Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 27, 1951

Solo Singing In The Worship

J. Edward Nowlin, Atlanta, Georgia

Those of us who have spent years preaching the gospel in the East Tennessee stronghold of digression trying to restore the professed "Restoration Movement" and to build up New Testament churches according to the divine pattern, have recently been dismayed to find some of our own brethren willing to introduce, condone and attempt to justify the singing of solos in worship services. Such solo singing was done last April in worship services of the very congregation which in 1941 sent this writer to Johnson City to fight digression. With malice toward none and with love for all the following things are respectfully presented:

It Is A Departure From Established Practice

Never before in twenty-two years work in the Lord's church has this writer ever heard a solo sung in a worship service. This fact does not prove the right or wrong of the practice, but to use the words of Paul regarding the hair and veil problem in Corinth, "We have no such custom, neither the churches of God." (1 Cor. 11:16b) We have preached and practiced and contended for congregational singing for decades, and have opposed solo and special group singing as being unscriptural and appealing to the appetites of men for entertainment. If there is any scripture authorizing such, why has not somebody pointed it out before now?

The New Testament Teaches Congregational Singing

1. CHRIST'S EXAMPLE left for our leaning on the night in which he was betrayed is stated, "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives." They sang the hymn, not one of them!

2. APOSTOLIC EXAMPLE is stated. "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them." Acts 16:25. All the Christians present sang!

3. APOSTOLIC PRECEPT is given, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God." Col. 3:16. All the "saints and faithful brethren at Colossae (1:1) were commanded to teach and admonish "one another" (requiring all to participate) in singing "unto God," which shows that it was in worship!

Testimony Of Historians

HENRY HART MILMAN, Hist. of Christianity, Vol. II, p. 409 — "The first change in the manner of singing was the substitution of singers, who became a separate order in the church, for the mingled voices of all ranks and sexes, which was compared by the great reformer of church music to the glad sound of many waters."

JOHANN JOSEPH IGNATIUS HOLLINGER, Hist. of the Church, Vol. II, pp. 307, 308 — "In the first ages the psalms were sung by the whole assembly standing; after the fourth century the practice introduced by St. Ambrose from the east was adopted in the west, by which the psalms were sung in alternate chant by the congregation, dividing into two choirs."

PLINY FLETCHER HURST, Hist. of the Christian Church, Vol. I, p. 357 — " ... the singing of the congregation was regarded as such an integral part of the divine service that only clerical officers should direct it. The music was at no time, and in no place, regarded as the prerogative of the singers. That only was held to be sacred music which the congregation could participate m, either responsively or continuously."

GEORGE PARK FISHER, Hist. of the Christian Church, pp. 65, 121 — "The introduction of antiphonal singing at Antioch is ascribed by tradition to Ignatius ... The primitive church music was choral and congregational.."

What of 1 Con 14:26? (AV)

It is being urged that this scripture authorizes solo singing in worship today! It reads: "How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying." Goodspeed's modern translation says, "Then what is the right course, brothers? When you meet together, suppose every one of you has a song, a teaching, a revelation, an ecstatic utterance, or an explanation of one; it must all be for the good of all." Quoting dozens of different translations on this verse will not suffice to give us the meaning of it. Again we raise the timely question, If this passage authorizes solo singing in worship today, why has not somebody discovered it before now; and why have we not been singing solos all the time? We propose to speak where the Bible speaks, you know!

The context of this passage shows that Paul is here regulating the exercise of spiritual gifts in the church at Corinth, and the established fact is that we have no such spiritual gifts today. Therefore, how can such a passage apply to us? Chapters 12, 13 and 14 are given over entirely to the discussion of spiritual gifts and miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 12 opens with this introduction to the subjects: "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant." Chapter 14 closes with this conclusion: "Wherefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. But let all things be done decently and in order."

