Instrumental Music & Worship Part 1: The Organ Debate

Psalm 150:4
       Praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): The word translated “organs” signifies pipe—a simpler form of wind instrument than the more modern and more elaborate organ.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): I attended the service of the great Dutch church [at Rotterdam in 1783]. The organ―like those in all the Dutch churches―was elegantly painted and gilded; and the tunes that were sung were very lively, and yet solemn.

JOHN L. GIRARDEAU (1825-1898): Whatever may be the practice in recent times of the churches of Holland, the Synods of the Reformed Dutch Church, soon after the Reformation, pronounced very decidedly against the use of instrumental music in public worship. The National Synod at Middleburg, in 1581, declared against it, and the Synod of Holland and Zealand, in 1594, adopted this strong resolution: “That they would endeavor to obtain of the magistrate the laying aside of organs, and the singing with them in the churches.” The Provincial Synod of Dort also inveighed severely against their use…[And in England] before the Westminster Assembly of Divines undertook the office of preparing a Directory of Worship, the Parliament had authoritatively adopted measures looking to the removal of organs, along with other remains of Popery, from the churches of England.

C. H. SPURGEON: When we have heard of crowds enchanted by the sublime music of the pealing organ, I have seen in the fact rather a glorification of St. Cecilia than of Jesus Christ. Our Lord trusted in no measure or degree to the charms of music for the establishing His throne.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): Nothing is needed more urgently than an analysis of the innovations in the realm of religious worship in the nineteenth century—to me in this respect a devastating century. The sooner we forget the nineteenth century and go back to the eighteenth, and even further to the seventeenth and sixteenth, the better. The nineteenth century and its mentality and outlook is responsible for most of our troubles and problems today. It was then that a fatal turn took place in so many respects—and very prominent among the changes introduced was the place given to music in its various forms. Quite frequently, and especially in the non-episcopal churches, they did not even have an organ before that time. Many of the leaders were actively opposed to organs and tried to justify their attitude from Scripture; in the same way many of them were opposed to the singing of anything but psalms.

JOHN KENNEDY (1819-1884): 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 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 it 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 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.

HORATIUS BONAR (1808-1889): I have little to say as to the organ. I do not desire it, and I see no advantage in it. But after all, it was a mere appendage to the proceedings—and a very small one.

JOHN KENNEDY: Dr. Bonar does not defend the organ, neither will he condemn it…[but] Dr. Bonar has already come to think of it as “a small” thing; but many of his friends have attained to thinking it a good thing.

HORATIUS BONAR: George Whitefield was a man of God, and doing the work of God, though belonging to the Church of England, and using hymns and organs when it suited him.

JOHN KENNEDY: The Church of England allows what is not expressly forbidden in Scripture; but Scottish Presbyterians are bound by the Confession of Faith to disallow all that is not appointed in Scripture (Confession, Chapter 21).

HORATIUS BONAR: We have not introduced it into our Church services.

JOHN KENNEDY: Not yet; but you have helped to create a craving to which you will, ere-while, yield that concession.

C. H. SPURGEON: As a help to singing the instrument is alone to be tolerated, for keys and strings do not praise the Lord.

JOHN KENNEDY: “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.”―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 the desire to make the praise more fervent and spiritual, for it only tends to take attention away from the heart, whose melody the Lord requires.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: More particularly, there is a danger, often, of a kind of ‘organist tyranny.’ This arises because the organist is in a position where he or she can exercise considerable control. With a powerful instrument they can control the rate at which a hymn is sung, and the effect will vary completely according to whether he takes it too quickly, or too slowly. Many a preacher has had great trouble in his ministry with a difficult organist, and especially with the type that is more interested in music than in Truth. One should be very careful therefore in appointing an organist to make sure that he is a Christian.

JOHN KENNEDY: It is the craving for pleasurable aesthetics, for the gratification of mere carnal feeling, that desires the thrill of the organ sounds to touch pleasingly the heart that yields no response to what is spiritual.

AUGUSTINE (354-430): They minded more the tune than the truth; more the manner than the matter; more the governing of the voice, than the uplifting of the mind.

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): The organ in the worship is an insignia of Baal.

JOHN WESLEY: I have no objection to the organs in our chapels, as long as they are neither seen nor heard.


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