Not You, But the Church, That Is Singing

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Ours is not a culture which encourages much in the way of “group singing.” Yet, scripture is rife with examples of it from the Song of Moses, and redemption from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 15) to the Song of the Lamb, and ultimate redemption from sin and death (Revelation 15). Still, we can fall into the trap of thinking of the “singing” portion of a public worship service to be something akin to a concert that we primarily watch, and perhaps sing along if we really know and like the words and music. But there are far deeper realities at play when the church sings together, and German Pastor and Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) pinpoints some of them in his book, Life Together. Being a crucial member of the German resistance to Hitler and the Nazis, and ultimately imprisoned and executed, Bonhoeffer knew much of the cost of following Jesus, and living life in Christian community despite incredible personal risk. Here are three quotes sent to me by Tyler Dirks, which I share with you to encourage you to sing:

“Surrender to the Word, incorporation in the community, great humility, and much discipline – these are the prerequisites of all singing together.”

“We must sing. The fact is that our spoken words are inadequate to express what we want to say, that the burden of our song goes far beyond all human words.”

“It is the voice of the Church that is heard in singing together. It is not you that sings, it is the Church that is singing, and you, as a member of the Church, may share in its song. …Thus all singing together that is right must serve to widen our spiritual horizon, make us see our little company as a member of the great Christian Church on earth, and help us willingly and gladly to join our singing, be it feeble or good, to the song of the Church.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Life Together

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