South African Bible Believers
Christian Worship and Testimony:
Has it a Scriptural Sanction?
|by C. H. Brown|
During the half century that the author of the following paper has been among brethren gathered to the Lord's name alone, on the ground of His promised presence in the midst of the two or three (Matt. 18:20), he has witnessed repeated attempts to introduce instrumental music as an adjunct to gospel testimony. So far this effort has been confined to "Sunday school" work, mission work, young people's meetings, gospel meetings, weddings and funerals.
Inasmuch as this tendency is present among us, we deem it timely to re-examine the whole matter of the scriptural relationship, if any, between instruments of music and Bible Christianity. We shall seek grace to do this, not in a spirit of controversy, but rather through a sober and thoughtful searching of the Word for the mind of the Lord in the matter. God's Word is ever the last court of appeal in all that has to do with order in His house. May we then approach the question with teachable hearts, and seek only His mind as He has been pleased to reveal it to us. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Isaiah 8:20.
|The New Testament Pattern|
All of us are prone to fall in with the popular concept that, "Whatever is, is right." As children born into this scene, we find ourselves surrounded with a church already functioning according to accepted patterns of thought and method. It is quite natural to us as we develop in our mental and spiritual capacities, to accommodate ourselves to what we find about us, on the supposition that it possesses Biblical sanction.
The author, as a child, attended a so-called "church," where the organ was used at every service. The propriety of all this was taken for granted. As he later enlarged his sphere of associations he found the piano, the organ, and even the orchestra, occupying a place of more or less prominence in all the different religious groups he contacted. Nor did it ever occur to him to question their presence. He accepted all as having always been a part of church worship and testimony. We venture to say that such an attitude is quite typical among Christians today.
Soon after his conversion at the age of about seventeen years, the author was invited to attend a little meeting of believers gathered in simplicity to the name of the Lord Jesus. All seemed to him so different from anything he had ever seen. There was no organ, nor musical instrument of any kind, nor was there any sign of a choir. The singing was congregational, with no visible director. All this impressed him as most peculiar, nor did he feel at all attracted by the strange simplicity of it all. He had not at that time reached the place in his spiritual growth where he had any disposition to seek out the reason for all this, if reason there were.
Now it is just at this point that the inquiry proposed by the chapter assumes definite form. Let me state it as clearly as possible in this bold query: From the beginning of the history of the Church of God on earth, down through the Apostles' time, and on into the early centuries, and thereafter, did instrumental music form any part of church worship or gospel testimony? In answer to this question, the following facts are adduced.
Let us remind ourselves, to start with, that the proper "Christian" or Church dispensation did not begin until the day of Pentecost. When our Saviour was on earth He told Peter in Matt. 16:18, "Upon this rock I will build My church": Not, "I am buildingMy church," nor, "I have built My church," but "I will build": it was a thing still future. The only other mention of the Church in any of the four Gospels is in Matt. 18:17: "Tell it unto the Church." But an attentive examination of verses 15 to 20 will show us that our Lord is here contemplating the days to come after His departure from earth. This is clearly seen if we weigh verse 20: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." This was anticipating the time subsequent to His ascension to heaven, when He would grant His unseen, though real, presence in the midst of the two or three gathered together unto His name.
The actuality of the Church as a present functioning body upon earth takes its beginning from the day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2. This is definitely substantiated by the word in 1 Corinthians 12:13: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." The first time the word "church" (properly "assembly," from the Greek word "ekklesia") is used in the Acts to designate this new body, is in chapter 5:11. "And great fear came upon all the church." So we are quite sure of our ground if we conclude that we must confine our investigation of apostolic practice in the Church, to those portions of the New Testament which are subsequent to the four Gospels. With this in mind we will proceed with our subject.
The first thing that strikes us as we examine the book of the Acts is the silence as to anything resembling present day use of musical instruments in the Church. In fact, the only mention of singing in the whole of the Acts is on the occasion of the imprisonment of Paul and Silas at Philippi. "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God." Acts 16: 25. We feel confident no one would think of musical instruments in that dark and inner dungeon.
When we go on to the epistles we find the same utter silence as to the use of any mechanical helps to Christian worship or testimony. Let us here list every occurrence in the New Testament epistles of may mention of music or singing.
"As it is written, For this cause I will confess to Thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto Thy name."
