Congregational Singing and the Body of Christ

June 28, 2022 Marie Greenway

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” Paul writes in his first Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Paul is speaking of spiritual gifts and how each member of the Church is given a specific gift important to the Body of Christ. He emphasizes that each part of the body is essential despite its potential wish to be another part of the body. For example, if every ear wished to be an eye and “the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?” (1 Corinthians 12:17). We are given gifts from God to contribute to the Body of Christ.

Members of One Body

In a way, this reminds me of congregational singing. Of course, it can apply to voice parts—if every Tenor wished to be a Bass, we would lack the beautiful harmonies of four-part singing. But it also applies to singing in general. Individual voices within a congregation must all join together to produce a beautiful sound.

Just like every voice part in a choir, every singing member of a congregation matters. The sounds of dozens of voices raised together carry forth those strong Lutheran melodies we love so much. Just like a body, each member contributes something to this one sound. Your voice is important. It allows you to uniquely contribute to the sound of your congregation.

In this way, we act as the hand or eye or ear of the body. These are not the body itself, but they are all essential parts of the body. So it is with our voices. You do not sing to gain prominence as a soloist within the context of congregational singing, but you contribute your unique voice as part of the larger body.

In Service to Others Rather Than Ourselves

Our whole lives are meant to follow Christ’s example of service to others rather than to ourselves. As a member of one body, we use our specific gifts in service to our brothers and sisters and not in order to gain recognition or praise. It is much the same with singing.

When we sing as one group, it is good practice to blend your voice within that group, not strive to stick out with a louder or more powerful voice than others. When we sing as a congregation, we use our voices in the service of others. We join our voices together to create a sound that is greater than our individual voice, despite the fact that it is made up of individual voices. When we join our voices together, we are humbly allowing the congregation to take precedence over our own desires.

In this understanding of congregational singing, we find that hymns and liturgy are important as they lend themselves to group singing. We can sing hymns and liturgy as one congregation—as one Body of Christ. Instead of one or a few soloists leading every song in their own unique style, our hymns are written so that everyone may join together in one voice. This emphasizes our unity. An emphasis on congregational singing does not eliminate every solo or choral piece, but the singing of Lutheran hymns and liturgy ensures that the majority of our music is sung together as a single body of Christ.

Take this as an encouragement and a charge that you need to sing on Sunday morning! Your voice is an important contribution to the Body of Christ.

Scripture: ESV®.

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