by Bill Echols
via The Persuader, February 17, 2008; Vol. 10, No. 45
Recently I read some excerpts from a book entitled Old Light on New Worship by John Price, "pastor" of Grace Baptist Church in Rochester, NY. Note carefully what he says. "Our worship should be governed, not by our own personal desires or preferences, not by the culture and society in which we live, but by the Word of God alone" (p. 12). "His [God's] silence on musical instruments in the New Testament means we have no authority to bring them into the worship of the church" (p. 51). That is an amazing (but true) statement from a modern Baptist preacher. It is not, however, without precedent.
One of the most recognized Baptist preachers of the nineteenth century was C. H. Spurgeon. Here is his thought from his Treasury of David on Psalm 42:4. "What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettiness 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." I have long been concerned about the acceptability of our singing as we worship God. I have also been long convinced that many sing hymns without a conscious effort to determine the meaning of the words of the songs. Such singing cannot be acceptable if we don't know what we are singing. The words may be unscriptural in their teaching. I have often asked brethren the meaning of the words "night with ebon pinion," and very few know although the song has been used for years. You might as well memorize some Chinese words and sing them without knowing what they mean.
I fear that many times the appeal of the music overrides the purpose of praising God by pleasing ourselves with the tempo or the interplay of the various parts. While four-part harmony may not oppose God's purposes, it is sinful when used to display talent, gain attention, or please human ears. It may be profitable for us to consider whether our favorite hymns are such because of the words or the music. If the music is first, the singing is vain. I am not alone in my concern as the above paragraph shows.
The rise of the "Gospel Music" industry has prompted writers and composers to make the music appeal to the masses that would not normally be interested in spiritual music. Much of modern religion has as its major purpose to make people "feel good." Thus, the music is written to arouse hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and body swaying emotions which divert attention from God to self. If lovers of such were to attend an assembly with even a few songs of soberness, they would claim "the church is dead" since they equate "spirited" music with "spiritual" music. Here is the problem I see. It is very difficult to avoid allowing society and the mores of the time to determine what we wear, what we support, and what we sing. It takes a conscious and determined effort to put all things in harmony with the principles of the New Testament. The world, including most of the religious world, is not interested in worshiping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Thus we may allow ourselves to follow the trends. There are songs in "our books" (meaning those edited by Christians) that I would never sing because some are unscriptural in what they teach, and others unfitting for the God Whom we worship. If we need "jazzed" up music to stimulate our love for God, that means something is lacking either in God or in us. It shouldn't be hard to decide which.