(This is a direct quotation from the LXX of Psalm 18:49).
1 Corinthians 14:15:
"I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also."
"Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."
"Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
"In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee."
(This is a direct quotation from the LXX of Psalm 22:22)
"Is any merry? let him sing psalms."
Now we submit, that nothing in any one of these six references carries with it the slightest suggestion of musical accompaniment. The "melody" mentioned is distinctly stated to be that "in your heart".
Surely if God intended musical instruments to have a place in the Church would He not have made known to us somewhere, either in the twenty-eight chapters of the Acts, or within the body of the fourteen epistles of Paul, the three of John, the two of Peter, or those of James and of Jude, His sanction of the same? How striking is the fact that that which now bulks so large in the thought and practice of present day Christianity, should have no mention in these twenty-two communications, written by six different servants of the Lord, and covering a period of approximately seventy years.
What about the last book in the New Testament? We should not be surprised that we find frequent mention of singing in this book of heavenly triumph after the sufferings and trials of earth's pilgrimage. Nor is it the song of angels that greets our ear in this apocalyptic book. It is worthy of note that there is no Biblical record of angels' singing. They are not redeemed.
"Clad in this robe, how bright I shine!
Angels possess not such a dress;
Angels have not a robe like mine
Jesus the Lord's my righteousness.
'Though angels praise the heavenly King,
And Him their Lord adoring own,
We can with exultation sing,
He wears our nature on the throne."
The first mention of singing in Revelation is in Rev 5:8-9: "The four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song."
The company portrayed under the similitude of the twenty-four elders, are unquestionably the glorified saints. In J. N. Darby's "Synopsis on Revelation" he says, "Around it (the throne) those who represent the saints received at Christ's coming, the kings and priests, are sitting on thrones." p. 519. Here we encounter a company equipped with harps, and golden bowls full of incense. What bearing does this have upon our investigation?
In the first place, we cannot take this heavenly scene as a pattern of earthly worship and testimony. It is not the Church functioning in worship and testimony here below. If such were the case, we would surely have had something resembling this scene mentioned somewhere in the Acts or the epistles. So it must be that the scene is meant to depict, not the pattern of earthly worship, but something of a new order.
In the second place, we must ever keep in mind in reading the Apocalypse that it is a book full of symbols. Dr. A. H. Burton in his pamphlet, "The Symbols of the Apocalypse Briefly Defined" lists no less than two hundred different symbols in this book of the Revelation.
Logically then, one must not put too much emphasis on the literality of what we meet in this most remarkable unveiling of the future. For instance, though we readily acknowledge the fact that the twenty-four elders symbolize the glorified saints, we would never for a moment take the number twenty-four literally. Actually, we believe their number will be beyond our computation. If we have no difficulty in seeing the symbolical significance of the number twenty-four, why should we hesitate to regard the harps as wholly symbolical? Dr. Burton in his book above referred to, lists the "harps" as "symbolic of the choral service of praise (Psalm 98:5).
Furthermore, if we be disposed to press for d literal meaning in the heavenly harps, then we must also accept the accompanying figures in their literality. If we must add harps (instruments of music) to our assembly worship and testimony because we find harps in heaven, then let us be consistent and add also the golden bowls and the incense, the golden altar, and the crowns upon the head! No, brethren, we shall go far astray from the simplicity of the redeemed company of Acts 2:42 if we try to annex the material symbols of Revelation. How blessedly simple the pattern is: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."
If the reader cares to weigh further the references in the Revelation to singing or musical instruments, we list them here for his convenience. Rev. 5:8-9; 14:2-3; 15:2-3.
In these last two references we are again faced with heavenly harps and harpers, but the remarks above made would apply equally here. We know there will be no literal "sea of glass mingled with fire". Why then should we literalize the "harps of God"?
