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Friday, October 1, 2010

Declension in Church Music?

John Kennedy, D.D. of Dingwall, Scotland, in the 19th Century was one of the foremost evangelical leaders in Scotland. He was a contemporary and close friend of C. H. Spurgeon and was known as "the Spurgeon of the North". At one point he felt compelled to write a review of the campaigns of D.L. Moody in Scotland. He called it: Hyper - Evangelism, 'Another Gospel,' Though a Mighty Power - A Review of the Recent Religious Movement in Scotland.

I might later quote some other objects of his criticism which have since found their way into Evangelical practices today (including the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney) but I was taken by Kennedy's comments on music. There has been, once or twice at this site, mention of music in Sydney Episcopalian services. It also received mention and debate in the Diocesan newspaper "Southern Cross" earlier this year so it seemed right to let John Kennedy have say today. His comments on this topic were divided into two parts under the heading "Unscriptural Devices" and they follow herewith:

1. Excessive hymn-singing is one of these. The singing of uninspired hymns even in moderation, as a part of public worship, no one can prove to be scriptural; but the excess and the misdirection of the singing in this movement were irrational as well. Singing ought to be to the Lord ; for singing is worship. But singing the gospel to men has taken the place of singing praise to God. This, at any rate, is something new—that indeed is its only recommendation—and when the singing is also good, its melody combines with its novelty to make an impression. The singing produced an effect. Many professed to have been converted by the hymns.

2. The use of instrumental music was an additional novelty, pleasing to the kind of feeling that finds pleasure in a concert. To introduce what is so gratifying there, into the service of the house of God, is to make the latter palatable to those to whom spiritual worship is an offence. The organ sounds effectively touch chords which nothing else would thrill. To Scottish Presbyterians is was something new; but as their spiritual guides did not object to it, why should they ? Tided thus, by their pastors, over all difficulties, which their scruples might occasion, they found it pleasant to enjoy the new sensation. They could be at the concert and in church at the same time. They could get at once something for conscience and something for the flesh.

And yet it is not difficult to prove that the use of instrumental music, in the worship of God, is unscriptural, and that therefore all, who have subscribed the Confession of Faith, are under solemn vow against it. There was a thorough change, in the mode of worship, effected by the revolution, which introduced the New Testament dispensation. So thorough is this change, that no part of the old ritual can be a precedent to us. For all parts of the service of the house of God there must be New Testament precept or example. No one will pretend that for instrumental music, in the worship of God, there is any authority in New Testament Scripture. "The fruit of the lips," issuing from hearts that make "melody to the Lord," is the only form of praise it sanctions. The Church of Rome claims a right to introduce into the worship of God any innovation it lists; the Church of England allows what is not expressly forbidden in Scripture; but Scotch Presbyterians are bound, by the Confession of Faith, to disallow all that is not appointed in Scripture. (Conf. chap, xxi.) How those, who allow the use of instrumental music, in our Assembly Hall, can reconcile their doing so with their ordination vows, I cannot even conjecture.

It may seem strange, but it is quite as true as it is strange, that those who are ready to plead that principles and doctrine, inculcated under the former dispensation, are no longer entitled to our acceptance, unless re-delivered with New Testament sanctions, are just the parties who are also ready to go back to Old Testament antecedents in the mode of worship. What is eternally true is treated as if it were temporary, and that which has "vanished away" is regarded as perpetual. But if the ancient mode, of conducting the service of praise, furnishes an example for all times, on the self-same ground you are entitled to choose what you list out of the ceremonies of Old Testament worship. The altar and the sacrifice may be defended as surely as the organ.

"But we use the organ only as an aid," it is said. "It is right that we should do our best in serving the Lord; and if the vocal music is improved by the instrumental accompaniment, then surely the organ may be used." On the same ground you might argue for the use of crucifixes and pictures, and for all the paraphenalia of the Popish ritual. "These," you might say, "make an impression on minds that would not otherwise be at all affected. They vividly present before worshippers the scenes described in Scripture, and if, as aids, they serve to do so, they surely cannot be wrong." To this, there are three replies, equally good against the argument for instrumental music. 1. They are not prescribed in New Testament Scripture, and therefore they must not be introduced into New Testament worship. 2. They are incongruous with the spirituality of the New Testament dispensation. 3. These additions but help to excite a state of feeling which militates against, instead of aiding, that which, is produced by the word. An organ may make an impression, but what is it but such as may be made more thoroughly at the opera ? It may help to regulate the singing, but does God require this improvement ? And whence arises the taste for it ? It cannot be from the desire to make the praise more fevent and spiritual, for it only tends to take attention away from the heart, whose melody the Lord requires. It is the craving for pleasurable aesthetics, for the gratification of mere carnal feeling, that desires the thrill of organ sounds, to touch pleasingly the heart, that yields no response to what is spiritual. If the argument, against the use of the organ, in the service of praise, is good, it is, at least, equally so against its use in the service of preaching. If anything did "vanish away," it surely is the use of all such accessories in connection with the exhibition of Christ to men.

Oh, what grief would befall John Kennedy of Dingwall, Scotland were he to encounter a church service in the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney today.

Sam Drucker


Eric said...

Eph. 5:19:
speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord...

Seems like Paul wants us to 'speak to one another' in our songs!

sam drucker said...

But also singing to the Lord.

I saw an outreach attempt just the other week by people associated with a group of churches under the banner of Jesus All About Life. They actually stood in the way of the public and sang hymns to the public not realising they were annoying some by drowning out the conversations going on. They weren't singing to the Lord but to unsaved people and it wasn't working as evangelism.

Sam Drucker

gwen said...

Poor John Kennedy would be turning in his grave.

First, his despised organ became entrenched until overtaken by the piano and now the piano is being overtaken by drums, guitars and an array of other musical intruments.

Where will it all end?


John said...

The ultimate in modernal up-grading - the rap-artist minister.

neil moore said...

Hey, aren't some Southern Baptists doing that already?