerges is that both musical parties, the High Brows and the Low, assume far too easily the spiritual value of the music they want. Neither the greatest excellence of a trained performance from the choir, nor the heartiest and most enthusiastic bellowing from the pews, must be taken to signify that any specifically religious activity is going on. It may be so, or it may not.

- C. S. Lewis, "On Church Music," in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967).


Lewis, a non-singer, is obviously pushing the point that true worship is from the heart. See the first chapter of Isaiah to see what God thinks of religious observance without appropriate heart attitude.

Have a great week!

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White on a Definition of Corporate Worship

Today's Worship Quote is another definition of corporate worship, this time by the contemporary Methodist theologian James F. White. Here he stresses the human purpose in worship:

Called from the world, we come together, deliberately seeking to approach reality at its deepest level by encountering God in and through Jesus Christ and by responding to this awareness.

- James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, (Abingdon Press, 1980), as quoted in Don Hustad's Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal, (Hope, 1993).


Reality at its deepest level! Responding to an awareness of God! How can we so often take worship so lightly?

Have a great week!

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Wesley on Singing

[pay special attention to #7]

1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it soon as you can.

3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

4. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, no more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

--John Wesley, SELECTED HYMNS, 1761, as found in THE UNITED METHODIST HYMNAL, United Methodist Publishing House, 1989.


This WORSHIP QUOTE OF THE WEEK comes from John Wesley, the father of Methodism. (His brother Charles wrote some 6,500 hymns). In the preface to a collection of hymns, John wrote these instructions.

Have a great week. 

(Originally posted 10/08/1996)

To find out more about Chip Stam and his Worship Quote of the Week, click below.