The Ancient Faith
CONCERNING INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC AND CHOIRS IN THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST
Dr. H. Christopher
“Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.”—Jude 3
There is one prominent feature, one especially distinctive and striking peculiarity, in the religion of Jesus Christ, which is its excellence and glory. In the eyes of philosophy this may be its defect and shame. This peculiarity or distinctive feature is its stereotyped character. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a stereotyped religion. It was completed by the Holy Spirit speaking and writing by the inspired apostles, and during their lifetime. Since their death no man has spoken by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As the inspired men left the gospel, so the Holy Spirit left it, and so must it ever remain until God shall change, alter, or modify it.
It is the same to-day that it was in the days of the apostles; and it is but the dictate of common sense that man cannot retouch it, embellish, or modify it in the least important particular. The apostle Jude affirms as much. He exhorts that we are to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” The words “once delivered” point to a certain and particular time when this faith was delivered to the saints. This time was the apostolic age. By “the faith” he means the gospel of Jesus Christ, called also by him “the common salvation.” By the saints, he must mean the Christians of the early years of the apostolic age.
So that, as regards the application of this command to us of the present day, we must understand the Apostle as exhorting us to contend for the gospel as it was left by the apostles in the New Testament Scriptures. The exhortation of the apostle, equivalent with us to a command, confines us to the words of the inspired apostles, and binds us down to the apostolic age. As a people, we so understand the words of Jude. We look only to the writings of the apostles of Jesus Christ, and repudiate all human authority or interference in matters that pertain to our religious faith and practice. The Bible is our only authority, and we reject everything that concerns our faith and practice not sanctioned by the apostles. We stand firmly and immovably on this ground. It is our glory or our shame, our strength or our weakness. We stand or fall here.
We believe and maintain that the religion of Jesus Christ was finished, completed, and stereotyped by the apostles, and in their day. We believe that the Christian Scriptures contain all that God has seen proper to reveal, and all that man’s condition under sin in every age of the world needs or requires. We do not believe that God has, since the death of the last inspired man, uttered one word, or that he will utter another, in addition to what he spoke by the inspired men of the New Testament.
We are not ashamed to acknowledge the supreme authority of the apostles of Jesus Christ, and to bind our consciences by their word. We recognize them as possessing vital and supreme authority, and deny that their word is susceptible of either addition, improvement, or abridgment on the part of men.
This position necessarily compels us to reject all human interference or authority in matters pertaining to our religious faith and practice. We have placed ourselves among the apostles, and fear to come one century this side of their day, lest we also be overtaken and finally overwhelmed by corruptions, which men began so early to introduce into the apostolic faith and practice. So soon as the inspired men had passed away, “the iniquity” which began to work in the days of the apostles was not long in developing itself. When the restraint of the presence of the apostles was removed, it felt that its time had come, and began to exhibit those principles and characteristics which appear so conspicuous in the papacy. The sources of the innovations and corruptions, which eventually deluged the church and obscured the faith and practice of the apostolic church, were the various systems of pagan philosophy, Jewish tradition and the Jewish religion, in which men supposed they saw more beautiful and rational expositions of the Christian philosophy, and more powerful, appropriate, and attractive means of recommending the gospel to an ungodly world, and of smoothing and softening its offensive plainness and simplicity.
THE PRACTICE OF THE PRIMITIVE OR APOSTOLIC CHURCH
Innovations and corruptions have been introduced into the church at such an early day in its history, it is not safe to stop this side of the days of its purity in determining what God requires of us. For this reason we have determined to get behind all corruptions and innovations by ascending the stream to its fountain, and placing ourselves among the apostles and in the apostolic church. Standing here, we say to the world that we know nothing but what we find in the writings of the apostles and in the practice of the primitive or apostolic church. We pronounce these all-sufficient for every purpose relating to our religious faith and practice. The revelation of God contains all that we need or require to know of our relations, duties, and responsibilities to God and to the great Head of the church. We confine ourselves to the narrow limits of the apostolic writings and to the practice of the apostolic church, believing it to be our only safety against similar or other corruptions which bring defilement and ruin on the church.
