Following on from the restrictions that are being placed on church services in the slow emergance from lockdown, I have seen and heard many Christians advocating for and even defending the prohibitions on singing in worship.
Their arguments tend to follow one of two lines. First, that Paul encourages in Romans, 'Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,' and as such we must follow the guidelines they have laid out. Second, that God does not require singing but justice, based on Amos 5:23-24, 'Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.'
Unfortunately, both of these Scriptures have been proof-texted. The beginner Bible student is taught to always interpret verses in their context, and so these arguments are the result of the biblical illiteracy that is pervasive amongst many believers.
1) Obey the government
Throughout this pandemic, Christians have honoured the government's laws regardless of whether they agreed or not. Churches were closed almost without any dissent and guidelines abided by whilst they also continued social action projects to help those in need during this time. On the other hand, protesters and rioters have completely disregarded the government in their angry rage at the system, and yet they have been commended by the government.
We are commanded to honour those whom God has placed in leadership, and that has been the testimony of the church during this time.
But the context into which Paul commands civil obedience outlines the hierarchical nature of authority- God is the ultimate authority 'for there is no authority except that which God has established' (Romans 13:1). We must never exalt human authority over Christ's authority, for he is 'the ruler of the kings of the earth' (Revelation1:5). When the government rules in direct opposition to God's commands, we are to 'obey God rather than human beings!' (Acts 5:29, 4:19).
We see examples of this in the Old Testament as well as the New. For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, where they refused to obey the laws of idolatry, they trusted in God's authority over the king to protect them. Furthermore, in history we see this same principle repeated, for example in the life of Pilgrim's Progress author John Bunyan. After refusing to obey the orders of the governing authorities who commanded him to stop preaching, he was put in prison for 12 years. He said 'where I cannot obey [my rulers] actively, there I am willing to lie down and to suffer what they shall do unto me.' Unfortunately we are not willing to give our lives as a living sacrifice today.
The government prohibition on singing is in direct contrast to the command of God. Since all Scripture is the word of God, the constant exhortations to sings praises to God require us to sing! To mention but a few Colossians 3:16, 'Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts;' Psalm 95:1-2, 'Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song;' Isaiah 12:5-6, 'Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you;' 1 Chronicles 16:9, 'Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.'
Moreover, the scientific evidence on increased transmission risk from singing has yet to be proven at this stage, and the government guidelines remain just that-guidelines not law! 'We must obey God rather than human beings!'
2) Justice over song
The second argument from Amos dismisses all of the commands across Scripture to sing. Since God does not contradict himself, we must examine this passage more carefully before we claim God doesn't require us to sing. This idea seperates out faith and action, concluding that acts of faith (meeting together, singing praises to God etc.) are not important, but rather social action becomes the heart of the gospel message. This puts the command to love our neighbour above the command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Countless times throughout Scripture, we are shown that we cannot polarise faith and action; James shows us faith without works is dead, and yet actions without faith become futile in their worldly efforts. In 1 Samuel 15:22, Saul is condemned for his action without right heart; 'But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?"' It would appear to some that Saul was obeying God in offering the sacrifice God required of him, however he was only perfoming the motions without obedience of heart and life. Singing prasie is not a duty but a response, giving to God what He is worthy of, but the forced worship is not what God requires.
In this way, the apostate church in the UK should not sing! Without their obedience to God out of their love for Him, God despises their empty songs. In Amos, the context of this verse, the people of God are under judgement as God holds up a plumb line, His standards, against which He is measuring and judging His people. For the church to use this verse to justify their decision to obey the government, they are identifying themselves with the Israelites who had turned their backs on God!
Persecution is defined as 'hostility and ill-treatment because of race or polotical or religious beliefs; oppression.' Although we are a way off the persecution experienced in other countries, Christians are facing hostility if they disagree with the government, and the mainstream church, on issues of worship, and will experience ill-treatment because of their obedience to God's commands.
We cannot submit in silence, or even proudly abide by the government's restriction. If Bible-believing Christians do not speak out now, the path we have begun down will lead to greater persecution as people will seek to oppress religious freedoms further. Our allegience is to God, not any government, and so when the government instructs us against the word of God we have no choice but 'to suffer what they will do to us.'
Hebrews 13:15, 'Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.'