In conclusion, may we not say with the assurance of the revealed will of God as found in New Testament doctrine and practice, that instrumental music had no place in the apostolic Church.
|Musical Instruments in the Post-Apostolic Church|
We feel sure that many who read these lines will be much surprised to learn that several centuries of church history elapsed before the introduction of musical instruments. The apologists for music in the Church have been hard put to, to find any mention of such an innovation during the first seven centuries of church history. An elaborate attempt has been made to enlist Clement of Alexandria as the first witness in favor of instrumental music in the Church. Clement was a Greek theologian who taught in Alexandria and was prominent in church affairs from cir. 192AD up till his death cir. 215AD. We here quote from Kurfees, "Instrumental Music, etc. "pp. 125-134:"Joseph Bingham, the eminent author of 'Antiquities of the Christian Church,' unhesitatingly says: Clement rather argues that instrumental music, the lute and the harp, of which he speaks, was not in use in the public churches." (Antiq. Vol. 2, p. 485.)Next in order of supposed witnesses summoned in favor of instrumental music in the church, is Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 340-397AD. But Mr. Kurfees, who has made such an exhaustive study of the matter states:
"But this is not all ... Some eminent scholars are pronounced in the conviction that the passage now under review is, beyond all doubt, an interpolation ... Johann Caspor Suicer, a noted Latin writer of the seventeenth century makes certain quotations from Clement among which is the following: 'Superfluous music is to be rejected because it breaks and variously affects the mind.' … Suicer draws this pointed conclusion: 'Nothing therefore has Clement writ-ten which would favor organs and their present-day use even the least, yea, directly the contrary'"
"It is simply impossible to interpret Clement in support of instrumental music in Christian worship without involving him in unaccountable self-contradiction.""We only make the point here that the evidence thus far adduced in support of the claim is not only not conclusive, but points decidedly to the conclusion that Ambrose at any rate, never introduced it. In fact, the McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia says: 'Neither Ambrose, nor Basil, nor Chrysostom in the noble ecomiums which they severally pronounced upon music, made any mention of instrumental music.' Vol. 6, p. 759, Art. Music." (Kurfees, pp. 123-124).Mr. Kurfees next quotes from several authorities on music and church customs. Fe first cites Dr. Ritter, Director of the School of Music at Vassar College, in his "History of Music", p.144:"We have no real knowledge of the exact character of the music which formed a part of the religious devotion of the first Christian congregation. It was, however, purely vocal. Instrumental music was excluded at first, as having been used by the Romans at their depraved festivities; and everything reminding them of heathen worship could not be endured by the new religionists."Edward Dickinson, Professor of the History of Music, in the Conservatory of Music, Oberlin College, quotes from John Chrysostom, Antiochene Doctor of the Church, greatest of the Greek Fathers, who lived from 347(?)-407AD. He says:"David formerly sang in psalms, also we sing today with him; he had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre, with a different tone, indeed, but with a more accordant piety." p.145.Professor Dickinson remarks also concerning St. Augustine, 354-430, who was Bishop at Hippo Regis in North Africa:"He adjured believers not to turn their hearts to theatrical instruments." The religious guides of the early Christians felt that there would be an incongruity ... in the use of ... instrumental sound in their ... worship ... The pure vocal utterance was the more proper expression of their faith." Music in the History of the Western Church, pp. 54-55.At this point we may raise the query, If all the testimony of the early church fathers is against the use of instruments in the church, then just when did the change in attitude toward the introduction of instruments take place? The American Cyclopedia states:"Pope Vitalion is related to have first introduced organs into some of the churches of western Europe about 670 AD; but the earliest trustworthy account is that of the one sent as a present by the Greek emperor Constantine Copronymus to Pepin, king of the Franks, in 775-." (Vol. 12, p. 688.)McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia says:
Pepin, in. turn, presented the organ to the church of St. Corneille at Compiegne. (New International Encyclopedia, Vol.13, p.446.)"But students of ecclesiastical archaeology are generally, agreed that instrumental music was not used in churches till a much later date (than Pope Vitalion in A. D. 660); for Thos. Aquinas (famous Italian theologian 1225-1274AD) 1250AD, has these remarkable words: 'Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.' From this passage we are surely warranted in concluding that there was no ecclesiastical use of organs in the time of Aquinas. It is alleged that Marinus Sanutus, who lived about 1290 was the first that brought the use of wind organs into churches." (Vol. 8, p. 739.)The Concise Cyclopedia of Religious Knowledge under the article "Organ," on page 683 states:"At the Reformation they (organs) were discarded, being considered the vilest remnants of Popery"It may come as a surprise to many of the readers of this article to learn that the Eastern Orthodox Church which according to the World Almanac for 1955 numbers 125,000,000 members, never has, at any time in its history of 1800 years, introduced instrumental music.
