Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 24, 1967
NUMBER 16, PAGE 11-12a

Church Singing Schools

Robert C. Welch

Is it wrong for a church to provide for and engage in what commonly is called a singing school? Apparently there are some who doubt that such a practice is scriptural. Perhaps these same people would doubt the right of the church to provide its building for funerals, the study of New Testament Greek by a class of interested students, or for teaching the geography of Bible lands. None of these is specified in the New Testament as being provided for by the church. But there is the general authorization of these things involved in our worship just as there is general authorization for our buildings for worship.

One time the disciples said to the Lord: "Teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1). Following that request the Lord taught his disciples about their motives, their manner, the purpose, the object, and the content of their prayers. I suppose that no one would object to a capable godly man teaching a group of men or even the whole church to pray. Singing is another feature of our worship. Who can say that it is necessary to learn to pray but not necessary to learn to sing? Or, who can say that it is right for the church to provide teaching on prayer but wrong for the church to provide teaching singing? Such a distinction would be absurdly inconsistent. Is it proper for a preacher to tell the men that they are to speak loudly enough to be heard by congregation when they lead the prayer, but improper for a teacher to tell the people in the congregation how loudly they are to sing?

Is it scriptural for the church to provide books which contain both words and music for the songs, but unscriptural to tell the church what to do with the music? Men can sometimes become ridiculously absurd in their contentions for one thing while being against another. The people can be told how to care for the book so as not to tear, mutilate or deface it; how to place it in the racks so as not to disturb noisily while singing or engaging in the closing prayer; but it then becomes unscriptural to tell them how to use the book to improve their worship in song! Who can believe it? The very fact that the Lord has told us to speak one to another in song (Eph. 5:19) makes it necessary that we know how to sing, and by general authority includes the teaching of singing as well as the provision of books with the music.

Churches can use announcers to tell the people how to park their cars for efficiency of space; but then someone can think it wrong for the church to have someone tell a man how to sing in tune and harmony with the rest of the worshippers. Such instruction is included in the general command to sing.

Someone may suggest that the people can learn to sing in public schools or with private lessons. So could they learn to pray; so could they learn to speak publicly; so could they learn to care for the books; so could they learn to park their cars. But the fact that they can learn these things elsewhere does not make it wrong or right for the church to provide such instruction. The question of right or wrong for the church is determined by its authorization in the Scriptures, either by specific statement or by general requirements in worship.

Call one thing a singing school and another a funeral if you will, the thing of interest is what is done. In spite of some man's opposition to what he calls a funeral in the church building, churches will continue to read the passages of faith, comfort and hope to those who have been left behind to mourn and sorrow; they will continue to have words of sympathy addressed to the bereft and will continue to pray with them. In like manner, the churches which have better teaching and admonishing of one another in song will provide instruction for improvement in singing.

Preachers of the gospel have taught audiences for years that the Greek word eis' means; in order to, or, unto. They have taught publicly that the Greek word psallo' has never specified the instrument but has specified only the action, and that in New Testament times it specifically meant, to sing. Many such lessons on the Greek language in which the New Testament originally came have been given by preachers. The church could just as readily provide special classes where it could be taught for a better appreciation of the revealed Will. In like manner, we have heard lessons on English grammar for better appreciation of Bible teaching. Have you not heard of the use of the conjunction and in Mark 16:16? Have you not heard lessons on geography, pointing out the relative location and features of places which are mentioned in the Bible? In fact, the apostle Paul taught a lesson on grammar when he pointed out the difference between the singular and plural of seed (Gal. 3:16). The church can as easily provide classes for these things which help in understanding and doing the will of God as they can be mentioned so frequently in sermon. So, also, can it provide classes of instruction in singing, just as the leader can tell the congregation to sing softly, or loudly, or lively, or whether to stand or sit while singing, or all the rest of the minor instructions which are frequently given for decency and orderliness in our singing and other features of worship.

What is here said is no justification whatsoever for the church to give instruction in music generally. The person might use the instruction he receives as he performs for entertainment. But the instruction which the church provides is for the improvement of worship in song. The lessons on Greek, grammar, or Bible geography are not for the purpose of giving the person a general education. The church provides such things for a better understanding and appreciation of the Scriptures. A class for training men and boys to speak publicly is not to teach them public speaking in secular affairs, though they may use it in their personal life; but it is for the purpose of helping them to serve God in a public capacity. The same authority for such teaching and training is authority for teaching and training song leaders and for all members in their singing.

This is no censure of the church which does not have a "singing school" just as the church is not censured for not having a "Bible class" or "Bible study" on Wednesday evening. But many churches could improve their understanding of the Bible by providing more Bible classes. And many of them could have better preaching by training more men how to preach. Any many, very many, of them could have much better singing by providing instruction in singing to the members. No, it is not a matter of doing, or of teaching men to do, something unscriptural; it is teaching them to do what the Scriptures command, sing.