Two churches that I was in on Sunday

The past sunday I visited two churches that differed greatly in many ways, but which once again confirmed to me that a church need not possess an organ in order for congregational singing to work well. In the morning I was at Harvest Hills Alliance. For those of you who have never set foot inside an Alliance church, I've yet to encounter one which did not use a band to accompany singing. In the evening I then visited a local non-denominational church which I soon discovered believed that instruments were not to be used to accompany the congregation. They seemed to rotate through a large chunk of the male membership (perhaps all) to serve as song leaders - with each person leading one song. The songs were a little more complicated that what is found in the CanRC Book of Praise, at some times breaking into two-part harmony, but yet it seemed to work quite well.

An outline of the latter church's argument against instrumental accompaniment: I've heard a lot about the regulative principle of worship these past days, weeks, and month, and it was this principle used to justify an anti-accompaniment conclusion. They believe that instruments were used in the old testament, but that instrumental accompaniment disappeared along with animal sacrifices in the early church. In their view all new testament references were to songs of praise - not mentioning musical accompaniment (this excepts a reference or two in revelations which they take to be a metaphorical description of heaven rather than a prescription for worship on earth). Therefore they concluded based on the regulative principle that instrumental accompaniment was not to be used.

To quote from the website of Langley CanRC's organist, Frank Ezinga:

In the early Christian churches were no organs used. Christians considered musical instruments of secular nature and not suitable for the church. Following the tradition of the Jewish Synagogue, the only instrument used was the human voice (which is done until today in most Eastern Orthodox churches). Organists in those days could be considered early colleagues of theatre organists.

Similarly around the time of Luther, Calvin, et al there was quite some opposition to the organ. I've noted some of this before when I linked to an article regarding this which was posted on Spindleworks. To quote from Calvin's commentary on Psalm 33:

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 frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was a part of the education; that is to say, the puerile instruction of the law: I speak of the stated service of the temple. For even now, 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 they frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of 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 are 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.

So, I guess that leaves me with a few puzzled thoughts. Where the Genevan tunes originally sung unaccompanied, given the attitude towards the organ that Calvin seems to exhibit in that quote? What is the place of the regulative principle of worship? Perhaps I can get a few more-informed people to speak to these questions.

As it's probably well clear to you by now - I'm not a big fan of the organ. I think that both a band and no instrumental accompaniment at all can serve just as well to accompany the congregation while costing only a small fraction of the price.


Yes, Genevan tunes were originally sung unaccompanied. Later thinking on the regulative principle of worship (RPW) distinguished between the circumstances and elements of worship. The RPW only applies to the latter. In one way of thinking (mostly Scottish Presbyterian), instruments were regarded as an element of worship and hence forbidden. In another way of thinking (Continental Reformed), instruments were regarded as a circumstance of worship, something which serves the singing (which is an element). However, it should be noted that even in some Scottish Presbyterian churches, a pitch pipe will be used to assist the singing -- recognizing thereby that it is possible for an instrument to be circumstantial.

I think the main question we must ask is WHY do we want to have an organ/piano/band/etc.. If it is just for accompanyment, then whatever you use is most likely acceptable. However, if you are using the instrument(s) to make singing more "enjoyable" then it is an issue. Singing praises to God should (and I'd almost go as far to say "must") be enjoyable in and of itself. If you need a band or an organ or a piano to make yourself enjoy the singing, then I believe you have some problems that you have to deal with.

Serving the singing need not refer to attempts to make the singing more enjoyable, but to attempts to improve the quality (eg. if people sing completely off tune, or to maintain a background rhytmn to the peace). That said, I haven't observed any significant problems with this in the past.

BTW, some email conversation relating to this piece makes me think that I could make the following clarification: What I was attempting to do here was summarize the argument of a group which I don't necessarily agree with. I don't necessarily subscribe to the regulative principle in its entirety - and in fact this talk of elements versus circumstances seems to hint that the CanRC view is somewhat similar. I suppose that the question remains where to draw the line, and it doesn't sound like there's a clear line there.

What guidelines might determine what's an element versus a circumstance? Which category would burning candles and/or incense fall into? Which category would "hula worship" (a la Saddleback) fall into?

