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Answering the Advocacy of Choirs and Solos in Worship

by Gene Frost
via Gospel Anchor, Vol. XV, No. 11, July 1989

In recent years congregational singing, as practiced by churches of Christ, has been challenged. The attack upon congregational singing as the exclusive source of music in worship has come from two quarters, the one seeking to justify instrumental music and the other seeking to introduce choirs and solos. They make a common indictment, and that is: congregational singing is not specifically authorized.

Seeking to justify the employment of the instrument in worship, instrumentalists argue that "All references to singing in the New Testament refer to individual singing and not to corporate worship."1 However, by general authority, under what they call "permissive silence," they reason that we can have congregational singing and they can have instrumental music.

Those who seek to bring choirs and solos into our congregational worship likewise argue that all references to singing refer to the individual and not corporate worship: "there is nothing in the meaning of the words or in the syntax, context or structure which specifies (or even suggests, implies, alludes to, or intimates) congregational singing."2 "In addition," they say, "the Bible indicates that early Christians practiced non-congregational singing (I Corinthians 14)."3 Although the scriptures are silent as to congregational singing, we are told that we nevertheless may have congregational singing under general authority to teach.

It would be interesting to hear an advocate of choirs and solos defend congregational singing with an instrumentalist without opening the door for the instrument. They both begin with the premise that all references in the New Testament are to individual singing, and nothing in the language, syntax or context even suggests congregational singing. We predict that in the not too-distant future, if the solo-choir contention prevails, we not only will see some "conservative churches" embrace solos and choirs, but instrumental accompaniment as well.

Choirs-Solos Introduced

The first inclination toward solos and choirs in worship in our time, that I know of, was first voiced during an open forum at Florida College in 1986. Since then it has been advocated in several places and in various media.

The issue is no mere academic exercise, but already is being implemented. I have received reports of two churches which have introduced choirs in worship to God, one devoting an evening assembly to being "entertained" (or "edified," depending upon one's perspective), and the other having a choir
to sing immediately following the regularly scheduled worship.

Also there is a current practice that lends encouragement to an implementation of the advocacy. For several years the Florida College chorus has presented a program of spiritual songs following an evening sermon, separated by a brief intermission. With a bridging of the intermission, either actually or mentally, there is a religious service incorporating choral music. Whether we want to recognize it or not, many view the activities of the college as precedence for the churches. (The lectureship program conveys the appearance of a gospel meeting. I know that some strongly protest, claiming that the "lectures" do not constitute a "gospel meeting," that the speeches are not "sermons." Yet when the audience began to applaud the speeches, this was considered inappropriate since the subject matter was Biblical. I think that some serious thought should be given to what the lectures are, more than just an exercise in semantics.) The reason I mention the lectureship program of the college is because what is countenanced by the school is but a brief step from being practiced by some churches. A thin line now separates a period of religious teaching with congregational singing and a period of religious singing in and by which the audiences is entertained by a choir. I fear that with many the line is no barrier, and some are ready to combine spiritual teaching and music by a choir or solo into one worship to God.

In the April 1986 issue of the Gospel Anchor, I addressed the issue that had been raised during the "open forum" at FC. In the August 1987 issue, I ad-dressed the issue again, showing that innovations are first introduced by academic discussion, then by being brought into close proximity to the church, and then ever so gradually actually incorporated into the church's activities. We stated:

"The question of permissibility of choirs has been raised, and perhaps we are entering the discussion period. If so, let it be fully discussed. Let the proponents present the passages and make the arguments they consider as authorization."

To neither article was there any rebuttal addressed to me. However, I have learned (just this year) that a review of my arguments, though not a direct reference, was made last July in the Lectureship program of the High School Road church in Indianapolis. The lecture outline, "The Use of Solo-Choral Music in the Worship," (here-after referred to as the Outline), is too lengthy to reproduce with this response. We suggest that the reader write to the author for a copy, which he graciously offers to supply: Tom Hamilton, 6807 New Hampshire, Hammond, IN 46323.

The Outline is in two parts: (1) Exegesis of the texts, and (2) Application of the texts. The texts under consideration are Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, and 1 Cor. 14:26. The response, like-wise, will be in two parts.

Part One:

Exegesis of the Texts

Ephesians 5:18-19

"And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord ..."

