Congregational singing is not a matter of “taste.” Anything we do in corporate worship is about meaning, not preference. In my last post, “Why Singing Hymns the Traditional Way is Better than Singing the Pop Worship Way,” I highlighted some of the practical differences between singing hymns corporately and singing along with a soloist. My friend Sandra made this helpful comment:
“It’s not a matter of ‘taste’ really. I’m not sure why people make that the argument. It’s singing corporately or singing ‘along with.’ Singing corporately is what choirs do. Yes, it’s a little more…rigid in a sense, but that’s because there are a lot of moving parts and participants and that takes some degree of coordination and listening to the people around you and adjusting your singing to fit with the group’s as a whole. Contrast that with singing along with…which is what you do when there’s a soloist or small band/ensemble leading the song and an audience singing along with their performance — whether that be at a concert with the radio in your car, shower, etc.
This video illustrates what I’m talking about. It’s a hockey game with the usual national anthem being sung by a soloist at the beginning and the stadium singing along with it as people do. But then the sound system breaks…the audience switches gears and starts singing the anthem corporately and finishes it *together* and it sounds like a massive choir singing a hymn.
This can’t be done with ‘pop’ CCM type songs or even versions of hymns. You don’t have to ‘like’ that style of music to recognize the difference and the value in the different styles. It’s not about ‘you’ or your preferences. That’s the point, actually. Lex orandi, lex credendi applies to how we sing as well as what we’re singing.”
Yes, how we sing is just as important as what we sing. Liturgy is meant to be done together – that’s a core part of what liturgy means in the first place. As is highlighted quite clearly in the video, singing together is a lot different than singing “along with.”
The argument that worship, especially music in worship, is just a matter of taste is spurious, and it needs to be retired, just like the pop worship trend. The music you enjoy consuming outside of worship is your own business, but those preferences should hold no bearing over what the church does. This is not a difficult concept, but decades of the church catering to people’s entertainment preferences have taught a completely different lesson. That’s why the change needs to begin now. Children need to be taught the difference between music they consume and music for worship.
Incidentally, Sandra works for a Lutheran organization, Higher Things, that is doing just that. From their website:
Higher Things® is unique because its primary goal is to deliver the Gospel to Lutheran young people without either “dumbing down” our doctrine and theology or relying heavily on entertainment to keep their attention. Higher Things® doesn’t seek to manufacture a “wow” factor. Our goal is simply to deliver Christ and Him crucified to young people, emphasizing the Theology of the Cross as opposed to a Theology of Glory. Higher Things® believes sincerely that Lutheran youth actually want to be Lutheran. Therefore, we are intentionally catechetical in nature and unashamedly committed to centering our activities around Christ Jesus as He comes to us in His Word and Sacrament.
While they may not be trying to manufacture a “wow” factor, videos of the singing at their conferences is quite compelling:
This is what real congregational singing sounds like, God’s covenant people joining together in one voice to sing their faith, without relying on phonied-up excitement or a cloak of cultural relevance.
May our churches recover this kind of singing, and the faith it represents.