Saturday, February 18, 2006

On Church Music - Francis Wayland

One of our essential beliefs is that of the spirituality of the church, that is, that the church of Christ is composed exclusively of spiritual or regenerated persons. As God is a spirit, and those that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth, we have always believed that the real worship of God was performed only by believers. To us, worship, either in public or private, is the offering up to God of holy and devout affections. Hence we believe that no one can be a minister of the sanctuary, unless he be a devout and regenerate man. Hence we believe that to sing the praises of God without really lifting up the heart to him, is in no sense Christian worship, and is, in fact, no acceptable service. Hence our belief always has been that singing is a part of worship which belongs, in a peculiar manner, to the disciples of the Saviour. In this service they, with one voice, utter the confessions of penitence, the triumphs of faith, the confidence of hope, and bow down together with one feeling of holy adoration. Hence our singing was a service of the church, in which others united with them only in so far as they could sympathize with them in the sentiments which they uttered. These are, if I mistake not, our beliefs on this subject, and to it our practice, until lately, conformed. A member of the church selected the tunes, led the singing, and the whole church, and the devout portion of the congregation, united with him in this part of religious worship. Their design was to make melody in their hearts to the Lord.

For these reasons, Baptists formerly were universally opposed to the introduction of musical instruments into the house of God. They asked, "How can senseless things speak the praises of God?"... the singing in Baptist churches was formerly what is now denominated congregational. We had neither choirs nor organs. Nothing but the voices of worshipers was heard in hymning the praises of God, and in this service every devout worshiper was expected to unite... I do not pretend that in this singing there was any artistic excellence. This is never needed in popular music, or that music which is intended to move a multitude of people...The tunes employed were perfectly adapted to religious sentiment, and blended the whole audience in one consciousness of solemn worship. To use the language of Burns -- surely a competent authority -- "They chant their artless notes in simple guise, They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim: Perhaps Dundee's wild warbling notes arise, Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name; Or noble Elgin fans the heavenward flame, The sweetest far of Scotia's holy lays. Compared with these, Italian trills are tame; The tickled ears no heartfelt raptures raise, No unison have they with our Creator's praise."

Men of piety have begun to feel that it is wicked to substitute a mere musical diversion for the solemn worship of God. Men of correct taste, at least, acknowledge that congregational singing, and solemn and devout music, are alone appropriate to the service of the sanctuary. Whenever a return to the old customs has been tried, it has met with unexpected success. May the reform be universal throughout our Baptist churches.

-- Selected from Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, by Francis Wayland, 1857


Anonymous said...

I once attended the church of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The service began with one familar hymn, followed by prayer and then the reading of scripture. Lloyd-Jones commenced preaching and went on for about 45 minutes. There was closing prayer, followed by one familiar hymn. It was an invigorating service. The chosen hymns blended with the rest of the service. I learned that Lloyd-Jones always chose the hymns for the service. I made that my duty throughout my ministry. Hymns can playa vital role in our worship...even as the Old Testament saints praised God with psalms and songs, and even danced before the Lord and played instruments of joy.

We are to benefit from the whole of man; physical, mental and emotional.



RSR said...

Are we able to pinpoint the time at which instrumental music entered the Baptist churches and the cause of it?

R. L. Vaughn said...

There is a comment somewhere in David Benedict's "Fifty Years among the Baptists" that the first known organ was placed in a Baptist church in Rhode Island circa 1820. Seems that his and Wayland's references to it in the northeast connect its rise with professional musicians and choirs (and Wayland mentions a desire to "copy" other denominations).

In the South I would expect its rise to be generally much later, with the possible exception of urban areas. In Texas there is a famous/infamous story of an organ installed in the Baptist church in Houston. It came up missing and years later was discovered at the bottom of Buffalo Bayou! The only online reference I found puts it in 1847, though I thought it would be later. This is a somewhat humourous and quite shocking story. Yet it should be remembered that those members who disabused the church of the organ probably thought it as bad as having the Pope or the Devil in the church house.

Around 1880, B. H. Carroll led the Baptist Church in Waco, TX to adopt instrumental music, and wrote an article on the subject about that time. Here in East Texas, probably most of the Missionary Baptists did not have an organ until around the turn of the 20th century. At least one church held out until the 1940s.

I would further suspect, though I don't know for certain, that the gospel singing changes of the late 1800s exerted more influence on the southern churches to add instrumental music, as opposed to the influence of professionalism in the northeast.

We often think of the Primitive Baptists and Church of Christ as non-instrumental (which they are), but perhaps seldom realize they had their own controversies over instrumental music.

The Primitive Baptists had a problem over this in the early 1900s, finally creating the "Progressive" Primitive Baptists in a split from the main body.

I suppose the controversy raged in the Churches of Christ in the late 1800s and early 1900s (O.E. Payne wrote his "Instrumental Music Is Scriptural" in 1920). I think this was a major contributor to the division of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.

...All that to say...I don't really know exactly when or why!

RSR said...

I don't have Benedict readily available, but the citations I've seen seem to put the organ even earlier.

There is also a citation of J.H. Newman in "A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States" that First Baptist, Newport, (the one John Clarke founded) was the first to introduce instrumental music — a "bass viol" — in the early 19th century. I don't have access to Newman to relate anything more about the incident.

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