What type of song is considered “spiritual”? A spiritual song is any song that gives praise unto God. In the worship service, there are many songs that are sung to glorify God. These songs praise God for creating us, for allowing us to have salvation, and also for Jesus dying for us on the cross. Many spiritual songs that are commonly sung in the worship services of the church of Christ were written by mortal people who wished to show their appreciation unto God. True spiritual songs are based on Biblical principles. There are some songs in the Bible and all of the Bible is inspired of God, therefore we can find inspired songs there (II Timothy 3:16-17). Those who sing spiritual songs are showing their appreciation.
What are the purposes of a spiritual song? As previously mentioned, the main purpose of a spiritual song is to praise God. “Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; O sing praises unto the Lord; Selah:” (Psalm 68:32). “Praise the LORD; for the LORD is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant” (Psalm 135:3). Any song that gives praise unto God in any way is a spiritual song just as the songs that we sing during the worship services of the church of Christ are spiritual songs.
The next purpose of the spiritual song is to teach others. By singing praises unto God, we are not only teaching others to do the same, but we are also teaching others about God and His Glory. We are commanded to teach others about God. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” (Matthew 28:19). We are can use various means to teach others, and spiritual songs are one of the ways in which to teach. Paul taught the Gentiles to glorify God through singing. “And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name” (Romans 15:9). Colossians 3:16 expressly states, “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.” Clearly, a purpose of a spiritual song is to teach and admonish.
Finally, another purpose of singing a spiritual song is to edify others. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, to “edify” means to “construct, build up, or establish.” By singing praises unto God and of all of the wonderful things God has done for us, we are helping others praise and worship God as well. We are also helping others keep a positive outlook on life and to learn to trust God no matter what happens in this life. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
Now that the definition and purposes of spiritual songs have been discussed, how, then, should a spiritual song be conducted in order to be pleasing unto God? God is pleased with singing that is done by the human voice, only! After all, what other kind of singing is there? This means that no mechanical musical instrument should accompany a spiritual song when it is being sung. It is true, that in the Old Testament, many Jews sang spiritual songs using mechanical musical instruments, however, the Old Law under which they lived during the Mosaical Dispensation is no longer in effect, and has been nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14).
In the New Testament, singing spiritual songs is mentioned, however, there is no authority by God to sing spiritual songs with mechanical instrumental accompaniment. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; (Ephesians 5:19-20). In order for our worship to be pleasing unto God, we must have His authority in everything that we do! “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17). Even if the Bible does not specifically say that we cannot sing spiritual songs with mechanical musical instruments, it also does not tell us to sing spiritual songs with musical instruments, so therefore, we have no authority to do so. Remember that God gives us authority for what we are to do by Jesus Christ.
We are to neither add to nor take away from the Bible. If the Bible tells us to do something, then we are to do it. If the Bible tells us to not do something, then we should not do that thing. If the Bible does not tell us to do something then we are not to do it. If the Bible does not tell us to not do something, we still do not do it, because we have to do all things “in the name of Jesus Christ,” which means “by the authority of Jesus Christ” in accordance with Colossians 3:17.
By binding where the Bible does not bind and loosing where the Bible is binding is sin. “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19). The Holy Scriptures equip us for every good work. II Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” We cannot improve upon the Bible. We must not add to it, nor take from it. Christ says in John 12:48, “ He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” We live under the Law of Christ today (Galatians 6:2). Anything not authorized for us to do in the New Testament, we must not do. We must do only that which is authorized for us to do in the New Testament.
Also, those who participate in worship to God must take an active part in singing spiritual songs, rather than to sit back and have others “perform” spiritual songs for them. This involves the congregation as a whole singing praises unto God, rather than having one person, a choir, or a “praise team” stand before the congregation and “perform” the spiritual songs for them. Notice, they were commanded to speak to themselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in Ephesians 5:19. This commandment was given to the church (Ephesians 1:1-2). If a spiritual song is being performed, then it is merely a form of entertainment for the enjoyment of those in the audience rather than a form of praise unto God. Remember in our worship, God is the Audience, not us.
Is a spiritual song still a spiritual song outside of the worship service? If the actions that take place in a worship service (i.e. praying, singing praises unto God, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, giving, preaching the Gospel), are considered acts of worship inside the church building, then they are also considered acts of worship outside of the church building. Remember that of these acts, partaking of the Lord’s Supper can only be done on the first day of the week in accordance with Acts 20:7. Worship services are commanded to take place on the first day of each week (Acts 20:7). The church building itself is not the church that Christ began. The people who congregate to worship God together are the church. “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).
Worship can also be offered by congregations in devotionals prior or after Bible Studies. There are many who offer worship to God by singing songs, praying, and listening to preaching in home devotionals. Singing is a part of worship in public and private devotionals, as you see. Sometimes, one might even sing a spiritual song with no one else around, but God, Who Is Everywhere. This would be offering praise and worship to God. James 5:13 says, “Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” Although we may offer worship unto God at various times, we are still commanded to worship with the church on the first day of each week (Acts 20:7). Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” The Elders may also deem other important times for worship and Bible study to take place, also. We must submit to their leadership (Hebrews 13:17).
Since the church building is just a building, and the actual church is made up of Christians, then the singing of spiritual songs in any setting is considered an act of worship to God. In other words, for God to be pleased, a song that praises God outside of the church building has to follow the same rules of having no mechanical instruments accompanying it as is given to spiritual songs sang in a church building. Also, a spiritual song must not be enjoyed as entertainment, but sung without mechanical instruments of music in praise to God.
For example, if the song “Amazing Grace” is supposed to be sung without mechanical musical instruments in the worship service held inside of a church buidling, then it stands to reason that the same requirements would apply outside of the church building. Remember, “Amazing Grace” is a spiritual song. Also, spiritual songs are designed to praise God and to teach each other. Praising is worshipping. Spiritual songs are designed for worship. As I have already established, they must be sung in the way that God has authorized. So, listening to the song “’Amazing Grace” at say, a bluegrass concert, accompanied by mechanical instruments of music as it is performed to an audience for entertainment, is not authorized in ScriptureI can find no place in Scripture where we are authorized to sing a spiritual song with mechanical instruments of music whether inside the worship service on Sunday or outside of the worship service on Sunday.
This applies to listening to spiritual songs that are traditional hymns as well as those that are considered “Christian” Rock, Country, Pop, Rap, etc. A song of praise unto God is an act of worship whether inside or outside of the worship service just as praying unto God are still considered acts of worship whether inside or outside of the worship services. “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (I Corinthians 14:15).
God does not make a distinction based on where an act of worship is conducted. An act of worship must be conducted in the exact same manner no matter the setting in order to be pleasing unto God. At any time that we sing spiritual songs, we must not do so by adding to God’s Word by adding mechanical instruments of music to those songs. To do so is no different than doing the same thing in the worship service. Since singing spiritual songs with mechanical instruments of music is not authorized by God, then should we seek to be entertained by listening to these songs accompanied with mechanical instruments of music when those are not pleasing to God? Of course, not!
I have wanted to write an article on this topic for awhile now, and thanks be to God, I have finally been able to do so! I hope that this article has helped to shed some light into the topic of spiritual songs and the appropriate way to sing and listen to these songs. I know that this is a topic that is not covered very often, and I hope that this article has allowed you to think more about this subject. As always, I write these articles in hope of teaching and edifying others. May we all strive to work to grow to be more like Christ and less like the world every day!