Get rid of the organ! And guitar! And everything else!

If you want to start a fight in cyberspace, I find the best way is to call attention to the previous practice of Reformed churches and show how far we’ve fallen from that. The most interesting feedback I’ve had on my personal blog and on Twitter is when I’ve made posts about unaccompanied Psalm singing.

I even had someone try to instigate a conversation on Facebook on this matter after my last piece on the necessity of singing Psalms in worship. I didn’t bite then so I will now.

The Reformed view of worship established at the Reformation and never repudiated – but confirmed – by later councils was that the best way of praising God in the worship of the covenant people was to sing God’s word back to him without accompaniment.

There is no evidence of the apostolic church using instruments in their worship. There is no command to use instruments in the New Testament. There is in the Old Testament but the Reformers and their direct followers saw those stipulations as being part of the ceremonial law of Israel. That law was fulfilled in the perfect sacrifice of Christ, what need did God’s people have for these instruments anymore? As Calvin writes in his comments on Psalm 149:2: “The musical instruments he mentions were peculiar to this infancy of the Church [i.e. before Christ], nor should we foolishly imitate a practice which was intended only for God’s ancient people.”

What changed? And why?

The truth may be that we were more concerned with the ways of the world than with the command of God.

Look at the instruments that have been used – the organ and then the praise band. These are instruments that are ideally suited to the popular culture of the time. Our use of instruments may have been an attempt to look acceptable to the outside world. It’ll attract the kids! The organ was the original seeker-sensitive innovation.

Whenever we have seen instruments introduced to the worship of God we have seen unfortunate consequences. The organist can become the tyrant that makes the Lord’s Day his excuse for a personal recital. The praise band can be more concerned with their own sound and tastes than truly helping the people of God to worship.

Reformed worship should be simple. The singing should be edifying for those in the congregation. It should also be different to the outside world. If the URC wants an identity how about this: “The URC? Oh, they’re the crazy ones that sing without instruments.”

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. This has the benefit of being a Psalm of lament. How many of those have you sung recently?

This post is deliberately provocative. I’m being highly hypocritical in writing it as I serve in churches where I choose hymns aplenty and they’re accompanied by organ and piano. 


About Phil Baiden

Minister; Hall Gate and Intake United Reformed Churches, Doncaster, UK

Posted on July 20, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Wow, thanks for this provoking reflection!! If I ever find myself in a church with that many people who can sing like they do in that video, then I will definitely tell the organist (or band) to have a break!

  2. Elliot Vernon

    Great Stuff! – and can we return to the Scottish Psalter of 1650 – beats that Taize chanting any day.

  1. Pingback: Psalm Singing in the Black Country | Phil Baiden

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