Why We Sing New Songs in WorshipBy Tony Caffey
April 18, 2020
I have a confession to make. I am the preaching pastor at my church, but I occasionally fantasize about being a worship pastor. There’s something glorious about gathering the saints on Sunday mornings to sing and make music to the LORD. I would love to be the person to say weekly, “Sing this with me…,” and then belt out a melody that was as glorious as my passion to sing. But alas, that is not how I serve Christ (or his church) best on a Sunday morning.
But I do sing. Every week. I live by the motto that if you can’t sing well, sing loud! And I love to hear the saints sing at church. I love to respond to a worship leader’s call to sing, as vocalists, musicians, and parishioners all join together to make a joyful noise to the LORD.
There is really something quite marvelous when you stop and consider the human capacity to sing. We can talk, and we can declare, and we can even preach. But then there is this special thing that our vocal cords do. The muscles of the larynx bring the cords together, and we produce an altogether different sound—a singing pitch. And we unite in that pitch with others which flows into a pleasing (most of the time) melody. This thing we call corporate singing is equal parts collaborative and celebrative. God gave us this amazing ability, and he wants us to use it to praise and celebrate him.
Something about song-making elevates human emotions and heightens the senses, as we fix our minds on the Giver of Life. This is worship. And certainly there is more to worship than singing songs, but nobody can read through the Book of Psalms and downplay the favored status of song-making in ascribing worth to our God. It’s a beautiful thing, and it puts a smile on God’s face. There is nothing quite like a song to touch our inner being. Music has a special ability to access and enliven our emotions.
So Why Sing New Songs?
In the Psalms, the psalmist commands that we “Sing to the LORD a new song” (96:1, 98:1 NIV). What is it about “a new song” that stirs the human emotions to magnify the name of the LORD? Why does God command us to sing new songs?
I believe that some of it involves the imago dei that is present in human beings. Humans have an insatiable desire to create and to plow new ground artistically, creatively, and even lyrically. Birds sing songs, and even dolphins and whales make noises that sound like singing. But this is not an expression of their creativity. They don’t package their sounds with thought-provoking lyrics. They don’t express the deep longings of their heart by singing new songs. What they do is instinctual. What humans do is volitional and creational. It’s an aspect of our imago dei identity.
Church, then, is that place where imago dei humans who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus can mobilize their hearts, souls, minds, and strength for corporate adoration of God. When we sing a new song that someone has taken time to craft, our hearts soar, and our relational connectedness to God intensifies.
When an artist has combined pleasing melodies with thoughtful, Christ-exalting lyrics that are new, fresh, and invigorating, it energizes Sunday worship. This rarely happens with the first singing of the song. It usually requires a few takes to personalize and internalize a new song. But when it does finally “take,” it is uplifting and faith-strengthening for a congregation.
Bad Reasons to Sing New Songs
A desire to sing new songs can sometimes degenerate into an endless search for the novel. Some unfortunately gravitate towards styles that are kitsch or pretentious. Sometimes the pursuit of new songs can be an attempt to shame or dismiss the old (old songs and older believers). These are not good reasons to sing new songs. And the truth is that it takes about eighteen months for a new song to become an old song at church. Our worship task should involve both old and new songs. Both contribute to rich expressions of praise and worship for the LORD.
The goal is not to sing a certain number of old songs and a certain number of new songs. The goal is to use the physical (vocal chords) and creative (imago dei) capacities we have as humans to corporately praise the name of the LORD at church. New songs can aid that effort. New songs are a way to bless the name of the LORD with fresh creativity and declare his goodness to all the earth. I may not be able to write new songs or lead their singing, but I eagerly join in with others when we sing a new song to the LORD!
Psalm 96:1-2, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.” (ESV)