In contrast to drunkenness, the saints in Ephesus are exhorted to "be filled with the Spirit." This expresses the same thought as in Colossians: "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." "Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" corresponds to "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Col. 3:16) By metonymy, "Spirit" is used for what is conveyed by the Spirit, the word of Christ. "For the Spirit and the Word can never be separated. He gives it; and He uses it, and operates through it. It is His work to take the things of Christ and show them unto us, and thus to `glorify' Christ ... When this word thus dwells in us, we shall be full of wondrous Psalms; we shall be speaking in ourselves to God, by our hymns: and our songs shall be spiritual because they will be sung in our hearts. There will be the melody which ascends and reaches up to the Presence of God: because it will be a `singing by grace and with grace unto
God ..."'4


The subject of the exhortation ("be filled," plerousthe: present imperative, passive, second person, plural) is "saints" and "the faithful" in Ephesus. The plural pronoun, "yourselves"(heautois), has its antecedent in the same. The pronoun is reflexive, which means that "the action expressed by :he verb is referred back to its own subject.", That is, the saints in Ephesus were to "be filled with the Spirit" and were to do the "speaking," specifically in "singing." Instruction is not addressed to an individual or to a few to be filled and to speak, but "the whole company."6 All are to be filled with the Spirit, and each one expresses his praise and thanksgiving to God, "uttering their united praise"7.

Not only is the pronoun reflexive, it is also reciprocal, which means that "the subject is represented as affected by an interchange of the action signified in the verb."8 To interchange is to put each in the place of the other ... to give and receive. Thus, all are to sing, each speaking to the others as they speak to him within the time-frame of the song. Note that all are exhorted to speak, to sing, not listen. All are active participants, as indicated by the active voice.

It should be observed that the reflexive pronoun is from heautou and not allelon. The author of the Outline, to make his point, really needs a form of allelon in the text, but it is not there. To show the distinction, we will note the use of allelon and heauton with verbs of communication:

Luke 2:15 — "the shepherds said one to another (allelous), Let us now go ..."

Luke 6:11 — "And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another (allelous) what they might do to Jesus."

Luke 7:32 — "They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another (allelois) ... "

Luke 24:14 — "And they talked together (allelous) of all these things which had happened."

In these contexts, we mentally picture persons expressing themselves, each expressing his own thoughts to others. This is individual action with reciprocity. Within the time-frame conveyed by the subject of the context they each added to the discussion, one and then the other. This is the idea of the Outline, which pictures the singing as separate events, with each eventually teaching and admonishing the others. But this is not the mental picture conveyed by heautois and heautous in the context of Eph. 5:19 or Col. 3:16.

Luke 23:28: "Weep for yourselves (heautas) ..."

Within the course of weeping, each and all wept. It was not one weeping now and another weeping later. They were weeping at the crucifixion of Jesus, and instead of Him being the object of their sorrow, Jesus said it should be over what lay ahead.

"Yourselves," in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, not only carries the reciprocal connotation, but basically it is reflexive. In the action of the "singing," within the time-frame of the song, all are involved: each sings to the others, teaching and admonishing while being taught and admonished. Heautois conveys the action of "for your own sakes." Everyone is involved himself, while singing to the others. Lightfoot notes that the "reflexive heauton differs from the reciprocal allelon in emphasizing the idea of corporate unity."9 This is corporate unit action. The action is not just one to another, but it involves each saint himself along with every other saint, each to the others.

"It will be the singing of the `heart,' and not of the throat: and it will be 'to the praise and glory of God' (as it used to be) and not to the praise and glory of the choir or of the performers. The heart, which is indwelt by the Spirit, can sing to God. It will need no `soloist' to do it by proxy. For we are not commanded to listen [only, GF] to the singing of another or others, however exquisite it may be, but to sing our-selves as worshippers. This singing requires no `ear for music,' but it needs a `heart' for Christ. For this music comes from God and returns to God."10

The saints in Ephesus, as a congregation, were to speak each to the others in psalms, etc., as the word of Christ dwelled in them. Barclay notes that herein is a contrast between being filled with wine and being filled with the Spirit, the one characterizing the pagan assemblies and the other that of Christians. Paul "goes on to draw a contrast between a pagan gathering and a Christian gathering. The pagan gathering is apt to be a debauch. ... The heathen found his happiness in filling himself with wine and with worldly pleasures; the Christian found his happiness in being filled with the Spirit."11 (This is true of any gathering of saints in worship to God, whether with all assembled or in assemblies less than the whole church.)


"Singing" is a present participle, which conveys the action descriptive of the "speaking." Both "speaking" and "singing" belong to the principal verb, "be filled."12 Participles are verbal adjectives, and in this text "they modify the subject of the imperative and thus describe the condition of those who are filled in spirit."13 And may we be reminded that the subject is plural, including all of the saints in Ephesus. That is, all are to do the singing. "The verbal character of the Participle appears, partly in its directly governing the same case as its verb ... partly in its regularly retaining the element of time..."14 This temporal aspect of the participle denotes in the present tense "action in progress, simultaneous with the action of the principal verb."15 What this means is that the saints (all of them) sing at the same time that the being filled with the Spirit is expressed in speaking.

To find choral or solo singing in the passage, we would have to assume that individuals singly or a few at a time are "filled with the Spirit" at a given time in our worship. These would sing, while the majority of the congregation (lacking the devotion that seeks expression in glorifying God) simply listen. This is patently absurd. By what stretch of the imagination could one singing a solo justify his action by appealing to Eph. 5:19, "I am speaking to ourselves (yourselves), in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs"? Nor is it any better to reason, "I am fulfilling my part in speaking to ourselves (yourselves), which will be completed when every-one else does the same in due time." Yet this is precisely the argument that those who would justify solos and choirs make.

The natural sense conveys congregational singing; as the word dwells in all (all are filled with the Spirit), all sing. "Through the simple singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs believers can teach, exhort, and admonish one another. Unfortunately this divinely designed mode of teaching has become distorted in modern times. Many see the song service as a period of entertainment and have added items to it which havetaken it away from the divine purpose. There are those who fail to see the need for ALL members to participate in this method of praise and edification; they have reserved this mode of praise for a select `choir.' Others have taken away the beauty of the first century a capella music and have added an instrument, or even entire bands!"16

Colossians 3:16

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."

What has been said of Eph. 5 can be said of Col. 3:16. "Let ... dwell" is a present imperative, as is "be filled" in Eph. 5. "One another" is the same reflexive (reciprocal) pronoun, here in the accusative case (dative in Eph. 5). "Teaching" and "admonishing" are pre-sent participles, as "speaking" and "singing" and "making melody" in Eph. 5.

The antecedent of "you" and "one another" is "saints" and "faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse." They (plural, "in the collective sense,"17) were to teach and admonish as the word of Christ was in them. "And it would `dwell richly' in their midst when they came together and in their hearts as individuals..."18 "It is plain, at any rate, that when early Christians came together for worship, they not only realized the presence of Christ in the breaking of bread but also ad-dressed their prayers and praises to Him in a manner which tacitly, and at times expressly, acknowledged Him as no less than God."19

Summary of Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3

We may conclude from both texts, Eph. 5 and Col. 3:

1. Worship is involved: "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."

2. The activity: "singing," "teaching and admonishing" in song.

3. What is sung: "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs."

4. Subject (who is to sing): the congregation of "saints and faithful brethren"; active voice signifies "all must actively participate."

5. When: when together, assembled: "one another," i.e. each one to the others; while each is involved himself (reflexive), he teaches and admonishes the others (reciprocal).

What is pictured is congregational singing, as practiced by churches of Christ today. The authority is specific: when brethren sing in worship, this is the order. Whenever the congregation worships God in song, this is the pat-tern to be observed. Choirs and solos violate the divine pattern.

The Lord has left us some options:

1. The number of songs to be sung. (If the exegesis of 1 Cor. 14:26 by choirs-solos advocates is correct, we would be limited to three solos by men.)

2. Parts to be sung: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

3. In unison, antiphonal (answering responsively), et al., as long as, in the activity of the song, all sing.

4. Melody, pitch, dynamics, etc., in keeping with the spiritual nature of the song.

While the Lord has given us some choices, He has not given us a choice of congregational singing (specified) or choirs or solos. Choirs and solos are without authorization.

The Problem

The problem some have in accepting congregational singing, as conveyed in Eph. 5 and Col. 3, is that they transfer grammar into syntax, and use syntax without proper consideration of con-text. For example, one may observe that "heauton does not necessitate or specify simultaneous action (or any time element)"20, and then conclude that there is no congregational singing in either Eph. 5 or Col. 3. The conclusion is not so. It is an assertion based upon definition and ignores the con-textual use of the word. A common error, as Dana and Mantey point out, is for one to carry a study of grammar "into the field of syntax with no consciousness more than he has passed into a new heading of the general subject under consideration."21

Another example is found in the Outline:

"By definition, the words used have been seen to authorize or allow congregational singing, but not to specify or require it. Conversely, the same words by definition authorize or allow solos or choirs, but do not require them either. In addition, it has been easily demonstrated that the syntax, context, and structure do not modify this conclusion in any way."22

