As one of the moderators of the television program, A Bible Answer [cf. www.oabs.org], it appears that this issue must be of concern to many people due to the volume of questions received concerning it. This issue is not of recent origin. For example, it was hotly debated in the pages of the Firm Foundation in 1961.
I was recently told that a number of years ago, this practice was introduced in a certain congregation, and it was only after several members left or threatened to leave that it was finally terminated.
In Matthew 26:26-30, we read the following:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
Thus, our Lord sang at the last meeting with His disciples before His death. We are not told anything concerning the beauty of our Lord*s voice, but it must have been a touching joy to have been present on that occasion and to hear them sing together.
In an article appearing in Words of Truth (July 2, 1993) brother Flavil Nichols pointed out that the night Jesus instituted His supper, He and the apostles sang an hymn AFTER, not during the Lord*s Supper. And although hymns are right at other times in the worship, at this particular time * during the communion, Jesus said of the bread, “THIS do in remembrance of me” (Mt. 26:24). He did not say SING at this particular time, in remembrance of me. Of the supper He said, “THIS do ye as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me” (Mt. 26:25). He did not say at this point in worship * Sing in remembrance of me.
While there are those among us who may be engaging in this practice of singing during the Lord*s Supper, this writer does not believe such a practice is authorized, practical, or orderly.
(1) SUCH A PRACTICE IS NOT AUTHORIZED
How does the Bible authorize? First of all the Bible authorizes by direct statement. We used to say simply by command. However, there are some direct statements which authorize which are not in the form of a command. There is no New Testament command or direct statement to sing while eating the Lord*s Supper.
Second, the Bible authorizes by implication. This used to be called necessary inference, but over the years we have found that it is more properly called implication. Inference is something we do. Implication is something God has done. It is upon the basis of what God has done that we have authority, not on the basis of our inference or reasoning. There is no New Testament implication from which a necessary inference must be drawn which demands that we sing during the Lord*s supper.
Third, the Bible authorizes by approved example. Our obligation is to ascertain when accounts of action in the Bible constitute a pattern for us today. But when we look in the New Testament, we find NO example of any congregation singing while partaking of the Lord*s Supper.
Fourth, the Bible authorizes by expediency. “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Cor. 10:23). An expedient is that which expedites or helps to carry out a lawful obligation. It is that in which there is some advantage and which may be selected by the elders of the church in carrying out any obligation of the church * that obligation growing out of that for which there is Bible authority by approved example, an implication, or a direct statement. But when we talk about singing, we are talking about an avenue of worship that has been commanded, that has been mandated for worship and not a mere expedient. So this writer*s conclusion is that there is absolutely no Bible authority for singing while the Lord*s Supper is being eaten.
(2) SUCH A PRACTICE IS NOT PRACTICAL
It is simply not practical from a physical standpoint. Do you remember what your mother used to tell you about talking with your mouth full? Would you like to try singing with your mouth full? Is that really something God has planned for us to do? So this is a practice that is not practical from a physical standpoint.
It is also not practical from a mental standpoint. In this regard, brother Guy N. Woods wrote, “Worship, in order to be acceptable to God, must be performed in the right spirit and from proper motives and in harmony with the expressed will of God (Jn. 4:24). It is utterly impossible to engage in singing and partake of the Lord*s Supper at the same time and follow these divine guidelines.” (Questions and Answers, Vol. 2, p 38).
Brother Woods further explained in an earlier volume that “Observance of the Lord*s Supper and singing are two separate and distinct acts of worship, involving very different, physical, mental, and spiritual participation (Questions and Answers, Vol. 1, p. 336). Let us expand upon this theme.