WARNING AGAINST ADDING TO GOD’S WORD
If this step is to be considered shameful and degrading, as ignoring or disregarding that spirit of progress which has done so much, and which will yet do much, for the advancement and improvement of the race in all the human elements and instrumentalities of civilization, we can not help it. We know it is not. We know that it is not only honorable and ennobling, but imperiously necessary. And more than this, that it is demanded of us by God, leaving us no discretion, because he allows no interference on the part of either angels or men in anything that he has commanded or ordained (Gal.1:8,9). We believe the step to have been wise and judicious, and our only protection against an influx of errors, and we do not intend to recede from it. We must not allow ourselves to be disturbed in our convictions, or led into dangerous paths by this deceptive plea of progress. It has already done a vast amount of mischief. It has destroyed the religion of many a man, and we must be on our guard lest it destroy us. We must make necessary and proper discriminations. We must remember that progress is a word not applicable to the religion of Jesus Christ. It was stereotyped by the Holy Spirit in the persons of the apostles, and is not, consequently, susceptible of progress. How irrational and foolish, then, to apply words to the revelation of God which can be properly applied only to human art, science, or politics.
Had men been content with the ordinances of God, and the provisions which he instituted for the advancement and preservation of his cause on the earth, the great apostasy would never have occurred to disgrace the religion of Jesus Christ. And had the Protestants of the sixteenth century taken our ground and adopted our principles of going back to the apostles, and contending for nothing but the faith and practice of the apostolic church, the church would have been spared its present unhappy division, the one great cause of modern infidelity. Hence, if we would preserve the unity of the church, and keep out corruptions and innovations of every kind, we must confine ourselves to the teachings of the apostles, and to the practice of the apostolic church. We are driven to this position and confined to it by the highest considerations for the interests of the church and the most inexorable logic.
This step is the distinctive feature of our reformatory movement, our power and glory, and our only hope of success; the only means and way by which the world can be converted to Christ, and the church preserved from corruptions with which human ambition and pride have flooded it in days gone by. It was a grand and mighty conception, a sweeping generalization, that carried us, at one bound, over the heads of eighteen centuries, and placed us behind all the corruptions and causes of divisions which now defile and distract the church. It evinces a grasp of mind at once grand and wonderful. It develops a logic that strikes at the root of all error and corruption; that undermines their foundation; and cuts down at one blow the great apostasy and all its fruit. This work alone is sufficient to immortalize the name of Alexander Campbell, and assure his fame to the latest generation. Had he done no more than give existence to this logic, and to set on foot this movement, the world would still have been greatly blessed by his life; for it is a step whose logic sweeps from the church all error and corruption, all human interference with its faith and practice; and carries us back once and forever to the apostles, and there confines us. The ax which the [John the] Baptist laid at “the root of the trees” was not more destructive of the claims and pretensions of the Jews than is this step destructive of the errors and corruptions of the church at the present day (Matthew 3:10). Our movement, therefore, is similar to that of the Harbinger, and consequently sanctioned by the highest authority in the universe and the soundest wisdom. We need not, therefore, be ashamed of this character of our movement. There is no ground between this and spiritualism but Popery, so that we must hold to the apostles, or, cutting loose from them, sail out into the boundless ocean of spiritualism, or fret and fritter away life in the lifeless forms and ceremonies of Romanism.
The position which this procedure gives us before the world, and the principle which underlies it, are no longer with us a subject for doubt or dispute. These are now settled and established. The principle on which we are proceeding is now as fixed, immovable, and unchangeable as an axiom of mathematics. To entertain a doubt of its wisdom and necessity is to let the world go back again to the darkness and confusion of the papacy. To doubt or reject this position and principle is to destroy all that has been done, and leave the religion of Jesus at the mercy of men. To doubt or reject these is to sweep the religion the religion of Jesus from the earth, and leave the world nothing but a mangled, bleeding corpse. To doubt or reject these is to destroy even an apostate church from the earth, and leave scarcely a vestige of the religion of Jesus in the world. Christ and his apostles must reign supreme and dictate to the world, or mankind must be left to the guidance of human reason; and then revelation, authoritative and final, will be spurned from the earth; then spiritualism will reign with undisputed sway. He, therefore, who discards the position we now occupy, and rejects the principle on which we are proceeding, which is the life and salvation of the church, gathers not with Christ.
The great leader in the present reformatory movement saw the logic of his proposed step, and though it seemed to annihilate his religious being, yet he did not falter or stagger. He was fully persuaded of its wisdom, necessity, and efficacy, and he took his stand deliberately and resolutely. With one effort, all human creeds and human dictation in all matters pertaining to man’s religious faith and practice were rejected, and the Bible taken up and held up as the only authority worthy of our submission and binding on the conscience.