John Bingham, author of "Antiquities of the Christian Church", a scholar of the Church of England, remarks:
"Nor was it (the organ) ever received into the Greek churches, there being no mention of an organ in all their liturgies, ancient, or modern." Words, Vol.2, pp.482-484, London Ed.
McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia states:"Never has either the organ or any other instrument been employed in public worship in Eastern churches, nor is mention of instrumental music found in all their liturgies, ancient or modem." Vol. 8, pp. 739.Professor John Gibardeau, in his work on "Music in the Church", written while he was Professor in Columbia Theological Seminary, South Carolina, a Presbyterian, remarks:"It has thus been proved by an appeal to historical facts, that the church, although lapsing more and more into defection from the truth and into a corruption of apostolic practice, had no instrumental music for twelve hundred years (he means it did not become general during this period), and that the Calvinistic Reformed Church ejected it from its services as an element of Popery, even the Church of England having come very nigh to its extrusion from her worship. The historical argument, therefore, combines with the scriptural ... to raise a solemn and powerful protest against its employment by the Presbyterian Church. It is heresy in the sphere of worship." p. 179.Adam Clark, the Methodist commentator says:"I believe that the use of such instruments of music in the Christian Church, is without the sanction and against the with of God; that they are subversive of the spirit of true devotion ... I never knew them productive of any good in the worship of God. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire; but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor." Vol.4, p.686.John Wesley, the best known of all Methodist ministers, was opposed to the use of instruments in the church. ibid, above. John Calvin, the great reformer, in his commentary on the thirty-third Psalm, says:"Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law."C. H. Spurgeon, the noted Baptist minister of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, England, used no musical instruments in his services. See Girardeau, "Instrumental Music in the Church", p.176.
Alexandre Campbell, 1788 - 1866. founder of the "Disciples of Christ" was strong in his rejection of musical instruments in the church. Kurfees, p.210. The year after Mr. Campbell died, one of his prominent followers, Dr. H. Christopher, made a stirring appeal against the use of instruments in the church. He said in part:"I cannot, therefore, see in all my horizon one fact, argument, reason, or plea, that can justify us in using musical instruments in the worship of the church ... It is an innovation on apostolic practice ... Let us learn from the experience of others and be content with what God has ordained, and suffer instrumental music and all its concomitants to remain where they were born, amid the corruption of an apostate church." Lord's Quarterly, Oct. 1867, pp. 365-368.In view of all the evidence cited as to the absence of music in the first seven hundred years of church history; in view of the stormy opposition it had to encounter during the next seven hundred years; and in view of the pious opposition to it well on into the nineteenth century, may we not justly conclude that the history of the Church of God on earth is overwhelmingly opposed to the introduction of musical instruments into the worship and testimony of the Church?
|The Question of the Greek Words|
There are three Greek verbs and their cognate nouns that are used in connection with singing or melody in the Church. They are, "ado", "humneo" and "psallo". Kurfees says:"There has never been any controversy over the kind of music, in general, indicated by the first two of these verbs and their nouns, nor, indeed, has there been any, until recent years, over the meaning of 'psallo' with its noun." p.4.Kurfees, after an exhaustive study of this word "psallo" has most ably presented his finding in the first nine chapters of his "Instrumental Music in the Worship" pp. 3-97. We shall content ourselves with merely stating his conclusions."All lexicographers and theologians agree that, at the opening of the New Testament period 'psallo' had come to mean 'to sing.'"Let us quote Thayer in loco on 'psallo'.
"Jno. Henry Thayer, the author of the New Testament Lexicon which, by the unanimous decision of present-day scholarship, stands not only at the head, but far above all other authorities in the special field of New Testament lexicography, was a Congregationalist; but nevertheless refused, as some others failed to do, to be influenced by theological consideration, and so put down in his now famous lexicon a faithful record of the true meaning of words." pp. 69, 70."in the New Testament to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song. James 5:13."Dr. James Begg in his work entitled, "The Use of Organs" quotes approvingly from the Scotch Presbyterian theologian, Dr. Wm. Porteous of Glasgow (1735-1812), regarding the meaning of "psallo" in the New Testament:"It is evident that the Greek word 'psallo' signified in their (Greek fathers) time, singing with the voice alone ... 'psallo' never occurs in the New Testament in its radical signification, to strike or play an instrument." Quoted in Kurfees, pp. 60-61.We conclude our brief examination of the New Testament meaning of "psallo" by this pungent summary from Kurfees:"When Thayer comes to the New Testament period he says it (psallo) means 'In the New Testament, to sing a hymn; celebrate the praises of God in song.'Thus we can dismiss from our minds as being pure conjecture or wishful thinking, any justification of musical instruments in the Church on the ground of such supposed connotation in the Greek words used.
