Hi, friends. I’ve been a member of the United Methodist Church since before birth (seriously–in the womb). John Wesley and Charles Wesley founded the denomination, and it all started with a Bible study group in college. Others mocked the group for their discipline and called them “Methodists,” but the Wesleys flipped an insult into a way of life.
Methodism embraces the idea that anyone may be justified by God’s grace (as opposed to predestination). John Wesley’s theology centers on sanctification and the effect of faith on a Christian’s character. Charles Wesley is best remembered for all the hymns he wrote, including Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
John Wesley’s “Rules for Singing”
The title is a bit sarcastic–these rules are only “official” in the sense that they were printed, haha. They are amusing and still relevant, though. These rules for singing prefaced a hymn book the Wesleys published in 1761. Emphasis added by me.
- Learn these tunes before you learn any others, afterwards learn as many as you please.
- Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
- Sing All – see that you join the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
- Sing Lustily – and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.
- Sing Modestly – do not bawl so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation that you may not destroy the harmony, but strive to unite your voices together so as to make one melodious sound.
- Sing in time – whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before and do not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
- Sing spiritually – have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
Do you agree with Wesley’s rules? I think #2 is debatable; transforming a hymn into a contemporary song by changing up the tune and adding a few lyrics? Cool. Singing the hymn as is but leaving out verses? Kinda uncool, though it’s common in church. And, of course, the rule about not seeming half-dead is funny and poignant.
Thanks for reading!