“THUS SAITH THE LORD”
To give form and body to this principle, and make this step practical, and confine it within proper and necessary limits, it was wisely determined that for all matters demanded of and enjoined on men we should have the sanction and authority of a “Thus saith the Lord” [A phrase found 413 times in the KJV- P.M.]. This limitation is necessary to save the principle from a too sweeping application. The principle must apply to and include nothing but those things which relate to our religious faith and practice—to those matters which belong to worship. As to matters which are evidently and confessedly within the limits of and belong to the domain of human reason and wisdom; as to matters which pertain to social, provincial, or national customs and habits, “which perish with the using,” these are no more to be included as governed by this principle than are the various forms of civil government. We must, therefore, observe some necessary distinctions and limitations in the application of this great and important principle.
WE ARE UNDER THE NEW TESTAMENT, NOT THE OLD
Then is another important and necessary distinction to be made, if we would convince the world of the corruptions of the apostasy and preserve ourselves from a similar fate. This distinction has reference to the source whence our faith and practice are derived. This source is the New Testament—not the Jewish Institution. The Old Testament may be suggestive and corroborative, but it is not authoritative. It has been superseded by the New, just as the Jewish religion has been superseded by the Christian. The supersession is based on many reasons, an important one of which is the essential difference in their genius and nature. Because a distinction has not been made just here, the church has been oppressed for centuries with Jewish notions and practices. From Judaism the apostate church has derived infant membership; Jewish ceremonies of burning incense, of priestly robes, and its ritual service. Growing up into power and influence under the influx of corruptions and innovations of the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has many things in its faith and practice of Jewish and Pagan origin. Its ritual service is mostly Jewish, and it worship of saints and images is Pagan, borrowed from the hero worship of Greece and Rome. Protestantism has taken its chief corner-stone—infant membership—from Judaism; and that moral excrescence on our body politic—Mormonism—goes to David and Solomon for its polygamy.
These corruptions, and especially the reasoning which has given them existence, ought to show us the importance, and indeed the imperative necessity, of making legitimate and proper distinctions, and to put us on our guard against false analogies and accidental resemblances.
On our principles the New Testament and the practice of the apostolic church can be our only guides and authorities on all subjects that concern our religious faith and practice. When the Scriptures are only didactic and allusory, the principle may be applied and the allusion verified and made clear, by a reference to the practice of the apostolic church, as this is gathered from the Scriptures and contemporary history. In this way many disputed points may be settled, and many corruptions and innovations exposed. There was, for instance, no worship of saints or of images in the apostolic church, nor any ritual or liturgical service. Neither was there such a thing an infant membership.
There were no popes, nor cardinals, nor archbishops, nor prelates; no such thing as Roman or English episcopacy; no such forms of church government as those represented by Presbyterianism and Methodism.
Nothing was known in the days of the apostles but the Church of Christ, with its plain and simple worship and government. The modern machinery of councils, assemblies, synods, presbyteries, and conferences is not to be found in the New Testament, or in the practice of the apostolic church. This fact settles their fate, disposes of their authority, and deprives them of all vitality. It is a sweeping and merciless logic that thus destroys, at one blow, the labor and work of centuries; the inventions and appliances of great but mistaken men. But this is the vital and essential nature of truth. Light is not more destructive of darkness than is truth of error. It would be no longer truth if it were not thus merciless and destructive. Shall we shrink from it because of these inherent qualities? Never.
This is the essential nature and quality of the religion of Jesus; and so long as we adhere strictly to it, we will escape the corruptions of a degenerate church, and be what Christ designed his church to be—the LIGHT of the world. The sun derives no light from earth; neither does the church, which Jesus redeemed, derive any light from this world. Its light must shine, or the world will be in darkness.
TEMPLE WORSHIP VERSUS SYNAGOGUE WORSHIP
As it regards worship, there were two kinds or forms under the Jewish institution. These were too distinct to be confounded. The one was instituted and regulated by statutory law; the other grew out of the wants of the people, and was only an extension of the family worship of the patriarchal age. No provision was made for this kind or form of worship in the law; no mention is made of it in the law, which fact shows that it constituted no part of the Jewish institution.
The first of these kinds of worship was the public worship of the tabernacle and temple. It was national in its character; not social or devotional, and consisted of sacrifices, ordinances, rites, and ceremonies conducted by a legally ordained priesthood prescribed by the law. These priests were the only persons permitted by the law to take part in this worship, and they all belonged to one tribe. The women of all the tribes were cut off from this worship, even though inspired, so that this worship was peculiar in every respect.
