The fathers wisely understood that God is the audience for our prayers […]. This is not to say that the fathers forbade public prayer–Tertullian acknowledges that Paul and Silas sang in prison, with wonderful results (Acts 16:25-34). It is to say that the fathers understood that pride often undetectably infects even the most holy actions. Human beings adore center stage and the spotlight. We can deceive ourselves too easily, imagining that we are talking to God when we are only talking to ourselves, sometimes about ourselves.

– Christopher A. Hall, Worshipping with the Church Fathers (IVP Academic, 2009), 88.

It is instructive to me that pastors and theologians have historically viewed sacred singing as closely tied to (or even a subset of) prayer. It was the same tradition, for example, that led Calvin to discuss singing under the heading “Of Prayer” in the Institutes (Bk III, 20:31) and Zwingli to eliminate congregational singing altogether (because, he concluded, it was inappropriate to pray outside one’s “closet.”) So Tertullian’s comments serve as a (1) an encouragement to pray as we sing, and (2) a warning to those who serve visible roles in corporate worship–whether prayer, singing, or whatever–to exercise similar caution regarding our own hearts and motivations.

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