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Written by Elder Bill Walden   

 

Instrumental Music in The Church

 In this writing we will make an appeal to secular history by seeing what people in the past have to say about instrumental music in the Church.   In a statement  made by Augustine, a theologian and historian (354 to 430 AD), he said that singing in his day was more like speaking than singing. Another figure, Jerome (340 AD), said that musical instruments were "...very much in use by various cults, in the theatre, the circus, and pagan worship...and young maidens ought not even to know what a lyre or a flute is, or what it is used for".   Clement of Alexandria said, "Only one instrument do we use, that is the work of peace wherewith we honor God; no longer the old psaltery, trumpet, drum and flute".  Crysostem had this to say:  "David formerly sang psalms, also today we sing 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".

    History will prove that  a cappella congregational singing was the norm in the Church, however, we see the beginnings of the modern church choir in the Council of Laodecia:  "...others shall not sing in the Church..."  This we see today among many denominations.

    It might be appropriate at this point to come to more recent history and quote from a Baptist historian, David Benedict in his book, Fifty Years Among the Baptists.  He had this to say about the introduction of the organ among the Baptists:  "This instrument which from time immemorial has been associated with cathedral pomp and prelatical power and has always been the peculiar favorite of great national churches, at length found its way into Baptist sanctuaries, and the first one ever employed by the denomination in this country and probably in any other,. might have been seen standing in the singing gallery of the Old Baptist meeting house in Pawtucket about forty years ago where I then officiated as pastor, and in the process of time this resort in church music was adopted by many of our societies which had formerly been distinguished for the primitive and conventional  plainness".

    We need to take a little more time for this quote:  "The changes which have been experienced in the feelings of a large portion of our people have often surprised me.  Staunch Old Baptists in former times would as soon have tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ in their galleries".

    He also said on page 282, regarding the removal of a cappella congregational singing that "the prejudices by degrees began to subside against this new movement, and the people became more and more interested in the performance of their singing choirs, and as their congregations were augmented by the new attraction in their religious worship".  The writer goes on to say, "...we may reasonably expect that the organ will be viewed with favor by spiritual worshipers, but whenever it shall assume an overwhelming influence and only a few artistic performers be retained, and

the singers cease, to be directed by men who take little interest in any other services of the sanctuary except which pertains to their professional duty, then a machine, harmless in itself, will be looked upon with disfavor, if not with disgust, by the more pious portion of our assemblies".

    Here we see by this noted historian that this instrument was totally new in the Baptist family and was causing many problems.  This book was published in 1848 and spanned backward fifty years.  We also find the writer saying that if the present trend continued he would expect that professional men would be "employed" to lead the singing in the Baptist Church.  How true this prediction was in many places.


    The Old-line Baptists, described in this book, have spurned instrumental music in the Church for good reason.  History tells us, as well as the Scriptures, that it is an invention of man; it is not enjoined upon the Church by her Founder to employ such things.

      Another eminent historian, an able Baptist minister, John Gill, said in his Body of Divinity, pages 962 and portions of 963: "...it is observed,  that David's psalms were sung formerly with musical instruments, as the harp, timbrel and cymbal, and organs; and why not with these now?  If they are to be disused, why not singing itself?  I answer, these are not essential to singing, and so may be laid aside... it was usual to burn incense at the time of prayer, typical of Christ's mediation, and of the acceptance of prayer through it; that is now disused; but prayer being a moral duty, still remains; the above instruments were used only when the Church was in its infant state, and what is showy, gaudy, and pompous, are pleasing to children; and as an ancient writer observes, '...these were fit for babes, but in the churches (under the gospel dispensation, which is more manly) the use of these, fit for babes is taken away, and bare or plain singing is left '.  As for organs, of which mention is made in Psalm 150, the word there used signifies another kind of instrument than those not in use, which are of later device and use; and were first introduced by a Pope of Rome, Vitalianus, and that in the seventh century, and not before".

    Next, consider an appeal to reason.  We read that our blessed Lord and His disciples "...when they had sung an hymn, they went out..." (Mark 14-26). This is the Head of the Church singing hymns.  Is it reasonable that they had musical instruments on that night?  In a statement made by Tertullian in the beginning of the Third Century, also recorded in John Gill's  history, page 960, Tertullian speaks of reading the Scriptures, singing psalms, preaching and prayer as public worship.  Does it not stand to reason that if they had musical instruments it would have been mentioned?  Paul and Silas in  prison prayed and sang praises together;  they surely had no musical instruments.

    We read an abundance of history of the Waldenses crossing the mountains and hiding in the valleys of Piedmont, preaching, praying, singing.  Did they have cumbersome musical instruments as they were hiding in the caves from their persecutors?

    Consider the song "How Firm a Foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent word".  This hymn is dear to our hearts because we associate peace and security in the Lord with those words.  When we hear this played on the organ the reason it is so beautiful is because we associate the melody with the words, but if we were not familiar with the song's words and heard the instrument playing, we would have no idea with what or with Whom to associate the music.

    We are not condemning musical instruments in social settings; the mastery of  playing  them is a wonderful art and one about which we marvel, and we have great appreciation for this ability.  We are simply stating they have no place in the worship of God as prescribed in the New Testament.  Quoting from The Primitive Baptist Church at Cozad, Nebraska, written by Elder W. S. Craig about 1931, on page 59 he states, "Primitive Baptists are quite generally lovers of instrumental music in their homes, but they do not believe that such should be used in their churches, as part of their worship...They do not want any confusing noise to drown their voices and make unintelligible their words, for they want to sing with the spirit and the understanding (1 Corinthians. 14:15), and spiritual songs make melody in their hearts to the Lord (Ephesians. 5:15)".

    He continues, quoting Henderson-Buck: "that instrumental music was not practiced by the primitive Christians, but was the innovation of later times, is evident from church history".  And, from Hawker, 4-639-40, "I am well aware that some commentators have conceived that they find authority for their use, in what is said of the harps used in heaven in Revelation 14:2.  But this, in my view, is advancing nothing; they might have as well contended that what is said of the streets of heaven being paved with gold, literally means so (Revelation 21:21).  If musical instruments were used in

the temple service, we may humbly observe, that they were suited to a dispensation of types and shadows only; similar to what the apostle saith of other figurative services in the Church (Hebrews 9:10)

     According to my apprehension, under a gospel dispensation, and in a gospel Church, the only stringed instruments to be used, are the strings of the heart".   An appeal to the Scriptures reveals that from Matthew 1 through Revelation 22, there is not one reference to the use of instrumental music in the New Testament Church.  Now, in an appeal to the reader, a very serious question.  Do you seek to worship God in Spirit and in truth, and will you accept in your worship service that for which we have no injunction from the God in Heaven to employ, or will you accept what man and his tradition have imposed upon many of the children of God?  Prayerful study will convince anyone seeking to know the truth that the New Testament mode of worship has no place for instrumental music.  Those who are convinced of this truth already will do well to continue in "...the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein..." (Jeremiah 6:16).


 D. H. Goble in his "Primitive Baptist Hymn Book" said in the preface, "We are fully persuaded that we had as well preach unsound doctrine as to sing it with an attempt at devotion". 

"Awake, my soul, in joyful lays, And sing thy great Redeemer's praise; He justly claims a song for me, His loving-kindness, O how free!"

 

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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.