Singing & Worship

Some Bible students often read the behavior of their modern assemblies into the “one another” relationship passages of the New Testament. This practice could be defined by the Greek word, eisegesis, that is, reading our modern-day definition of works and words into the works and words of the Bible. This is probably one of the most violated principles of Bible study that we encounter today, particularly in reference to the subject under discussion.

Two passages that are often misunderstood in the preceding manner are Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16:

“… speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ep 5:19).

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Cl 3:16).

It is often assumed that these two passages refer exclusively to an assembly context of the church. Subsequently, it is then assumed that singing is an “act of worship” that validates an assembly as true worship. The result of this unfortunate hermeneutic is to use these two passages a mandate to add another “act” to a codified ritual that must be performed during the Sunday morning assembly in order to determine if a church exists at a particular location. There are three reasons why neither passage is teaching this assumption in their original context.

  1. No assembly context: Nowhere in the context of either passage is the Sunday assembly mentioned. It is just not there. Such a time for singing is only assumed by those who read their present religious assembly pattern into the biblical context of each passage. Such is done in order to use the exhortation to sing in these passages to validate the assumption that singing in an assembly of the saints during the “worship hour” on Sunday morning is an “act of worship.”

But when we consider the preceding assumption in the context of both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, we must conclude that Paul was discussing the life-style relationship that must be characteristic of every Christian anytime and anywhere. In the context, exhorting one another through song was one of the manifestations of our relationship with one another.

True, singing can take place during the general assembly of the saints on any occasion, but not exclusively during an assembly. Anytime and anywhere Christians are together with one another they can break out in song in order to exhort and teach one another. If there were only two Christians who have come together, then they can still fulfill the mandates that Paul wrote to the Ephesians and Colossians.

  1. Singing everywhere and anytime: The singing that is mentioned in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 does not demand that singing take place during every encounter that Christians have with one another. Assembly does not mandate singing. This would include the general assembly of Christians on the first day of the week, as well as times when two or three Christians might encounter one another anytime and anywhere. All that is said in the passages is that Christians exhort and teach one another through the medium of vocal singing. Neither the occasion nor the context of the singing are mentioned in reference to when the saints might carry out the exhortations to encourage one another through song.

Now this brings up a very interesting point in reference to assemblies and singing. Is the mandate of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 to be carried out on every occasion when Christians come together? And if an assembly does not include singing, is such a valid assembly?

We would have to conclude that Paul did not mean that Christians must sing to one another every time they encounter one another. If they encountered one another on the street or in the field, they would not have to break out in song in order to relate with one another. If they encountered one another in a corporate business meeting, they would not have to start singing in the presence of the unbelievers who were present.

So what if Christians encountered one another at 10:00am on a Sunday morning? Would they be under a mandate to sing to one another in order to validate their encounter as an “official assembly”? If Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 refer to the daily living of the Christian—and they do—then we must assume that two or three Christians do not have to break out in song when they meet one another on Monday morning at 10:00am, or while working on the job throughout the week.

Now if Christians encounter one another on Sunday morning, the exhortation of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 does not change in meaning or application. The point is that Christians can meet together and not sing, as they can meet together and not study the Bible or pray or take up a contribution. There is thus no mandate in the Scriptures that assumes that worship takes place when certain performances, including singing, are acted out. An assembly of the disciples is thus not validated as such when a particular system of rituals is performed. Singing, therefore, is generic in the gospel life of the Christian, not specific in reference to being legally performed in order to validate a Sunday assembly.

It is natural for Christians to sing when they are together. When they come together on any occasion, it is only natural for them to speak to one another in song as they sing praises to God. While in prison, Paul and Silas behaved in this manner in a Philippian jail (At 16:25). There was no “official assembly” application to their singing in that jail house, neither did their singing validate an “official” assembly because they sang. They were simply praising God while in chains in the darkness of a prison. After the singing, there was no “closing prayer.”

What Paul was discussing in the context of Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 was the nature of the behavior of Christians in their relationship with one another and God at all times. Paul was not giving a mandate that would become a legal code of identity to determine an “official assembly” of the saints. Christians must exhort one another through song, but they do not have to do so every time they come together.