The argument is that, though al-lowed, neither congregational singing nor solos or choirs are required. That's
true, according to "definitions" standing alone, but it is not true when syntax and context are taken into ac-count. Paul uses in both texts an imperative — "Be filled with the Spirit ... speaking ... singing"; "Let the word of Christ dwell in you ... teaching ... singing". The imperative mode ex-presses "a direct, positive appeal to another," and even when it does not convey the finality of a command," it "has the force of urgency or request."23 Thus the saints are required (either by command or urgency of appeal) to do whatever "speaking to yourselves" conveys. If it is congregational, then congregational singing is required. If not, then solos or choirs are required. The author of the Outline is emphatic in declaring that "there is nothing in the meaning of the words or in the syntax, context or structure which specifies (or even suggests, implies, alludes to, or intimates) congregational singing." He wonders aloud, where did the idea of "congregational singing" come from? If all that the Scriptures suggest, imply, allude to, or intimate are solos and choirs — this is what they authorize —then this is not only "allowed," but is what they are directly, positively urged or commanded to do. The conclusion of the argumentation is that teaching in song is to be in solos and choirs. "Definitions" of the words do not re-quire the conclusion, but the syntax and context do!

This is the problem we find with the Outline. The author stifles his thinking with definitions and rules which he imposes on the context, instead of allowing the natural flow of the context to govern the application of the grammar and syntax. "Syntax is the process of analyzing and classifying the modes of expression presented by a language. It does not govern language; it deals with the facts of language as they are found."24 Without the con-fusion of technical jargon, the typical reader can read the translations and understand what the letters are conveying.

1 Corinthians 14:26

"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."

In the August 1987 issue of the Gospel Anchor, we showed the context of this verse, and pointed out that the assembly herein described cannot be duplicated today. The only effort to counter what we presented has been quibbles, which we anticipated and answered in the article itself.

However, since it is becoming apparent that the search for authority for choirs-solos is going to focus on 1 Corinthians 14 — we say this by reason of private discussions in which this text has been the last refuge for the contention — we will comment further upon the text, and call upon those who advocate choirs-solos to address it.

Advocates of choirs-solos make two assumptions: (1) the assembly of 1 Cor. 14 is a normal, typical assembly. Spiritual gifts are incidental and do not set the assembly apart so as to constitute a special meeting. (2) Circumstances do not affect the activities that took place; i.e. what was done through spiritual gifts may be done in their absence. (a) What men did in exercising spiritual gifts maybe done in the absence of spiritual gifts. In which case, the counter-part of prophets are teachers; prophets who judge are teachers who pass judgment on the doctrinal soundness of one who does speak; tongue-speakers are those who can speak in foreign languages; interpreters are those who can translate the foreign language into a language under-stood by the congregation; one with a psalm is a solo singer; etc. (b) Directions given to govern those who exercised spiritual gifts also govern those without spiritual gifts. This assumption that we may transfer regulations from those addressed to others not addressed has long been a favorite tool of innovators. Romanists want to transfer the role of apostles to priests. Institutionalists (missionary society advocates) want to transfer church responsibility to a human society. (Some want to transfer individual responsibility to the church, which in turn is transferred to the society, which does what God gave the individual to do in the first place.) "No class" advocates want to transfer the regulation of prophets to uninspired speakers. Obviously, we would do well to leave the instructions where and to whom the Lord gave them.

These assumptions are not new.They have long been argued by those who reject Bible classes and women teachers.

Of course we reject both assumptions.

Special Assembly

It is evident from the context that Paul is referring to an assembly in which spiritual gifts were being exercised. It is not a regular, definite assembly. An indefinite adverb introduces the assembly: "when" signifies "at the time that, whenever ... used of things which one assumes will really occur, but the time of whose occurrence he does not definitely fix."25 It is the "if" assembly of verse 23: "if" is "a conditional particle ... which makes reference to time, but not determining before the event, whether it is certainly to take place; if, in case that ..."26 Note that he does not say, "As the whole church comes together into one place, if all speak with tongues," etc., to signify the uncertainty of the presence of spiritual gifts. Rather the conditional particle relates to the church coming together. This particular assembly, in which spiritual gifts were exercised, was not characteristic of all assemblies. Can you imagine Paul writing, "If the whole church come together to eat the Lord's Supper," signifying uncertainty as to it actually occurring? Rather, he says, "When ye come together to eat, tarry one for another." (1 Cor. 11:33) An assembly, with the Lord's Supper to be observed, is not an "if' assembly. (Acts 20:7) However, the assembly of 1 Cor. 14 is an "if " assembly, not a normal definite assembly.

