Question: "What does the Bible say about chanting? Should a Christian chant?"

Answer: To chant is to speak or sing rhythmically, in words or sounds. There is a wide variety of different types of chanting, from basic two-note chants to simple melodies, to complex melodies and harmonies. There are chants that are considered to be a form of speech and others that are considered to be music. Chanting is thought to be one of the first forms of what is now Western music. Battle cries, the shouts of protesters, and even the calls of sports fans can be considered chanting.

There is nothing in the Bible that says how we are to sing, technically speaking. Chanting or singing, the Bible tells us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord (Psalm 95:1–2). The question of whether a Christian should chant is therefore mostly a question of motive. We know that the Bible commands psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, so these are condoned as a form of worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). We also know that there are songs that are displeasing to God. When Israel had turned away from God in their hearts, He said that He would no longer listen to the melody of their harps or the noise of their “idle” songs (Amos 5:23; 6:5). Taking away the ability to make music was sometimes a sign of judgment on Israel and on other nations (Amos 8:3, 10; Ezekiel 26:13). Music itself, whether accompanied by instrumentation or simply sung with the voice, is not evil. But when a song is given to God out of the wrong motive—or directed to an idol—it is wicked. We can say the same of chanting.

Chant and song, like prayer, can be performed with a wrong motive. For example, chanting in order to appease God by vain repetitions or empty phrases is wrong. Chanting in order to induce a trance-like state is wrong. Chanting in order to gain the approval of men or to appear righteous is wrong (Matthew 6:5, 7). God calls that kind of behavior hypocritical. On the other hand, a chant or song, like prayer, can be given for the right reasons: to worship God, to express thanks and dependence on Him, and to petition Him. If a prayer is from a thankful, dependent heart, it is a beautiful expression of worship. The prayerful hymn “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” found in many evangelical hymnals, was originally written in Latin and is still used as a chant in some churches. Whether the prayer is sung, spoken, or chanted, nothing of substance changes.

Another consideration is what is being chanted. Chanting is common in yoga, Buddhism, and Native American worship rituals. Of course, the words and the motives for chanting in pagan religions are unbiblical. Chanting used to connect the human soul to evil spirits is harmful. When a person’s motive is to pray to or petition an idol or demonic spirit, and chanting is the method used to make that connection, that kind of chanting is evil. Chants or mantras spoken or sung for the purpose of opening the mind to undefined spiritual influences are also dangerous.

Chanting in a church setting is usually associated with Catholicism, but other liturgical traditions such as Lutheranism also employ chanting. Some chants, such as Asperges, are based on Scripture and are eminently biblical. Other chants, such as Ave Maria and Salve Regina, are nothing more than prayers to Mary and are therefore unbiblical.

In conclusion, chanting, as a form of expression, is not, in itself, evil. A chant is like a song or a prayer. Its rightness or wrongness depends on the purpose of the chant, the subject of the chant, and the motive of the mind, heart, and voice producing the chant.