OK. Check the front of the nearest Methodist hymnal for “John Wesley’s Rules of Congregational Singing,” written in 1761. Among other things, Mr. Wesley wanted church- goers to learn the hymns before they learned any other tunes. Hymns should be sung exactly as the were written and warned that if you learned to sing the hymns otherwise, they should “unlearn” them ASAP.
Also, everyone should sing, not showing a “single degree of weakness or weariness.” Singers should sing lustily and with good courage. “Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep.” Congregational singing should be done modestly, not overly loud as that would destroy harmony. Singers should make sure they sing in time. “Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep up with it. Do not run before, and take care not to sing too slow.”
One hundred years after John Wesley put his rules in print, a Methodist minister named Russell Carter wrote a hymn of his own. It was mildly popular. Then, a few years later, Mr. Carter had a health crisis. On his sickbed, he promised God he would begin to live fully consecrated to serving God. His health was restored, and for the next 49 years, he lustily sang, preached and taught about “Standing on the Promises of God.”
Everyone sing: “Standing on the promises of Christ my King/Through eternal ages let His praises ring/Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing/Standing on the promises of God” Do we really mean that? Can we sing that unless we really believe in God’s promises?
Can we sing “By the Living Word of God I shall prevail” when we don’t read the Bible regularly? Can we sing we are “Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord” when we don’t love God with all our heart? Can we sing “Resting in my Savior as my all in all” when we rely more on our own power than on the power of God?
Maybe, even though Wesley never heard Carter’s hymn, that Wesley’s Rule Number Seven applies here. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing God more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing. See to it that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offer what you sing to God continually, so that your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
In other words, music is not about the music. Singing is not about the singing. Music and singing in church is all about worshiping God. Music in church never has been, never will be about us. It’s about God. The words, the tune, the notes, the singing, the participation, the harmony. It’s about God. No matter what the song, the style, or if we like (or don’t like) the song.
Because above all, we need to sing spiritually. After all, we are “Standing on the promises that cannot fall.”
Verna Davis, author and speaker, lives in Frankton. She can be reached at Vrdspeaks@yahoo.com.