With this form of worship nothing could have been in greater contrast than that of the synagogue. Here the men and women of all tribes could meet and worship; here there were no distinctions made in regard to any state or condition of society; here there was only spiritual or devotional worship, a worship of the heart, and not one of symbols, rites, and ceremonies. In this worship there was no sacrifice of animals, no rites and ceremonies, no burning of incense, no priestly robes, no mitred priest, with his breastplate and urim and thumin; nothing was found in the synagogue that pertained to the temple, because disallowed. It was devotional worship of the people, and not the symbolic worship of specially ordained priests and legally appointed sacrifices, rites, and ceremonies. It was grounded on piety, and came from the heart, and not on symbols and external ordinances. It consisted of praise, thanksgiving, and prayer, and was more precious in the sight of God than all burnt-offerings. Here the contrite heart prayed, and the soul, joyous and thankful, sang psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, and made melody in the heart. Here none were acceptable worshipers but those whose hands were clean, whose hearts were pure, and whose souls were not lifted up with vanity and pride. Synagogues were consequently found wherever there were pious Jews.
In striking contrast with this was the worship of the temple at Jerusalem, where worship was offered for the whole nation. After the building of the temple, the national worship was allowed only at Jerusalem. Here the priests resided; here morning and evening sacrifices were daily offered. The services could be discharged as well by wicked as by godly priests. Moral character was not an element of the Jewish priesthood or the temple worshiper. He had only to serve according to the law, and the worship was genuine and acceptable, whether the offerer were a saint or a sinner in character. It was a legal worship, and not spiritual.
On certain great occasions, certain grand convocations of the people, the great mass of the people repaired to Jerusalem to take part in the worship of these occasions. Worship at these times consisted of one continual round of sacrifices at the brazen altar and in the sanctuary on the part of the priests, and on the part of the people in feasting, singing, dancing, and music on cornet, timbrel, and harp, the sound of trumpets and cymbals, and the general rejoicings of the whole people. All these things contrasted sharply with what transpired in the synagogue on the Sabbath days. The two kinds of worship were as distinct as flesh and spirit.
These two kinds of worship have their representatives under the Christian system. The synagogue has passed into the Christian church, and the temple worship found its end and fulfillment in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and his coronation as King and High-Priest in the heavens. Under his reign there is his synagogue or congregational worship on the earth, and, in the heavens, that part of the temple worship which consisted of praises, thanksgivings, and rejoicings, where the saints, gathered out of all the nations of the earth, constitute the one great family or people of God; and the worship coming up as from one great nation, the symbols of the national worship of the Jews are used to describe it.
The national or temple worship perished with the destruction of the Jewish metropolis by Titus. Being wholly national, it perished with the nation. Not a vestige remains. It served until the substance appeared; and since the day of Christ’s coronation, the temple worship has not ascended one inch toward heaven. All that now remains to the Jews is their synagogue. They have been stripped of all their ancient grandeur and glory. They are a people “scattered and peeled,” and even their synagogue has been merged and lost in the church.
The temple worship was in perfect consonance, with the genius, nature, and purpose of the Jewish institution. It was a system of external rites and ceremonies, whose only value was their symbolic character, and whose only purity that of the flesh, and only holiness ceremonial. It had no reference to the spirit—was not designed to reach the heart—and looked only to the purification of the flesh.
The synagogue worship was the opposite of this in every essential particular—spiritual in its nature and devotional in its character. It was only in the synagogue that spiritual worship was ever seen while the “first tabernacle was yet standing.” It was in the synagogue that Jesus worshiped—never in the temple; it was here that the first Christians worshiped God through Christ. The worship of the synagogue, therefore, was adapted to the spiritual worship of the church. The church, accordingly, was modeled after the synagogue. This being so, we will learn much of the worship of the apostolic church, by learning what was the worship of the synagogue.
This worship was simple in the extreme. It was adapted to every capacity, and was sufficient for the wants of all. All spiritual worship is plain and simple, and within the reach of all. It is like the historic style in composition compared with the poetic or symbolic. A religion of symbols is necessarily one of imagery and dress, of grand and imposing ceremonies. But such a religion can do no more than excite wonder, awe, and fear; never can melt the heart to love, and give it the fearless confidence of the child. This fact is fully illustrated in the genius and history of the Jewish and Christian institutions.
The religion of Jesus being wholly spiritual, its worship is also spiritual [John 4:23,24 – P.M.]. There is now no other kind of acceptable worship. He who worships God through Christ must worship him in spirit and in truth, for such only does God now accept.
