My aim today is to try to open your eyes to some truths I suspect most religious-minded folks know nothing about. Do you know much about the history of the church you attend? What would you say if I told you that if you went back a few centuries and were a member of virtually any Protestant denomination (e.g., Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.) that the musical portion of your worship service would only be composed of singing? Some of you might say: "Prove it."
Very well. How about we start with our Methodist friends? Have you ever heard the name Adam Clarke? Clarke was a noted Methodist preacher who lived from 1762 to 1832. He wrote a set of commentaries on the Bible that are still popular to this day. Let me share with you what he wrote in his commentary on II Chronicles 29:25. He asks if this verse required the use of instruments in "Christian worship." Here is his answer (keep in mind he was a Methodist):
No: the whole spirit, soul, and genius of the Christian religion are against this [i.e., instruments in worship, SRB]: and those who know the Church of God best, and what constitutes its genuine spiritual state, know that these things have been introduced as a substitute for the life and power of religion; and that where they prevail most, there is least of the power of Christianity. Away with such portentous baubles [i.e., showy trinkets, SRB] from the worship of the infinite Spirit who requires his followers to worship him in spirit and in truth, for to no such worship are those instruments friendly.1
So, would you say that this incredibly influential Methodist preacher and writer supported worshiping God with instruments? The answer is obviously "no." Consider what else Clarke said about mechanical instruments in worship in his comments on Amos 6:5:
I am an old man, and an old minister: and I here declare that I never knew them productive of any real good in the worship of God: and have had reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity.2
Clearly, Adam Clarke was against the use of instrumental music in worship. But, what about John Wesley? Do you recognize that name? He was the founder of the Methodist Church. He lived from 1703 to 1791. In the midst of expressing his own thoughts concerning instrumental music in worship, Clarke quoted a statement that Wesley had made in a terse and powerful manner: "I have no objections to instruments of music in our chapels provided they are neither heard nor seen."3 That's pretty clear. There is no doubt then as to where the founder of the Methodist Church stood on this matter.
What about our Presbyterian friends? I'm sure that many of you have heard the name of John Calvin before. Perhaps no one has had more influence on the doctrine of Protestant churches than Calvin has. He lived from 1509 to 1564 and historians generally agree that he was the founder of Presbyterianism. He was a prolific writer, and wrote a commentary on almost every book of the Bible. In his commentary on Psalm 33, while referring to Christians and musical instruments, he wrote:
When they frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable that the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists [i.e., the Catholics, SRB], therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to him. Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints only in a known tongue (I Cor. 14:16).4
By "shadows of the law," he means the system of Old Testament temple worship; that is, the system of worship required by the Law of Moses. What he is saying is that although praising God with musical instruments was certainly a part of Old Testament temple worship, it is not a part of the worship of God's New Covenant community, the church. The founder of the Presbyterian church was thus against the use of musical instruments in worship.
What about our Baptist friends? Here's a name that most seasoned Baptists will surely recognize--Charles Spurgeon. Born in 1834, it could easily be argued that Spurgeon was the greatest and most loved Baptist preacher that ever lived. He preached for the largest Baptist Church in the world-the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in London. Every week thousands would flock there to hear him preach. Although he died over one hundred years ago (in 1892), his books and sermons are still cherished and widely circulated today. Every time Spurgeon stood in the pulpit of the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle, the audience heard eloquent preaching, but they never did hear the faintest sound of an instrument in worship while Spurgeon was there. That's because Spurgeon was a strong opponent of instrumental music in worship. He made this comment in his work called The Treasury of David while commenting on Psalm 42:
David appears to have had a peculiarly tender remembrance of the singing of the pilgrims and assuredly it is the most delightful part of worship and that which comes nearest to the adoration of heaven. What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettinesses of a quartet, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it!5
What a strong statement against the use of mechanical instruments in worship! How many Baptists today know that Spurgeon, one of their greatest preachers, thought that praising God with machinery was about as appropriate as praying to God with machinery?
Let me share a quote with you now from David Benedict. He was one of the greatest historians of the Baptists. He had this to say in his book that was published in 1859: "Staunch old Baptists in former times would have as soon tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ in their galleries. And yet the instrument has gradually found its way among them..."6
Consider this quote from John Spencer Curwen, member of the Royal Academy of Music and President of a college in London in 1880, "Men still living can remember the time when organs were very seldom found out of the church of England. The Methodists, Independents, and Baptists rarely had them, and by the Presbyterians they were stoutly opposed."7 Did you catch that? In 1880 there were men still living who could remember the time when instruments of music were rarely used! Today instruments of music are almost always used in worship! What explanation can be offered for this almost universal change? Have the Bible scholars of today uncovered new truths from God's word that have compelled almost everyone to adopt the use of the instrument? Or have men gradually adopted the use of mechanical instruments in worship because they want to use them, regardless of whether or not authority exists for such in the New Testament?
Friends, if we had time we would consider evidence on this subject as it pertains to the early church. Did the first-century Christians use mechanical instruments in worship? Absolutely not, and musical historians will attest to such. Musical instruments were not introduced into Christian worship for over 500 years after the New Testament was completed. Now, do not think that instruments were not used because they were not available. David, who lived a thousand years before Jesus, had musical instruments, and certainly the apostles and early church could have used some if God had instructed them to do so. The fact of the matter is that their musical worship was strictly composed of singing. We'll talk more about this in next week's feature lesson.
I hope this brief history lesson has been enlightening for you. Most religious folks have used a piano, organ, or other instruments of music their whole life, and when they visit a church of Christ they think we're a bit odd because we sing without any accompaniment (and the congregation as a whole participates, not just a quartet or special choir). I hope your eyes have been opened to the fact that a few hundred years ago, virtually all Protestant denominations were just like us musically. They all sang congregationally as the church of Christ still does today! However, over the years they have changed while the church of Christ has remained the same. Essentially, I want you to realize that this practice of congregational singing is not unusual--it used to be the norm. The founders of most denominations held the same view that the churches of Christ do today on this subject! The greatest theologians of the past were opposed to instrumental music in worship, and they have told us plainly that mechanical instruments were not used in the early church.
Interestingly, the term a cappella which literally means: "in chapel style" is used today to mean "without instrumental accompaniment." Isn't that intriguing? To sing "in chapel style" is to sing "without instrumental accompaniment". Throughout much of the history of Christianity, the music heard in chapels or houses of worship was purely vocal!
Now admittedly, today I have not proven a thing to you Biblically. But, we've laid some important groundwork that we will continue to build upon. The question we must now consider is why? Why did virtually every Protestant denomination in the past not use mechanical instruments in worship? Why do the churches of Christ still not use them today? There is a common answer to both of those questions, and we'll be considering it next week. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.
1Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 2 (New York: Abingdon Press, n.d.), pp. 690-691.
2Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 4 (New York: Abingdon Press, n.d.), p. 684.
4John Calvin, Commentary upon the Book of Psalms, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), p. 539.
5Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 2 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1885), p. 301.
6David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists (1859) [quoted by Alan Highers in "The Spiritual Sword" (Jan. 2004), p. 8)].
7John Spencer Curwen (1880) [quoted by M.C. Kurfees in Instrumental Music in Worship, p. 146].