Methodists are singing people. Charles Wesley wrote more than 5,000 hymns. We sing whenever we gather for worship, and often at other times. If singing is so central to what we do, it might be valuable to think a bit about what we are actually doing.
St. Augustine (354-430) said famously that “to sing is to pray twice.” Another ancient church saying went like this: “lex orandi, lex credendi,” meaning “the law of praying is the law of believing,” or “our prayers reveal what we really believe.”
If our prayers reveal our deepest beliefs, and if singing is praying twice, then it follows that what and how we sing is extraordinarily important. (Perhaps that’s why John Wesley gives us instructions; see the front of our hymnals.) In fact, what we sing not only reveals our beliefs and attitudes, it shapes them. The more you sing Christian songs or hymns, the more their theology and spirituality becomes part of you—for better or worse, since not all Christian music has good theology and spirituality in it!
When we sing, it can do something to us, often something that mere speech, even speech that is prayer, does not and cannot do. We own the prayer-song, and it owns us. It becomes embedded in us, and we may draw on that music in times of great joy or sorrow.
As we sing and listen to sacred music, whether traditional or contemporary, we are being changed, molded, transformed. That is why the temple had musicians, why the Bible has 150 psalms (songs), why St. Paul told his churches to sing (Col 3:16, Eph 5:19), and why the apostle even includes some verses of hymns or poems in his letters (Phil 2:6-11, Col 1:15-20).
For all these reasons, it is crucial that musicians select music that reflects good theology and spirituality, and why we should all consider the words of Wesley:
• Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
• Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
• Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing.
Let us continue to “make a joyful noise to the Lord,” in every season of the church year.