Spiritual worship is always and necessarily plain and simple. Demanded of every heart, it must be such as every heart can give; it must be within the reach and grasp of the great mass of mankind. Hence, in ordaining the forms and instrumentalities of worship, the Holy Spirit had regard to the condition of man under all circumstances, and in every age of the world, however enlightened, refined, and cultivated the might chance to be.
The Holy Spirit in organizing the Christian church adopted the government of the synagogue, as adapted to and adequate for all the wants and needs of the Christian in all ages and in all countries, whether barbarous, semi-barbarous, or civilized; whether rude or refined. As we find the form or mode of worship portrayed in the Scriptures, and illustrated in the worship of the synagogue, such, we must conclude, it was left by the Holy Spirit; and being left such by him, there is nothing left us but to accept it or reject him. We had as well, then, be ashamed of Christ as the plain and simple worship of the apostolic church. If he ordained it, its simplicity can be no objection. If it suited Christ and his apostles, our refinement cannot certainly be offended or shocked at its unpretentious simplicity.
We must never forget that it is not our province to determine what is or what is not acceptable worship. What pleases God should please us. But mankind have never been satisfied with what God has ordained; and it seems the most difficult thing in the world to persuade men to be content with what he has ordained. If he prefers the worship of the heart to all burnt-offerings and sacrifices, why should men object? Or if he suspends the salvation of the race on the obedience of the heart, why should we wish to make anything else, either different or additional, the ground for acceptance with God? What God hath ordained is best, and it is our wisdom and piety to obey without a murmur.
I have now sketched in general outline the ground on which we stand, and stated the principle upon which we are proceeding, and adverted to some of the conclusions to which the logic of this step conducts us. The reasons and considerations which I have here presented are sufficient, I think, to show the wisdom, propriety, and absolute necessity of the step we have taken, and to justify this position and principle in the judgment of every intelligent and unbiased mind.
In matters relating to our faith and practice, we propose to consult nothing but the oracles of God. It has been claimed by some that Jesus borrowed some of his moral precepts from the philosophers of Greece and Rome. But this is simply blasphemous. He was independent of all human sources of knowledge. He spoke from heaven. What he has left us is from God; and since all that we have has been given us by God, why should we look to any other source? We must not forget that our religion, and everything connected with it, is divine. We have originated nothing. We must take the church as the apostles left it, or as men have made or shall make it. One of these we must do. Which will we do?
THE OMISSION REGARDING INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC WAS NOT ACCIDENTAL
Did the Holy Spirit, then, ordain instrumental music in the church of Christ? Or did he leave it to human wisdom and prudence to determine what shall be the mode of worship so far as regards the singing?
Instrumental music was not used in the Jewish synagogue; and as the Christian church was modeled after it, it could not have been used in the apostolic church, unless specially ordained. The history of the church develops the fact that it was not used in any Christian assembly for several centuries after the death of the inspired men; consequently it was not ordained by the Holy Spirit in the apostolic church. We cannot believe that this was an accidental omission or an oversight. Nor can we believe that he was not fully acquainted with the power and influence of instrumental music over the heart, and knew perfectly well all its advantages in any and every particular, and in any and every age, and whether it was adapted to the spiritual worship of the church. He knew that it had been used in the temple worship, and whether it ought to be ordained in the church. If, then, he did not ordain it in the church, what could have been the reason? If it were not an oversight, it must have been intentionally discarded. But it matters not with us what was the reason. We have the fact, and this, with Christians, should be all-sufficient. The fact, then, that the Holy Spirit did not ordain instrumental music in the apostolic church is an argument conclusive that he did not design that it should be used. This fact should be with us an end of all thought and desire on the subject.
HISTORY OF INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC
It has, nevertheless, been introduced into the church, and for many centuries it has shown what influence it has on the psalmody of the church. Let us now look into its history and learn what character it has written on the scroll of time. For this purpose I will give an extract from Coleman’s History of the Apostolic and Primitive Church, and one from his Ancient Christianity Exemplified. From the first I quote:
“Both the Jews in their temple service and the Greeks in their idol worship were accustomed to sing with the accompaniment of instrumental music. The converts to Christianity, accordingly, must have been familiar with this mode of singing. . . .But it is generally admitted that the primitive Christians employed no instrumental music in their religious worship. Neither Ambrose, nor Basil, nor Chrysostom, in the noble encomiums which they severally pronounce on music, make any mention of instrumental music.” (p. 130.)
