Music & Singing: Is it Worship or Religious Entertainment?

Psalm 135:2,3
       Ye that stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God, praise the LORD; for the LORD is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Among other things adapted for man’s pleasure and for giving them pleasure, music is either the foremost, or one of the principal; and we must esteem it as a gift from God designed for that purpose.

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): The fathers desired that music should always abide in the Church. That is why there are so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been bestowed on men alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord.

A. W. TOZER (1897-1963): It is not overstating the case to insist that the kinds of music you enjoy will demonstrate pretty much what you are like inside… If you love and listen to the wrong kinds of music your inner life will wither and die.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER (1802-1880): A low, vulgar taste in this matter will do much harm. Not only in times of religious excitement, but in times of great coldness, a style of singing unsuited to the house of God is often brought in, first perhaps by stealth, then publicly. This is no trifle. Whatever affects the dignity of God’s worship and the edification of His people cannot be unimportant.

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…I am not concerned to evaluate the rival interpretations of the relevant Scriptures, or to argue as the antiquity of hymn singing; my point is that while hymn singing became popular at the end of the seventeenth and particularly in the eighteenth century, that the entirely new emphasis on music came in about the middle of the [nineteenth] century.

JOHN KENNEDY (1819-1884): Singing the gospel to men has taken the place of singing praise to God. This, at any rate, is something new.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Jesus said, Preach the gospel to every creature. But men are getting tired of the divine plan; they are going to be saved by the priest, going to be saved by the music, going to be saved by theatricals, and nobody knows what!

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: But quite apart from that, music in its various forms raises the whole problem of the element of entertainment insinuating itself and leading people to come to the services to listen to the music rather than to worship.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): I went to the Bristol cathedral to hear Mr. Handel’s “Messiah” [in 1758]. I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance. In many parts, especially several of the choruses, it exceeded my expectation.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: We should never give a performance.

C. H. SPURGEON: When I have heard of large congregations gathered together by the music of a fine choir, I have remembered that the same thing is done at the opera-house and the music-hall, and I have felt no joy.

WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): How often do we read [in Scripture] of the people standing up to praise the Lord―what can the choir think when they see us sitting during the psalmody, but that we have nothing to do with it, unless as an entertainment from them?

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: I have even taken part myself in a religious conference—regarded as the greatest evangelical conference in the United States of America—where at the commencement of every service, which was meant to be biblical, and teaching, and uplifting, there was forty minutes of singing of various types and kinds. Xylophone solos, organ solos, people singing, all forty minutes of it. There was a short prayer, no Scripture reading at all, and then a brief time for the message. It is not like that in times of revival, believe me. And it will not be like that again when God graciously has mercy upon us, and looks upon us, and visits us. I ask you solemnly, is this a time for entertainment?

JOHN KENNEDY: Singing ought to be to the Lord; for singing is worship.

C. H. SPURGEON: Saints do not gather to amuse themselves with music―but to sing His praise…Christianity has been infinitely hindered by the musical, the æsthetic, and the ceremonial devices of men, but it has never been advantaged by them, no, not a jot. The sensuous delights of sound and sight have always been enlisted on the side of error, but Christ has employed nobler and more spiritual agencies.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER (1802-1880): Singing should be so managed as to allow the great body of worshippers to unite in it. Leaders and choirs are intolerable, when they so conduct this part of religious service as to exclude from it the great mass of the people. No monopoly of this branch of worship is admissible.

J. C. PHILPOT: Congregational singing, not choral, is the only fit service of the sanctuary. A well tuned choir, with their fugues and their anthems, their singing in parts and their selections from Handel and Haydn, may please the ear, but they certainly grieve the heart which has in it any living faith and godly fear. Choral and congregational singing are not necessarily incompatible, but they almost invariably become so through the musical pride of the choir. The choir do not like their airs and graces, their new tunes and difficult pieces to be drowned, and, as they consider it, totally spoiled by the congregation. They, therefore, often purposely choose tunes which the congregation cannot sing, that their monopoly may be preserved intact, and that the singing may be not to the praise of God but themselves.

LOWELL MASON (1792-1872): I suppose the very first thing called for in the exercise of singing in public worship is the united effort of all the people…The habit has been formed of listening to the singing of others. To break up wrong habits and to establish right ones is what we need.

J. C. PHILPOT: The best plan, we think, is the London way, which is for a precentor* to lead the air and the congregation to follow. When the precentor has a good ear so as not to drop or lower the key, and has a strong, clear tenor voice, which can lead the air without faltering, the congregation will be sure to follow, and to follow well too. The false notes of the bad singers are lost in the body of voice, which sustains the air, and the general result is not only pleasing to the ear, but is what singing should be―congregational worship.
*Editor’s Note: A “precentor” is a man who leads a congregation in singing.  Such was the manner in which congregational singing was conducted at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England. 


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