Martin Luther (1483-1546) author of A mighty fortress is our God / A bulwark never failing—was the first person who brought back congregational singing in worship. During his time, congregational songs have become more complex and participation in worship was limited to only the monks and the educated. Luther believed that everyone has the right to sing in worship. He translated Latin chants into the vernacular language of his people and composed simple hymns so that his congregation can sing and worship.
Since then the role of congregational singing as an important act of worship was recognised. Yet when the people of God gather together to worship, they do so through an art that is incredibly personal. So how do we balance our worship so that it speaks to worshippers of different ages and backgrounds. Gerrit Gustafson writes in Worship Today, “The church of the future must become transcultural. The evangelical church must learn to sing spiritual songs; the charismatic church must rediscover hymns, the traditional church must begin to sing a new psalm… (doing all these) allow God's design for worship to be a source of unity among us.”
Although not exhaustive I have a list of reminders to follow when choosing our worship songs.
- Worship is for God and God alone.
- Worship is our response to God. The text must retell the gospel story, talk about God, be rooted in His word (Col 3:16, Eph 5:19), and is an appropriate corporate response of the body of Christ at that moment of time.
- Worship is for everyone. Be inclusive yet sensitive.
- Every church has a musical DNA—get to know them.
- Choosing the right hymns requires thorough study and meditation of God’s Word and unceasing prayers.
- Congregational singing is the work of the people. One of the Hebrew word to describe worship is abad which means to work, to serve, to labour, and that includes learning new songs.
A word about learning new hymns. It is hard to dive into worship when we are unfamiliar with the song. As Charles Wesley (1707-1788) taught his congregation—learn the tune first. Every week, our musicians come together to practice in order to prepare for worship—follow them. The choir rehearse Sunday hymns on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well as before worship starts, we welcome you to join us.
Perfect worship does not exist until we get to heaven, yet I pray that the worship at ORPC moves towards this direction.