In the apostolic church the music was entirely vocal and congregational [Eph.5:19; Col.3:16- P.M.]. On this subject Chrysostom says:
“It was the ancient custom, as it still is with us, for all to come together and unitedly join in singing. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, male and female, bond and free, all join in one song. All worldly distinctions here cease, and the whole congregation forms one general chorus. This interesting part of their worship was conducted in the same simplicity which characterized all of their proceedings. All unitedly sang their familiar psalms and hymns; each was invited at pleasure, and according to his ability, to lead the devotions in a sacred song indited by himself. Such was evidently the custom in the Corinthian Church, and such was still the custom in the age of Tertullian.”
These extracts establish the fact that instrumental music was not used in the church as late as A.D. 400, the age of Chrysostom.
This innovation on the worship of the apostolic church, like all other innovations and corruptions, came in gradually. The same author remarks that “an earlier period than the fifth or sixth century can hardly be assigned” as the period of the introduction of instrumental music. “Organs were unknown in the church until the eighth or ninth century.”
Previous to that time they had their place in the theatre. They were never regarded with favor in the Eastern Church, and were vehemently opposed in many places in the West. In Scotland no organ is allowed to this very day, except in a few Episcopal churches. In the English Convention, held A.D. 1562, in Queen Elizabeth’s time, for settling the Liturgy, the retaining of the organ was carried by a casting vote.” (p. 376.)
The use of instrumental music in the church from the fifth century to the present day, a period of thirteen hundred years, gives it a history whose light will afford us some insight into its nature, tendency, and effects on the worship of the church, and discover, possibly, the reason why the Holy Spirit did not ordain it as an aid in spiritual worship. In regard to the nature and tendency of instrumental music as developed by its history, the same author says: “The tendency of instrumental music is to secularize the music of the church, and to encourage singing by a choir.” The secularization of the music of the church was effected by the introduction of profane or secular music. On this subject the same author says: “The introduction of profane, secular music into the church was one of the principal means of corrupting the psalmody of the church.” This effect proceeds from the nature of this kind of music. It is “artificial and theatrical in style, having no affinity with the worship of God;” and “when it took the place of those solemn airs which before had inspired the devotions of his people,” congregational music perished. “The music of the theatre was transferred to the church, which accordingly became the scene of theatrical pomp and display, rather than the house of prayer and praise to inspire, by its appropriate and solemn rites, the spiritual worship of God. The consequences of indulging this depraved taste for secular music in the church are exhibited by Neander in the following extract: “We have to regret that, both in the Eastern and Western Church, their sacred music had assumed an artificial and theatrical character, and was so far removed from its original simplicity, that even in the fourth century Abbot Pambo, of Egypt, complained that heathen melodies had been introduced into their church psalmody.”
Others, as “Isodorus of Pelusium, complained of the theatrical singing, especially of the women, which, instead of inducing penitence for sin, tended much more to awaken sinful desires.”
And Jerome, in remarking on Ephesians 5:19, says:
“May all hear it who sing in the church—not with the voice, but with the heart, we sing praises to God. Not like the comedians, should they raise their sweet and liquid notes to entertain the assembly with theatrical songs and melodies in the church; but the fear of God, piety, and the knowledge of Scriptures should inspire our songs. Then would not the voices of the singers, but the utterances of the divine word, expel the evil spirit from those who, like Saul, are possessed with one. But, instead of this, that same spirit is invited rather to the possession of those who have converted the house of God into a pagan theatre.”
The nature and tendency of instrumental music, and especially its effect on the worship of the church, are still more fully developed in another evil consequence of its introduction. This consequence is the transference of the singing from the congregation to a selected choir, the music of which, especially when accompanied by instruments, is confessedly beyond the reach of the congregation. On this point I quote:
“The practice of sacred music as an ornamental, cultivated art took it yet more completely from the people. It became an art which only a few could learn. The many, instead of uniting their hearts and voices in the songs of Zion, could only sit coldly by as spectators. A promiscuous assembly, very obviously, could not be expected to bear a prominent part in such music.”
Other methods were used with the same object in view. “The clergy eventually claimed the right of performing the sacred music as a privilege exclusively their own;” and “finally, the more effectually to exclude the people, the singing was in Latin.” These later methods have been abandoned in modern times, except the last, which still obtains in some Roman Catholic churches. Instrumental and choir music has been found fully adequate to the object of excluding the people from this part of the worship, and this almost universally obtains.
