This is a little follow up to my articles on singing in our hearts and on the Creeds. One of the questions that keeps coming up is about the command to sing corporately. This is particularly important for people who follow what is sometimes referred to as “The Regulative Principle.” There are two approaches to church life and they are similar to our approach to the Law of the land.
Approach one = “If it is not expressly instructed then it is forbidden.”
Approach two = “If it is not expressly forbidden then it is permitted.”
Now, I suspect how you answer those questions will be affected as much by culture, temperament and political philosophy as anything. The first approach is particularly associated with European jurisprudence. The second reflects the English legal approach and is probably more associated with a “liberal political philosophy” (including the underpinning philosophy of modern conservatism).
We are likely to bring such a temperament into church life as well and that will affect how we read things. If we tend to option one, then we will tend towards The Regulative Principle too. We will be keenly looking out for specific commands instructing us on what we ar to do in worship. If we tend to option 2, we are more likely to get a feeling for what church life is described like and try to follow normative principles in a more general but also contextualised manner.
I think it also affects how we see things that the Bible tells us that we can do and that we should do. Scripture is full of clear commands. We particularly find them in the Law. There are New Testament equivalents too. Those commands come with consequences and penalties. Obeying laws leads to blessing, disobeying them leads to curse.
However, there are other things that Scripture does. One of them is that it exhorts us, encourages us and invites us. So what is going on when the Bible talks about us singing together. Is it a command.
“You must sing songs in church, they must conform to a particular pattern and if you fail to then there will be consequences.”
Or is it an exhortation, an invitation. In the same way that my grandma used to exhort me to eat more desert when I visited her or for a Biblical example the way that Jesus invites and exhorts us to come to him for rest, to feed on him and to receive living water?
It looks to me like the latter. We are commanded/called to praise and worship God. We are exhorted to allow our hearts to overflow in praise that causes us to burst into song not because singing a song is some particularly holy and less worldly way of doing things but because it is this natural response to deep emotion that we associate with joy and because … well because it does us good.