Misapplying Regulations

If we equate the "if " assembly of 1 Cor. 14 with our assemblies today, then the regulations of that assembly would apply to our assemblies. Ignoring the fact that spiritual gifts are being regulated, the specific regulations would apply to those who do not have a spiritual gift. This being the case, then only "two or three" men could teach in the worship assembly (including serving the Lord's Supper, commenting upon the songs, preaching, etc.). (Vs. 29) Those who desire to comment in a foreign language will be limited also to three, and then only if someone could interpret for them. (Vs. 27-28) All women who will learn would have to ask their husbands, whatever their spiritual qualifications (a novice, a heretic, or even a pagan) at home. (Vs. 35) As we have observed with those who oppose "Bible classes and women teachers," those who make the argument that the regulations (of spiritual gifts) of 1 Cor. 14 regulate all assemblies, do not practice what they teach. They pick and choose what they want to apply. The no "Bible class" contenders use the argument in order to forbid women teaching the Bible in classes, composed of women and children; the choirs-solos advocates use the argument to find authority for solos today. But consistency does not allow for choosing what one wants: he is a debtor to do all that is found therein. The very fact that consistency is lacking is a demonstration of the fallacy of the argument. Regulations of spiritual gifts are not transferrable to nongifted men.

A further demonstration that the equation of spiritual-gifts assemblies with assemblies today is fallacious may he seen in the case of prophets who "judged." Since it argued that what men did, using spiritual gifts, they do today without the gifts, then tell us who are the "judges" today? I believe that only men qualified by spiritual gifts could assume this role, and that the regulations governing the prophets do not obtain today. A failure to have judges in our assemblies today is a tacit admission that the assemblies are differentand that the regulations of the one are not the same for the other.

Observe further that the regulations of spiritual gifts was in response to abuses being practiced in the Corinthian church. There was something amiss in the conduct of all who had "a psalm ... a doctrine ... a tongue ... a revelation ... an interpretation," so that Paul had to caution, "Let all things be done unto edifying." He proceeds to state what was needed to bring about this result. The tongue speakers would be limited to "two, or at the most three," and then only if there is an interpreter present; two or three of theprophets could speak, and the others would judge. Nothing is said about the one with a psalm speaking (or singing) at all. Now, either (1) the order of the assembly was for the tongue-speakers and prophets to speak in limited number and those with a psalm not at all in this assembly, or (2) we are to understand that the regulations (number of participants) extends to all other categories of spiritual gifts, which we believe to be correct, in which case those with psalms also were limited to three. If this is the order to govern our assemblies today, then all that is authorized are solos and not more of them than three in a given assembly! Thus, according to the argument that choir-solo advocates make on 1 Cor. 14, there is no authority for either choirs or congregational singing (and they join the instrumentalists in this argument)! They cannot run to Eph. 5:19 or to Col. 3:16, for, according to their exegesis, there is nothing in the texts to even suggest congregational singing!

Further, if we are to transfer the instructions, directed to those who had spiritual gifts, to those who do not possess spiritual gifts, then all women must wear a covering; not a hat, but a covering. (1 Cor. 11:5)

Of course, the advocates of choirs-solos are wrong in their understanding of 1 Cor. 14. They repeat the old, worn-out and oft-exposed, fallacy of the "no classes, no women teachers" contenders; both make the same argument in order to reach a different conclusion.

Summary of 1 Corinthians 14

In order for the advocates of choirs-solos to establish their contention, they must prove:

1. That all assemblies in the first century were like the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14, and explain how or why all assemblies were indefinite.

2. That instructions to specified persons may be transferred to others not under consideration.

Having done this, they must be consistent and acknowledge that they intend to:

1. Limit teachers in any one assembly to three.

2. Appoint judges in every assembly.

3. See that all women have their heads covered in all assemblies.

4. Direct all women to learn from their husbands at home, whatever their spiritual maturity may be.

5. Confine the singing to not over three solos in a given assembly, and then by men (hekastos, "every one," is masculine).

In addition, they must prove that the "psalms" given by the Spirit (vs. 26) were sung in solo, and were not songs revealed to be sung by the congregation (or were psalms always sung and never recited?). Also, they must prove that the singing of vs. 15 was solo, and not singing in a foreign language in company with others.

Without proving these things, the choir-solo advocate has no certainty as to his affirmation. Assumptions are a meager basis for accepting choirs and solos in our assemblies.

In contrast to the advocacy of those who would introduce choirs and solos, we note that the assembly of 1 Corinthians 14 is special. It cannot be duplicated today. As God gave men the message to preach, gave men languages with which to communicate, gave men ability to judge in the assembly, He also gave songs proper and fitting for worship. The church was young, and revelation was not complete and recorded; the church needed special guidance in its message and in its songs. The specific regulations set forth to govern the use of spiritual gifts are special to it. (The principles that dictated the regulations obtain, of course; cf. vss. 26, 33, 40.) To equate these assemblies with non-"spiritual gift" assemblies is fallacious and leads to grievous errors.