For the record, if an organ exists I have no big objections to it being used? My personal distaste for the sound of an organ isn't the best reason to mandate that no one play it. Even while not enjoying the instrument to any great degree I can appreciate the time, effort, and talents of organists. If people wish to play, listen to or buy an organ in their own time or on their own dime they're free to do so. At the same time, I question whether or not it provides any advantages over other instruments that justify its immense price tag. This is an argument that is focused not on pre-existing organs but on dedicating large sums of money to organ installation / refurbishment.

I question whether or not it provides any advantages over other instruments that justify its immense price tag.

My opinion based on my own observations and experiences: the wide variability in output, which is only achievable on an organ, enhances the enthusiasm of the congregation. On a piano (or other instrument) it is not possible to add depth to the sound, resulting in what sounds to me to be a "we're singing because we have to" attitude.

To be fair, there are a few other factors at play here as well. The simple arrangement of the notes on the page is probably the most overlooked factor here, but there seems to be a lot of scientists researching how various combinations of tones affect the brain. The person playing the instrument also has an effect; compare for example the playing styles of [two people: X1 and X2] versus [two other people: Y1 and Y2]. Not to pick on these guys in particular, but they are the first that come to mind and they happen to be on opposite ends of the spectrum from each other. X1 and X2 inject their own enthusiasm into their playing style, which has a direct effect on the enthusiasm of the congregation. Y1 and Y2, on the other hand, just play the music leaving the congregation to generate their own enthusiasm.

Now, regarding enjoyment versus and quality, definitely a more enthused congregation is also enjoying the singing, but I would not go so far as to say that this is the same kind of enjoyment as churches where a full band is playing. The key perhaps is what they are enjoying: the music, or praising God? Personally I am getting more enjoyment out of praising God. This kind of enjoyment is an outcome of the enhanced quality of worship: our hearts are more into it.

Here's one for you Langley folks to ponder: does playing organ and piano together improve the quality of the worship? From what I've personally heard sitting in Langley church a few months ago, you rarely even hear the piano. All it seems to achieve is partial obscuring of the organ, at a subtle level that most people would probably not even notice. I would be curious to know what the reasoning was for having these two instruments play together; there are some in Aldergrove who want to do the same thing.

[edit by Dave: removed organists names to avoid insulting particular individuals, and I think that people can take up the point without specific names mentioned.]

I would not go so far as to say that this is the same kind of enjoyment as churches where a full band is playing. The key perhaps is what they are enjoying: the music, or praising God?

Doesn't the argument go both ways in that instance - based on people's personal preferences? (To note: I'm not advocating hard rock or anything like that)

So, you don't think that a full band can be "deep"? How would you define depth? Is this the orchestra-in-a-box argument? An organ might allow you to approximate a trumpet - but it still sounds like an organ. To approximate a trumpet on an organ is still much easier than approximating any sort of stringed instrument.

Hmm... I suppose it is possible for someone to actually be enjoying praising God with a full band, and to verify that is not easy.

Orchestra-in-a-box argument is a good term for it. By depth I mean the number of unique sounds that can be heard simultaneously. Indeed, a trumpet stop doesn't sound exactly like a real trumpet, but stringed instrument stops sound nothing like stringed instruments. To achieve exact approximations would require either a digital solution, or a Wurlitzer which costs even more than a pipe organ and requires a lot of space for the pipes. Or you could just use a real trumpet; perhaps Langley has already done this before? I've heard mention that on certain occasions Langley has had other instruments, but can't recall any specifics nor have I seen it firsthand.

In Burlington Ebenezer last year they wanted to do organ and violin together. At first, the answer from Council was no, on the grounds that it would cross the line between accompaniment and performance. After some back and forth discussion, the final result was that the music would need to be specifically arranged such that the organ and violin complemented each other. Unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to hear this arrangement myself, but I've been told it went extremely well.

Yes, I believe Langley has had trumpet (or was it trombone?) in the past. In fact, it was played along with the organ and the piano. But this is nothing new. Already in the 1980s and 90s, we've had churches using trumpets with the organ.

I've seen all of trombone, trumpet, piano, and organ played in Langley church during services. Maybe flute as well - I can't remember.