"Then as if to put an end to the controversy, the great lexicon of Sophocles, devoted exclusively to the Roman and Byzantine periods, and thus covering the entire period of the New Testament and patristic literature, says he found not a single example of the word having any other meaning." (Kurfees p.48).
|Christianity in Contrast to Judaism|
We are firmly persuaded that the acceptance of musical instruments in Christian worship and testimony is basically due to the failure of believers to recognize the distinction between the two economies of law and of grace. One of the most remarkable statements of our Lord when here upon earth is found in the end of the fifth chapter of Luke's gospel."No man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better." Luke 5:37-39.What an arresting statement this is! What would our Lord have us learn from this homely allegory? We believe it is simply this: Judaism and Christianity do not mix; they are mutually exclusive. To attempt to unite them is to lose completely the significance of either.
The system of Judaism stemmed from a promise made to Abram when still in the land of Ur of the Chaldees. "I will make of thee a great nation ... and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." Gen. 12:2, 3. Later God renews His promise in the words, "I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it." Gen. 15:7. Again God meets Abram when the latter is ninety-nine years of age, changes his name to Abraham, and reiterates His promise to him in these words: "I will give unto thee and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession." Gen. 17:8.
The reader is asked to note carefully the three promises above cited. Not one word is said about heaven, nor about the life to come. All is connected with this earth, especially a part of it called "Canaan," and the promises are entirely in view of temporal prosperity here below.
Later on, after the nation of Israel was taken out of Egypt and brought into the promised land of Canaan, we find them seeking to act on the promise made through Moses to the effect that, "If ye hearken to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which He swear unto thy fathers." Then follows a detailed promise of earthly prosperity, large fruitage of family, flock and field, and removal of sickness and disease from among them, and the certainty of victory over their enemies. (See the passage in full: Deut. 7:9-18.) In all this there is no hint of anything beyond blessing in this life. The question of heaven or hell is not raised; all is earthly
When we come to examine the provisions made by God for the formal worship of His earthly people, we are struck by the utter contrast to that which we find in Christianity. In the detailed account of either the plans of the tabernacle worship as recorded in Exodus 25-30, or the inauguration of temple worship as detailed in 2 Chronicles 2-7, we are face to face with a divinely sanctioned system of worship that is external, formal, ritualistic and earthly in every detail.
It has often been remarked in our meditations on Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, that it is not so much a setting forth of comparisons of the two economies of law and grace, as it is one of contrasts in the two. Yet in spite of all the pains God has taken to bring before us the essential and basic differences in the two dealings with man upon the earth, Christendom has refused to observe the dividing line, and has sought, all too disastrously, to combine the two. Let us very briefly list some of the divinely marked contrasts in the two relationships. Over against the Jewish promise of earthly blessings, the Christian is promised heavenly blessings. See Ephesians 1:3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Our Lord left with us the prospect, "In the world ye shall have tribulation." John 16:33. "Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hated you." John 15:19. Here is no promise of victory over temporal enemies, but rather the opposite.
In the Jewish system there was no approach to God's presence, save in a mediatorial way through the high priest, and that but once a year (Heb. 9:7-9). But in Christianity we have the blessed privilege of access into the holiest by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19). In the one system only a specialized class of people, the tribe of Levi, could minister in divine things, but with us is the knowledge that we are all a holy and a royal priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and to show forth His praises. (Compare 1 Peter 2:5, 9.) In the former there was no knowledge of acceptance with God, but we rejoice in the knowledge of sins forgiven. (Compare Eph. 1:6 with Heb. 10: 1-3.) In the first there was the constant renewal of sacrifices year by year, and the offering of the lambs daily in the continual burnt offering (Ex. 29:38-42). But in Hebrews we read, "For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." Heb.10:14.
