alien righteousness

On Instruments in Worship

broken violin

old violin in pieces


John Calvin (1509-1564)  on Psalm 33:2:

“It is evident that the Psalmist here expresses the vehement and ardent affection which the faithful ought to have in praising God, when he enjoins musical instruments to be employed for this purpose. He would have nothing omitted by believers which tens to animate the minds and feelings of men in singing God’s praises. The name of God, no doubt, can, properly speaking, be celebrated only by the articulate voice; but it is not without reason that David adds to this those aids by which believers were wont to stimulate themselves the more to this exercise; especially considering that the was speaking to God’s ancient people. There is a distinction, however, to be observed here, that we may not indiscriminately consider as applicable to ourselves, every thing which was formerly enjoined upon the Jews. I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching the harp and the viol, and all that kind of music, which is so puerile instruction of the law: I speak of the stated service of the temple. For even no, if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should, I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up the lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed  this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to him.”

Calvin Commentaries: Joshua and the Psalms (Grand Rapids: WM.B. Errdmans’s Publishing Company), 363-364

Taken from R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confession.

“The history of Christian worship teaches us this. It was not coincidental that musical instruments returned to Christian worship at the same time Christians began to conceive of ministers in sacerdotal categories. With the ascension of Christ and particularly with the destruction of the second temple in A.D. 70, any return to the Mosaic-theocratic cultic system was impossible. bashed drum

It is true, as Gore argues, that the synagogue was a human institution, but this fact is largely irrelevant since we have already seen that the temple is not and cannot be the pattern for Christian worship. Further, as C.W. Dugmore argued in 1940s, it is also a fact that the synagogue was formed by a quorum of ten adult males. Each Sabbath two (or possibly three) services were held. According to the Mishna, there were two parts to the synogogic liturgy, the Shema (Deut. 6:4: ‘Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one’) with the blessings (‘Bless the Lord who is to be blessed’) and prayer. The first part ‘might almost be described as the Jewish Creed.’ As part of the morning service, a portion of the Pentateuch was read and a portion from the Prophets may have been read in the afternoon service. There were variations in the liturgy to account for the cultic calendar (e.g., the day of atonement). According to some accounts, there were eighteen benedictions (some of which have become notorious) followed by the Aaronic benediction (Num. 6:24-26). There were an exposition of Scripture (Mark 1:21-22; 6:2; John 6:59) and the singing of psalms. Worship was formal but simple and, with the possible exception of the sacraments, the elements of worship (Word and prayer) were present.

We will consider New Testament worship below, so we turn now to patristic worship which was, like the worship of the apostolic church, organized around three basic elements: word, prayer, and sacraments. As in temple and synagogic worship, services were held twice on the Christian Sabbath. It appears that the early postapostolic church sang only inspired songs without accompaniment. Johannes Quasten says that the patristic church, though in favor of the use of music in worship, was quite opposed to the use of instruments in worship. The Sibylline Oracles rejected musical instruments as pagan. ‘This repudiation of all instrumental music is also most apparent in Tertullian,’ who substituted ‘psalms and hymns’ for instruments. Chrysostom regarded the use of instruments under the Mosaic covenant as ‘concession of God to the weakness of the Jews.’

Scripture was read and expounded, prayers were offered, and the two divinely ordained sacraments were administered. This much is clear from the Didache (C.A.D 110), where explicit directions were given regarding the apostolic injunction against eating meat offered to idols (Didache 6:30) and regarding the administration of baptism in the name of the Trinity (7:1-8:1). The Lord’s prayer was used (privately or publicly, 8:2-3) thrice daily; fellowship meals were held and the Lord’s Supper was observed (9:1-4; 14:1), and discipline was exercised (9:5; 14:1). The Word was read and expounded (11:1-12). Similar patterns are suggested in the fragmentary evidence of the letter of Pliny the Younger to the emperor Trajan. Writing as a pagan observer of Christian rites, Pliny noted that the Christian observed what we understand as the elements of worship. The same pattern is evident in Justin Martyr’s Apology (C.A.D. 140).

Gradually, over the course of the thousand years before the Reformation, the medieval church reinstituted progressively aspects of the Mosaic ceremonial cultus including the introduction of musical instruments which had been suppressed in churches until the tenth century. Their reintroduction was highly controversial. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Baldric, the archbishop of Dol (northern France), argued that instruments should be used in worship in order to make worship more emotionally moving and interesting to the youth. In the same period Alred of Rievaulx argued vehemently against the introduction of instruments of worship. Though confessional Reformed folk would not sympathize much with his arguments, it is worth noting how controversial the introduction of musical instruments was in the eleventh century. It is also important to observe how the introduction of instruments in worship accompanied the rise of sacerdotalism in medieval worship.

bashed guitar

The Reformation saw itself as recovering not only the biblical pattern of worship, but the praxi of the early postapostolic church. The reformation of worship happened in stages. The first stage of the reformation of worship established the formal principle of the Reformation: sola scriptura. The Reformed churches applied the Scripture principle most thoroughly to the practice of worship. They did so by asking a different question from what had been asked in the early days of the Reformation. The Lutheran and Anglican question was, ‘what may we do?’ Implicit in this question is the notion that Christians may do in worship whatever is not forbidden or, as Frame and Gore would have it, whatever is consistent with Scripture. The Reformed reformation of worship beginning in 1537 in Geneva meant the institution of a capella psalmody as the predominant music used in worship. In some congregations sang the Decalogue and the Song of Simeon. According to Elsie Anne McKee, unlike ‘other Protestants, Calvinists (and most other Reformed) did not sing human compositions, but they made use of the Psalter as a treasury of public and private worship.”

Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), 244-247.

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