From these extracts it will be readily seen that one corruption attends or is soon followed by another. The one makes room for or constitutes the precedent for another. Hence the importance and necessity of eternal vigilance.
From Ancient Christianity Exemplified, I quote:
“The singing was congregational for the first three centuries. The charm of their music was not in the harmony of sweet sounds, but in the melody of the heart. . . .The singing was gradually drawn from the congregation and confined to a choir, which, in order to limit and confine this part of the worship to the choir, the style of the music was changed, so that the congregation were compelled to remit this part of the worship, and leave it in the hands of trained singers. Church music thus became a refined art of difficult attainment, and limited to the few professed singers. The congregation were, by the exigencies of their condition, excluded from all participation in it. The devotional tendency of sacred music was lost in the artistic style of its profane, secular airs. Thus, like our modern church, the ancient soon impaired the devotional tendency of sacred music by raising it above the congregation and limiting it to the choir, as they did their prayers by restricting them to the cold and formal rehearsal of the prayer book.”
Comment on these extracts is unnecessary. They speak for themselves. It is wonderful how much the modern resembles the ancient; how little instrumental music in the worship of a spiritual religion, as regards its nature and tendency, differs in modern times from what it was in the days of its power and influence, when it developed its true nature and influence on this part of the worship of God. It is another evidence and example of how history repeats itself; how the same principles will ever produce the same results.
History fully establishes the fact that for three centuries instrumental music was not used in the church; and what reason can explain this fact, if not that it was designedly and purposely excluded? It found no foothold in the church until the church had been corrupted in other respects; until men begun to correct the errors and omissions of divine wisdom, to adorn the simplicity of the primitive worship, and to improve on the apostolic teaching; until human reason began to fasten its serpent fangs into the body of Christ. It had its origin in a state of things which gave existence to pedobaptism, and the corruptions which finally developed their legitimate fruits in the papacy.
CHOIRS, A FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT
It is a fact that musical instruments introduce an artistic style of music, far above the reach and capacity of any but amateurs or professional singers. Hence choirs of the present day, like those of former times, are almost universally composed of professional artists, those whose talents entitle them to expect and demand a remuneration for their choir services. They are employed to execute the singing; and it is not strange that they should be more intent on exhibiting their musical powers and artistic taste than on the worship of God. Indeed, worship is rarely, if ever, a concomitant of such music, for choirs are seldom composed of godly persons; and such is the nature and tendency of artistic music, that even if godly persons were to engage in it, they would not long remain so. They could not long resist its effects. Its nature and tendency is to engender pride, vanity, and worldly ambition, and these are passions which the young, who generally compose the choir, can rarely resist.
In many instances the singers are ungodly persons, and many not even professors, and known to be such when employed. The music is all that is sought. The advertisement calls for the best voice; character is never thought of. All this may comport well with a corrupt and apostate church; but to think of such a thing for the church of Christ is really horrible. It is shocking, or ought to be, to the weakest religious sense, to the feeblest conception of the essential nature of Christian worship. It ignores singing as any part of the worship of God, and regards it merely as a musical entertainment. It is not strange, therefore, that instrumental music, and all its concomitants, should be so heartily condemned by the great and good of all parties and of every age.
When sacred music becomes so highly artistic as to suit instruments and choirs, it degenerates into a mere musical entertainment; and such is really its character in churches where instruments and choirs exist. It resembles more the orchestra music of theaters, which is designed to entertain the audience while the curtain is down, than spiritual worship, welling up from the soul in gratitude and praise to the great Fountain of life and blessing; and the congregation has no more to do with the singing of choirs than the audience of the theatre has with the music of the orchestra. It is, therefore, just as reasonable to defend the withholding of the Bible from the people, or the performance of religious worship in a foreign tongue, as to advocate a measure which effectually takes from the congregation all participation in the worship of singing. Who can consistently defend the one and not the other?
CHOIRS ELICIT THE PRAISES OF MEN
The isolated state of instrumental choirs, their conspicuous position, and especially the expectations that are formed in them, and the requirements made of them, all tend to engender pride, vanity, and worldly ambition, and to banish from the mind and to repress all religious feelings or sentiments in the hearts of the choristers. They are intent alone on executing their part well, that they may elicit the approbation of the audience and the praises of men. What God thinks of their performance does not once disturb their thoughts; the sentiment of worship is a stranger to their hearts; they do not think that they have been praising God.
