Breach Renewed – Drowning Out the Voices of Worship



   Educated Baptist church musicians have some awareness of the life and ministry of Particular Baptist pastor, Benjamin Keach.  It was this Baptist pastor who is credited with introducing a polemic for hymn-singing around 1691, the time of the publishing of a hymnbook as well as his treatise, The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship: or Singing of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, proved to be an Holy Ordinance of Jesus Christ. 


The book lays out a sort of “blow by blow” response to a previous work of one Mr. Isaac Marlow called “A Discourse Against Singing.”  In logical fashion, but with tenacious adherence to biblical reflection, Keach takes on each of the tenets of Marlow’s argument.  In so doing Keach seeks to establish the groundwork for robust singing of hymns in Baptist worship for his own congregation where he pastored, Horslydown, Southwark in London, and broadened his address “to all the Baptized Congregations In England and Wales, who are in God the Father, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, Grace, Mercy, and Peace be multiplied.”  In referencing those who do not sing, whether from lack of opportunity provided by ecclesiastical hierarchy, or from apathy in response, he pontificates:


“And if Singing be that which the Great God looks for from, and enjoins upon His People, and every one of them, that then they lie short of their Duty, and want an Ordinance.  Moreover, if it be our Duty, and that which belongs to God, it is to take away one great part of his glorious Praise, yea, the highest manner of performance of it we are capable of; and so it is a robbing of the Holy God, as well as it deprives their own Souls, and the Souls of others of much sweet and Heavenly Joy and Refreshment.” (pg. 21)


This is just a small flavor of Keach’s insistence that seeks to not only justify, but to foster singing in Baptist worship.  Of course, we all know the phrase, “and the rest is history.” And we all know something of the profound reformation within that history as Baptists have often been referenced as “a singing people” through our divisive history.  Music as ministry programming and development reached its height perhaps in the 1970’s and 80’s with full seminary training available to ministers gifted in music, and with churches fielding multiple choirs for all age groups, instrumental programs, and staffing formative skill development structure for children from preschool age to adulthood.  Revivalist ferver was oft ignited by hearty singing by congregations whether on the frontier backwoods, or in the city churches with a more sophisticated “high church” fair.


Somewhere in the midst of all that development some congregations seemed to have lost their emphasis on the spirit of the singing and began to place more weight on the performance of the song.  A metamorphous into a dry and sometimes lifeless practice in hymn-singing assured a path toward failing programs, and in many cases a misreading of the dynamics that had once fueled the fire of the song and singing in worship.

Fast forward to today.  The robust singing of Great Awakening revivals, periods of lay renewal, and/or even the campfire singing from youth retreats and other gatherings seem distant memories.  In many cases a Baptist worship environment is characterized by a rock-style band led by a vocalist on microphone emanating enough decibels in theater-style sanctuaries that even if the people were singing those charged with leading would have little way of knowing.  I am not championing scaling down of instrumentation in worship music, nor am I implying stylistic issues in this essay.  I am, however, seeking to raise a caution flag since those charged with leading congregations in healthy worship singing must be able to tell whether or not the people they lead, “and every one of them,” are in fact singing.  Better that we would seek to find the joyful sound of our congregation’s unified voice of worship than to emulate our favorite (or theirs for that matter) worship band or other church’s worship.  I pray we will make concerted effort to overcome what appears to me a breach renewed through the unintentional consequences of losing focus on truly speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.


Explore posts in the same categories: Church keyboard players, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Shared Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

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