Singing and Hymns Question: Scriptural Basis for Appropriate Songs?

 •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 11
Question: “What Scriptures would give guidance and provide principles concerning songs that are appropriate to be sung in assembly meetings?”
Answer: The history of hymnology of the Christian church, until recent times, has had a unifying effect, both as to generations and as to doctrine. Unfortunately, in recent years music has become a cause of disunity and dissension among the Lord’s dear people. While some newer hymns have a solid doctrinal basis and a suitable melodic pattern in which old and young can find pleasure, many more modern pieces of music have little or questionable doctrinal content, following musical trends which alienate older saints and confuse those who are younger.
In the preface to the 1881 edition of Hymns for the Little Flock, still used in many assemblies in the English-speaking world, the editor’s sound comments are timely regarding three things that are needed: (1) a basis of truth and sound doctrine (Titus 2:11But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: (Titus 2:1)), (2) something, at least, of the spirit of poetry, and (3) personal enjoyment of the Father’s love and Christ in the soul’s affections which enables the author to make his hymn the vehicle which sets the soul in communion with Christ.
The editor also makes these remarks concerning additional hymns that might in the future be added: “More may be added... by further research, or original, but this will require time.” The time, of course, has stretched now to well over 100 years, causing questions to be raised about what sort of hymns are suitable for assembly use.
I feel that there are four important things which should characterize hymns sung in the assembly. First, they must be doctrinally in accord with Scripture—“what saith the scripture?” (Rom. 4:33For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Romans 4:3); Gal. 4:3030Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. (Galatians 4:30)). Second, they should be singable with a tune in which the whole assembly can happily join (Col. 3:1616Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)). Third, they should be the product of affections toward the Father and the Son (Psa. 4516Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth. (Psalm 45:16); John 4:23-2423But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23‑24)). Fourth, hymns sung in assembly ought to be suited to the character of the meeting (Heb. 2:1212Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. (Hebrews 2:12); 1 Cor. 14:4040Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)).
Let me note here that it is the Holy Spirit who directs the assembly’s worship, and it is the Lord Jesus in the midst who leads our singing. But this should not be taken as a plea for careless singing of the tune and its rhythm.
We also would encourage the singing of hymns at family Bible readings as a wonderful way to encourage more heartfelt praise in the assembly meetings (Heb. 13:1515By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)).
R. K. Gorgas