Still, it is insisted that these dark spots are merely accidents. In reply, I appeal to its history. It has there written its character as a corrupter of God’s spiritual worship, as the destroyer of an ordinance of God, and the author of a spirit inimical to the spirit of Christ. If there be not something inherently vicious and injurious in its use, can anyone imagine a reason why the Holy Spirit did not ordain such a powerful and beneficial aid to the human voice as this is claimed to be? We cannot say that he was ignorant of these excellencies, or incapable of appreciating fine music; that he was rude, uncultivated, and below the standard of this modern age. And can anyone imagine a reason why the ancient church for three centuries did not use instrumental music in worship? They were not ignorant of its use elsewhere, and possibly no less appreciative of its power and benefits than others. Its absence from the beginning could only have been the result of design.
We have now had some insight into its history, in which we have seen something of its nature, tendency, and effects.
As a people, therefore, pretending before the world to be laboring for the apostolic purity of the church; claiming to have condemned all the corruptions and innovations which now disfigure and defile the church, and who esteem it their honor and glory, as it is, . . . that they will be content with nothing less than the faith and practice of the apostolic church.
Standing on the ground and proceeding on the principle so frequently proclaimed before the world, that in all matters of religious faith and practice, the faith and practice of the apostolic church are our only guides and authorities, the introduction of instrumental music into our congregations is simply a logical and moral impossibility. We are compelled to discard this innovation on primitive practice, or give up all pretension and purpose of prosecuting any further the grand design of our reformatory movement. And if we have been right up to this time, to abandon this ground and principle would be nothing less than apostasy.
I have spoken the deep convictions of my mind, from the depths of my heart, and because of the profound interest and solicitude I feel for the welfare of this church, for its standing before the world, and especially for its standing before God. I must believe that the reasons and considerations which I have here presented free me from all charge of prejudice. I have not prejudged the question. My convictions are the fruit of testimony, and a part of this testimony I have now submitted for your serious and candid consideration. I do not believe that there is one fact, argument, or plea that can stand before the facts and considerations now submitted. No support can be derived from Jewish sources, from either the temple or synagogue worship. There was no fact or precedent unknown to the Holy Spirit when he ordained the worship of the church; and unless we are prepared to charge him with an oversight, or a thoughtless omission, we must conclude that what was not ordained was what he intentionally designed not to ordain. It is much safer and wiser to take things as the Holy Spirit left them, and attempt no corrections on divine wisdom and ordination.
DOES INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IMPROVE THE SINGING?
The great plea for the use of instrumental music, and especially for the organ, is that it improves the singing, and attracts public attention to the gospel. It is a great pity that the Holy Spirit did not know this, or knowing it, did not consider it. If the singing of the church were merely a musical entertainment, a device to attract the attention of the passer-by, like the music at a circus or strawberry festival, there might be some reason or force in the consideration. But, since singing is an act of worship, a devotional service offered to God, and derives all its value and importance from the estimate which he places on it, it is manifestly the suggestion of reason and common sense that our first inquiry and desire should be to know what kind of music is pleasing and acceptable to God, not what will gratify and please the ear and attract the attention of the world. Because it is an act of worship, a thought or a desire not germane to it, is positively forbidden.
It is not denied that choir singing is more elegant and artistic, as these qualities are viewed by professional men, than congregational. But this is not the question. The question for Christians to consider is, Which did God ordain; and what are the effects and influence which an artistic style of music has on this part of the worship, to say nothing of its influence in other directions? Its history establishes the fact that such music destroys the worship ordained by God. The two cannot live and flourish together. No fact connected with its history is better established than this.
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. This cannot be controverted. It is such an innovation, too, that prepares the way for other and equally destructive innovations. Such is its history in the past, and such is the complaint made of it at the present day, and this, too, by those who have tried its wonderful advantages. A late Episcopalian paper has the following: “The progress of so-called ritualism among us has been promoted more through the insidious introduction and multiplication of musical performances than through any other means.” This language coming from an Episcopalian is very significant. He seems to think that it was not introduced by the fairest of means, and characterized the choir and instrumental music as a musical performance! This language might be considered offensive coming from any other quarter, but coming from one who has not been an idle spectator, nor ignorant of the drift and tendency of things, it carries with it an authority of more than ordinary weight. Experience with the wise is a good and an effectual teacher. Horace says it is lawful to learn even from an enemy. 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, and the corruptions of an apostate church.
[This article is volume IV: October, 1867 Lard Quarterly]