Summary: Cantate Sunday, 1986: Music has power to involve every facet of our beings in worship, it helps build the body of Christ, and it can offer a credible witness to the world.
It was offertory time in the morning worship, and everyone had settled down quietly – settling down, I suspect, for a little nap to get themselves ready for the big nap they would take during the sermon! And, as was customary, the organist began the slow and solemn strains of an offertory: music to collect money by, music to rest by, music to open the windows with. No one ever paid any attention to what the organist played for the offertory. And this time was no different; there was no reaction at all as the quiet but majestic music soothed the frazzled nerves of the worshippers. But then someone did recognize something familiar: what is that music, what is that song? Could it be? Yes, it was! The organist was playing a slowed-down version of "Yankee Doodle" and practically no one knew the difference!
What does that suggest about the way we deal with church music? What does that tell you about the faculties and energies we bring to worship? Is it possible, just possible, that too many of us hang up our minds along with our coats at the door?
In my home church in Louisville one Sunday evening we were about to have a baptismal service. And, again, as was the custom, the organist played soft music while the candidates found their way down in to the pool. Usually it was “Amazing Grace” or “I Love to Tell the Story”, something that pointed to the power of the Gospel to change lives. But tonight was different; it dawned on us, about the time the third candidate went under the water, that the organist was playing, "How Dry I Am". Since she was a Methodist we all accused her of doing a propaganda number on us full-immersion Baptists, but she insisted that all she was doing was playing something from the hymnal called "0 Happy Day That Fixed My Choice”!
Well, music communicates; it communicates at several levels. You see, music has an unusual power, because at its best in involves the whole personality, at its best it is an art that includes mind and heart, intellect and emotions and body. Music in the church, singing in the church, is an important act of worship, and, if we do it well, it will help us see the fullness of God. If we do it poorly it will depress us, or make us seem ridiculous, or, worst of all, will even make us blasphemous. If we do not sing in the right way, we can be guilty of belittling and downgrading the most exalted of all human activities, the worship of God.
Now the apostle Paul, struggling with a thousand issues in the Corinthian church, addresses himself to the theme of a proper worship, a proper way to understand what we are doing here before God. You’ll remember that the church in Corinth was so fragmented you can scarcely believe its survival would have been possible. You’ll remember, I hope, that here was a church split over who was the most spiritual, who had his theology straight, and who could proclaim the loudest and the longest. You’ll remember that here was a church beset with immorality, and yet there were folks who apparently didn’t want to address that kind of issue, they’d rather just have a high old time in the Lord. You’ll remember that here was a church in which rowdiness and public drunkenness got so bad that Paul had to insist that they clean up their act before they were to come to the Lord’s Table. And even there they had brought some terrible table manners. These folks were a mess, an awesome mess; and what was their answer? What was the response of some of them? To get on a spiritual kick and speak in tongues, unknown and unintelligible tongues, and just fail, miserably fail, to address real issues. They threw up a smokescreen of piosity in order to avoid dealing with the stuff that matters, really matters.
Now Paul’s response is a very wise one, I think. Paul does not directly confront the tongue-speakers and tell them to quit. He does not antagonize people by shutting them up. Instead what he does is to insist that something else be added, to argue to the inclusion of one vital ingredient in their worship, and that is the mind. The mind. Use your mind, as one of my schoolteachers used to say. Use the mind.
He says it this way, "I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also". With the mind also; don’t neglect the spirit, of course, but pray and sing with the mind also.
To sing with the mind, first of all, is to involve every facet of your being in the worship of God. To sing and to sing with the mind is to gather up all that you are, your whole personality, and to present it before the Lord in worship.