Musical Instruments in Worship

Dear Reader,

Oh, there are so many decisions here, aren’t there? Organ? Piano? Drums? Praise band? What does your church have? Ours has . . . are you ready?  . . . Nothing! That’s right. We use no musical instruments in worship. We sing a capella. Thanks to the Common Room I actually learned that a capella means “in the way of the church.”

Now there are various reasons why we sing without instruments. There are theological, biblical reasons which frankly I have never found 100% convincing. There are historical reasons and I think the Common Room post above sums them up nicely. As I did in my post on psalm-singing though, I am just going to tell you now why I prefer a capella singing in church. What it boils down to basically is that instruments can easily become a hindrance to worship. When instruments play, it is harder to hear oneself and others sing. Then we start singing less. I have been to churches where the instruments were so loud that I couldn’t hear myself think (much less pray). But even if this is not the case, instruments still add extra noise. Now I am not a good singer. But fortunately many other people in my congregation are. And I think the congregation not only sings more but also sings better when there are no instruments to depend on. Now if a church were really to give up instruments I could see that there would be a transition period and things might not sound great for a while, but I do think the end result would be better.

Now the counter-argument I have usually heard is that musicians in the congregation have been given a talent by God and they want to use it to His glory. All of that I agree with. What I would ask is: does using your talent to God’s glory mean that you have to play your instrument during Sunday morning worship? To me the answer is no. Everything we do should be to God’s glory. If you play your instrument in a band or on your own or any other time, you are still doing it to God’s glory (I hope). Other talents God has given us may also be used to His glory but that doesn’t mean we do them during worship. We also don’t in our church have a choir or solo singers. This is because Sunday morning is also not the time for them to show off their talents. It is a time for God’s people to worship Him together. That means we are all worshipping. We are not watching someone else worship. Getting back to using one’s talents for God’s glory, I would also add that it has been my observation that when someone with great musical talent uses it in Sunday morning worship that that does not often lead to greater glory for God. Usually what we end up saying is “wow, Johnny really plays the drums well”, not “wow, God really made Johnny play the drums well.” Maybe it can be a fine line and maybe it is different in churches you have been in, but my observation is that using one’s talents in this way in worship leads to the individual’s glory, not God’s, and to pride. It also leads others with less talent in these areas to feel that they have less to contribute and therefore to participate less. Once again, I will say that Sunday morning is a time for all of us to worship together. All the congregation should participate. 

I was a little shocked recently to learn that a church I know of hires a praise band to do its contemporary service. Now on second thought I knew that church organists were often hired so maybe this shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. If we are paying people to play their instruments in worship, then clearly they are not doing it for the glory of God. maybe they are believers and this is their worship time too but maybe they aren’t even here to worship at all. And even if they are believers they are also there to do a  job and get paid which is wrong (IMO) in a couple of ways at least.  

So what do you think? How does your church worship and why? If all this (meaning psalm-singing a capella) sounds really weird and unpleasant to you, I woudl encourage you to at least try and find a church that does it and hear what it sounds like before you judge. I think often people I talk to have a knee jerk reaction against what we do because they think it will be really boring and dry. I don’t think that is the case at all, but you shoudl at elast see for yourself. There are CDs out there of psalms sung a capella but to me this is not at all the same as hearing a congregation that really worships God this way.

Nebby

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