Paul told the Philippians, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern”(Phil. 3:17), going on to say, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9, NKJV). Paul told Timothy, “...I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). This tells us that the writings the Holy Spirit has preserved for us in the New Testament are not just a record of what the first disciples of Christ did—they are a pattern for us to follow.
It is clear that singing is a part of worship to God under Christ. Paul told the Colossians, “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). In a similar way, he told the Ephesians, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19). However, in the accounts of the establishment of the Lord’s Supper the Holy Spirit records Jesus and His disciples singing a hymn after its establishment but not during its observance (cf. Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26). When Paul corrects the Corinthians abuse of the Lord’s Supper by recounting its establishment he mentions simply prayer and eating of the elements (1 Cor. 11:23-25). There is no record of any church singing (or for that matter praying, teaching, or giving) during its observance. So, if we seek to follow scriptural patterns we shouldn’t add this element of worship to the observance of the memorial if Scripture never reveals such a pattern.
With that said, I realize that some might look at this explanation and conclude “this is no big deal”—“it’s an acceptable act of worship, so it would be acceptable to do it any time.” Or perhaps even say, “It sets the mood”—“It makes it more meaningful.” We should keep in mind that the scores of human traditions that developed throughout church history also came from a motive to make things more “meaningful” or “efficient.” In spite of what may have motivated them, however, they have served to lead to broader division, greater diversity, and scores of religious bodies that elevate traditions of men over the word of God (cf. Matt. 15:9). If we call others to abandon practices not found in Scripture, how can we hold on to something that is equally absent from the biblical text?
In addition to this, we should recognize that what is considered “meaningful” to some is not necessarily so to others. While one person might be moved while singing to think more deeply about the significance of the memorial, another might be so focused on the words or music that he fails to focus on the purpose of the memorial. In such a case is he truly “discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11: 29)? Let’s follow the simple patterns found in Scripture and make every time we observe this wonderful act of worship as meaningful as it can be, focusing wholly on its significance, and content to observe it in the way we can read about in God’s word.
Kyle Pope, June 2017