Now we come to that aspect of Judaism that has special connection with the subject of our study. We refer to the external grandeur of the temple service. When we turn to the description of the temple dedication as given us in 2 Chronicles 2-7, this gorgeous building, erected at an estimated cost of over a thousand million dollars, was without doubt the most expensive and elaborate structure ever erected by man. It is in imitation of the precedent here set forth, that Christendom has taken her pattern of basilicas, temples, and cathedrals. But when we turn to the Spirit's instruction as to the Church epoch, we find complete silence as to any physical structure being sanctified to house the Church. No; rather we find the direct pronouncement, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" 1 Cor. 3:16. Again, "Ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." Eph. 2:22. Then in Peter's first epistle, chapter 2, verse 5, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house." Then let it be crystal clear in our minds that there is no such thing on the earth today as a physical building, be it of wood, or stone, or of marble, that has any sanctity in the eyes of God.
Let us next consider the temple service as depicted in Chronicles 5:12-14: "Also the Levites which were the singers ... being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them a hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets. It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, ... then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD."
Here, brethren, we have the divinely sanctioned order of worship for the old economy, for Judaism, for the centuries of God's dealings with His earthly people before the cross. Here is the old wine at its best. Here we see the divinely appointed temple, the divinely appointed, gowned choir, the divinely appointed orchestra, and the divinely appointed priesthood. Small wonder then that our Lord could say, "No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better." If we wish an explanation of what we see about us in Christendom today, here we have it. Failing to observe the distinction between the Jewish external worship for man in the flesh, and the Christian spiritual worship in the holiest, has resulted in the corrupted state of Christendom today. This is described by our Lord in His address to the seven churches of Asia under the likeness of the last of the seven, Laodicea. To her He solemnly announces, "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth." Rev. 3:16.
Thus we see that our question of musical instruments in the Church goes much deeper than the thing itself; it is rather just one element of a general breakdown in keeping the new wine in the new bottles. If we do not keep it there we shall lose it. Then may we not ask ourselves the question: Dare we risk the loss of the preciousness of that new wine, by turning again to weak and beggarly elements of a "worldly sanctuary"? (Hebrews 9:1). Shall we not rather listen to the voice of our blessed Lord in Revelation 3 as He addresses the church at Philadelphia: "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name."
|The Call to Separation|
We have now briefly traced the history of the introduction and general acceptance of instrumental music in Christian worship and testimony. We have seen that it was very reluctantly accepted by the church and did not gain general approval until after the Reformation. The character of the accompaniments at first brought in was comparatively simple, being limited to that of the organ, as illustrated in the gift of Constantine to Pepin in 670. (See page 10).
But today we find ourselves surrounded by a strange spectacle. Instrumental music in multiplied forms has not only been generally accepted by the professing church, but it has largely displaced the reading of the Word of God, and the sound and solid preaching of the same. I here quote a paragraph from a four page pamphlet entitled "Music in the Assemblies."
"This is the age of hymnology. Dependence today is placed upon religious music to stir the emotions. The Word of God is given second place and the Sword of the Spirit is sheathed during fifty, sixty or more percent of radio programs. Music is placed so much to the fore and made so attractive that when the Word is finally preached, the audience has lost its desire for the Word."
Here let us quote from "400 Questions and Answers" compiled by H. B. Coder: "As the reality of Christ departs from the soul, ritualism takes the place, and forms without life rise up on every hand. To such an extent has this grown that even the world is losing respect for a Christianity which seems more bent on entertaining than converting men. We believe, therefore, that any use of instrumental music in the worship of God, from end to end, in the Sunday school, the gospel meeting, or any other, ... will be found to have a tendency to lower the character of Christianity itself." pp.212-213.
One is persuaded that the last century of church history has witnessed an accelerated decline in the tone of worship and testimony. It is our studied conviction that the increased emphasis on the use of musical instruments, coupled with secular type hymnology, has been a major contributor to the downgrade movement.
