This is a post, a long one, from the Word, my heart, and what I see as the street, or more specifically, our local congregations. Don Ruhl
A Cappella Evangelism
Let us cease thinking that a cappella music is a disadvantage
By Don Ruhl
Do you believe that what is worth doing is worth doing right?
Do you know what is involved in writing a song? Do you know the skill involved?
Let us not do the song writers a disservice by halfhearted singing. Some halfhearted singing arises because we are happy merely to be making music without the assistance of man-created instruments, convincing ourselves that all God wants is a joyful noise, as though that justifies doing less than our best.
Is A Cappella Music a Disadvantage?
Many people believe that if we used man-made musical instruments we would attract more people. That is a matter of opinion. In the beginning of the church, no instruments were used, yet the early church took over the mighty Roman Empire! However, when we attempted to be like the world, we lost our influence. Instrumental music is an attempt to be like the world, to try to win the world in a way that pleases them. It only works to make the church more like the world, and the world less like the church, leading to the greater use of worldly music. Thus most denominational worship services resemble worldly concerts.
If a cappella music was effective in the highly entertainment-oriented Roman Empire, it can still be effective in the highly entertainment-oriented modern world.
Loving Vocal-only Music
I learned to love vocal-only music, although I still saw it as a negative for many years. The positives of it were obvious to me, but those positives were lost in the overall negative aspect so that I became convinced, along with most other people, that instrumental music attracts more people.
However, a cappella music is God’s way and His way is always best. We see that in marriage, in the organization of the church, in salvation; let us see it in the music of the church. When people see God’s way, they embrace it zealously. In the end, a cappella music will be more effective.
A Cappella Music Must Be Done Right
Many Christians are satisfied as long as we are just singing, acting as though the actual command is do not use instruments of music. Brethren, we do not use instruments of music because God commanded that we do something else. If we do not use instruments, we still have not obeyed God. We obey God when we do what He commanded how He said to do it.
Compare our singing to preaching. Is it enough that we preach the word? Before you answer that question, think about some things. Yes, we want only the word of God, but what about its presentation? If you invited someone to the worship services, how do you want the preacher to present the word? Do you want it to be done: Lovingly? Zealously? Interestingly? Understandably? Intelligently? Boldly? Emotionally? Do you want a tear in his eye when speaking of the lost? Do you want him to be joyful when speaking of the wonderful things of Christianity?
Have you sat in a lifeless and boring Bible class? The truth was taught. Perhaps the teacher did nothing more than read from the Bible and stopped after each verse and asked if anyone had comments. How did that affect you?
Have you heard boring congregational singing? Should we not put into the singing what we think should be in the preaching?
Obey the Command to Sing Like Any Other Command
Sing to the glory of God. First Corinthians 10:31 covers everything that we do as Christians. Now apply what is said here to your singing. Does your singing glorify God? “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Sing in love. First Corinthians 16:14 also covers everything that we do as Christians. Again apply this passage to your singing. Does love for God and your neighbor fill your heart when you sing? “Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
Sing to the best of your ability. Ecclesiastes 9:10 speaks of the hand, but the principle includes the heart. We readily apply this to other things, but I wonder if we apply it to our singing. We have been so persuaded that we must not use instruments, that we think we are doing our best, if all that we do is not use instruments. There is more. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Colossians 3:23, 24 does not leave anything out. When we sing, have you thought about who is truly listening? “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23, 24).
What is worth doing is worth doing right. What would change about your singing, if you saw God listening to you? Therefore, learn more about singing. Improve your ability. Sing zealously. Titus 2:14 reminds us why Jesus died. If you witnessed His death, how would that change your singing? “…who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Singing is a good work.
Did Jesus die that we might sing apathetically? Some people think that it does not matter how well we sing. How can that be argued after what we have seen from Scripture? Should we not try our best and seek to improve? It is true that we do not have to be professional singers.
What if we used this view toward preaching? Most of us want good preaching. Yes, we want the word of God, but we want the preacher to be trained and for the sermon to be interesting. Do you know what God expects from us in our singing?
Our Singing Is to Be Evangelistic
Acts 16 shows two preachers singing, knowing that unbelievers were listening. The preachers did not see a cappella music as a disadvantage, but without shame sang to God.
But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:25–30).
Brethren, that was a cappella evangelism! That was making music God’s way, and it did not include instruments, because Paul and Silas were chained in jail. God’s way was best. God’s way is still best. If you think to yourself that the quality of our singing does not matter because you think that our worship service is only for God, you have made a mistake, not knowing fully what the Bible teaches about our singing.
Most of the religious world in America knows us as the people who do not use instruments of music. That means they are listening. What do they hear? A group of people who say they are making a joyful noise, but in many cases it is not joyful and it is only noise. However, like the prisoners in Acts 16:25, let them not only notice that we are lacking something, but that there is something else there.
Let Our Singing Be with the Spirit and with the Understanding
First Corinthians 14 shows that both the spirit and the understanding are necessary. If you think about it, the singing that touches you the most has both. Why do you have favorite gospel songs? It is not noise, but the words are meaningful, the tune is touching or catchy and it sounds good.
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified (1 Corinthians 14:14–17).
In the context of chapter fourteen, Paul is discussing spiritual miraculous gifts. Speaking in a foreign language instantly without having studied that language is a miracle. When a first century Christian did this in front of someone who did not know the language, that Christian was speaking in the spirit, that is, only to himself and to God, and the one listening did not understand what was said.
Is it possible that the opposite could happen in a non-miraculous setting? That is, we are not singing in a foreign tongue, so the unbeliever can understand what we are singing, but if we are not singing with the spirit, how does that affect the unbeliever?
If we understand what we are singing, it will change the spirit with which we sing. Notice the words to our songs, and you will see what I mean. By doing these things we help unbelievers understand.
Sing with Grace
Colossians 3:16 explains that something resides in our hearts before a song does. When this thing does, grace follows. Is grace in your heart when you sing? How does your singing affect others? Are they learning anything about discipleship? “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly[,] in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).
Remember you are singing to the Lord. Does that give you any reason to have grace in your heart?
If your singing is meaningless, routine and without zeal, it is unacceptable even if you did not use instruments. Purpose to grow in your singing ability even as you grow in your faith.
Don Ruhl has been preaching for the Savage Street Church of Christ in Grants Pass, Oregon since October 2002. He graduated from the Southern California School of Evangelism (a work of the Buena Park Church of Christ in Buena Park, California in 1980).
220 NE Savage Street, Grants Pass, Oregon 97526-1310, 541-476-3100, Rdruhl@aol.com