Summary: Singing is just one of the ways we have to express joy and excitement in our worship to the Lord. We believe that it is good to praise the Lord with devotion and enthusiasm.
Nearly two hundred and fifty years ago the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, printed a hymnbook. At the beginning of the book he included these "Directions For Singing":
1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here without altering or mending them at all.
3. Sing all. See that you join with a congregation as frequently as you can, let not a slight degree or weariness hinder you.
4. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation so that you may not destroy the harmony.
6. Sing in tune. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it, do not run before or stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move there exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow.
7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing.
Singing is just one of the ways we have to express joy and excitement in our worship to the Lord. We believe that it is good to praise the Lord with devotion and enthusiasm. How would we do this? In addition to singing, people who are enthused may: smile, laugh, shout, make music on an instrument, jump up and down, dance, party or play. We think that all of these are appropriate as worshipers praise the Lord with enthusiasm.
In this regard, it’s interesting to note that around the same time as he published the hymnbook, Wesley also preached a sermon he titled, "The Nature of Enthusiasm". (Sermon XXXII) The starting text for this 39 point sermon was Acts 26:24, "And Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself."
Here’s an excerpt from points 11 an 12 of Wesley’s sermon: "As to the nature of enthusiasm," Wesley said, "it is . . . a species of madness; of madness rather than of folly: seeing a fool is properly one who draws wrong conclusions from right premises; whereas a madman draws right conclusions, but from wrong premises. And so does an enthusiast suppose his premises true, and his conclusions would necessarily follow. Every enthusiast, then, is properly a madman. Enthusiasm in general may then be described in some such manner as this: a religious madness arising from some falsely imagined influence or inspiration of God; at least, from imputing something to God which ought not to be imputed to Him, or expecting something from God which ought not to be expected from Him." He then went on to catalogue a number of sorts of enthusiasm.
This of course may surprise us, seemingly contradicting the idea that it is good to praise the Lord enthusiastically - we have come to believe that enthusiasm is a good thing. However, it’s understandable that there would be some ambivalent feelings about this matter. There are many in the church who believe that when we worship there should be a quiet, peaceful atmosphere - we should be serious and reverent. To think of worship in terms of joyful, enthusiastic, exuberant, expressions - hand clapping, loud rhythmic praise songs, shouting, laughing and even partying - that would be out of the question. People who feel such to be unholy, could point to the OT story of the worship of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). Describing what happened during the time when he was on the mount with God, Moses wrote, "And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink and rose up to play." (Exodus 32:6) The Apostle Paul, referring to this story, called them idolaters. (I Corinthians 10:7)
However, the problem with the Old Testament wilderness worshippers was not "how" they worshipped, but "who" they worshipped. They were worshipping the god of Egypt, claiming they had been delivered from bondage by a cow!
On the contrary, there are numerous examples in the Bible where joyful, enthusiastic expressions are very much approved.
1) After the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, there was exuberant praise ("And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances." Exodus 15:20 - KJV)
2) Joyful praise is encouraged in the Psalms:
"Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness." (Psalm 30:11)