Friday, August 15, 2014

Directions in Singing: Part 5 - Sing Modestly

In the previous installment John Wesley encouraged us to do something that, for many, is awkward and uncommon; Sing lustily and with good courage. In that post I ran up and down the ranks barking orders hoping to instill boldness in those singers who have heretofore been somewhat soppy in their audible forays. The horseback speech was for the whole church but my hope was that the men on the front line felt the brunt of it. I believe singing lustily and with great courage is one of the gathered church’s greatest needs today, and because it is a great need it is therefore a great weapon. One we should use with wisdom. And so Wesley’s fifth point serves to balance his fourth.

5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so 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.

If you are handed a weapon to use in battle, you ought to know how to use it in whatever situation. Just as not every battle can be waged in stealth and silence, not every battle can be waged as a rage-drunken Viking Berserker. Singing lustily and with good courage doesn't mean you are to show-off. Show-offs think only of themselves. They only sing loud to hear how good they sound. What we want are good soldiers who will bolster those around them. They sing loudly so others hear and take heart and hopefully join in.

Show-offs do more harm than good. It would be better for that singer to keep silent and listen to the rest than to open their glory-hungry mouth. Their voice distinct from the rest, however beautiful to the ear, is ultimately offensive to the gospel. There is almost no better picture of a unified body than when the gathered church sings together. Many people called and saved by Christ, now speaking to Him and about Him with one voice. But when you have a show-off it disrupts the picture like a child drawing on the Mona Lisa with a pen. To destroy the harmony of the congregation, not musically, but the unity, is anti-gospel.

So when Wesley encourages us to strive to unite our voices together, he’s not just looking for a good sound, he’s looking for a single sound. One clear melodious sound. This sound is a picture of the united body of Christ. So in your singing, seek the good of the congregation. Sing in such a way as not to show off but to encourage and strengthen your fellow brothers and sisters. Strive for unity. If the song is somber, sing in a somber way. That means not happy and/or skippy-dippy. If the song is loud and boisterous, stop yawning and join in with vigor.

Often Modesty is a word tossed about only in reference to clothing. There are fifty-thousand articles and blogposts about what it means for Christians to dress modestly in worship and maybe zero (or one, now) about singing modestly in worship. The reason clothing takes center stage is because of the sex factor. But unfortunately the sex factor usually distracts us from the main point of dressing modestly. The reason we ought to dress modestly is for the same reason we ought to sing modestly, which is that we may not destroy the harmony, the unity of the congregation. It has less to do with cleavage than with communion. The real problem with the lady with the too-tight dress on a Sunday morning isn't that she’ll cause the menfolk to lust (though that’s an issue too), it’s that now the unity of the congregation is disrupted. Eyes are diverted from Jesus and onto her figure. Remove sex from the situation and everything remains the same. Imagine someone walks into service dressed as a clown. Eyes are diverted from Jesus and onto his big red nose and floppy shoes. And so it is with singing. Immodest singers divert attention from Jesus and onto themselves.

So strive for unity because the unity of the body glorifies Christ. We come modestly to worship, not because of cultural morals and expectations, but because of love for one another and our love for our Savior; understanding that our modesty contributes to our harmony and thus reflects the gospel.

Previous installments of the Direction's for Singing series

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