Question:

Greetings.

I appreciated your article "Sing with Understanding." David, the Bible's great hymn writer, by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, was concerned about that too (Psalms 47:7). And it's really the purpose of my blog on hymns, to help with this.

Your examples are good. This is the kind of thing that might be put in the church bulletin, about a hymn that's to be sung that Sunday morning, or be shared in a brief comment before the hymn is sung.

Too often today, the solution is to simply abandon the hymn book, being to old-fashioned and incomprehensible. That's so sad. It robs Christians of a great heritage.

Thanks again for your article.


Answer:

Since the music among the churches of Christ is a capella only, following after the commands of the New Testament, the hymn book will remain in use. You might be interested in Wayne Walker's series on the history of hymns called The Young Person's Guide to the Hymnbook.

Thanks for your response (and I bookmarked Wayne Walker's material). A couple of further thoughts:

While my own Baptist church accompanies singing with instruments, I have enjoyed my visits to other churches that do not use them. Usually it encourages the beauty of four-part harmony, which is a joy to me. On the other end of the spectrum, I spoke at a church recently in which the instrumental "accompaniment" was so loud I could barely hear the congregation at all! This seems to be a contemporary trend, and it is wrong on many levels.

It's always interested me that musical instruments were used in Israel's temple worship, and that our singing in heaven will also be accompanied by instruments. Yet there's no reference to instruments being used in the apostolic church. (I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I know of no New Testament "command" that excludes them.) My own thought is that possibly they were so much used in heathen idol worship or carnal revelry in that day that the church wanted to avoid that association in people's minds.

This is quite a contrast to the contemporary view that we must sound as much like the unsaved world as possible in order to reach the world for Christ. As T. David Gordon says perceptively, in his book Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns (p. 166), "If reaching people 'where they are' appears to endorse 'where they are,' then it is the most siginificant strategic error the church can possibly make."

God bless.

Given that the church started in Jerusalem among the Jews, the lack of instruments was not in reaction against the idolatrous worship of the Gentiles, though the church did eventually spread to be among the Gentiles. If you read some of the early Christian writers, many of them mention the lack of instrumental music made them distinct from Judaism.

Eusebius, in the fourth century, in Commentary on Psalm 91, wrote, “Of old at the time those of the circumcision were worshiping with symbols and types it was inappropriate to send up hymns to God with the psalterion and kithara and to do this on Sabbath days (breaking the rest and transgressing the law concerning the Sabbath). But we in an inward manner keep the part of the Jew, according to the saying of the apostle ... (Romans 2:28f). We render our hymn with a living psalterion and a living kithara, with spiritual songs. The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to God than any musical instrument. Accordingly in all the churches of God, united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and piety, we send up a unison melody in the words of the Psalms.”

I am glad that you do recognize that instrumental music was something men added to the worship God commanded in the New Testament. So few see this. Where you see no command meaning no prohibition, I see a lack of authorization as a lack of approval. It is because of commands like "Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:6), that I refuse to go beyond what God said in my own worship.

I particularly like your final quote.