This article looks at two characteristics of songs in the worship service: they have to be understandable and edifying.

Source: Christian Renewal, 2006. 2 pages.

"Intelligible and Edifying"

The songs of the Church must be intelligible and edifying to the body of Christ.

Two New Testament texts are added to this guideline: 1 Corinthians 14:15 and Colossians 3:16. To understand this guideline well, it would be useful to take a closer look at these two texts.

1 Corinthians 14:15 says,

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.

In this part of his letter to the Corinth Church, Paul gives instruction about worship. It seems that the style of worship in Corinth had become somewhat chaotic. Several church members were abusing the gift of speaking in tongues in their worship services. Whether this tongues-speaking was ecstatic speech or foreign languages is a question that would take us too far afield for the purpose of this article. Whatever the case, it was causing a problem since people were uttering words that many in attendance at worship could not understand. Paul says that is not very useful. Whatever is spoken in church must be intelligible to all. He used the example of musical instruments. We want a trumpet flute or harp to give a distinct sound. If it is just uttering noise, it has no value. Similarly, if a person utters words that are just sound and noise to others, the words have no value.

Better than tongues is prophecy, says Paul. Prophecy, by biblical definition, is more than foretelling the future. Prophecy is speaking about the great deeds God has done and will do for his own glory and the salvation of his people. The Apostle says,

Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air (v. 9) … in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue (v. 19).

Everything he applies to speech, Paul also applies to song. In v. 15 he says that not only does he want to sing with his spirit, but he also wants to sing with his mind. God has given us minds with which to think. Among other things, that differentiates us from the other creatures. We are not irrational animals that bellow out sounds but people who use our minds to say and sing very specific and understandable things. Let our singing be prophetic!

And so the songs of the church must be intelligible. They must also be edifying.

In Colossians 3:16 Paul says,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

How are we edified? By the word of Christ which speaks to us about our salvation, about the great things God does for his people, and about how we are to live in thankfulness. All of that ought to come out in the songs of the church as well. Our songs need to be governed by the word of God. That is why we give priority to the Psalms, God's own songbook, and to other versifications of scripture. When we sing the words of scripture and other songs entirely faithful to scripture, we are teaching and admonishing ourselves and each other with the wisdom of the word of God. If we start singing songs that are not faithful to scripture, we will begin to tear the church down rather than build it up.

We do not hold the position that all “Praise and Worship” music is bad, though some of it surely is. Some songs say very little, say it poorly, and say it over and over. We do well to keep simplistic, overly repetitive choruses out of our song-book. Let us strive for songs that are intelligent and which will build us up in faith, knowledge and obedience. In this way the body of Christ will be built up not only by way of the preaching from the pulpit but also through the church's song.

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