Many have not yet heard about it, but a movement has been spreading among independent churches to “congregational singing,” which means “singing together” in unison excluding concert formats. The movement emphasizes going back to the biblical form of worship in song. The apostle Paul wrote, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5–6 ESV). The earliest Christians worshipped by singing with one voice as a congregation. There were no special groups, choirs, praise teams, or any other concert setting in the early churches. Singing in worship and for edification has always been about speaking “one another” and “among ourselves.” Paul instructed, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Many churches have experienced that choirs, praise teams, and concert formats take away from congregational singing. Even the arrangement of seating in a church building can hinder congregational singing by taking the focus off edifying and encouraging one another to love and good works (1 Cor 14:6; Heb 10:24–25).
Hundreds of independent churches across the United States have been shifting to congregational singing (ex. 9Marks ministry). The churches implementing congregational singing have been wrestling with the conflict of musical instruments and various contemporary styles. These churches are in addition to many primitive Baptist and Orthodox churches who do not use musical instruments. These churches have come to emphasize the “regulative principle” for worship, which is a principle upholding that the Scriptures regulate and determine the order of the gathering of the church. (The writer must clarify that I do not support the exclusive “reformed” teachings about salvation. However, I am encouraged by their restoration of biblical assemblies.)
Is the “regulative principle” in the Bible? First Corinthians 11 and 14 are both chapters giving commands for edification, decency, and order in the assembly. Paul corrected the church at Corinth, “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (1 Corinthians 11:17 ESV). Paul expanded and gave specific instructions for partaking of the Lord’s Supper together in the assembly (1 Cor 11:17–34). Furthermore, Paul emphasized verbal edification when he taught, “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). Paul also wrote, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Among many churches, the belief in the regulative principle has been lost. Churches host “praise and worship” concerts in place of the assembly to engage various people and bring them to hear a portion of God’s Word, but a portion of God’s Word is what most will ever receive while attending. They receive no instruction from Jesus’s words about true worship (John 4:20–24). New Testament Christians must stand for true worship and allow the Scriptures to give order to the most edifying assembly. The assembling of the church should not be boring. If a gathering is boring, individuals should first examine themselves according to the Scriptures, and then they can encourage the elders’ leadership of the congregation to seek out biblical precedents to increase edification.
Churches of Christ seek to maintain the Scriptural order of the assembly. However, many have gone so far as to assume a stripped-down “Baptist” assembly that forgets the heart of worship. The apostle Paul taught, “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (1 Corinthians 14:15). The apostle also instructed the heart by being filled with the Spirit and “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19–20 ESV).
Are you singing? Are you singing with one voice as a member of the congregation? Are you singing with your heart and your mind? Thank God that we can speak the truth of God together and give thanks to the Creator with one voice.