General Authority

The author of the Outline asserts that even without the specific authority of 1 Corinthians 14, and even without the authority of Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, there would still be authority for choirs-solos under the general command to "teach." And so we come to the last position upon which the advocates can build their case.

The "general authority" argument betrays a failure to understand how to establish authority. "Teach" authorizes what is to be done, not who is to do it. "Teach" does not authorize either the individual (2 Tim. 2:2) or the church (1 Tim. 3:15). Doing what is commanded does not authorize just any arrangement of persons (the who); e.g. the missionary society.

When the Lord commanded "teaching" in "singing" in Eph. 5 and Col. 3, if He specifies the who as being the individual, then the authority becomes specific and we are limited to solos. The Outline assumes that the individual is addressed. However, we believe that the who is the congregation (every individual composing it), to whom the epistle is addressed. Through the apostle Paul, the Lord specified the whole congregation to sing reciprocally ("yourselves," "one to another"). We do not have the right to waive the Lord's instructions to substitute choirs or solos, to allow less than the whole assembly to sing reciprocally, while the rest listen.


Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a reference to worshipping by listening to singing. Saints are clearly instructed to sing. Jesus, with His disciples, sang: "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." (Matt. 26:30, Mark 14:26) Jesus did not sing a hymn to them, nor did a few address the others in song. They sang.

In the instruction to the churches, the saints are commanded to sing. (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16.) They are told how to sing. There is no instruction as to how to listen while others sing.

To assume that reciprocity in singing is over a period of time, so as to allow one to sing a solo to all the others at one time and then later for another to do the same until eventually everyone sings to everyone else, is just that: presumption. The conclusion is contrary to the natural flow of the language. We seriously doubt that anyone ever read Eph. 5:19 or Col. 3:16 and concluded, "Oh, Paul is urging the church to select from among themselves soloists and a choir to sing to them!"

"But," it may be objected, "don't many of the scholars conclude that solos-choirs are permitted?" Yes, and at the same time they find "authority" for instrumental accompaniment.

"The 'psalm' is music with instrumental accompaniment..."

"Psalms are religious songs, especially those sung to musical accompaniment..."

Psalms "inevitably meant a song sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument (psaltery or lute)..."

Psalms "is a religious song, especially one sung to a musical accompaniment..."27

And some even suggest that "worship" is not involved.

Scholars are not free of theological bias, especially when it comes to their own religious practices.

Justification of choirs-solos and instrumental accompaniment seem to go together. Both appeal to the sensuous nature, where emphasis is placed upon artistic rendering of the music, rather than upon the thought the words of the song convey. We observe that where choirs-solos prevail eventually instrumental accompaniment follows. And we predict that in congregations where choirs-solos are introduced, instrumental accompaniment eventually will be embraced.

Part Two: Application

Advocates of choirs-solos attempt to back their exegesis with historical verifications. As we shall note, it is an exercise in futility.

Jewish Practice

When the early Christians, who had worshipped in the temple and synagogues, were told to "sing," we are told that they thought in terms of their former practice. Since there is no specific statement to signify anything different, it is argued that they rightly worshipped in song as they were accustomed. Instrumentalists will delight in their argumentation. What proves too much, however, proves nothing.

Worship in song began early with Israel, when they first left Egypt. (Ex. 15:1-21) The children of Israel sang praises unto God. On this occasion, a woman song leader (Miriam) led a chorus of women as they sang and danced with timbrels. Singing and playing, and often dancing, continued to express their praises. (1 Chron. 13:8; 15:6, 27-29; 23:5.) Singing with instrumental accompaniment characterized the temple worship: 2 Chron. 5:12-13; 7:6; 29:25-30. When the temple was rebuilt, singing with instrumental accompaniment continued as the music of praise to God: Ezra 3:10-11.

Since there is no "guidance to the contrary," " the words and statements of Paul about singing provide nothing new, different or additional to the existing practices of the Jews." So we are told in the Outline.28 If this is true, then the early disciples had (or could have had) professional choirs (Neh. 12:44-47), who sang with instrumental accompaniment. The authority for choirs-solos, in the assumed practice of the early church, also authorizes instrumental music!

If it be objected that the instrument is not mentioned in the synagogue services, we would be reminded that the synagogue did not replace the temple service, the latter being the specific appointment of God. (2 Chron. 29:25) Though there has not yet been found a reference in any historical record to the instrument proves nothing in that the instrument, without quibble, was authorized in Jewish worship. When the people thought of worshipping God in song, they no doubt thought of the singing God had authorized in the temple.