I hope we are not doing an injustice to that much used evangelist, dear Dwight L. Moody, when we cite him as one who definitely fostered the modern approach to gospel effort. Our esteemed brother, John Nelson Darby, was personally acquainted with Mr. Moody and sought to be a help to him. Mr. Darby's evaluation of Mr. Moody's methods in gospel work is definitely prophetic. We here quote parts of Mr. Darby's remarks as recorded in his published letters:"I rejoice, am bound to rejoice, in every soul converted-must do so-and saved forever. Nor do I doubt Moody's earnestness, for I know the man well. I see that God is using extraordinary means to awaken His sleeping saints, ... but I am not carried away by it. As to the result of it as a whole, it will not last . . . I fully judge it will foster worldliness in saints ... Individuals may be converted; we must rejoice at it; the effect on the Church of God will be mischievous. (Letters, Vol.2, p.308). "Mr. Moody's work ... avowedly mixes up Christianity with the world and worldly influences, and uses them because it tells in favor of his work, and fosters worldliness and the evils of Christendom." (Vol.2, p.394). "He mixes his activities with what was of the flesh, so as to injure Christians, and mix up the saint and the world." (Vol.2, p.428).Though Mr. Moody set the example in huge choirs and musical accompaniments, all was most mild in comparison with the present pageantry in so-called "Christian" testimony. Those who arose in the generation after Mr. Moody have been insatiate in their efforts to make Christianity "attractive" to man in the flesh especially to make it appealing to young people.
Fifty years ago the professing church recognized a dividing line between what was considered "worldly" and what was proper for a Christian. But today the church has vied with that great corruptress, "Hollywood," in seeking to appeal to the crowd. Once the theater was regarded as belonging to the world, and was expressly mentioned as that which was to be avoided by believers. But today theatricals form a definite part of professed Christian activities. So called "fundamentalist" schools publish attractive appeals to prospective students stating their exceptional facilities for training in dramatics. Alluring titles and illustrations of purportedly "Christian" films are spread before the eye in magazine advertisements. Believers who once thought the theater belonged to the world now flock to downtown theaters to see "Martin Luther" or its like. Needless to say, all these histrionics are accompanied by elaborate musical presentations which captivate the emotions and the imagination, but do not bring the listener into the presence of Him who has so faithfully said in His Word, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal." 2 Cor. 10:4.
As we leaf the pages of a present-day fundamentalist magazine, e.g. "Christian Life," we are struck by the large percentage of advertising pages that set forth the claims of competing companies, offering various and elaborate musical instruments, and musical devices in hymnology. The appeal is definitely sensuous.
O saints of God, may we not awaken to whither we are drifting! Christendom, and. sad to say. "fundamentalism" along with it. has reached an 'all time high" in its imitation of worldly entertainment, and a "new low" in spiritual power. Actors and actresses from "Hollywood" are featured as leading attractions at so-called evangelistic efforts, even to the requisitioning of TV heroes in the dumb animal realm. What a travesty on the standard given us in God's Word: "My preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom. but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." 1 Cor. 2:4.
In many cases the infatuation with musical display has gone so far that elaborate rehearsals of purely musical talent are offered from the church platform. Instead of the earnest, solemn pleading of the Spirit-filled preacher of God's good news concerning His blessed Son, there is heard the clatter of the xylophone, the strumming of the guitar, the plaintive wail of the violin, or the blare of the trumpet and saxophone. And all this in the name of Christ!
At this point let us quote again from "400 Questions and Answers", H. B. Coder, pp. 212-214:
We are no foe to instrumental music. We love it if kept free from the immoralities which often attach to it, and if kept where it belongs in the circle of home and social life. But in the Christian circle-the circle of the heavenly people, who know God and approach Him in all the reality of what He is - we believe it inconsistent and irrelevant. It has been the means, we believe, of degrading Christianity to a great degree.
Look at the effect of it in Christian congregations: It was to help them sing at first; now, dumb in praise to God, they are, instead, getting a treat for themselves from musical art. Is it any wonder if they can after that associate the theater with the church? One place gives them pleasure and so does the other.
Again, look at its effects in modern evangelism. It has made it a new sort of entertainment, and instead of converts marked by having wept in repentance over sin, by keen separation even from the garment spotted by it, and by a spirit of prayer and devotedness to Christ, it has formed in them a trifling, pleasure loving mind, destructive of true Christianity.
When, in his day, Moses came from the mount to find the camp of Israel in riotous devotion to a false God, he "took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp." Exodus 33:7. The Spirit of God appropriates this instance to give it a Christian application in Hebrews 13:13: "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach."