Is it natural in their behavior to sing when Christians come together? Absolutely! But mutual exhortation through song was never given in the New Testament as an act by which some concept of an “official assembly” of the saints was to be identified or validated. Neither was singing given as a validation that worship takes place. Singing spiritual songs to one another is the result of a gospel-obedient heart, not a manifestation that an assembly must validated as true because an act of singing has been legally performed.

  1. Mediums of teaching: Both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 explain that singing is a method of communication by which the saints can edify and teach one another. When we teach and admonish one another through song, we are not worshiping one another. Worship, therefore, is not inherent in spiritual songs. Spiritual songs can be used to teach spiritual truths, which they should. But when one is teaching others a spiritual truth through song, he or she is simply doing as the preacher who teaches spiritual truth by communicating truth in the words he speaks from a podium. Therefore, singing is not a signal to proclaim that an “official assembly” of worship is being conducted. Singing is simply a signal of the Christian demeanor of life seven days a week by which truth is proclaimed. Christians can, and should, bring their spirit of singing together in an assembly by which every attendee gathers together to sing praises to God in worship.

Weaponizing for War

On the day that I finally decided to put the following words into an article, I was informed that three more Christian families in my area here in South Africa had their homes invaded by the Covid-19 virus. I already knew of five other Christian families that had experienced the same attack. By the time of writing, two fathers of these families had died of Covid, with other family members in hospitals on oxygen struggling for their lives. This is the Covid War, something that has never been experienced in the history of mankind.

The Black Death of the fourteenth century sent millions on to eternity, some estimating that as many as one hundred million died in that pandemic. In 1917/18, the influenza flu pandemic likewise took millions worldwide from life as it ravaged in selected regions of the world. But the Covid pandemic is different. It is a worldwide attack against humanity as a whole. Because the population of the world has become so mobile in the last century, the Covid virus has boarded every means of travel to every nation of the world. The Covid virus has immigrated to six of the seven continents of the world. Only Antarctica has been spared … so far.

The reason for the spread of the virus worldwide can be attributed to several favorable factors that have expedited its attack: (1) Some, particularly in the West, seem to believe that their freedoms are being endangered by government Covid restrictions. They thus refuse to make needed lifesaving behavioral changes in order to guard themselves against the virus. There has been so much fake news propagated through the news media that people have simply rebelled against all precautions in reference to the virus. They carry on with their normal lives regardless of the Covid attack.

(2) And then there are some who seem to be aloof to the Covid War itself, refusing to weaponize themselves against the virus by being vaccinated. This is a particular problem in villages throughout the world who have little or no knowledge that the world is in a pandemic war. And then there are those in the West who pose a unique social phenomenon in reference to vaccination. One of the surprising behavioral characteristics in reference to the vaccination program in the West is that many have participated in the first vaccination, but have not showed up for the second. So much has been propagated about the “safety” of the vaccines. As a result, many have simply decided to stay away from vaccination centers. (Because the third wave of the pandemic is now reaching into the Western Cape province of South Africa, the government has, at the date of this writing, set up almost 200 vaccination centers. They plan to vaccinate several thousand people a week if people will just show up at one of the centers.)

(3) In most of the world, the virus is finding its way into societies through ignorance. Much of the Western world has been very educated concerning the nature of the Covid-19 virus, and its mutant variations. However, millions throughout the developing world are ignorant of both the virus and the precautions that must be made in order to guard oneself against infection. These individuals simply carry on in life as if there were no pandemic.

(4) Another problem is the progressively infectious nature of the variants of the original Covid-19. The highly infectious nature of the Covid variants has caught many people off guard. After the first wave of the virus passed through in 2020, people became somewhat complacent in reference to protecting themselves. To a great extent, what caused the second wave is that people, through their nonchalant attitudes, became impervious to the virus. In order to save livelihoods, almost everyone went back to “normal.” But then came the Delta variant, which is more infectious. And now out of Peru has come the Lambda variant that is now into more than thirty countries of the world, including Europe. (At the time of writing, it had not yet reached the continent of Africa.) Some virologist believe that this variant may be more infectious than the Delta variant. We will only know this when the statistics start to come in during the end of this third wave.

What the Covid War has revealed is the character of many people around the world. It has revealed that some cultures of people simply ignore the virus as it makes its way through a society. This attitude is prevalent in cultures that have a deep seated fatalistic world view.