Further, if the synagogue practice was the practice of the early church, then (according to the Outline) congregational singing was rare, if at all: "congregational singing was certainly not the common method." If we practiced as did the early church, according to the argument, our singing would be principally solos and choirs.

Of course, whatever the Jews practiced in no-wise constitutes N.T. worship. The early disciples, under-standing that they were under the authority of the Lord (Matt. 28:18, Col. 3:17), did not fashion their worship after the synagogue practice or templeservices, but only as instructed. Neither did the Lord, through His apostles, have to explain to either Jew or Gentile the differences between their former worship and what He authorized. He needed only to state what constitutes worship under the new covenant. (John 4:24) When they sang, it was the whole church singing to itself ("your-selves"), each member to the others.

The Christians' Practice

Advocates of choirs-solos claim to find comfort in the practice of early Christians during the developing "apostasy." (2 Thess. 2:3, 7) It is claimed that choirs and solos constituted the practice of the churches from the apostolic age through the early centuries. The claim is not so. Choirs-solos were introduced and became popular as the apostasy developed.

"In the apostolic age the music was entirely vocal and congregational. On this subject Chrysostom says: `It was the ancient custom, as it still is with us, for all to come together and unitedly join in singing. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, male and female, bond and free, all join in one song. All worldly distinctions here cease, and the whole congregation forms one general chorus.' This interesting part of their worship was conducted in the same simplicity which characterized all of their proceedings. All unitedly sang their familiar psalms and hymns..."29 Chrysostom lived in the latter part of the fourth century and early part of the fifth century. From "ancient" times till then the practice was congregational singing. Other patristic writers concur. (Note that throughout the patristic period the congregation singing together is referred to as a "chorus." This is no reference to a group less than the whole church.)

Ignatius (c. 35 - c. 107) stressed congregational singing as being "one voice." He wrote, "And to a man you make up a chorus, so that joined together in harmony and having received the godly strain (chroma Theou) in unison, you might sing in one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father..."30

The Outline cites a possible exception in Tertullian (c. 160 - c. 220), who referred to "individual composition." The reference is that of "an individual singing a hymn, either fromthe Scriptures or of his own composition, at the love feast (Apology 39:18)."31 Note that this was not in the worship service of the church. This is how innovations are usually introduced, i.e. in meetings of Christians outside the worship and, as they be-come accepted, then to gradually move them into the worship. The apostasy was already at work, remember. Clement (d. 215 A.D.), for example, speaks favorably of musical instruments in a time when they were gene-rally condemned. His reference, even so, was to their use at a banquet32, not in the worship service. They, as choirs, were eventually introduced into the worship.

Origen (c. 185 - c. 254) writes of the music of the church: "Chorus is the unison of rational souls speaking the same thing and not having a division.... The organ is the church of God composed of contemplative and active souls. "33

Eusebius (c. 265 - c. 340) describes the singing "in all the churches of God" as sending up to God hymns and psalms "with a loud voice so that the sound of those singing can be heard by those standing outside."34 This is hardly descriptive of a solo or of a few singing, while the majority listened.

Basil of Caesarea (mid. fourth century) says of antiphonal singing: "All in common, as from one mouth and one heart offer up the psalm of confession to the Lord."35

Ambrose (374-397) describes the singing as promoting unity: "What a labour it is to achieve silence in church while the Lessons are being read. When one man would speak, the congregation makes a disturbance. But when the psalm is read (sung) it makes its own `silence', since all are speaking and there is no disturbance. ... Psalmody unites those who disagree, makes friends of those at odds, brings together those who are out of charity with one another. Who could retain a grievance against the man with whom he had joined in singing before God? The singing of praise is the very bond of unity, when the whole people join in song in a single act of song."36

The music of the early church is summarized in Coleman's Ancient Christianity Exemplified: "The singing was congregational for the first three centuries. The charm of their music was not in the harmony of sweet sounds, but in the melody of the heart.... The singing was gradually drawn from the congregation and confined to a choir, which, in order to limit and confine this part of worship to the choir, the style of music was changed, so that the congregation was compelled to remit this part of the worship, and leave it in the hands of trained singers. Church music thus became a refined art of difficult attainment, and limited to a few professional singers."37

With the introduction of the instrument, and the artistic style it contributed, the music of the apostate church was far removed from the common people and limited to those who were professionally trained. In fact, with the arrival of the reformation, and a desire to return to the music of the N.T., great difficulty was experienced in training congregations to sing. Many of the emerging denominations retained the instrument to "aid" the congregation. Thankfully, in the restoration movement, congregational singing has been restored, although some among us would again reduce the majority of the saints to the role of spectators while a few, possessing music talent, regale the rest with choral productions and solos.


