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Choirs and Solos

By Kyle Pope

Iread with great interest Ken Green’s article in the June 2004 issue of Biblical Insights, entitled “Balancing Faith and Tradition: Congregational Singing.” While I appreciated many of the points brother Green made, I question the conclusion he has drawn that choirs and solos fall within New Testament authority.

     It is true that any position that would hold that every voice sing every note of every song, would be impossible to apply consistently. Many hymns we sing in assemblies of the church have bass, tenor, alto or soprano leads and even duets. Four-part harmony itself requires different voices singing different things. We have all seen times when a sore throat or laryngitis has caused someone to mouth the words of songs when they cannot sing. Neither of these constitute a rejection of Biblical authority or the nullification of our brethren’s sound worship. Brethren are still “speaking to one another” in song (Eph. 5:19) and “teaching and admonishing one another” in song (Col. 3:16).

     It is also true that in funerals and weddings there may or may not be collective singing. In these functions groups or individuals may be asked to sing alone or with the assembly. We should note that weddings and funerals, although they may include members of a congregation and elements the church practices in worship to God, they are not works of the church. We find no authority for the church to set before itself a casket with the body of the deceased, a young couple exchanging vows, bride’s maids, groomsmen, unity candles, or the call for those assembled to speak in objection to the couple’s right to marry. These are largely civil ceremonies which have come to be viewed as religious “services” largely due to the false doctrines of Catholicism that teach marriage and last rights as “sacraments” of the church.

     Christians are free during any function to sing, pray or study the Bible. We should not, however, imagine that such makes the function a work of the church simply because an element of worship is observed. Nor should we assume that the restrictions that apply to the church assembled apply at all times. If so, the bride could not speak to say “I do” (cf. I Corinthians 14:34).

     We appeal to the world to return to the Bible calling them to come out of all religious backgrounds, reject all practices not found in the Bible, be obedient to the gospel and unite in what we do and teach. This is possible. Churches can restrict their behavior only those things necessary to worship God. We can work together without forcing anyone to do anything they cannot do in good conscience.

     Do we find in the Bible any example of a group of Christians or individuals being set apart to sing before a congregation? Is there any example of an individual standing before a congregation and singing a solo? In fact the only example we have of disciples singing together (in this world) is the hymn the apostles sang with Christ before going to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30). In this text, there can be no doubt that it was collective. The plural participle humnasantes “having hymned (or sang a hymn)” is followed by the plural 3rd person verb exelthon “they went out.” The same people that sang went out to the Mount of Olives. Haven’t we contended that approved apostolic examples are binding? Is this not why we limit the observation of the Lord’s Supper to the first day of the week (i.e. Acts 20:7)?

     The real issue, as it seems to me, concerns what bro. Green addressed near the end of his article. He wrote of congregational singing that:

It guards against the entertainment factor which is a real and present danger in contemporary worship. In many religious groups performance has taken over. The people in the pews have become spectators enjoying a show rather than worshipers entering into the spiritual activity of praising God and admonishing brethren.

Amen! As Christians, we struggle to call brethren and unbelievers alike to realize that in Christ we are “a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). In singing, prayer and Bible teaching we “offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips” (Hebrews 13:15). Unlike the Mosaic system, no one else can offer worship on our behalf. Every element of worship is a personal spiritual sacrifice to God. Even Bible teaching is only worship when individuals in the pew engage their minds in feeding upon God’s word. We have the approved apostolic example of one brother leading such a study (Acts 20:7). Does a choir or solo serve the same function that a song leader does; to expedite orderly worship (I Cor. 14:40)? The difference, inevitably, is that a song leader helps the individuals do as they do. The choir or solo performs.  

Pope, Kyle. "Choirs and Solos: Reader's Response" Biblical Insights 4.8 (August 2004): 24.  

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