Worship has become loud, as in ear-splitting. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal tells why people are wearing earplugs in worship. The description says it all, “Congregations crank up the music to ear-splitting volume; ‘They were going after rock concert levels,’” (January 25, 2019). Those interviewed for the story were not criticizing the music. The problem was their ears’ inability to tolerate the noise level.
It made me think of the Reformers who wrote new church music to help congregations sing praise to God. Besides Martin Luther, the Reformed, such as Martin Bucer and the brothers Thomas and Ambrosius Blarer, took a large lead in the production of collections of praises for the churches to sing. Their interest was in the congregation actually singing its praise to God instead of watching trained choirs do it for them.
Also, I recall the work of the prolific translator, Catherine Winkworth. She lived in the 19th century and translated many German chorale hymns into English—over 400 texts. Some of her work is in our hymnal, such as Praise to the Lord, the Almighty and Now Thank We All Our God. She was also an author of many hymns. As with most translators, her versions of the hymn texts have not been appreciated by all. Yet the chorale style she adroitly promoted enabled the church to do two things; sing together and sing beautifully. Singing is a congregational activity and it is good to offer our praise to God delightfully and as well as we can.
Another person who came to mind was John Wesley. He offered five rules for singing. Here they are:
I. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
II. Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, then when you sing the songs of Satan (by which I think he means crass pop songs).
III. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
IV. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
V. Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
Good advice for an age of entertainment and ear-splitting music.
Grace and Peace