Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 150:6 (ESV)
The command to praise God is pervasive throughout Scripture. In the verse above the Spirit calls all things with breath to praise the Lord. Song is also clearly featured all throughout Scripture and is a featured mark of the Spirit’s life and presence within the body of Christ (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 4:18-19). Strangely, there is something I have observed among men under the sun. It is a culture of singlessness in the church among men. When they are asked why, the question is usually answered with indifference or noninterest. While the reasons may be many, this phenomenon might be a symptom of a bigger problem within the church. But, why singing?
I gave ten years of my life to the US Army and one of the ways they build esprit de corps is through the incorporation of singing into the daily activities of Soldiers. Not only did we sing at ceremonies, but we sang everywhere we went, walking or running. Singing changed moods and created a common bond between all those around you who are singing and enduring the same things as you. And this wasn’t because we all belong in a Cathedral choir. This singing was meant to build motivation for the task, exercise, or operation at hand. Even if you didn’t quite feel like singing the cadence loudly, there was always someone of higher rank close by telling you, “Fake it ‘till you make it, Private.” Sure enough, more often than not, disciplining oneself to sing loudly with the formation turned your attitude around.
Singing in the military context is not new. Many may call to mind the familiar fife and drum which accompanied armies so commanders could communicate their orders across large formations. Another similar occurrence of men singing heartily is the sea shanty. Whether pirates, naval forces, or seafaring tradesmen, singing has been characteristic of these gruff men on the water. Men actually love to sing. I’ve seen it. Singing is a very masculine thing to do. The phenomenon in the church is quite curious since it can be demonstrated that even the manliest of men are known to sing. Answer me this: why then is the church always short in the bass section?
A short journey through Scripture can help us see the common use and placement of singing that may provide an explanation. In the very beginning of the Bible, we see that the first thing Adam does when he sees Eve is sing. His words are lyrical.
Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”i
Genesis 2:23 (ESV)
Song, therefore, is apropos in the advent of God multiplying and glorifying His creation as was the case when God created Eve.
After Israel crosses the Red Sea, Scripture records a song of Moses for us in Exodus 15. The greatest King in Scripture whose mighty men were renowned for their courage, bravery, and skill in battle was at the same time an excellent musician and prolific songwriter. King David was at the height of masculinity when he wrote songs of God’s victory and employed the temple musicians to perform them.
At the end of Scripture, we find that characteristic of heavenly liturgical worship is frequent singing. Some songs are repetitive in nature, such as the Sanctus (Is. 6, Rev. 4), while others are new songs, the song of Moses, or the song of the lamb. These songs praise the mighty works and victories of God (Rev 5:9-10, 15:3-4).
Song has not only been characteristic of celebration after a battle is won, but it is also part of the battle itself.
In 2 Chronicles 20, when facing the Ammonites and Moabites, Jehoshaphat places not his mighty men at the front of the formation, but the musicians. Music is the tip of the spear and God miraculously defeats Israel’s enemies. As Dr. Leithart notes, “Though 2 Chr. 20 is one of the clearest biblical examples of liturgical warfare, it is by no means the only one. Israel commonly wins victories by calling on the Lord in prayer and exalting him in praise.”1 Leithart further makes his point by noting that when enslaved in Egypt, when facing the city of Jericho, and when led by Samuel in the battle of Ebenezer, crying out to the Lord and music takes a prominent role before and during the victory. The efficacy of music isn’t in the music itself. If this were the case, there would be no problem in the church today. Rather, Leithart says,
Liturgical warfare is effective only as it expresses the worshiper’s reliance on the Lord of Hosts, the God of Battles. When he is exalted in our praises, he becomes a terror to our enemies, leaves the field strewn with corpses, and makes the valley of battle into a Valley of Berakah.2
Even these men who are silent at church will belt out their favorite rock song in their truck. Many of these silent men will still enjoy a beer and poorly sing karaoke with the guys. So, what happens to them once they enter the church doors? Why do they fail to embrace the liturgical warfare to which they’ve been called?
Part of the problem is that for decades now the church has encouraged its people that vibrantly singing psalms and hymns is personal preference, rather than integral to the life of the church. Songs of cheer, victory, justice, and forgiveness found in the psalter have been stripped from the culture of the church. Its leaders are ashamed of Scripture’s words, refuse to speak God’s word to the public square, and so replace it with songs that can’t see, hear, talk, or save. The leaders of the church are mute, and the men are following their commanders.
Where songs of cheer and victory remain in the church, the songs fall prey to the feminization of our culture. They are gutted of their substance and seem to be better suited for a high school dance. Given this feminization of music within the church, it is no wonder the men are silent. Additionally, the men don’t sing because they, like the church, are waving the white flag. Singing songs of victory would be hypocritical. By and large, the church has abandoned the Bible’s standard for justice, worship, and sexuality. The church is mute while babies by the thousands are murdered every day. The church was mute while the worship of God was canceled as dangerous. The church is mute while sexual promiscuity, gender confusion, and homosexuality are given nuance rather than a rebuke. It is no wonder they’ve closed the psalter and muted songs of cheer and victory within her walls. Pastors have laid down their weapons of song and praise and picked up the world’s weapons of circus and pleasure. The church must repent and again wage the good warfare, putting the psalter back in the hands of her men. Men must also be exhorted to sing with lifted hands to the Lord since we are to love the Lord our God with all of our strength.
We are currently in the season of Lent. During this time the church takes a dedicated posture of repentance, reflection, and hopeful renewal. Something the broader church should repent of is retreating through the abandonment of biblical singing. The men don’t sing because the church has taught them that the battle is over, God’s people are defeated, and there is no cause for celebration or praise. The church has allowed the enemy to capture her standard and claim victory by her failing to thunderously sing God’s justice, loving-kindness, and forgiveness.
If the church is to stand in our present day, the men must be reminded that their baptism enlisted them in Holy War and they must sing to bring down the enemy. The church must integrate the psalter back into its liturgy so the men know that the Lord expects them on the battlefield. The Apostle Paul exhorted the church to wage the good warfare and we have seen that one of God’s choicest weapons against His enemies is song.
Just as the fife and drum led the soldiers across the battlefield and communicate commands down through the ranks, the men of the church won’t sing unless or until its leaders show the way. Pastors must lead their men in victorious singing. This means that you, Father, must lead your sons by example and teach them how to sing God’s praises.
Men, this applies to how you lead and establish. It specifically applies to how to raise your sons. You and your sons have been called out to battle. The Lord has called you and your sons out to battle with the Song of the Spirit and bids you join in the fight. You must face the fact that if your son doesn’t sing in church, it is because you don’t or you haven’t trained him to. Teach your sons the wondrous works of God and then teach him to sing God’s praises with you at the top of your lungs.
When our men sing again, it is then that the church will show the culture of man that the God of all armies is on their side and that the gates of hell will not prevail against them.
“Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.”
Grant is an Associate Pastor and Teaching Elder at Christ Reformed Church (CREC).
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