There was a woman who spent some months serving as a missionary in South Africa. On her final visit to a remote township she attended a medical clinic. As the Zulu women there began to sing together, she found herself deeply moved by their hauntingly beautiful harmonies. She wanted to always remember this moment, a moment that she intended to share with friends when she arrived home. With tears flowing down her cheeks, she turned to her interpreter and asked, “Can you please tell me the translation of the words to this song?” Her interpreter looked at her and solemnly replied, “If you boil the water, you won’t get dysentery.”
I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with singing in four-part harmony. To be stirred by the harmony of human voices can and does stir us to greater heights of praise. Members of local churches should work diligently to develop their singing skills. A congregation that is content with status quo singing and will not use those aids (singing schools, pitch pipe, etc.) that will improve its singing is less than it could be in its service to the Lord.
Having said that, I believe there is the real danger among us of getting caught-up with how a song sounds and not what it says. How many times have we been guilty of being moved emotionally without being aware of the meaning of the words we were singing?
Paul said, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15). It is important for the one who leads our prayers to speak out so all can understand his words and say Amen. It is equally important for all who sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to consider the words carefully that they sing. The melody may be beautiful, and the harmony of the singers may bring tears to the eyes, but it is the lyrics that give our songs meaning.
“Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). Christians are to speak to one another. It is impossible to speak, as Paul uses it here, to one another if we do not consider what we are saying and what is being said to us.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and (continued on back page) (continued from second page) spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God” (Colossians 3:16). Further, the speaking we are to do is to teach and admonish one another. This is only accomplished when we use songs with words that convey sound biblical doctrine. I do not believe we should dissect every word of every song. There is such a thing as “poetic license.” However, we must give due consideration to what we sing.
What stirs you about a song? Is it the teaching it contains? Or, is it the sound of the song because it touches you emotionally? The next time you are tempted to criticize the singing, think on these things.