Posted by: Bob Clark | July 27, 2010

To Sing or Not To Sing

I still remember visiting a church in the mid 1980’s. What stands out in my memory is what I saw in their songbooks. As I flipped through the pages I saw a number of songs had been stamped with a bold, red message: “Unscriptural Song: Do Not Sing.”

While I cannot remember all the songs that had been marked, I do recall “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” was one.

Since this was the first time I had ever seen anything like this and I was curious about what could possibly be considered unscriptural about this particular song, I approached a friend of mine who was a member of the church to inquire. He expressed surprise that I would even ask about that song because it was “filled with false doctrine.”  When I asked him to be specific about the doctrinal problems included in this particular song, he unloaded.

“This song encourages people to directly address Jesus.  We are supposed to talk to God the Father in the name of Jesus. Never are we commanded to talk to Jesus.”

My intention is not to debate his response; in fact, I will just leave it right there for you to consider.

But I will tell you I remembered that “Do Not Sing” stamp this morning. The memory was triggered as I found myself singing, “I want to be a worker for the Lord. I want to love and trust his Holy Word. I want to sing and pray and be busy everyday in the kingdom of the Lord.”

I am not sure why that song came to mind this morning, but it did.  As I thought about the words I was singing I remembered that red stamp and thought for a moment that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for being a worker for the Lord;. I am in favor of singing and prayer and trusting. But I cringed at the words:  “be busy everyday.”

Busy? Everyday?

I am convinced that we have neglected God’s teaching about Sabbath and rest. I am concerned that constant “busyness” is causing untold problems in the church — even killing the relationship some have with God. Do we really want to be busy everyday? What about days or seasons of rest? Have we forgotten this is a major emphasis in scripture?

So where can I get one of those stamps?  I’m gonna climb up there and stamp that screen.



  1. Reminds me of .. “Be still and know that I am God”

  2. Yes, Polly, that’s a song from scripture that I love to sing. But I must confess, I do not practice nearly enough what I sing in that song.

  3. I remember a church on the other side of this state like the one you describe. It was located between the towns where you and I preached.

  4. Bingo, Tom! I wish I had one of their old songbooks as an historical reference.

    • I think that I have seen other such books, but I did not take one!

      When we have an opportunity to visit elsewhere, we find that we have to look up at a screen rather than down while holding a heavy book.

      Earlier this month we visited a church in Florida where songs were sung that we did not know. So we had to listen to the tunes accompanied by stringed instruments in order to learn them.

      We still like to seen the printed notes…somewhere!

  5. All levity aside, I think we do need to carefully consider the content of our hymnody. I don’t always remember the sermon but I do often find myself humming those songs during the week.

  6. That is because you are interacting with the words and music. When listening to a sermon, usually there is no (talking) interaction like even “Amen” or reading scripture as a congregation from a Bible, from the screen, from a bulletin, etc. Worshippers that are actively engaged are more likely to recall what was said or sung.

  7. Because hymns play such a vital role in worship and thereby spiritual formation, I think we would do well to have open, kind discussion about the theology represented in what we are singing. The problem is, past experiences many of us have had, like mine with the red stamp, make us squeamish about any such discussion. As a result, theologically weak songs continue to be utilized.

    • We also should give consideration to a persons artistic interaction and not just their intellectual interaction with lyrics. The song “Jesus flow like a river” comes to mind here. While it may not have a direct one to one relationship with written scripture it does relate to Jesus’ coming into our life wildly and fully. Anyway, what makes since and connects a person(s) in song to God and others does not always do so to other people.
      BTW: One song that does have a one to one scriptural basis but raised my eyebrows is the story song “Had it Not Been the Lord.” It was not until I came across the scripture it was taken from… Psalm 124. 🙂

  8. I know, as a songwriter and musician, that there are emotions within me while I interact with God that I find enchanting. Human words and emotions can never fully capture the Spirit of God but that does not mean we should not write about him. I know God is honored by any offering of praise we bring Him and His Son. Bob, part of my rest each day is to try and share my joy or saddness in song. I think contenious restrictions like you describe fuel my generation’s distancing from from the true message of Jesus, loving God and loving people. There is no place for contention in love.

  9. After rereading my comment earlier I noticed that I did not finish my final sentence. It should have included ” that I became aware of it as being a scriptural song.”

    To go on record “I love singing off the wall songs!”

  10. Brandon, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your sensitivity as a songwriter (not to mention I love hearing you and your wife sing!).

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