We’ve discussed music a couple of times (here and here), but I want to narrow the focus a bit, because I recently attended a workshop at which John Bell talked a bit about congregational singing, and even led those present in some songs we had not heard. His presentation on the subject was brief, due to the nature of the event, but I found what he said so encouraging to the evangelical musical tradition, now alas all but dead, that I ordered one of the books he mentioned.

Thanks to what I’m sure was divine intervention, I ordered the wrong book, but after reading the first page, there was no question of sending it back. The book, The Singing Thing, is his contribution to one of the discussions about the purpose of music in worship that followed the posts mentioned above, except that he focuses solely on congregational singing.

Bell asserts that Christians sing for the following reasons: first, because it is in our nature to do so, but also because by singing we create or intensify our sense of identity, we give expression to the emotions that God’s goodness or, sometimes, His discipline rightly arouses in us, we express a level of meaning that words alone are not always capable of, we tell and even relive our history, we shape our future, we gather strength and courage for the work to which we are called, and, most important of all, perhaps, when we overcome our shyness and sing, we are offering God our hearts at the deepest level of which we are capable.

Evangelicals were famous for their singing long before the Wesleys. Bell quotes a contemporary description of a party of Scots Protestants, returning to Edinburgh from continental exile in 1582, who as they approached the city gate

took up the 124th Psalme, ‘Now Israel May Say’ etc, and sang in such a pleasant tune in four parts, known to the most part of the people, that coming up the street all bareheaded till they entered the Kirk, with such a great sound and majestie, that it moved both themselves and the huge multitude of the beholders…

The Bible says Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious… make a loud
noise, and rejoice, and sing praise
. Give it a try. Although for that you might need the book I thought I was ordering, The Singing Thing Too, which suggests ways of getting a congregation that doesn’t sing to reconsider its decision. I’m sure I’ll tell you more about it when I get mine.