The author of the Outline summarizes, claiming that the case for choirs-solos is established by reason of the application of N.T. teaching by the early disciples, which is verified in history. But the claim is pure assumption, contrary to fact.

The Outline claims: Paul did not advocate anything new or different from Jewish practice.

Response: Jewish temple-worship was sensuous in contrast to the spiritual worship of the N.T. They were given an ornate structure with ritualistic services. Professional singers with instrumental accompaniment provided the music. Worship outside the temple still authorized not only choral music, but instrumental as well. New Testament worship is different. In the N.T. all the saints actively participate in the expressions of devotion to God. "Worship is not something that happens to you. Worship is somethingyou do. One does not go to worship to be impressed by a sense-stimulating performance. He goes to worship to express his devotion to God from the depth of his heart, mind and spirit. The worshiper is not a passive receiver, but an active participant in worship."38 That Jewish practice was the practice of N.T. Christians is pure fiction!

The Outline claims: The early Christians practiced non-congregational singing in their assemblies for worship.

Response: This is an assumption that contradicts over-whelming evidence to the contrary. There may be solo singing outside an assembly (James 5:13): this is the individual alone. However, together-worship in song is congregational singing.
The Outline asserts that no early writer refers to Eph. 5:19 or Col. 3:16 to give support to congregational singing.
Response: A poor argument indeed, in that silence is no proof. Even so, the assertion is assumption, and false at that. Although the patristic writers seldom ever cited "book, chapter, and verse," they clearly made reference to texts, as the language of inspiration is quoted or simply used. For example, Eusebius wrote: "The measure of God's acceptance of the singing of a Christian congregation, and of his delight in it, is the unanimity of mind, passion and sentiment, the unity of faith and piety with which we sing together the melodies of our praises. The same apostle commands us to exhort one another in psalm and hymns and spiritual music' ... " (Italics added. )39

In our study of the evidence, the early Christians followed the teachings of the inspired writers of the N.T. The music of the church then was congregational singing. Choirs-solos and instrumental music were later innovations. Now that we have purged the church of these innovative practices, let us not be wooed into re-introducing them.

1 — Don DeWelt and Lynn Hieronymous, One Body, vol. 2, page 18.

2 — Tom Hamilton, High School Road Lectures (Indianapolis, IN), July 14, 1988, page 11.

3 — Hamilton, op. cit., page 9.

4 — E.W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, page 335.

5 — H.E. Dana and J.R. Mantey, A ManualGrammar of the Greek N.T., page 131.

6 — Charles J. Ellicott, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, page 1047.

7 — E. Griffith-Jones, The Churchman's Pulpit, vol. XIII, page 59.

8 — Dana and Mantey, op, cit., page 131.

9 — J.B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians, page 221.

10 — Bullinger, op. cit., page 335.

11. — William Barclay, Letter to the Ephesians, page 166.

12 — George Benedict Winer, A Grammar of the Idiom of the N.T., page 351.

13 — Lenski, op. cit., page 619.

14 — Winer, op. cit., page 340.

15 — Earnest DeWitt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in N.T. Greek, page 54.

16 — John Katchelman, Jr. Studies In Colossians, page 113.

17 — E.K. Simpson and F.F. Bruce, New International Commentary on the NT., page 283.

18 — Ibid.

19 — Simpson and Bruce, op. cit., page 285.

20 — Hamilton, op. cit., page 2.

21 — Dana and Mantey, op. cit., page 56.

22 — Hamilton, op. cit., page 6.

23 — Dana and Manety, op. cit., pages175-176.

24 — Dana and Mantey, op. cit., page 59.

25 — Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, page 458; hotan.

26 — Thayer, op. cit., page 162; ean.

27 — Ellicott (1047); Wuest (129); Simpson-Bruce (284 ftn.); Nicoll (363).

28 — Hamilton, op. cit., page 7.

29 — H. Christopher, Lard's Quarterly, (October 1867), vol. IV, no. 4, page 360. (Cf. Chrysostom, Exposition on Psalm CXIV 2.3.)

30 — James McKinnon, Music In Early Christian Literature, page 18; Ignatius, Ephesians IV. 2.

31 — Everett Ferguson, A Capella Music, page 48.

32 — Ferguson, op. cit., page 64.

33 — Ferguson, op. cit., page 58.

34 — Ferguson, op. cit., page 51.

35 — Ferguson, op. cit., page 52.

36 — McKinnon, op. cit., page 229.

37 — Christopher, op. cit., page 362.

38 — Jimmy Jividen, "Temple and Church Music Contrasted," Gospel Advocate, February 1989, page 52.

39 — Erik Routley, The Church and Music, page