When I first came to embrace the Reformed faith I was introduced to something which I later found out was very rare in the Reformed community, though it used to be much more common: singing in family worship. I was just a young single man. It was strange to me that the pastor under whose ministry I sat would distribute hymnals to his large family and guests and they would sing after eating. I was unfamiliar with such a practice as I had not grown up in a Christian home. When I first became a believer I spent most of my time in worship either being drowned out by an organ and a large full gospel choir or a rock and roll band. Singing doesn’t matter when you are drowned out. In a small Reformed and Presbyterian church (and most of them are small) you are not drowned out by anything. You worship the Trinity by singing to Him—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and you hear your own voice. Most of our churches are accompanied by a piano, some are unaccompanied. Many people struggle with such simple worship because of shame. Many do not believe they sing well and so they mouth the words, so the idea of singing at home or in a pastor’s home can be jarring. I hope to calm your fears.
In this brief essay I would make the case for singing in family worship, even if you are not musically gifted. Husbands and fathers, it is wise to lead your family in this holy practice, the rewards are beyond what you realize. Young men who are considering marriage, it is profitable to plan now to lead your wife and children one day by singing. Single people, this is an excellent way to redeem your singleness and prepare for marriage if that is your desire.
I won’t spend a lot of time making the case for singing from the Bible. It is very obvious to any Christian that singing is a trans-testamental imperative. We are called to sing, both in the Old and New Testaments:
OT: Psalm 98:1: “Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” (quotations from the ESV)
NT: Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Only a few comments need to be made about the verses above. 1) Hundreds more verses could be used to make the case. 2) I will avoid the case for/against exclusive Psalmody here, which is for another time and place. What is important is that families sing together according to the liberty of their own conscience. 3) The people of old often sang as a result of seeing God’s great acts of redemptive-history. We are recipients of God’s grace as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection. We have received redemption from bondage to the Egypt of our souls. We must sing!
If you were to ask me if I have one proof-text to support why we should worship God by singing in family worship, I would not have one. But then again, I don’t have one proof-text to support the Trinity, infant baptism, worshipping on Sunday or giving the Lord’s Supper to female believers. Make no mistake, I believe in every one of these, and a case can be made from multiple Bible passages that each of these is true by “good and necessary consequence” (WCF 1:6). While family singing does not rise to the level of the Trinity and the other doctrines and practices above, we could make an argument drawn from a number of passages.
A thorough argument would go beyond the scope of this essay. However, 1) it should be basic to every Reformed believer that fathers are the head of the household (under ordinary circumstances; widows, divorcees qualify as head of household in the absence of husbands), and they bear a spiritual responsibility over those under their roof. 2) Family worship and private worship are preparation for the Lord’s Day. We do not read the Bible or have personal devotions as an end in themselves; these should be preparation for hearing the word corporately preached on the Lord’s Day. Similarly, if we want to glorify God on Sunday in song, we should be preparing to sing the other six days of the week. So the best way to do this would be to sing as a family.
Enjoy Him Forever
Furthermore, you will notice if you sing together, this will be among the richest activities you will partake of as a family. If you read the Bible, pray, and do a little catechism in family worship you are doing well. If you add singing, you will find that your joy in the Lord is made even greater. We are called to “enjoy God forever” (WSC 1), and you will enjoy God by singing with your family. The richness of your family worship over food will be enhanced by singing. You will find yourselves memorizing favorite hymns. Your pre-literate children will walk around the house singing to themselves what you have sung as a family.
You might be thinking, “I am not musical, I could never do that,” or “I am the worst singer in the world.” I guarantee you are not the worst singer in the world; that is a title I hold onto quite tenaciously. I hope it is not cliché but it is true that, “God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” Following are some practical steps to get started, even if you are the second least equipped person in the world musically (I being the first).
1) Purchase or borrow hymnals or Psalters. If you can’t afford them you can print hymns off the internet. If possible, every literate person in your household should have a hymnal or something printed off the internet. 2) Start with the Doxology or Gloria Patri. They are short, easy and you may already have them memorized! 3) Purchase hymn or Psalm CDs and sing along with the CD. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church also has free hymn files for the 1961 Trinity Hymnal (www.opc.org) along with which you can sing after clicking on play. 4) Variety is not the spice of life. Sing the same songs over and over again. You will be surprised at the depth of each hymn or Psalm after multiple passes through them. Soon you will have a hymn memorized, and you will be hungering for a new one. If your family memorizes a hymn together you won’t need hymnals if you decide to sing while driving in your car. 5) Choose your favorites; there is no reason to sing hymns you don’t like. 6) If you have no means at all, sing Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligan’s Island, I am not kidding, (You are doing it in your head now aren’t you?) unless you would find that irreverent. 7) If you are too pressed for time, sing the Psalm of Haste: Psalm 117 (unless you prefer the hymns from #2 above). In my family, like any, there are circumstances when you have little or no time to sing. In those times we sing the Psalm of Haste (Hymn 29 in the Trinity Hymnal), the shortest Psalm in the Bible. 8) If you are not ready for singing as a family at least read a hymn in family worship, the rhythm of the poetry will be musical to your minds. 9) Be patient; you will make mistakes, babies will cry, kids will act out, phones will ring, etc. Enjoy the process and smile!
Much more could be written but I hope this will encourage contemporary believers to remember a forgotten practice. Sing to the Lord on the Lord’s Day; prepare to do so as a family on the other six days! Glorify and enjoy!