Over the centuries, ideas have circulated about what should be "in" and "out" when it comes to corporate worship in the Christian church. At times, the use of musical instruments was controversial. A generation ago, the use of pop or even rock sounding music styles in worship overcame controversy. A recent topic trying to take root as a trend is to eliminate solo singing from corporate worship in exchange for including the entire congregation in every song. Let's evaluate the pros, cons, and relevant biblical principles to guide us in our interactions with this idea.
It comes off as a "pro" to include more people in singing rather than fewer. Arguments are made that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 (where believers are encouraged to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs) are given to the entire church and not just a soloist. It is interesting that the Bible nowhere prohibits solo singing, and the "to one another" may imply taking turns rather than a whole-congregation simultaneously singing.
Another "pro" to this topic is making the expected standard of musical quality more accessible to the average worshiper. Churches have always had those whose singing was pleasant to human ears and those who are more of the "joyful noise" kind. Nowhere does the Bible support the idea that someone who cannot carry a tune or does not have a pleasant voice should, for that reason, refrain from singing. "Who made your voice?" would be a valid question. God enjoys hearing His creation sing to Him in worship.
Without doubt, the intentions behind this trend are wholesome and God-honoring. But before we swing any pendula in any direction, let us pause for a moment to think through some relevant biblical truths and principles.
1. Eliminating solo singing mitigates against the role exclusivity we find in spiritual gift passages. (1 Corinthians 12:13-25) Have you ever wondered why God gifted certain people with greater natural singing ability than others? While raw musical talent can be cultivated, would we deny that there is a significant God-given element? And is not God sovereign over the opportunities that certain people have to cultivate their natural singing ability? Here is a key thesis. God gives some people an ability to create musical beauty with their voices for His glory that He elects not to give to others. Psalm 33:3 says, "Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise." These clauses are in parallel. The newness of the song sung and the skill of the loud noise played can apply to both. In 1 Kings 7:19-22, we learn that there was lily work on the very top of the pillars of Solomon's Temple. This beauty was created for God to enjoy, as no human eye would behold it. Did every citizen of the kingdom create lily work? (There weren't enough pillars.) It is fine for artisans that have a special skill to use that special skill in worship of the One who gave them that special skill in ways that those who do not have that special skill can glorify God as the Creator of that special skill. The highest purpose of any art form is to glorify God; when we give the best of human achievement and creation to the God who created us, that is worship.
2. Including solo singing does not have to glorify the singer. It is well-known that the Classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach placed Soli Deo Gloria on much of his music. A church musician, Bach had no intentions of pursuing fame. Did every member of his congregation write cantatas? We can never know the motives of anyone's heart but our own, but it is absurd to suggest that no one can sing a solo in worship in humility and solely for the glory of God. Solo singing does not have to direct the worshipers' focus on the soloist. There are any number of ways to encourage worshipers to give God glory and worship Him during the presentation of a solo. Steps may not even need to be taken for this to take place. We also can never engineer worshipers to focus where we want them to focus. But to suggest that every solo sung in corporate worship is a man-glorifying event is naïve and irresponsible.
3. The same argument to eliminate solo singing is seldom used to eliminate choral singing. Many of the proponents of doing away with solo singing in church would fight you over canceling and disbanding their choirs. But to be consistent, anything that is not involving every worshiper present could be eliminated using the same thinking.
Church leaders will always be thinking about how to make our corporate worship more biblical and more glorifying to God. We will always engage in Scripture study and vigorous debate to sharpen our iron and make ourselves as pleasing as possible to the Christ who deserves all of our praise. Let the congregation sing! Let the soloists sing solos! Let the instrumentalists play skillfully! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
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