“O sing to the Lord a new song,” the Psalter calls out to us again and again. It is the Christ hymn, new every morning, that a community living together begins to sing in the early morning, the new song that is sung by the whole community of faith in God on earth and in heaven. We are called to join in the singing of it.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 38.
Bonhoeffer now turns his attention to singing, to worship in song. “It is God who has prepared one great song of praise throughout eternity, and those who enter God’s community join in this song,” (page 38). Bonhoeffer catches us up into this transcendent view as he writes that it is the song of the morning stars and the sons of God, the victory song of Israel at the Red Sea, the song of Mary, the song of Paul and Silas in prison, the song sung on the sea of glass in Revelation, and the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb in Revelation 15.
“The triune God and the works of God are being extolled here. On earth it is the song of those who believe; in heaven, the song of those who see,” (page 39). It is, Bonhoeffer tells us, a song which, when sung on earth, uses inadequate words, and in heaven it is a song that no one can learn except the 144,000 who follow the Lamb. Bonhoeffer sees this song on earth as a song of pilgrimage, a song that is “bound to God’s Word of revelation in Jesus Christ…devoutly focused on God’s revealed Word,” (page 39).
Bonhoeffer views singing as the community, those living life together, singing the Word of God, speaking and praying the Word in the unison of song; singing is focusing on the Word.
He warns, “Wherever the singing is not to the Lord, it is singing to the honor of the self or the music, and the new song becomes a song to idols,” (page 39). He continues, “Thus the music is completely the servant of the Word,” (page 40).
Bonhoeffer and his family and friends loved music. They played music, they listened to music, they had musical evenings in which they played and sang – music was woven into the fabric of their lives. Bonhoeffer, a musical man from a musical family warns against singing a song to idols and tells us that music must be “completely the servant of the Word.”
How often does our music today take precedence over the Word? How often are our lyrics Biblically uninformed? How often is the focus of singing, the words which we sing, not the Lord but ourselves? How often does the music dominate the lyrics rather than lift up the lyrics? How often do we abdicate singing and leave it to those who have good voices? Are the music and lyrics abroad in the professing church today singable by the average person? Can they be sung by congregations?
Have we become mute congregations who no longer sing as a people? Have we become gatherings whose singing is perhaps no different than the singing at a concert of popular music? Is there koinonia in our singing? Is there life together?
Do we have a Biblical theology of music and lyrics and singing? Or have we become choreographers constructing a Sunday morning “experience”? Are we technically correct and musically proficient and yet Biblically bankrupt? Are we singing lyrics that the saints through the ages would gladly and eagerly sing? Are we singing lyrics on earth that we can sing in heaven? Are we singing the Song of the Lamb or the song of man?
Singing in our life together in Christ is sacramental; as we worship God and proclaim His Word in the One Great Song we receive His grace as His community and in His community. When we sing the One Great Song we join in that Song already being sung, we do not initiate a song, we join in the Song.
Can we hear that Song today? Shall we join that Song? Shall we sing?