Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 19, 1964

Spiritual Songs

Robert C. Welch

A mistake perhaps has been made in defining the "spiritual songs" of Ephesians 5:19. The passage says; "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." This has been defined as a lively tune in comparison with the hymn which is defined as the more stately movement and the psalm which is defined as the inspired poem. If the context be taken into consideration it will become apparent that the spiritual song is in contrast with the content of the song sung by those drunken with wine.

There are the evil worded, suggestive, mocking, immoral, rhythmically seductive odes which are characteristic of those who revel in their social drinking. It was the common practice of the Bacchanalians of New Testament days. And there is just as much of such revelings in this day. Instead of this, the content of our praise, in word, tune and rhythm is to be psalm, hymn and spiritual song.

This is not to be taken as an attempt to make our singing a dead funeral chant. Our singing should be an act of praise and rejoicing. "Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, And sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people." (Rom. 15:9, 10). Again it is written, "Is any among you cheerful? Let him sing praise." (James 5:13).

On the other hand, it is a little sickening to see people engage in the kind of tune and rhythm which makes them want to swing and twist as do the drink-uninhibited-revelers, and call it gospel singing and worship. The exact and clear distinction which the letter to the Ephesians makes is violated by such singing. It is hard to believe that anyone can think they are singing spiritual songs when they enter into a screaming, syncopated, jump and jive contest as can be occasionally witnessed in periods of worship.

This has been so repulsive to some that they have expunged from their hymnals and from their worship nearly all the joyful, happy songs of praise. They have left only the sad, doleful, tuneless, archaic selections. It produces listless, unenthusiastic participation in this important part 'of the worship. In common words, it kills the singing. Then shortly it can be seen that this goes hand in hand with dead churches.

The function of a consecrated editor or song leader is to see that there is a balance between the stately, solemn, and pathos filled songs and the lively happy songs of joy and praise. He will care little for the dull, meaningless, and tuneless, filler. Neither will he permit himself to be led into a selection of the sensual type that has nothing to the words and has a similarity to the jungle rhythm.

This generation seems to have developed a lack of interest in the church as a whole in singing. We want our preachers better prepared, better trained, better educated. We are trying to produce, and are ever searching for, better teaching materials. But little attention is given to improving our singing. Very few even of those who lead the singing are sufficiently interested to study and train for their work. Very few new songs are being written. We are content to drone along on the same old easy tunes, which require no effort on our part, and which put no life into that which should be praising God. Some congregations have a repertoire of no more than fifty songs out of an average of four hundred selections in our hymn books. It is deplorable. There is too much evidence that we are drifting into a cold, formal decadence in our worship.

Spiritual songs require scriptural teaching as well as the acceptable type of music. Some critics of the wording of songs would require that they all be precisely literal in expression. Figurative language has ever been featured in poetry and song. No section of the Scriptures is more highly figurative than the Psalms. For example, some are critical of songs that refer to going to heaven at death, supposing that they teach the no-judgment theory. B. G. Hope has a common yet very persuasive expression in his preaching. He appeals to people on the basis of their wanting to go to heaven when they die. He certainly does not hold the above mentioned theory and it is seriously doubted that anyone ever got the idea from his use of the expression that he held or was teaching the theory. The apostle Paul speaks of having a desire to depart and be with Christ. Neither he nor the above named preacher has the no-judgment doctrine in his mind. They are merely connecting their present hope with the ultimate blessing. The same is true of a number of songs containing similar expressions.

Of course, statements in songs which specifically and literally teach error should be refused. Furthermore, it is possible to use a song containing figurative language in such a setting as to give it an erroneous significance. "Kneel At The Cross" could be used in such a setting as to make it teach a mourner's bench salvation. On the other hand, it can be used to signify the principle taught by Paul; "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2:20).

If we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, refusing the songs of the revelers, we will be able to, and will, sing spiritual songs, making melody with the heart to the Lord.

— 1816 Yale Drive, Louisville, Ky.