Why we sing
“What can wash away my sin,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus”
It is amazing to me that after hundreds and sometimes even thousands of years, Christians have clung unto songs that are deeply and profoundly impactful. Singing in fact, has been a part of Christian history since the time of Jesus and has always held a reverent place in our worship services. You can read about Jesus singing with his disciples on the Mountain of Olives in Matthew 26. Though many Christians commonly partake in this Christian, in this post I want to talk about why we sing. Here are 5 reasons as to why we sing:
1. To imitate God
When I say this, I don’t mean that God sings in the way that we do. Although it is certainly the case that when Jesus was on the earth, he sang hymns, and one reason why we do the same is to imitate Him. However, what I mean by this is that singing is an activity that is much more than speaking words. When we sing, we are creating something that drives our minds past just uttering something true like a speech. When we sing, we are creating art. We are forming images, symbols and sounds that drive our minds to recognize the greatness of God further than just knowing something would. We gain heart knowledge, we gain passion, we gain affections for Jesus.
It is in this vein of thought that we imitate God. As we are singing and creating kinds of images that recognize God’s truth, we are bringing these things to life much like God did in creation and continues to do. God has given us abilities that mirror his to glorify Him, and when we use these abilities to create, we are imitating Him if we use them for His glory.
2. To teach
It is no surprise that our worship songs teach us deep theological truths about God and who He is. Take for example one of the most intellectual challenging doctrines of the Christian Faith, the Trinity. How is it that we worship one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost? How is that God is one what (Diety), but three whose (Person)? How is it that a song can allow us to think of God as Trinity? Or put another way, how is it that songs allow us to begin the task of Triune thinking? Take the Doxology:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Notice how this very short song written by Thomas Ken in 1674, which has been song all over the world gets us to think about God. The first three lines speak to God’s work in the world as the source of all blessings, as the point of all praise, as the transcendent God but only refer to Him as one. The last line however gets us to recognize and group the identity of this one God in the group of three, the Trinity. These words became ingrained in us and even though when we speak about God we speak in singular nouns, but think about Jesus, the Father and Holy Spirit. You can hardly think about Jesus or talk about Him without referencing one person of the Godhead, which itself points us to there being other persons. Even though this song does not teach us how the triune paradox makes sense, it teaches us about the main points of the Trinity, one God, three persons.
3. To guard against false teaching
One of the things that has always amazed me is how precious hymns were to the older generation from where I grew up. Those hymns where not just words or tunes; they were something deeper than that. When something bad happened in their life, it was the words to the hymns that their minds first went to, for God’s presence was reminded constantly to them by these old songs. Although there is something to be said that the songs people used to sing were nearer to their hearts than our songs may be to us today, it is still true that songs have a unique way of us remembering things. This is true with our knowledge about God.
It is the case that for people who have not gone through extensive theological training, the hymns that they learn become one of the bases for what they believe to be right or wrong. Now this can be both a good and a bad thing depending on the situation. I have found though that is someone hear something that goes against say an old song that they learned from their youth, they are very quick to distrust it, as they wisdom they have has proved trustworthy. This is an asset for most cases I believe as the old faith is preserved. Take for example the prosperity gospel that teaches that God wants us to proposer with health and wealth in this present life. This is the teaching that God is waiting to give us all of the earthly goods we want in this life if we just give a donation to His “work” by means of a certain preacher. I can refute this no better than this hymn:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
4. To share the gospel
The line I quoted at the beginning of this post comes from the Hymn “what can wash away my sin.” Even in reading these lines I can still hear my grandfather’s voice in singing them and my grandmother adding her Harmony. The point here however is that our worship songs primary message has to always be found in the gospel. Our hymns recognize the truths of God, but everything we know about God is dead to us without the saving power of the Gospel. What does it matter to know God’s all-powerful nature if you are still dead in your sins, and it is with this power that God will judge you at the end of days? Or what about God being all knowing, what is it if it is with this knowledge of your past sins that he will condemn you?
If our worship songs sing simply to express some kind of personal experience or simply to confess truths without finding their place in God’s salvation, they are of no use to us. They of eternal and powerful use only when we recognize the shed bled of Jesus, which is why so many of our hymns like the one I quoted earlier are about God’s saving grace on the cross. “What can wash away my sin” it asks, “nothing but the blood of Jesus,” it answers. Again, it asks, “what can make me whole again,” the answer is, “nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
5. We identify with our past brethren
One of the beautiful realities about traditional churches in all of their traditions that in contemporary churches that we many times lose is that from the time of the apostles, to maybe a few years before we were born, we have a big gap in terms of our history and our worship with our predecessors. Many times, we don’t even think that it is important as to what even our grandfathers did in their worship, but it could not be more so. As Christians, we identify ourselves with the body of Christ and an important step in that is recognizing that we do not live out or faith alone, we are connected to a revolutionary movement that has changed the world. What participating in the same kinds of worship or the same songs does is that it helps us to see that the same realities that we have sung about on that particular day, our fellow brothers and sisters have dune for hundreds of years. It helps to make us realize that Christianity did not take a gap for thousands of years, but instead we continue their same mission, and we appreciate the work of God in their lives more for it.