Singing without the mind engaged
may be very dangerous
Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.
with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another
with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
If we would think about it, it should not be surprising to us that God has ordered teaching via singing in the church. Good lyrics can often have a punch that is able in few words to capture volumes of thought. And as a memory device, poetry is nearly unsurpassed. Add the pleasant and even stirring emotion of music to the equation, and we have one very powerful, effective means of teaching the truths of the Word of God. Simply put, God has commanded us not only to read and preach and teach his word; he has commanded us to sing it also. And this singing of his word is intended as a teaching device to lead us to a deeper understanding of God and a more faithful, fruitful, and rewarding walk with him.
Singing, then, is not intended for our amusement but for our edification. Enjoyable it is(!), but that is only part of the means to the end. The purpose involved is that of teaching.
Now this understanding that music in the church is designed for teaching immediately carries with it some attending responsibilities. On the one hand, it requires that the songs we select must be consistent with Biblical truth and be of sufficient substance as to inform and admonish the believer. That is, the songs we select should communicate Christian truth. Were not after a vague, undefined, good feeling – were seeking to learn and know God’s word.
On the other hand, this requires that we sing with our minds engaged. That is, if we are to follow Gods command regarding singing in the church, we cannot sing thoughtlessly. You know how it goes. The words can often go from the page (or the screen) to the eyes and immediately to the mouth without ever passing through the brain! Lets confess – weve all done it. But that is of no value at all. The songs can be solid, substantive, even deep expositions of marvelous Biblical truth, but if we arent thinking enough to notice it, it will have done us no good. To sing profitably, we must sing with our minds engaged. We must sing intending to understand the truths the songs are teaching us and reminding us of.
Now please do not misunderstand. Emotion is not wrong, and it would not be somehow more godly to have boring music or to remove emotion from the equation. Indeed, one of the great values of truth set to music is the combined emotive effect. But neither the music itself nor the emotional lift is the end in view. If it is the music alone that moves you to tears or to shouting with joy, well, Whitney Houston singing I Will Always Love You! or a good TV program can do as much. But if it is gospel truth brought home by means of good music that excites you, then our singing has hit its mark.
Moreover, singing without the mind engaged runs dangerously close to taking Gods name in vain and rendering a worship to God that is unworthy of him. Only if we put our minds to it will the song service be of value. Let us guard carefully against empty forms of worship, and let us sing to one another with joy and with passion, moved deeply by the glorious truths of our glorious God.
Pastor Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010) and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Crossway, 2012). In addition Fred is the editor of Books At A Glance.
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