We know that singing necessitates thought. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). There are four important divine purposes which quickly come to mind concerning singing. (1) One of the divine purposes for singing is to bring praise to God (Rom. 15:9; Eph.5:19). This requires mediation or thought. (2) A second divine purpose for singing is to admonish others to righteous living (Col. 3:16). This requires mediation or thought. (3) Another divine purpose for singing is to communicate ideals. Singing conveys our heart’s feelings, morals, and thoughts to others. This also requires thought. (4) Another basic divine purpose for singing is to teach and instruct (Col. 3:16). Brethren, it is evident that all four basic divine purposes of singing require thought. Paul said, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Cor. 14:15). If we are going to sing with the spirit and with the understanding, then we must give attention to the lyrics, and we must follow the music to which the lyrics are set in order to properly sing in unison with others. You see, even the mechanics of singing requires mediation and thought.
When we consider the Lord*s Supper, we realize that it also requires thought and meditation. We should look at the Lord*s Supper in four ways. First, there is the inward look in that we examine ourselves in the act of observance (1 Cor. 11:28). Second, there is the outward look in that we proclaim the Lord*s death by our participation (1 Cor. 11:26). Third, there is the backward look in that we remember and mediate on the events of Calvary (1 Cor. 11:25) Fourth, there is the forward look in that we keep alive in our hearts and before others, his second coming (1 Cor. 11:26) (Cf. Guy N. Woods, Questions and Answers, Vol. 1, p 336).
It should become obvious to us that neither singing nor partaking of the Lord*s Supper can be properly engaged in while attempting the other. One simply cannot do these two acts of worship at the same time acceptably for each of them requires meditation, thought, and undivided concentration.
(3) SUCH A PRACTICE IS NOT ORDERLY
There can be no doubt that churches of the first century maintained an orderly procedure in their public worship. After much instruction relative to the Lord*s Supper, Paul said, “And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come” (1 Cor. 11:34). Again he said, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). In order means everything in its place and in its time. Most of our congregations have followed an orderly sequence in their worship. They recognize that there is a time and place for congregational singing, a time and place for prayer, a time place for the contribution, a time and place for the sermon, and a time and place for the Lord*s Supper. The order may differ from congregation to congregation, but worship should be done in an orderly fashion. It would be out of order to sing while the public prayer is being worded for the congregation. Someone says, “Well you can sing a prayer.” And that is true. But surely we can see that there is a difference in singing a prayer and singing during a publicly led prayer. It would be out of order for a song leader to get up and lead a song at the same time the preacher is preaching. Likewise, it is simply out of order to sing during the communion. It is confusion. “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:33). That word translated confusion means a state of disorder. But the word for peace in that verse means good order. It is the very opposite of the Greek word translated confusion (cf. Thayer*s Greek-English Lexicon, p 21, 182).
This writer relishes the peaceful, personal, intimate, quiet time with our Lord as we partake of the Lord*s Supper in memory of Him. It is a beautiful time. Years ago, brother Batsell Barrett Baxter asked more that 500 college students to evaluate their own activities in worship. A vast majority indicated that their worship felt most meaningful in the eating of the Lord*s Supper. In this activity, they felt a higher degree of intimacy with God than in any other act. This is not to say that it is more important, but it is different. It is personal. It is intimate (Batsell Barrett Baxter, The Family of God, p 117). Friends, God designed it to be that way. Why intrude on that? To intrude would be rude.
Brother Tillit S. Teddlie was one of our greatest song-writers. Brother Teddlie wrote a couple of very good articles on this subject for the Firm Foundation in 1961. In one of them, he wrote the following: “The Lord*s Supper needs no embellishments, no ornaments, and no fanciful decorations to make it more beautiful, more solemn, or more sublime. The simplicity of the Lord*s Supper adorns it with a divine beauty. One might as well try to aid the sun on a clear noonday by striking a match and holding it aloft, as to add beauty to the Lord*s Supper by singing a musical accompaniment.” He went on to say, “Four part harmony adds beauty to the song service, but singing during the communion service does not add beauty to it, but confusion. Singing, however beautiful and harmonious, is out of time and place during the Lord*s supper” (Tillit S. Teddlie, “Singing During The Communion Service,” Firm Foundation, July 18, 1961, p. 454). To brother Teddlie*s comments, let us say, “amen.”
— Mike McDaniel