Singing To One Another

Ephesians 5:18–19:

Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . .

David Ford, Self and Salvation: Being Transformed (Cambridge: 1999), 122, 125:

Drunkenness is a practice that incapacitates people for responsible use of time in line with ‘the will of the Lord’ (5.17). Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, by contrast, enables a ‘sober intoxication’ which attunes the whole self — body, heart and mind — to a life attentive to others and to God. It is a practice of the self as physical as drinking — and as habit-forming. One of the main habits formed is that of alertness. . . .

It is striking that there is encouragement to the members to practice ‘addressing one another’ in song. This is part of facing each other in the community. One way of understanding it is that one sings a song to another who does not sing. But it can also and more naturally be taken to be about one of the obvious features of psalms and hymns: a large proportion of them do not speak to God directly but address other people or oneself ‘Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard’ (Ps. 66.8); ‘O come, let us sing to the Lord’ (Ps. 95.1); ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is Within me, bless his holy name!’ (Ps. 103.1).

For a community of worship, this coming together before God in song is the fullest facing of all, explicitly acknowledging the reality of which they are all part, and adding their energies to enhance it. The specific contribution of music to this building up of community in worship includes its encouragement of alertness to others, immediate responsiveness to changes in tone, tune and rhythm, and sharing in the confidence that can come from joint singing. Singing together embodies joint responsibility in which each singer waits on the others, is attentive with the intention of serving the common harmony.

Primitive Christian Worship


Although I disagree with a few strands of his overall theology, I appreciate what Ethelbert Stauffer writes about corporate Christian worship in his New Testament Theology [(Macmillan: 1955), 201]:

The worship of the primitive Church at every point took it back to the coming of Christ, the Christ-event. So it is the good news of the gospel that constitutes the real centre of her services of worship. The Word of Jesus Christ must have its course, said Luther, in the German Mass. It must dwell amongst us richly, declared Paul (Col. 3.16; cf. 1.27). So it came about that the prophecies and histories of the OT were read and expounded; the sermon set forth the mighty acts of God in the fulness of time (Acts 13.15 ff.); the correspondence of the apostles, new and old alike, the epistles, which are very much like sermons when read to the congregations, these were read and so, with their message, their thanksgivings and doxologies, helped to bring out the full meaning of Christian worship.

But Christian worship was ‘also’, most certainly, a service to the world. Yet the primitive Church did not serve mankind in solemn rites and cultic practices, in pious instructions and edifying spirituality. Christian worship rooted men out of their self-centred individualism into an extra nos — away from all that is subjective — up to that which is simply objective. This was its service to humanity. It summoned the nations to worship the crucified.

A Vision for Worship in the Local Church

John Jefferson Davis is professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In his new book, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (IVP Academic, 2010), Davis shares his vision for the local church that is built around a simple mission: (1) worship God well, (2) love one another, and (3) engage in mission. His book focuses on (1), but (1) is set in the context of (2) and (3). According to Davis, the faithful church is:

  • Committed to doctrinal orthodoxy and biblical authority.
  • Reformed in its soteriology.
  • Trinitarian in its theology.
  • Charismatic in its practice, affirming the gifts and anticipating the active presence of the Spirit in worship.
  • Counter-cultural in its posture, on one hand confronting scientific materialism (modernism), on the other hand confronting digital virtualism (postmodernism). The church is not a place that we control (contra modernism) and it is not a place to be entertained (contra postmodernism).
  • Missional in its vision, acting locally and “partnering with its brothers and sisters in the faith in the global church” which will also serve to protect the church from “identifying itself too closely with America and its global economic and military hegemony” (32).
  • Neo-monastical in its stress on sexual purity over licentiousness, humble obedience and submission over autonomy, and a life of simplicity in light of consumer-driven materialism.
  • It places God-centered doxology as its highest priority. “The fundamental issue is the recovery of the centrality and reality of God in the worship and life of the evangelical church generally: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead; Jesus is still alive today, and is present here with us in the power of the Spirit to enjoy communion with his people” (12).
  • It stresses the real presence of Christ when the church gathers and frequently celebrates the Lord’s Supper; “a more meaningful and frequent experience of the Lord’s Supper in the life of the evangelical church involves the rediscovery of a central reality in the worship of the New Testament and the early church: the real personal presence of the risen Christ who meets his people in joyful fellowship around the table” (114).
  • It focuses weekly on the main things. “One basic reason why frequent Communion, rightly administered, can be a powerful means of spiritual formation is that it focuses the church’s attention on the core realities of the Christian faith: the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection and the return of Jesus Christ. No Christian doctrines are more fundamental than these for the Christian faith. Week by week the church is reminded in the Eucharist that ‘Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again’” (166).

Davis cannot focus on all these features and he doesn’t try. The book centers on the final three bullets.

Rarely will you find a more pointed critique of the modern church communicated within such a compelling, full-scale vision for correction. And Davis’s understanding of technology, and the influence of technology on the church, is impressive (note the Google homepage analogy to the real presence on page 162).

Worship and the Reality of God was a rare book that I found hard to put down. Here’s what Douglas Groothuis wrote:

Professor Davis recaptures what has been lost in most contemporary worship: a theologically rich understanding of the presence of God in our midst during congregational worship and of how we should rightly respond to this incomparable Reality. This is a book to reawaken the heart and mind to true worship, and as such, it is desperately needed.