The vaccinations against the virus have revealed that some people are somewhat selfish in that they think only of themselves. Through social media, they have heard so many fake news stories about the vaccinations that they have convinced themselves that the vaccines that are now being administered throughout the world are dangerous. In reference to the vaccinations, some people have simply become quite hypocritical in this matter. For example, there are those mothers who march their children off to the doctor to be vaccinated against measles, smallpox, polio, etc., and yet, the same mothers will not vaccinate themselves against Covid-19.

And then their are those church leaders who seem to be more concerned about reaping a contribution from an assembly of people, than limiting assemblies to a few in order to protect the people. When the South African health department limited most public assemblies to fifty people, banned after-funeral meetings, political meetings, and asked churches to follow suit, a delegation of South African religious leaders went to the government in order to protest the banning of their large assemblies. For them, if there were only small assemblies, then there would be a drastic cut in pay checks.

Of course the religious leaders pled with the government saying that the people needed their spiritual care during these trying times. But such was only a ploy because the religious leaders seemed to be more concerned about their Sunday morning pay checks and less concerned for the safety of the people in their small unventilated church buildings.

But as the police did in shutting down one religious assembly during the 2020 lockdown, so recently they walked into a shopping mall in a Covid hot spot in Cape Town. They temporarily shut down the mall, and ushered all the people outside into the parking lot. They then allowed to return inside only 250 people at a time of those who were wearing masks. Only 250 shoppers enjoyed the rest of their shopping, while the others had to wait their turn to enter the center. The maskless and shopping mob had violated a Presidential mandate, and thus, they revealed their arrogance, or rebellion, by not following the advice of the national health department.

In reference to vaccinations, we do understand that there is no vaccination that does not have side effects. Also, no vaccine is one hundred percent affective. However, the anti-vaccinators need to remember that vaccination is for a purpose that is far beyond the individual. The Delta variant is so infectious that it attacks families through individual members of the families. As stated before, I know of several Christian families in our area wherein many members of the family were infected initially by one family member. Some members of these families have died, and others will die before humanity wins this war, or our Lord says, “Enough is enough,” and then comes to destroy this infected and imperfect world wherein we have been cursed to dwell.

As Christians, it is our purpose to be the “salt of the earth.” I wonder if we could take this thought beyond spiritual matters. I personally seek to protect myself through vaccination, wearing of a mask in public, and social distancing in order to protect my wife. If one’s apprehensions about being vaccinated is simply personal, then that person is simply selfish. The Delta variant is so infectious that if one family member is infected, it is most likely that the entire family will likewise become infected.

Most of the population of the world does not live in mansions as the West. A normal house in the rest of the world can be the size of a master bedroom in a Western house. In this “master bedroom house,” there can be living five or more people. Try social distancing in such an environment. For this reason, the Covid War is ravaging through congested cities around the world. In Africa about sixty percent of the people live in congested cities. You can only imagine what is happening on this continent, and is yet to come in the future in reference to the Covid War. This war is far from over.

In every way of life, Christians are to allow God to use them to heal society, both spiritually and physically. We seem to do well with the spiritual part through the teaching of the gospel. However, in my experience, there are many Christians that I know who are failing in reference to being vaccinated in order to protect their own families, and society in general. By refusing to be vaccinated, they are not only endangering themselves, but their entire families. They are allowing themselves to be the vehicle through which the Covid virus can make its way into whole families, and society in general. Those religious leaders who do not follow the advice of their health departments, are aiding and abetting the enemy.

Vaccinations have been with us for over a century. They will continue to protect us into the future against the Covid attack. God’s laws for cleanliness for Israel were not just good advice for Israel. The reason for sanitizing themselves had deeper purposes than the ceremonial socializing of the Israelites. Wearing a mask in public places, though the commonly used surgical mask is not one hundred percent effective, will also probably be a new normal for the future in public places. Social distancing, as unnatural as it may be, will also be with us in our social contact with one another and assemblies. But for this time in the heat of the battle, humanity will greatly be protected against the Covid virus and its variants through vaccinations and the recovery of Covid infected individuals who are somewhat immune to the virus. However, virologists say that the Covid virus is here for the long run. The Covid War will not end soon.