The psalms of 1 Cor. 14:26 were divinely inspired psalms taught to the congregation by the men who received them and sung when learned by the congregation in worship to God. Since they had no song books such as we have this was necessary in order that the church might know and be able to sing songs of praise to Jesus Christ. The Psalms of David were not sufficient for this. In like manner, the church learned doctrine from men who received divinely inspired revelations of truth, and taught such doctrine to others. They had no New Testament to read. The burden of Paul's instruction in verse 26 is to maintain order and edification in their services. If any man has a divinely inspired psalm to teach the congregation today, no one can deny him the right to teach it to the church! Then we can all sing it TOGETHER in worship to God and be doing the same thing they did in Corinth.

Testimony Of Commentators

J. W. SHEPHERD in Lipscomb's Commentary on 1 Cor., p. 213 — "What is it then, brethren? When ye come together—How are these gifts to be exercised? The principle governing their exercise is edification. This principle is now applied to the orderly exercise, particularly of the gift of tongues and prophecy. A graphic picture is given of the assembled church, eager to contribute, each his part, to the services." (This comment added by Shepherd in brackets, and is not Lipscomb's comment. See Com. on Romans, p. 4 — "The notes enclosed in brackets I have added.")

DAVID LIPSCOMB, Commentary on 1 Cor., p. 218 —"each one hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation—The directions which follow with the statements made in verses 82, 83, indicate that they attempted all these things at once and created discord and confusion in the services." Queries & Answers, p. 392 — On Mk. 14:26 he says, "Christ and the apostles sung at the first institution and observance of the Supper. They sung, not one of them."

MARCUS DODS in Expositor's Bible, p. 695 — "Each member of the congregation had something to contribute for the edification of the church. The experience, the thought, the gifts, of the individual were made available for the benefit of all. One with a natural aptitude for poetry threw his devotional feeling into a metrical form, and furnished the church with her earliest hymns ... We cannot but ask in passing, What has become of all those inspired utterances with which the Corinthian church from week to week resounded?"

CLARKE'S COMMENTARY, p. 277 — "Verse 26. How is it—every one of you hath a psalm, etc. Dr. Lightfoot understands this in the following manner: When the congregation came together, some were for spending the time in psalmody; others in explaining particular doctrines; others in reading, praying, or speaking in the Hebrew tongue; others were curious to hear of farther revelations; and others wished to spend the time in the interpretation of what had already been spoken. This may be specious, but to me it is not satisfactory. It seems more likely that, when the whole church came together, among whom there were many persons with extraordinary gifts, each of them wished to put himself forward, and occupy the time and attention of the congregation: hence confusion must necessarily take place, and perhaps not a little contention. This was contrary to that edifying which was the intention of these gifts."

BARNE'S NOTES, p 291 — "Hath a psalm. Is disposed to sing; is inclined to praise; and however irregular or improper, expresses his thanks in a public manner."

VINCENT'S WORD STUDIES, Vol. III, pp. 269, 270 — Commenting on 1 Cor. 14:15 says, "Here it is applied to such songs improvised under the spiritual ecstasy (ver. 26)."

DEAN HENRY ALFORD, On psalms in 1 Cor. 14:26, "Most probably a hymn of praise to sing in the power of the Spirit, as did Miriam, Deborah, Simeon, etc."

HEINRICH AUGUST WILHELM MEYER, Commentary on N. T., Gal, and Eph., pp. 606, 507 — "and that the Christians, filled by the Spirit, improvised psalms, is clear from 1 Cor. 14:15, 26."

EDMOND DE PRESSENSE, The Early Years of Christianity, p. 372 — "'If any man hath a psalm' says the apostle, 'let him speak,' Eph. 5:19; Col. 8:16; 1 Cor. 14:26. Here the reference is evidently to a new song given by inspiration of the Spirit of God to one in the assembly."

What About Solos Today?

Since Paul said spiritual gifts would cease (1 Cor. 13:9, 10), no man has any inspired psalm to sing today.

The scripture has not been found which authorizes one person, or a group of persons, to sing for the church the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs which we all have the right and duty to participate in the worship of God.

ISAIAH 8:20 — "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

A PLEA: Brethren, let us not cause strife and division by introducing into the work and worship of the church those things which are not authorized in the New Testament.