Early in the last century the Spirit of God exercised thousands of believers to act upon this scripture and step out of a Judaised Christian camp to find Christ in the midst of the two or three gathered to His name. They acted in full faith in the promise of Matt. 18:20. God marvelously blessed them, and opened up to them the Scriptures in a way they had never been opened since apostolic days. These believers left behind them religious titles, sacraments, vestments, buildings, organs, choirs, prayer books, and confessionals. The New Testament became their only guide, and precious Spirit-indicted hymns of praise were gladly offered to God at all their assemblages. The introduction of any mechanical helps to their worship would have been abhorrent to them. Their gospel testimony was with simplicity but with power. No glamour accompanied their soul-to-soul work in the gospel. They sought in self-searching reality to be conformed to the Lord's mind as expressed in Rev. 3:8. "Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name."
Shall we, dear brethren, who are the heirs of such a holy testimony, betray our trust, and yield to the pressure and pattern of the day to vitiate that precious heritage? Rather may we hear the Spirit of God speaking to us afresh, "I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Tim. 6:13,14.
Our Lord announced to the woman of Sychar in John 4:23, 24, that God the Father is seeking worshipers who shall worship Him in spirit and in truth. Such was not the case in the system of Judaism. May our souls then be deeply exercised before the Lord that we may answer to His "seeking," and be found as true worshipers, not with pipe and organ, but with heart and soul. Soon He comes! Then we shall join the heavenly choir, and sing His praises in the Father's house. "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
To those who may desire a brief summary of the foregoing views as to the use of musical instruments in Christian worship and testimony, we here reproduce a short article which appeared in "The Young Christian" magazine under the caption, "A Young People's Meeting -- The Question Box."
Why are musical instruments not used in the meetings of those gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ?
True Christian worship is "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24). It is "with the Spirit" and "by the Spirit" (1 Cor. 14:5-16; Phil. 3:3; JND Translation), and needs no fleshly aids. The Holy Spirit, indwelling the believer individually, and the assembly collectively (John 14:17), is the power of Christian worship. Anything else ministers only to the flesh and, distracting the heart from the true Object of worship, is only a hindrance. It is a safe thing to say that anything that mere man in the flesh can enjoy is not suitable in the things of God. We may pray and sing and bless God in the Spirit, but has an organ a spirit? Musical instruments would no doubt aid the accuracy and the time of our singing, but would hinder the spiritual character of worship, and this alone is what is acceptable to God.
"No heart but of the Spirit taught,
Makes melody to Thee."
When we note the origin of musical instruments (Gen. 4:21), we learn that, like other things not wrong themselves, they were first used by the family of Cain to help them forget God.
This is still the use to which they are put by the world. In Daniel 3:5, 7,10,15, instruments of music were used in connection with idolatrous worship. Appealing to the religious sense of the flesh, they produce a false sense of worship.
Musical instruments had their place in the Old Testament, and will again be used in the Millennium (2 Chron. 5:11-13; Psa. 150). They, like priestly garments, and sacrifices, are connected with an earthly sanctuary. But Christian worship is of faith, not by sight; heavenly, not earthly.
Again, Matthew 9:15 contains an important principle relating to this subject. The Lord Jesus, despised and rejected by this world, is absent, and this should in large measure characterize our worship. The Church feels the absence of the Bridegroom! The blare of trumpets is surely not consistent with our relation to the Lord as the Absent One! How can we worship Him, whom the world has put to death, with the very same instruments which they employ to put Him out of their thoughts? Is not our position in this respect that of Israel in Babylon? (Psa. 137:1-4). Their harps hung on the willows. "How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land?" Subduedness should characterize our worship, while we think of our Lord as the Rejected One, and mourn His absence.
How about musical instruments in connection with the gospel?
Here, again, the appeal would be to what the flesh enjoys, and would have no power over the conscience. The large place given to elaborate musical services in the camp is, no doubt, an attraction to many; and that God in His sovereignty could use the playing of a hymn, even by an unsaved musician, to the saving of a soul, we do not question. But could we who are gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus, outside the camp (Heb. 13:13), consistently with our heavenly calling, use in our service in the gospel what God has left out as unsuited to Him in worship in His presence, and think it suited to Him in His service in the gospel, either to children or adults? Rather, may we ever seek, through grace, what is suited to His presence and pleasing to Him.
Does the Word of God forbid us to possess musical instruments, and use them in our homes?
No. Christians are left free to be led by the grace of God which has saved them, and to be constrained by the love of Christ, to live, not to themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again (Rom. 12:1-2).
In conclusion, while singing has a recognized place in Christian service (Acts 16:25; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19), musical instruments are never once mentioned in connection with it.