In our discussion of the elements of worship which make up our congregational worship of God, we were discussing the activities which actually precede the worship service. In the last article we talked about the Consistory meeting before the service and about the prayers which the individual members of the congregation make prior to the worship service itself and after their entrance into the sanctuary. There is one more element which we must briefly mention: the organ playing before the actual worship service. 

There are two remarks which ought to be made before we discuss this matter. The first is that this practice is not common to all churches who use musical accompaniment for the singing. Those of our ministers who, prior to 1953, preached among the immigrants in Canada mentioned that this was not commonly done among them. There was no music played prior to the worship service itself, and the organ was used only to accompany the singing. The second matter is that some churches do not have instrumental music at all in the worship services. This is common among some branches of Presbyterianism, especially those Presbyterian Churches which have their roots in the Covenanting Churches of Scotland. 

The latter refuse to allow musical accompaniment in the worship services as a matter of principle. They believe in what is sometimes called “purity of worship,” and then again called, “the regulative principles of worship.” It is not necessary to get into this matter in detail in these articles, although the whole question is an interesting one. In brief, the regulative principle of worship means that we may include in the worship services only such activities which are specifically commanded by Scripture. The Calvin Reformation differed from the Lutheran Reformation on this point. The Lutheran Churches took the position that the traditional activities of worship as practiced in the Romish Church could be retained as long as they werenot expressly forbidden by Scripture. This is why the Lutheran Churches have been far more liturgically minded than the churches of the Calvin Reformation. 

At any rate, it is the firm belief of those who practice purity of worship that musical accompaniment in the worship service is not commanded in the Scriptures and, therefore, ought not to be used. If it is argued that musical instruments were used in the temple worship according to the Psalms, the answer to this is that this was the Old Testament and not regulative for the New, since the Old Testament worship of God was in typical form, which typical form passed away with the coming of Christ. Usually, in these churches, a precentor leads the congregational worship. 

It is not our purpose to enter into the argument in these articles. It seems to us that here too no legislation may be laid down. Scripture gives us freedom in these matters. If a congregation chooses not to use musical instruments in the singing, they do not violate any command of Scripture. But if a congregation does choose to make use of the organ, this cannot be sinful either, and such a congregation must be given the biblical freedom to do this. 

In the Reformed tradition, musical instruments, usually an organ, have been used. And it is common, also among our churches, that ten minutes or so before the service the organist begins to play the organ. The purpose of this is to establish by music a spiritual atmosphere for worship, to put the congregation into the mood for worship, to assist the people of God in meditating upon their presence in the house of God. 

The question has often been asked and debated: What music ought to be played before the worship service? Congregations and Consistories have debated this question and have come to various conclusions. Usually, the arguments center in the question of whether only the Psalms ought to be played or whether other music is also appropriate.

It ought to be understood at the outset that there is a great deal of music which is inappropriate for this organ (or piano) prelude. I have been in worship services where music was played during this prelude which was altogether out of keeping with the nature of the worship service. I have heard hymns played which are far from being Reformed and are sometimes downright Arminian. I have heard spirituals played, the words of which are not expressive of biblical truths. I have heard patriotic music played which is secular. I have heard classical music played which, while good enough in itself, is not fitting for a worship service. It is clear that such music has no place in the congregational gathering for worship and detracts from, rather than adds to, the worship of God. (We might add that the same thing is true of the music played during Offertory.) 

There is, of course, a problem of sorts here. One need only page through our own Psalter to discover that one could play from the Psalter itself and play secular, patriotic, and classical music. The second tune ofPsalter No. 212 is the old English ballad, “Auld Lang Syne.” Psalter No. 126 is the tune of “America.”Psalter No. 261 is taken from symphonic music and was also the tune of the German National Anthem. Furthermore, there are other Psalters in existence besides our Psalter. These Psalters, while based on the Psalms, and in some instances closer to the AV translation of the Psalms than our own Psalter, nevertheless use music quite different. Some of this music is, to us, quite different from the familiar tunes we use in church. One faces all these problems. 

We ought, at this point, briefly to mention the arguments pro and con for limiting the music before the service to Psalter numbers. Against this practice are the following arguments, so far as I have been able to discover them: 1) It does grave injustice to a long and rich heritage of beautiful church music which has been developed by the church over the centuries and which is part of our heritage as churches of the Reformation. By limiting ourselves to the Psalms, we simply ignore this rich heritage which the Lord has given to us. 2) It is impossible position to enforce without becoming legalistic and piling law upon law and precept upon precept. This is true because of the problems which I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back. What if an organist would play “Auld Lang Syne” in church and justify this on the grounds that it appears in our Psalter? Would the purpose be served of limiting church music to the Psalms? 3) The prelude is not a part of the worship service at all. Even though a congregation may limit her singing to the Psalms, the music that is played before the worship service need not be from the Psalter at all since the worship service has not been officially begun. (This does not, of course, hold true for the Offertory, which is part of the worship service.) 

In favor of limiting this musical prelude to the Psalms are the following arguments: 1) The judgment of what is proper music cannot be left to the discretion of the organists in all cases, as history has proved. 2) It is impossible for some Consistorial music committee to approve beforehand all the music to be played during the prelude and the Offertory. This impossibility is partly due to the fact that Consistorial committees are not always musicians of such skill that they can tell by written music whether the music is appropriate or not. Better it is, therefore, to limit the organists to music we know is good. 3) We are Psalm-singing congregations, and, while it is true that the music played before the service is not actually a part of the worship service, nevertheless, we ought to be consistent in this matter of Psalms. 4) The music played before the worship service is intended to put the people in a spiritual frame of mind to worship. What can do this better than our own familiar Psalter, the music and lyrics of which are so familiar to us? 

It ought to be evident from all that we have said that no definite rules can and ought to be laid down in this matter. It is certainly true, in general, that all the music which is played, even in connection with the worship service though not a part of it, ought to be solemn, majestic, and edifying. It ought also to be clear that if the music is going to accomplish its purpose, it must be expected that the people are listening to it. If, therefore, familiar numbers are played, it ought to be expected that the lyrics of the music will be running through the minds of the saints as they listen. It is for this reason that one ought to be careful in what is played. Even if the music is acceptable and proper, if secular and heretical words are associated with the music, it ought to be avoided, for it will be an offense to the people of God and will fail in the purpose it is intended to accomplish. 

In general, we conclude this article with the observation that insufficient care is often taken in the choice of music used within the church during and in connection with the worship of God. Music is a great and wonderful gift of God. But just because it is such a great and wonderful gift, it can also be badly misused. The general rule certainly is: the greater the gift, the greater its misuse. Part of the reason why music is such a great gift is the powerful effect it has upon those who hear it and sing along with it. This effect is very often greatly underestimated—especially in the altogether worldly and sinful music so common in the world today, and which our young people so often listen to. We all must learn to appreciate good music and cultivate a taste for it. Those who are responsible for playing the organ (or piano) in the worship services ought to be very conscious of this. Good music, well-played will enhance the worship service and will serve the edification of the people of God. 

This is the reason why the prelude to the worship service and the Offertory is not a “concert” by the organist (or pianist) to demonstrate the virtuosity of the musician—as sometimes it becomes. The proper place for this is (if there is any place at all) concerts given outside the worship services and for the enjoyment of those who like good music. The worship service is not the place. I am thrilled by the concert music of classical composers when well-played; but it is not what I want before the worship service. There is a time and place for everything.