“It is the voice of the church that is heard in singing together. It is not I who sing, but the church. However, as a member of the church, I may share in its song. Thus all true singing together must serve to widen our spiritual horizon. It must enable us to recognize our small community as a member of the great Christian church on earth and must help us willingly and joyfully to take our place in the song of the church with our singing, be it feeble or good.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 42.
With the above Bonhoeffer concludes his thoughts on singing in Life Together. As he pointed out elsewhere in this section, when we sing we not only sing in fellowship with “the great Christian church on earth” but we also sing with the church in heaven – our voices are joined to both heaven and earth and the two are melded.
“…be it feeble or good.” A reminder that singing is not performing, neither as individuals nor as groups – singing is worship and witness, praise and testimony, service to God, and service to man as we testify to God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When voices are connected to hearts singing is beautiful, whether the voices in the natural are feeble or good. A piece of preaching advice works well with singing, “Be yourself and forget about yourself.” All too often singing is interrupted with apologies from musicians or singers and started and restarted until the focus is not on God but on the singing, the singer, the musician. When we gather we gather to worship God – we need to get on with it – we can perfect our music and playing in heaven.
If we make singing a part of our individual lives we will tend to sing when we are with one another; if we sing when we are with one another singing will tend to be a part of our individual lives. Just as we have become a mute people in the Word of God, we have become mute in singing – we are listeners more than we are speakers of the Word and singers of song. Why should we not have singing as a part of our small groups? Naturally if we are meeting in a restaurant’s general dining room it may not be appropriate just as loud prayer or preaching may not be appropriate to our Gospel witness – but otherwise why do most groups today not sing? We have lost our voice as singing has been handed over to the accomplished, the polished, and as we have become self-conscious rather than God-conscious. When we gather in groups, whether large or small, we can join our voices to the voices of those gifted in singing, and they can join their voices with ours, and we can mutually join our voices with the church in the heavens and on earth. There is no beauty quite like that transcendent beauty.
Bonhoeffer is writing Life Together to guide the church through horrific times, he writes to provide foundational essentials and protections; he has limited time and limited space – he must include those elements of church life that are absolutely critical for life together – in this context he focuses on singing – he considers it essential. God has given us the Psalms, the largest book in the Bible; in the Bible we see singing on earth and in the heavens. What place does singing have in our lives? What place does it have in our congregations and small groups? What place does it have in our life together?