In our last post, “Civil Disobedience: When Does It Become Necessary,” we made a clear biblical point…while civil disobedience must always be an option for a Christian, a local church, or the Church, it must be engaged only under certain conditions.
We also forecasted the very real possibility that the tipping point might very well be reached in the future. However, we had not yet crossed the threshold. After a lengthy study of the pertinent passages in Scripture, we wrote the following regarding when it is appropriate to not follow the dictates of a ruling body:
“There is a simple pattern here.
Folks were told to violate God’s truths.
Folks were told to murder.
Folks were told to worship someone or something other than God.
Folks were told to not speak or teach on behalf of the Lord.
This then might be called the Romans 13 Caveat: ‘When told to violate the word of god, to commit evil, to worship another, or to shut up about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we must refuse.’
Some believe the ‘stay at home, wearing of masks, social distance guidelines, and the remain closed’ orders are an overreach of government when it comes to churches. We do not…not yet. Yes, civil disobedience is always an option. In fact, it is likely we will, one and all, find ourselves choosing this option should current events continue to devolve.”
A few sentences later, we wrote: “Specifically, we do not believe community standards, in response to the viral pandemic, regulating where we worship reaches the threshold of what we find in the biblical instances of civil disobedience. Yes, we are being told to alter the where and how of what we do, but we’ve not been told to violate God’s truths, commit or support acts of evil, worship someone or something other than God, or not speak or teach on behalf of the Lord. Not yet.
One of those “Not yet” issues has arrived. We have now been instructed that we cannot sing during our worship services. This is a problem…because it violates clear instruction in the Word of God. How so? Well, let’s take a look.
Under the Governor’s New Order (see it here), guideline #12 states:
” Religious Services are limited to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits, or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. Congregation members/attendees must wear facial coverings at all times and congregation singing is prohibited. No choir, band, or ensemble shall perform during the service. Vocal or instrumental soloists are permitted to perform, and vocal soloists may have a single accompanist. Outdoor services must follow the Outdoor Dining Guidance, found here, applicable to the structure or facility.” (bold, italics, and underline added)
This instruction forces us to consider the very nature of Christian singing. In the broad context of the Bible, singing often erupts spontaneously in response to God and his truth (Exodus 15; Psalm 96: Psalm 104:33; Isaiah 42:10-17; Matthew 36:30; Acts 16:25-34; Romans 15:9; Hebrews 2:12; Revelation 15). It’s not only a natural response of the heart filled with worship, it’s a response expected by our Lord. In fact, in Ephesians 5:15-21 and Colossians 3:12-17, we are given specific instruction about this. While not exactly the same, the passages are similar enough that we can zero in on just one of them. So, let’s take a brief look at Colossians 3:15-21 and then concentrate on verse 16:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
In Colossians 3:16 (bold), the main clause includes the verb “dwell” (“let the word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom”). “Dwell” is present imperative…i.e. it’s not a suggestion, it’s a directive, a command that is to be done persistently.
This main clause is followed by two participial phrases…
“…teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (teaching
“…singing with thanksgiving in your hearts to God” (singing)
Participial phrases are subordinate clauses that modify or complement the main clause. In other words, in the above directive from God, when we’re interacting with one another, via the word of Christ richly dwelling within us, how are we to express it? Answer: we express it with songs.
The natural and expected response to the word of Christ is the song of worship. Singing both teaches and admonishes…it reinforces the word of Christ and it warns in light of the word of Christ. It also gives thanks to God.
Given that the instruction in this context is a clear and present directive and given that we see this kind of “singing” in the wider context of Scripture, we believe we’ve reached one of those tipping points we mentioned in our previous discussion regarding civil disobedience. The question before us then is this: Does the “congregation singing is prohibited” rule cause us to disobey the Lord? The answer is obviously “yes.” So, does this conclude the matter? Do we sing anyway? The answers, again are “yes.”
In conclusion, just as we have stated on many occasions, we are not law enforcement. The role of a church and its participants is persuasion and faithfulness (evangelism and discipleship), not compulsion. We recognize that both individual believers as well as individual churches may not see eye to eye on every point of Scriptural truth. Quoting from our first essay on matters regarding civil disobedience, “Sometimes, within the Lord’s Church, faithful followers disagree. In fact, there are times when folks in the Body of Christ, who genuinely enjoy solid, wonderful fellowship disagree. On matters of prime importance—the essentials* of our faith—these folks stand with complete agenda harmony. However, on some things, not of prime importance, they choose to disagree with understanding, love, and compassion. This does not hurt their fellowship. In fact, if they are careful, their fellowship grows, their depth expands, their resolve tempers, and their commitment strengthens.” Therefore, while we will continue following previous safety protocols, we also intend to keep singing during our services and we leave it to you to choose what is best for you and your households.
*Essentials: the core of Christian belief, the necessary truths of and for salvation. Examples: the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, Salvation by faith through grace alone, the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible…
You can find the pdf on my Resources page or just click here, Civil Disobedience Part Two: It’s Starting To Become Necessary.