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I recently bought a book called “Old Light on New Worship” by John Price. Mr. Price “is a graduate of Trinity Ministerial Academy, Montville, New Jersey. He is currently the Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Rochester, New York, where he has served since 1995” (copied from back cover of book). The book was published in 2005 and the Foreword was written by Edward Donnelly “Pastor, Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, Newtownabbey Principal, Reformed Theological College, Belfast Northern Ireland). It is the best book I have read on the history of instrumental music in worship.
He begins by affirming that God has always regulated what should be done in worship to Him. He said: “There is no record in Scripture of a musical instrument ever being used in public worship without an explicit divine command. We will then establish the following three basic theological principles of worship: (1) The Old Testament Temple worship in all of its outward ceremonies and rituals has been abolished; (2) We must look to Christ and His apostles alone for the worship of the church; and (3) With no command, example, or any indication whatsoever from the Lord Jesus that He desires musical instruments in His church, we have no warrant for their use” (p. 21).
He shows clearly that we are not under the Old Testament and said, “The difference with us in the New Testament is that we can no longer look back to Moses or David for authority in regard to the worship of the church. The New Testament clearly states that the Temple worship, in all of its outward ceremonies and rituals, has been abolished by the coming of Jesus Christ. This includes the Levitical priesthood and the musical instruments that were an inherent part of that priesthood. Having been abolished by Christ, there is no ceremony or ritual of that Temple worship that we may bring forward into the New Testament worship” (p. 40).
In chapter two, Mr. Price gave a detailed history of instrumental music in worship. He said that the instruments that had been used in the Temple were never used in the Jewish synagogues. “The synagogue worship was focused on the more spiritual elements of the reading and exposition of the Scripture, with prayer and praise through the singing of Psalms. One of the distinctions of the synagogue singing as compared to that of the Temple was that it was unaccompanied by musical instruments” (p. 68). He said that after the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., “instrumental music among the Jews appears to have completely disappeared. It was the singing of the synagogues, unaccompanied by musical instruments, which continued both among the Jews and the early Christian church...The hymns of the early church were primarily sung by the whole congregation with their voices united” (p. 71).
Mr. Price gave quotations from many early church leaders. Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165) wrote: “The use of singing with instrumental music was not received in the Christian churches as it was among the Jews in their infant state, but only the use of plain song.” Origin (ca. 185-ca. 254), a pupil of Clement of Alexandria, said “He who makes melody with the mind makes melody well, speaking spiritual songs and singing in his heart to God.” He gave several other quotations from early church leaders and all of them opposed the use of instrumental music in worship.
The he gave evidence from the Council of Laodicea (367) which forbad “the use of musical instruments in worship, and this has remained the policy of the Eastern Orthodox Church to the present day.” The Council of Carthage (416) addressed the issue and declared “On the Lord’s day let all instruments of music be silenced” (pgs. 80,81).
He said that Pope Vitalianus was the first to introduce instrumental music into worship in about 670. Then, “There was no general acceptance of it in the churches until at least the late 1200s” (p. 84). Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), a prominent Roman Catholic wrote: “The Church does not use musical instruments such as the harp or lyre when praising God, in case she should seem to fall back into Judaism...For musical instruments usually move the soul more to pleasure than to create inner moral goodness…” Cajetan (a Catholic Cardinal) in the 16th century said “even to this day, the Church of Rome does not use them in the Pope’s presence” (p. 85).
A book by the above title was written by John Price, “Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Rochester, New York.” We quoted some from it last week, and if you have not read that bulletin, but sure to read it.
Mr. Price showed that many of the Reformation leaders opposed the use of instrumental music in worship. Here are some quotes. “John Wycliffe (1320-1384), the “morning star of the Reformation,” censured the English churches of his day for their extreme sensuousness in worship. He considered the many ceremonies and images of the church, along with its use of the organ, ‘a relapse into Judaism, which seeks after signs, and a departure from the spiritual nature of Christianity.’...Wycliffe strongly encouraged the unaccompanied singing of psalms by the entire congregation” (p. 89).
Zwingli (1484-1531) “pastor of the Great Minister Church in Zurich...was the first reformer to clearly articulate what we know today as the regulative principle of worship: only what Christ has explicitly commanded in His Word should be part of the worship of the church. Zwingli applied this principle to the use of musical instruments...The organ in the Great Minster Church ceased to be used after June 1524” (pg. 94,95).
John Calvin (1509-1564), condemned the use of instrumental music as following the Pope. He said: “In Popery there was a ridiculous and unsuitable imitation (of the Jews). While they adorned their Temples and valued themselves as having made the worship of God more splendid and inviting, they employed organs, and many other such ludicrous things, by which the Word and worship of God are exceedingly profaned, the people being much more attached to those rites than to the understanding of the divine Word” (p. 101).
Mr. Price, discussing music in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries said: “In America, the Baptists were among the last to give way before the rising flood of the use of organs. David Benedict (1779-1874), a New England Baptist pastor and historian, states that the first organ in a Baptist church was about 1820 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island” (p. 134).
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), one of the most famous Baptist preachers, preached in London, England, and that church did not use instrumental music in worship. Commenting on Psalm 42:4, he said: “David appears to have had a peculiarly tender remembrance of the singing of the pilgrims, and assuredly it is the most delightful part of worship and that which comes nearest to the adoration of heaven. What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettiness of a quartette, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it” (p. 137).
Mr. Price quoted John L. Dagg (1792-1884), who was “one of the most respected Baptist theologians in America during the late 19th century. In his Manual of Theology, Dagg wrote, ’Instrumental music formed a part of the Temple worship; but it is nowhere commanded in the New Testament; and it is less adapted to the more spiritual services of the present dispensation’” (p. 139).
Mr. Price quoted Robert L. Dabney, a Southern Presbyterian (writing in 1889): “Christ and his apostles ordained the musical worship of the New Dispensation without any sort of musical instrument, enjoining only the singing with the voice of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Hence such instruments are excluded from Christians’ worship. Such has been the creed of all churches, and in all ages, except of the Popish communion after it had reached the nadir (lowest point) of its corruption at the end of the thirteenth century, and its prelatic (high ranking bishops) imitators” (p. 139).
Mr. Prince concluded: “For hundreds of years before the coming of Christ, the Jewish synagogues...knew nothing of musical instruments. For 1300 years after the apostles, the vast majority of the church continued to deny their use. It was only during the dark ages of Roman Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries that we find the rise of musical instruments in the worship of the church” (p. 144).
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