In the past 50 years or so, churches (specifically, the churches of evangelicalism) have been embroiled in what is often called the “Worship Wars." Should we sing traditional or contemporary songs? Is hymnody frozen in an unchangeable canon? Should we clap our hands or dance in the service? What about speaking in tongues—the tongues of angels!—in the worship service? On and on the questions go. Some of these questions are still asked and debated passionately. For the most part, however, the worship wars seem to have cooled and, at least on the macro scale, there seems to be a "do and let do" attitude. With that said, it seems there is one feature of worship that is woefully neglected in the larger conversation.
Simply put, we must once again learn to sing like men. This, in fact, is a worship war worth having.
Perhaps it would be better to say that churches should sing as mankind. Not only mankind, we should sing like the "newmanity," as Eric Mason calls it. This isn’t a hyper-patriarchal argument. I’m not fighting in favor of the bass clef and the minor key. I’m not arguing for blunt lyrics or for killing poetic language, and I’m certainly not advocating for any musical style that excludes or downplays the godly women of our churches. Rather, I’m arguing for songs that only redeemed men and women can sing.
Churches today are flush with vague songs about God generally, a often-vague deity who does grandiose things and affirms us in our specialness. What we need more of, no matter what form it takes—hymn, anthem, congregational song, choral celebration, fill-in-the-blank—are songs that angels cannot sing.
When the redeemed people of God come together, we cannot merely sing and speak of God’s attributes. It’s not enough to say that he is good, nor is it enough to say he is holy. He is good and holy, of course, and we can sing these truths, but the good news of the gospel which we should sing and exult in is that he is good and holy to us in the gospel.
When someone sings beautifully, we like to say that they “sing like an angel.” Of course, when we say this, we’re referring to the beauty of the singing itself. I would argue, however, that to be a man or woman and to always sing like an angel in regards to content is to sing wrongly.
The author of Hebrews knew this. He wrote, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.” For the faithful church, the offspring of Abraham, we must sing of the God who redeems and also sing of how he has redeemed us. The apostle tells us in 1 Peter 1:10-12 that the salvation that is found in the gospel, in “the sufferings of Christ and subsequent glories” which has now been revealed to us through gospel preaching is a thing “into which angels long to look.” They long to look into such things, but they cannot.
Christ did not die for the redemption of angels. Christ died to redeem men and women from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. When those men and women gather together, we ought to sing as only redeemed men and women can. Whether it is a hymn, a congregational song, an anthem from Passion, or Christian hip-hop is another conversation; whatever it is, though, we must sing of the glories for those who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ. We must sing of the triune God, not just some abstract Unitarian God. We must sing of the cross of the Son, who submitted to his holy Father, and of the Spirit who empowers us for holy living. We must sing of repentance, of faith in Christ, of hope, of suffering, of the cross, of the resurrection, of the second coming, of the unity of the church, and on and on.
We must sing the gospel.
We must sing as no angel can.
We must sing like men.