Choirs, Solos, and Vocal Bands in Worship


     As we have noticed in "Music in Worship of God," man is the worshipper and God is the object of our worship. God has all authority and demands that man worship Him as he has directed, not simply as man desires (Matt. 28: 18; Jn. 4: 24). When man "goes beyond the doctrine of Christ," he does not have God, according to the inspired apostle John (2 Jn. 9). Furthermore, those teaching or bringing any other doctrine than the doctrine of Christ, must not be accepted or fellowshipped (2 Jn. 9-11). Let us now examine the scriptures more closely as to the matter of choirs, solos, and vocal bands.

     The scriptures teach congregational singing. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5: 19). Again, "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).

     The reflexive pronouns eautois (Eph. 5: 19) and eautous (Col. 3: 16). When Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said "to yourselves," he used the Greek pronoun eautois (plural, dative case). In instructing the Colossians regarding their singing, he said "one another" and in so doing used the Greek pronoun eautous (plural, accusative case, Machen's Greek Grammar, pg. 154). These pronouns convey reciprocity.

     Some who advocate choirs, solos, and vocal bands contend that eautois and eautous are simple reflexive pronouns that have absolutely no possibility of conveying reciprocity or congregational action as opposed to choirs, solos, and vocal bands (only part of the assembly singing while the remainder is idle and passive). They contend that if the Holy Spirit had wanted to teach congregational singing (reciprocity), he would have used the Greek pronouns allalon, allalois, or allalous. Concerning eautous ("one another" in Colossians 3: 16) lexicographer Henry Thayer comments, "3. It is used frequently in the plural for the reciprocal pronoun allalon, allalois, allalous, reciprocally, mutually, one another…Col. 3: 16, I Pet. 4: 8, 10…" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 163). "The reciprocal eautous," writes the Greek scholar J. B. Lightfoot, "differs from the reciprocal allalon in emphasizing the idea of corporate unity" (Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philimon, pg. 221). The celebrated Greek scholar Robertson Nicoll wrote regarding eautous ("one another," Col. 3: 16) as follows: "'Forgiving yourselves' (eautois, Eph. 4: 32, dm), but while the variation from allal is probably intentional, the practical difference is very slight. The thought that Christians are members one of another may underlie the choice of expression" (The Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol. 3, pg. 540, Nicoll's comments on the use of eautous in Colossians 3: 13).

     The point made in the foregoing is that "yourselves" (eautois) and "one another" (eautous) in Ephesians 5: 19 and Colossians 3: 16, respectively, is simply teaching that each Christian in the assembly was to sing. Not only was each Christian to sing as opposed to some singing while others were passive, but they were to simultaneously sing one to another. This point brings us to the Greek participles.

     In addition to the pronouns "yourselves" and "one another," let us now consider the participles in Ephesians 5: 19 and Colossians 3: 16. As a sample, consider the participle "singing" in Ephesians 5: 19. "Singing" (adontes) is nominative plural, masculine, participle, and present tense (The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 7). The point regarding these participles accompanying the observed pronouns is that they all convey ongoing action. The participles thus combined with the pronouns teach reciprocal (one to another) action that takes place at the same time. Each Christian simultaneously singing to one another in the assembly is the obvious action involved in the command found in Ephesians 5: 19 and Colossians 3: 16.

     Choirs, solos, and bands were a corruption of the original congregational singing in which the First Century church engaged. Consider the testimony of one early historian:

     "Now all of you together become a choir so that being harmoniously in concord and receiving the key note from God in unison you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father" (Igatius, ca. 110 A.D., Early Christians Speak, pg. 149).

     Please consider the comments of one highly recognized reference work regarding the singing in the assembly during the early church:

     "From the apostolic age singing was always a part of divine service, in which the whole body of the Church joined together; and it was the decay of this practice that first brought the order of singers into the Church. The council of Laodicea (canon 15) prohibited singing by the congregation; but this was a temporary provision, designed only to restore and revive the ancient psalmody. We find that in after-ages the people enjoyed their ancient privilege of singing all together" (John M'Clintock and James Strong, Cyclopedia of biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 9, pg. 776).

     Professor Donald Hustad who was formerly Director of the Sacred Music Department at the Moody Bible Institute wrote the following:

     "The early worship music of the Christian church was completely congregational, so far as we can tell. However, following the spread of Christianity throughout the western world, the increasing power and sophistication of the church was accompanied by the development of trained choirs and music leaders. Church history records that about the fifth century congregational singing was largely eliminated in Christian worship, and the music was given to choirs…" (Jubilate!, pg. 46, referenced in Singing and New Testament Worship, by Dave Miller, pg. 3).

     How about I Corinthians 14: 26?   The verse reads, "How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm….Let all things be done unto edifying." Some translations read, "each one" (cp. ASV). Some use I Corinthians to advocate solos. However, it must be remembered that the statement in verse twenty-six is in the context of the exercise of spiritual gifts (see vs. 23-40). Perhaps all that is meant is that there were those in the early church who miraculously led the assembly in a song, especially a song that was divinely revealed. We know, though, that I Corinthians 14: 26 must not be understood in a fashion to make it contradict the plain teaching of Ephesians 5: 19 and Colossians 3: 16. The natural understanding of I Corinthians 14: 26 in light of Ephesians 5: 19 and Colossians 3: 16 is simply that one miraculously sang a song as the assembly joined in and followed. The rough equivalent of a song leader today.

     In conclusion, it is a simple fact that the New Testament teaches what we call congregational singing. Choirs, solos, and vocal bands are not taught. Not only are they not taught by express command or statement, approved example, or necessary inference (Acts 2: 38; 20: 7; Matt. 22: 32), but they are diametrically opposed to what is taught. To add to the scriptures carries with it severe consequences (cp. Rev. 22: 18, 19). I might also add, in view of a recent trend, that humming and training the human voice to mimic mechanical instruments is also contrary to the teaching of the scriptures regarding music in worship to God. The singing is intelligible, designed to teach and admonish (Col. 3: 16).  (Be sure to read, "Music in Worship of God" and "Arguments Used to Justify Mechanical Music in Worship," click on to visit the material.)  (Click on "Where is Elvis when you need him?" by J. S. Smith.   J. S. takes a biblical look at some of the modern secular music to which not a few are listining today.)