Instrumental Music In Public Worship?

Dear Mr. Editor,

When a church after due consideration has decided upon the use of a harmonium or organ to assist in the singing, and a minister, being invited to supply, finds such an instrument in the chapel, has he any kind of right to interfere with a deacon in the matter, even if it does not accord with his own views and opinions?

Again, is it kind, wise, courteous, justifiable, and in accordance with the loving and affectionate spirit of the gospel for a minister to stand up in a pulpit and sour the minds and wound the tender feelings of the people, who out of love invited him to preach the Word of life to them, by denouncing and condemning the use of such instruments, and that perhaps in a language and tone somewhat censorious and dogmatical?

Where difference of views and opinion exists upon matters of minor importance, does not gospel charity demand that we should bear and forbear, and kindly agree to differ?

As this is really an important matter touching the peace and quietude of many churches, in these days of contention and strife, ought not ministers of Christ to give the subject prayerful, kindliest, and most affectionate consideration?

Yours in Christ Jesus, A Lover Of Zion’s Peace,


Answer by Joseph Hatton – Gospel Standard Editor – 1882

Being passionately fond of music ourselves, and the sound of an organ almost at any time being enough to bring us to a stand, we assure our querist that we shall not utter one word prejudicial to his musical ears; but we are bound to condemn the spirit manifested in the tone of the query. It furnishes a striking example of the partial way in which queries are frequently put. A harmonium is established in a place of worship supplied by various ministers, whose feelings have had no voice in the decision of the church and congregation on the subject. A supply comes who objects to the use of instruments in public worship, and is compelled to sacrifice all his feeling, and to submit to that which he believes to be unscriptural, and which at the same time may be a perfect torment to him, under the pain of being called ” censorious,” &o. He must abstain from expressing his dislike, on the ground that he has no right to do so!

But a minister has a right to interfere with whatever he believes to be an innovation in the worship of God. Suppose in the case of a funeral service, as soon as the coffin is brought into the chapel and placed on the stand, some one lays a cross of immortelles upon it. The minister objects; and he is told he has no right to interfere, as it is a custom the people have adopted!

Is it so?

Is the minister quietly to go on with the service, and allow so flagrant an action and a popish deed to be transacted under his eyes, and have no right to interfere?

For ourselves, we could not proceed unless the cross were taken away.

To tie up a minister’s lips would make a pulpit worse than a pillory. He might go to the pillory with a good conscience; but could not have one in the pulpit where he objects to the form of worship in which he is taking the leading part. He cannot become a kind of preaching apparatus, to tell his tale through, leave the surroundings, preach on, and when he has done, be gone. We fear our correspondent would call some of the best ministers who ever went into a pulpit not only “somewhat censorious,” but very much so, if he knew what they have said against the use of instruments in the worship of God.

We are taking this course to point out that there is another and more important side to the question, which must not be unnoticed. Singing may be better dispensed with than the preaching of the Word of God. Ask the hungry poor of God’s flock which is the most important to them.

And not only so; but doubtless the apostle’s injunction is equally binding on musicians as on eaters of meat: “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably.” (Rom. 14:15) It is here plain that charity is to be shown by the players on instruments towards those who object to instrumental music; for this passage applies to anything at which one is grieved, whether it is lawful for another to partake of it or not.

It is certainly lawful to partake of meat, even if offered to idols ; but yet, does eating meat grieve another? Then, saith the apostle, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Ver. 21.)

Suffer us to give a word of advice on the subject. Remember that musical instruments are an innovation in the worship of God. Public worship is the assembling of the saints together, from two persons and upwards; and the Lord promises to meet with them and bless them.

What more do you want?

The organ and all its accompaniments are out of place here; and would be lost in the far more heavenly and sweet sound of the voice of the Son of God. Something to please the ear or attract the eye must be an innovation. The introducers of instruments are the offending persons, not the objectors. There is no warrant for the use of them in the Word of God; and we wish they were banished from the places of worship.

But it will be said they assist the singing. We will remind our correspondent that if we were to consult our own natural inclinations, we should take his side of the question; but truth compels us to differ from our natural inclinations.

Is not melody in the heart better than melody with the voice?

Do instruments help persons to sing with melody in the heart?

Then they do not assist in the worship at all. Let us weigh up their worth ii a profit and loss account in the spiritual worship of God. “Are we, then,” it may he said, “to go on in a miserable way, and be a laughing-stock to the parish?”

We sympathize with the dread of bad singing; discordant sounds make our flesh creep; but which are we to endure, an innovation in the worship of God, or an innovation in the natural feelings?

And if good singing cannot be obtained without bad feelings, let Us avoid that which gives rise to bad feelings.

There are some obstructions to good singing which an instrument cannot remedy. We are sorry to say the worst singers generally sing the loudest; and walk contrary to the precepts of the gospel by persisting in giving offence to a musical ear. There are others who sing so wholly out of time, not to say tune, that the sounds are a discordant mass of confusion. These are quite as objectionable in a place of worship as an organ or harmonium, because they violate the feelings of others, and render it impossible for others to worship with them.

We will venture to add, therefore, a hint to those who take part in congregational singing. It is out of all reason and order to sing too loudly. It strains the voice and destroys the melody.

Will not persons who have loud and strong voices try to modulate them in public worship, for the sake of not giving offence to others?

Our correspondent ought not to call his question a matter “of minor importance” on the minister’s point of view, while he afterwards confesses, “This is really an important matter touching the peace and quietude of many churches.” So it is; and touching also the simplicity of the public worship of God according to Scripture. (Matt, 28:20)

Gospel Standard, Editor – Joseph Hatton (1882)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: