Sacred Harp Singing – Losing Its Heart

This weekend we attended the National Sacred Harp Convention in the Birmingham, Alabama area. I enjoyed getting to hear the style singing that I grew up listening to. Although I found I was seriously out of practice. I could not sing as fast as they did.

The National Convention draws some of the best Sacred Harp singers from around the world.

There were around a dozen singers from the UK, lots from Canada, one lady was from Holland, and many from all over the USA. Singers drove or flew from Oregon, Montana, New York, and California. There was one lady that has flown from England for ten years for this conference.

We didn’t see anyone we really knew this year. Most of the older individuals aren’t able to travel any longer or else they have passed away. We saw several that we are familiar with but really don’t know, many that are part of promoting Sacred Harp Singing nationally. And of course there was the eclectic older individual man that is a regular each year. You never know what to expect from him. I guess you would call him a modern day hippy. The day we saw him he wore shorts, a printed shirt, black knee high socks, and some kind of rolled beret hat. The day before he was proudly wearing a NO WAR shirt.

That was a symptom of a larger problem which I have noticed for years but never so much as this year. What is the problem? The fact that although in some ways Sacred Harp Singing is thriving and being introduced to more and more younger generations, it has lost its heart.

What do I mean about losing its heart?

The National Convention has become a singing for the sake of singing and promoting Sacred Harp singing. But the real reason for singing is lost, just like Christmas today has no evidence of the purpose intended. The heart of Sacred Harp singing is worshiping our Lord, singing praise to His name and His wonderful provisions for us. But that was missing. Now granted there were those there that were singing to praise and worship the Lord, particularly the older individuals. But many, many were there to sing a style of music and they had never caught the reason for the singing.

Sacred Harp singing was a method of learning to sing notes and carry tunes in order that hymn singing in worship services might be beautiful praise to the Lord. It was developed at a time when reading music was not known by the general population and tunes were sung differently in different churches just from memory.

Within a generation or two, the Puritans forgot many of their psalm tunes, and the pace of singing slowed. Lining out, a practice in which a clerk or precentor sang or read a line followed by the people’s singing of that line, gradually became more popular. This call-response pattern and the slowed tempo encouraged individuals to improvise their own variations on the psalm tunes ever more loudly in an increasingly cacophonous sea of sound. Ministers like Thomas Walter found this “singing by rote” intolerable and began in the second and third decades of the eighteenth century to argue for a return to “regular singing.” By 1800 the practice of “lining out” had died in New England and moved South, more of its own accord than by argument, but concern for “regular singing” helped to create singing schools.

Dictionary of Christianity in America

So villanous had church-singing at last become that the clergymen arose in a body and demanded better performances; while a desperate and disgusted party was also formed which was opposed to all singing. Still another band of old fogies was strong in force who wished to cling to the same way of singing that they were accustomed to; and they gave many objections to the new-fangled idea of singing by note, the chief item on the list being the everlasting objection of all such old fossils, that “the old way was good enough for our fathers,” &c. They also asserted that “the names of the notes were blasphemous;” that it was “popish;” that it was a contrivance to get money; that it would bring musical instruments into the churches; and that “no one could learn the tunes any way.”

Sabbath In Puritan New England by Alice Morse Earle

So Sacred Harp singing developed as a way to teach the hymns and tunes to the congregations in order that the hymn singing could be done “decently and in order”.

If you visit a small Sacred Harp singing in a church there is often praying and testimonies given during the singing. Even the songs attest to the Lord’s Grace and faithfulness to us worthless sinners. Although the singings may be doing the right things and saying the right words, they are becoming lacking in the truly important things – worshiping the Lord with all the heart and spirit.


Louis Bourgeois – Old 100th Tune Writer

Here is another history lesson on the music wars in the church, of the 1500’s style. This poor man, Louis Bourgeois, gave us the tune to the Old 100th but was essentially run out of town because he dared change the tunes to some familiar Psalms.

Technically though the tune we call the Old 100th was actually written by Bourgeois for Psalm 134. It wasn’t until “All People That on Earth Do Dwell,” taken from Psalm 100, was written by William Kethe that the tune became known as the Old 100th.

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His folk, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.

O enter then His gates with praise;
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His Name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? the Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The God Whom Heaven and earth adore,
From men and from the angel host
Be praise and glory evermore.

Later that same tune was used for the song, “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow,” which we often call it “The Doxology”. It was written by Thomas Ken.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

As commonly as we know this tune, writing music tunes wasn’t so easy back in the 1500’s. You actually had to have a license to write a tune!

“Louis Bourgeois is the one most responsible for the tunes in the Genevan Psalter, the source for the hymns of both the Reformed Church in England and the Pilgrims in America. In the original versions by Bourgeois, the music is monophonic, in accordance with the dictates of John Calvin, who disapproved not only of counterpoint but of any multiple parts; Bourgeois though did also provide four-part harmonizations, but they were reserved for singing and playing at home. Many of the four-part settings are syllabic and chordal, a style which has survived in many Protestant church services to the present day.

Of the tunes in the Genevan Psalter, some are reminiscent of secular chansons, others are directly borrowed from the Strasbourg Psalter; The remainder were composed by successively Guillaume Franc, Louis Bourgeois and Pierre Davantès. By far the most famous of Bourgeois’ compositions is the tune known as the Old 100th.Unfortunately, he fell foul of local musical authorities and was sent to prison on December 3, 1551 for changing the tunes for some well-known psalms “without a license.” He was released on the personal intervention of John Calvin, but the controversy continued: those who had already learned the tunes had no desire to learn new versions, and the town council ordered the burning of Bourgeois’s instructions to the singers, claiming they were confusing. Shortly after this incident, Bourgeois left Geneva never to return: … “


Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?

Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?

An evil resides in the professed camp of the Lord so gross in its imprudence that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it. During the past few years it has developed at an abnormal rate evil for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a more clever thing than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out as the Puritans did, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.

My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the Church. If it is a Christian work why did not Christ speak of it? ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’ That is clear enough. So it would have been if He has added, ‘and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel’ No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to Him. Then again, ‘He gave some apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers, for the work of the ministry.’ Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.

Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all His apostles. What was the attitude of the Church to the world? ‘Ye are the salt,’ not sugar candy—something the world will spit out, not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’ He was in awful earnestness!

Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into His mission, He would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of His teaching. I do not hear Him say, ‘Run after these people, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick, Peter, we must get the people somehow!’ Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them.

In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of the gospel amusement. Their message is, ‘Come out, keep out, keep clean out!’ Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.

After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the Church had a prayer meeting, but they did not pray, ‘Lord grant Thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are.’ If they ceased not for preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They ‘turned the world upside down.’ That is the difference! Lord, clear the Church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her and bring us back to apostolic methods.

Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to affect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the Church met them halfway, speak and testify. Let the heavy-laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment has been God’s link in the chain of their conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today’s ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.


This sermon exert is typically attributed to C.H. Spurgeon, but finding it in his works has proved difficult.

Archibald Brown was a student of Spurgeon and his sermon The Devil’s Mission of Amusement: The Church’s Task – Entertainment or Evangelization? is the mostly likely original source.


Consuming Fire

I really don’t understand how people will pick a verse for their theme verse and have no clue what it means. Does no one tell them? What about their own pastors?

Youth being reached for the Lord at ‘The Furnace’

They came up with the name ‘The Furnace’ from a verse of scripture in the Bible.

“Hebrews 12:29 says, For our God is a consuming fire,” said Kay. “If people start living for God and doing things for God, it will spread just like a fire. That is an awesome thing for God to spread out like that in this community, this county, this state and however far God wants to take it.”

Here is the full sentence.

Hebrews 12:28-29
28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,
29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Is that a good thing to want God to come as a consuming fire? Only if you are righteous and holy.

Isaiah 33:10-16
10 “Now I will arise,” says the Lord, “now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted.
11 You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble; your breath is a fire that will consume you.
12 And the peoples will be as if burned to lime, like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire.”
13 Hear, you who are far off, what I have done; and you who are near, acknowledge my might.
14 The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: “Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
15 He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil,
16 he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure.

Still not convinced how about these:

Exodus 32:10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” ESV

Exodus 33:3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” ESV

Joshua 24:20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” ESV

2 Kings 1:12 But Elijah answered them, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. ESV

Psalms 21:9 You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them. ESV

Ezekiel 15:7 And I will set my face against them. Though they escape from the fire, the fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them. ESV

See these for more information:

The first one has several more verses about God being a Consuming Fire.

My God is a Consuming Fire

My Favorite Quote from The Holiness of God Conference

Ligonier National Conference – R.C. Sproul (II) – A Consuming Fire: Holiness, Wrath and Justice


The Melody Pierces the Heart More Strongly – Calvin

“Moreover, in speaking now of music, I understand two parts: namely the letter, or subject and matter; secondly, the song, or the melody. It is true that every bad word (as St. Paul has said) perverts good manner, but when the melody is with it, it pierces the heart much more strongly, and enters into it; in a like manner as through a funnel, the wine is poured into the vessel; so also the venom and the corruption is distilled to the depths of the heart by the melody.”

John Calvin in the Preface to the Genevan Psalter

I found this while reading about the Regulative Principle of Worship verses the Normative Principle of Worship especially in relation to music.


Notice What I’m Not Looking For In a Church

Just wanted you to notice that what I’m looking for in a church is not a legalistic church but a Biblical church.

I did not include the following items in the post What to Look for in a Church:

1) Ladies must wear dresses at all times.

2) Ladies must never cut their hair.

3) Ladies all must have long hair.

4) The pastor is always right – you are wrong.

5) Church cannot use drums or any instrument other than a piano in worship.

6) Only a KJV Bible is acceptable – Bible checked at the door. If it is good enough for Moses and Paul it is good enough for you.

7) Dresses must be ankle length or no more than two inches from shoes. Tape measure at the door.

8 ) American flag must be displayed on the stage.

9) Christian flag must also be displayed.

10) All Movie viewing must be banned.

11) Full tithing is required or church discipline will ensue.

12) Members must be present at all services unless an pre-approved excuse is given.

13) All men must wear beards.

14) No man may have hair that touches the ear or collar. If it is good enough for the military, it is good enough for the Lord.

15) Driving a new car shows a preoccupation with material things.

16) Ladies wearing bright colors are vain – only black, brown, and blue will be accepted.

17) If it isn’t in the approved hymnal, it can not be sung.

18) Absolutely no electronic music or media to be used in the church.

19) Pastor must always wear a three-piece suit.

20) No smiling or looking like you are happy – we must all be sober and reflective at all times.

This would be a lot more humorous if it wasn’t actually happening in many churches.


What to Look for in a Church

For quite a while I have been thinking on and pondering what it is we should look for in a church. I’m sure this will be modified as time goes on but this is a basic idea. What did I leave out or add that isn’t according to Scripture?

1) Accurate view of God. Based on Scripture. Fear of the Holy Lord.

2) High value and emphasis on Scripture.

3) Focus on worshiping the Lord in everything they do.

4) Practices church discipline.

5) A desire to evangelize the world by the preaching of the Scriptures as opposed to just seeking to get decisions.

6) Members strive to live Holy lives with never a sense of having arrived at holiness.

7) Pastor / elders serve the church by teaching and preaching of Scriptures, encouraging members to live holy and set apart lives, and to share the gospel with those outside the church.

8) Pastor / elders lead by example especially in their family life and personal life.

9) Prayer is an important part of the church and not just given lip service.

10) All Scripture is important and not just picking and choosing.

11) The church as a whole body should have some written out doctrine or theology that others can read. Such as what they believe about baptism or the Lord’s supper.

12) The church should never presume to add to the Scriptures.

Example: A church should expect the women to dress modestly in accordance with Scripture. But when a church states that a lady’s dress must be to the ankles then they have added to the Scriptures.

13) Witnessing to the world but not by using the world’s methods and the world’s entertainment.

14) Essentially this sums it up – Right thinking and right living.


Worship Volume

I found the following article very interesting. At our previous church several of the church members and even the music leader all said they were deaf in one ear. Why? My thought was that they prefered the music too loud.

Memo to Worship Bands

Can you hear me? You can? I’m sorry if I am shouting, but I have just spent half an hour in a church service with a typical worship band, and my ears are ringing. I’m sure to be fine in a minute. Or hour. Or day—I hope.

Why does everything every Christian musician performs nowadays seem to require high amplification?

Volume Levels and Hearing Safety at Covenant Life Church  (pdf from Bob Kauflin’s Church)

Of late, we have also become aware that some people have hearing problems that may cause a level of physical discomfort due to certain sounds or the overall volume. If this is your experience, please know that we are very sorry for the discomfort. The discomfort does not necessary mean that your hearing is being damaged. You may want to have your hearing checked by a professional audiologist to learn if there is anything you can do to reduce the discomfort.

What do you think?


Acceptable Offerings

“The Lord God is not pleased with nor does He accept everything that is offered to Him in worship. He did not respect or accept Cain’s offering (see Genesis 4), and He did not accept the “strange fire” offered to Him by Nadab and Abihu. In fact, He killed them with fire for offering it (see Leviticus 10:1-2). Whether or not they believed their offering was offered in spirit and truth was irrelevant. What they were offering was disobedience (therefore apart from truth) and was not considered by God to be an act of worship.”


In the Name of Purpose Sacrificing Truth on the Altar of Unity

Tamara Hartzell Copyright © 2006


Music in the Church: How Special Should We Make It?

Author: Jim Elliff

You could put the entire teaching about church music in the New Testament in a paragraph or two. Add to this teaching those spirited illustrations of corporate singing in heaven displayed in the last book of the Bible, when angels and throngs of people fill the air with thundering six to eight line choruses. When it comes to intentional instruction about music, however, there are really only four passages in the New Testament:

Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Ephesians 5:19

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16

Therefore, let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise, if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. 1 Corinthians 14:13-17

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26

That’s it. For all the millions of dollars spent on buying equipment, paying music leaders, crafting multi-level music programs, training choral leaders, and building buildings that accommodate elaborate musical presentations, these verses comprise a very tiny pedestal upon which to rest such a large elephant as the music program of the church.

With all this going on, you would think that surely under it all you would discover a solid foundation of Scripture to support such massive, expensive and time-intensive behavior. Sadly, however, very few churches think through what the New Testament teaches when forming their music strategy. What did churches of the New Testament, large or small, mature or new-born, do with music under the tutelage of the Apostle Paul?

“I Go Because I Like The Music.”

I’m guessing, but I doubt that anybody joined with the early believers because they liked the music. If they were looking primarily for music and show, perhaps the local temple would have been the better choice. The pagan temple worship that most people knew in those days included plays, dance, singing, and even parades, but the early believers appear to have never thought of emulating their kind of worship in order to attract such people for Christ. Early church music was no match for the extravaganzas temple leaders could put on. Unlike our churches today, early Christians didn’t even compete with them.

The Jewish Temple worship was also highly skilled, choreographed and perhaps exciting to listen to, but, again, the early church seemed to by-pass that approach to winning people to Christ, or for designing their church life together.

In more recent days (yet long before Christian people used the words “Church Growth”), enterprising leaders sought to attract crowds to their churches with music. It was called “special music.” I once made up an entire verse of a well-loved solo piece in a large church which rhymed but didn’t make sense. Perhaps that could be called “special,” but not most of what happens in churches every Sunday. What we do each week in churches might better be called “routine music.” We should say, “Miss Roselle will give the routine music this morning.” It doesn’t matter if Miss Roselle wilts the flowers with her shrill soprano warble, the order of service demands “special music.” It is planned out and pressed into the agenda, even if you have to get the most ungodly church members to do it. How did the apostle Paul ever make it without special music prior to his messages?

But some churches offer more than a shrill solo. Some lay out a feast of music that is close to dazzling. Nobody announces that Miss Roselle will sing. She just does it—maybe with smoke rising up all around her. And many more do it after her. I cannot count the number of times in churches around our nation when I’ve heard music that was so professional, practiced, and polished that it would rival any ticket-only concert. Only the top musicians could be engaged to do it. Everybody else is “audience.” To be more truthful, Miss Roselle wouldn’t have a chance to warble among such musicians.

Often people join churches only when they “like the music.” For many people, that alone is enough to satisfy. Sadly, many churches are so music-driven that the teaching of the word is swallowed up in its ample motherly arms until it is nearly irrelevant. Three weeks without the full production, and the church building would be emptied.

Don’t mistake my concern for a lack of desire for excellence. I once thought I would give my ministry life to music. I know something about it. But it seems to me that we have gone to elaborate extremes before reflecting on what the New Testament has to say.

The New Testament on Music

So how should we integrate moving, meaningful, Christ-exalting music into our church’s life? What should we do or not do? I could suggest a thousand things off the top of my head (beginning with, “Have a talk with Miss Roselle.”). But what we need is not better ideas, but biblical ideas. Let me suggest a few things the Bible teaches. I believe these are among the most critical ideas, because these are all God has chosen to say about music to the New Testament church in the New Covenant. Be prepared for some radical concepts:

First, the verses above indicate that music should be about edification of believers. At least this is the emphasis in Paul’s writing. From John’s Revelation we see music employed for praise, but Paul is straight as an arrow about insisting on edification as his principal directive. Music is not all vertical. It keeps others in view. We are to “speak” to each other with music, and “teach” and “admonish” (warn) each other. It should go without saying that edification is not the same as entertainment, which makes people happy and excited, but often does not deal deeply with the soul in the way that the word “edification” implies. The simple music of a congregation, for instance, when seeking to teach each other through thought-provoking words and music, can be a potent tool for spiritual development. This concept alone might change the content and manner of your music experience.

Second, music is to be a way to “let the word dwell richly among you.” This means that good music is the “word” or the “message” musically presented. It is joined to the testifying word, the preached word, the taught word, the prayed word of God, in such a way that the time spent together becomes a baptism in the word of God. The music of the song carries “the word,” “the message,” or “the truth” of God on its wings.

Third, Christian music is often to be an offering to the congregation from a spiritually-mindedbrother or sister. Paul says “each one has a psalm” as if to say, individuals come prepared and spiritually ready to sing a psalm (or, by extension, a spiritual song or hymn) to the group for their edification; or perhaps they are to suggest their psalm to the group for corporate singing. This does not preclude thinking through a song beforehand as opposed to being entirely spontaneous, but when offered, it often will give the appearance of spontaneity in the meeting itself. I know it is entirely out of range for most of us to consider this idea at all, but I’m only reporting what I’m reading. In the early church, people made contributions of their gifts and talents for the building up of the body. It was part of what it meant to have body-life in the church. The meetings were more or less open to believers’ gifts—orchestrated by God; not chaotic. To think otherwise is to be more a child of the Reformation than the New Testament.

Fourth, by necessary assumption, coordination of the meeting, including all musical gifts, must have been the responsibility of the elders who were in charge of guiding the believers, under the headship of Christ. I don’t think they would have understood an “order of service” as a means of doing this. The people simply brought their gifts and made their contributions under the guidance of the Spirit, looking to the elders as leaders for shaping the meeting as needed. Wise elders may have curbed the excesses of some, or even refused to allow others to offer their supposed gift, but however they worked it out, their meetings were open for the sharing of gifts and talents under their sagacious oversight.

Fifth, though Paul did not rule out ecstatic singing (singing in the spirit without engaging the mind), he admonished the church to “sing with mind also.” The larger point being made is that what is sung must be able to receive the “Amen” from those who are there. He mentions the “ungifted” being among them. It must be, on some level, understandable to them also. Here Paul is not approving what he denies earlier in 1 Corinthians (that those without the Spirit cannot understand the things of God), but is only meaning that people need to hear intelligible words in their singing. I am not going to delve into this debated issue of praying in the spirit and the matter of tongues, or the issue of interpreting such speech, but I am only making the obvious comment: Our singing must be intelligible to have its greatest value. It is what is intelligible that is ultimately most edifying. Understanding is important.

Sixth, a variety of music forms may used. Whatever is meant by “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,” we may at least note that this was not a “hymns only” church, or a “psalms only” church. I know there are arguments about these words from those who practice exclusive psalmody. Even so, I take the view that these represent varying forms of music found in the church. Who would argue that an emotive Scripture praise song done by memory is usually more appropriate during a heartfelt prayer-time, than the singing of even such a great hymn as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”? We need variety.

Seventh, no music directors are seen in the early church pattern of worship. Paul highlighted in Ephesians 4 the human gifts to the church Christ left us: “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” Surprisingly, he did not mention “music directors.” When spiritual gifts are listed in 1 Corinthians, Romans and 1 Peter, nothing about a music gift is mentioned there either. Though I owe a lot to those music directors I enjoyed as a boy, and though there are some godly ones that I sincerely appreciate, the absence of such a staff position in the local churches of the New Testament documents is glaring. This is not to say that pastors who have musical gifts cannot do some wonderful things with music related to the church, but they should be pastors (elders, overseers) in every sense of the word. At the same time, musical gifts are not a requirement of pastoral ministry.


All I’m really saying is that, like a child in the park, we have run off in all directions related to music without consulting our Father for His wishes. For 60 years my uncle faithfully and lovingly brought his sister chocolate-covered cherries for Christmas. Only in her late 80s did she tell me privately that she never liked chocolate-covered cherries. He had never consulted her, but assumed his taste was hers. What if we like what we do for God, but God doesn’t like it at all? When our practice, as sincere as it might be, almost totally disregards the body-life design of God for the church spelled out for us in great detail in the New Testament, we surely are working against His intentions. Even if arriving at His view of the church means that we make major structural changes, would it not be right to do so?

The main lesson, summarized, is that early New Testament believers purposefully abandoned choreographed, professional and elaborate musical presentations to the shadowlands of the temple age, and moved forward into the simpler, more fluid and flexible, leadership of the Spirit. Although I’m not sure exactly how all of this is accomplished, I would rather be attempting to go His direction than assuming I know better than God what He likes. With careful attention to the body language of the New Testament, and authentic trust in God, surely we can take steps, gradually if necessary, to return to this glorious simplicity, beauty and balance.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Elliff
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