Joycelyn Chng

Congregational singing is an element of corporate worship that many of us are familiar with. In fact, it has become such an entrenched part of public worship that some even participate in it without giving much thought to the act or the words that come out of their mouths. Not a few church-goers are guilty of merely going through the motions when it comes to congregational singing. However, this had not always been the case. There was a time in the history of the Church when the members of the congregation were denied their part in the worship of God through singing (emphasis editor’s).  

The turnaround came with the 16th century Protestant Reformation. This article surveys the history of congregational music in light of the Reformation, and also touches on some of the theological issues related to it.

State of Congregational Music Prior to the Reformation

Under the rule of the Roman Empire, persecution of Christians increased, which led them to meet in secret for worship and fellowship. This lasted for the first three centuries. During this time, they had still engaged in singing praises to God—Pliny the Younger, the governor of Bithynia, reported to Emperor Trajan in A.D. 112 that “the Christians in his province held their worship assemblies on Sunday mornings before dawn and sang antiphonal hymns of praise to Christ as God.” When persecution of Christians ended in A.D. 313 with the Edict of Milan establishing religious toleration for Christianity, Christian singing developed into an “organized and regulated part of worship.”

Greek hymnody was the hymnody of the early churches as Greek was then the dominant language in the Roman Empire. Following the division of the Roman Empire which resulted from Emperor Constantine’s move of the capital to Byzantium in A.D. 330, hymn traditions developed separately along two fronts—the Eastern (Greek / Byzantine) and Western (Latin) Churches. Latin gradually replaced Greek as the language of the Western Church, and it was not until late in the 4th century that Latin hymnody flourished. This was aided by the writing of hymns in Latin as a means to counter the Arian heresy. Ambrose of Milan was a key figure in this respect. In addition, Ambrose also introduced the practice of antiphonal singing in the Western Church to uplift the spirits of his followers who were experiencing persecution by the Arian heretics.

Latin hymnody eventually came to be mainly associated with the monastic system. The increasing complexity of poetic and musical forms from the 4th to 9th century, coupled with the decreasing use of the Latin language among the common folk, as well as the start and standardization of the Roman Mass through the centuries, resulted in the Latin hymn being sung almost exclusively by monastic communities and cathedral churches. The monophonic and unaccompanied Gregorian chant, and Roman liturgy, also became firmly established and predominant in the West.

Over time, the Roman Church grew in its power and influence, even claiming the authority to “destine a soul to hell or heaven at the signing of a decree.” Music wise, congregational singing was virtually non-existent as the clergy and choir assumed responsibility for this part of the liturgy. The Church’s accumulation of and preoccupation with power led to great dissatisfaction against the Roman Church.  

The situation came to a head with the sale of indulgences by the Roman Church, and this culminated ultimately in the 16th century Protestant Reformation.

(To be continued)

Joycelyn Chng is currently Tutor of Church Music in the Far Eastern Bible College.

Editor’s note: Antiphonal hymns usually involves the singing of a melody before or after the reading or singing of a psalm verse. This was done by alternating choirs. The structure of these hymns is usually in the form of AV AV AV … where A represents the antiphonal refrain and V represents verse reading.


The Character of Apostasy (1)

Message Preached by Bro Samuel Joseph

Text: Jude 5-10

Having explained the purpose of his writing and the urgency of the situation, Jude now deals with the character of apostasy. Verses 5-7 of Jude describes what apostasy is — something important for Christians to recognise before they begin to defend against it. Apostasy is not new and there are many examples of it in Scripture. Jude makes extensive use of the Old Testament, which is written for our learning, that we may learn to avoid the dangers of apostasy. The failure to learn from the examples in the Old Testament breeds complacency in the church, which lays the foundation for apostasy to take root. Jude will use these examples in the Old Testament to bring out:

The condemnation of apostasy (verse 5-7): The first example that Jude used is of the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. Despite God’s goodness unto the people, there were many who did not believe. Apostasy means that they were never God’s people in their own hearts. It is important to note that the outward profession of faith is not able to save us from wrath. The second example, seen in verse 6, is of the angels ‘who kept not their first estate’. This is with regard to those who refuse to subject to God’s authority and who are joined to the devil in his rebellion. The first apostasy happened when the devil sinned and fell, causing many of the angels to fall with him (Matthew 25:41). These apostate angels were reserved for judgment and their condemnation is sure. Jude emphasised the condemnation that comes with apostasy, and even angels are not spared. In verse 7, the third example of Sodom and Gomorrah was brought up to illustrate the consequences of an immoral and sinful lifestyle. It tells us that the grace of God is not a license for sin and immorality. In the church today, God will also judge as how He had judged in the time of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here, Jude used these 3 examples to tell us the characteristics of false teachers. We must make sure we know the truth and to prevent others from being deceived.  

The characterization of apostasy (Verse 8-10): It is important to know and recognise apostasies and apostates. Apostates, such as false teachers, have crept into the church because they want to lead others astray and Christians cannot afford to be complacent and undiscerning about this. We must be earnest in our desire to recognise apostasy, so that we will not be led to condemnation and to stop others from being misled. Jude wrote that these ‘filthy dreamers’ (verse 8) teach Christians to compromise, that they may have both Christ and the world at the same time. This compromise can be found in churches and in professing Christians today. In verse 9, Jude explained that even Michael the archangel did not dare to rebuke the devil on his own authority because he feared God. On the other hand, false teachers pretend to speak against the devil and many are drawn astray by their spiritual display. They blaspheme against God through their sinful lifestyle and practices. Essentially, they defile the flesh and teach their followers to do likewise.

Hence, we must learn to recognise apostates so that we will not be led astray. We ought to pay attention to these things and make sure we understand the character of apostasy.