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A Southern “Other” Asks about Organs

I am writing to address two subjects. First, like Craig Miklosik of Coos Bay, OR, I too am one of the “other” (see “Letters,” the Standard Bearer, May 1, 1992; and “As Others See Us,” the SB, March 15, 1992). I could so easily relate to his letter and to the way he felt when he attended a PRC worship service and had fellowship with those of like precious faith. I, too, have “. . .come to adore many of the PRC distinctives: exclusive use of the King James Version; particular grace; the unbreakable bond of marriage; and exclusive Psalmody. . . .”

While Atlanta, GA is not what one would call a “spiritual wasteland,” it is not exactly the heartland of the Reformation, either! My family and I are blessed to be a part of an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation which attempts to be faithful, but from time to time I do become frustrated with some of our “worship” practices. Very often I reflect upon my visit last November to Grandville for your conference on the Scriptures and to South Holland PRC for worship services on the Lord’s day.

I could only say, “Amen!” “Right!” and “Yes!” to everything Mr. Miklosik said in his letter. We should pray for him and others like him who are stranded in a “spiritual wasteland as regards the Reformed faith.” He is not alone.

Second, I would like to ask you a question in response to your excellent editorial entitled “Worshiping God as He Wills” (SB, May 1, 1992). I ask this with humility and sincerity because I really don’t know the answer. This is something I am struggling with in my own church. It is a problem that a number of people who love the “regulative principle” probably wrestle with also.

In your editorial you state that the PRC “have acknowledged the ‘regulative principle’ as their creedal position.” You also say that “the members of the PRC must not be embarrassed by their traditionally Reformed form of worship. It is our glory. We must maintain it, if necessary by struggle.” Amen to that! That should extend to all Reformed believers as well.

My question is this: where in the Scriptures does one see justification for the use of an organ or piano in the worship service? Should we not be as upset about the use of an organ or piano as we are about liturgical dance, drama, trumpets or cymbals (Ps. 150)? Have the PRC kept the organ in their churches due to practical considerations?

It would be very helpful to me (and probably a lot of people) to see a series of articles on the “regulative principle of worship” – from its biblical proofs to its creedal formulations to its present-day applications.

Charles H. Greenewald

Snellville, GA

Response

The Protestant Reformed Churches understand the “regulative principle” of worship to apply to the elements themselves of public worship – preaching; administration of the sacraments; congregational singing of the Psalms; prayer; and offerings. In keeping with the Dutch Reformed tradition, these Churches do not think that the “regulative principle” applies, or can possibly be made to apply, to every detail and circumstance connected with public worship.

Application of the “regulative principle” to instrumental accompaniment of congregational singing is, in the judgment of the PRC, not simply an overly rigorous application of the principle but rather a misunderstanding of the principle itself. This is evident in John L. Girardeau’s Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church (New Covenant Publication Society, 1983). The book is one of the most vehement denunciations of musical accompaniment ever written. The southern Presbyterian damned musical accompaniment as “heresy in the sphere of worship”, (p. 179). He charged that “a sin it is. . . . The people ought to be taught that in using it they rebel against the law of Christ, their King” (p. 207). But when Girardeau came to state “the law of Christ” against which instrumental accompaniment transgresses, he expressed the “regulative principle” this way:

Whatsoever, in connection with the public worship of the church, is not commanded by Christ, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence, in his Word, is forbidden” (p. 200).

This is serious misstatement of the “regulative principle.” Neither Question 96 of the Heidelberg Catechism nor Questions 50 and 51 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism speak of “whatsoever in connection with the public worship of the church,” that is, of every detail and circumstance connected with public worship.

The “regulative principle” governs the elements and activities themselves that make up the church’s worship. It is of no concern to the “regulative principle” whether the preacher wears a business suit or a Geneva gown when he preaches; whether the people stand, sit, or kneel during. prayer; whether communicants take the Lord’s Supper standing about the communion table, sitting in the front of the auditorium, or remaining in the seats they occupied during the sermon; whether the place of worship is a million-dollar edifice, a barn, or the open field; or whether the congregation is assisted in singing by a precentor (who avails himself of a tuning-fork or a pitch-pipe) or by an organ. In the area of the details and circumstances of public worship, the church has freedom to arrange the service of worship as she deems beneficial (cf. the Belgic Confession, Art. 32).

Indeed, I maintain that no church on earth can, or ever could, carry out the “regulative principle” as Girardeau defined it. Girardeau himself could not find a command of Christ in the New Testament for “whatsoever is connected with public worship.”

In using an organ or a piano to aid the singing in public worship, the PRC have neither forgotten the “regulative principle” nor allowed “practical considerations” to compromise the principle. The use of musical accompaniment and adherence to the “regulative principle” are perfectly compatible. In his commentary on Lord’s Day 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism, Abraham Kuyper affirms the Reformed tradition’s holding the “regulative principle” of worship:

Completely rightly, therefore, have our fathers established the precept, that not man but God Himself alone can determine how we shall serve Him. And, thus, (is established) that every form of worship which God had not commanded is excluded as self-willed service and arbitrary invention, and is forbidden.

In the very next paragraph, Kuyper insists that the use of organs in the service of worship in no way violates the “regulative principle”: “Indeed, after the initial reaction, they (the Reformed fathers – DJE) speedily allowed the organ again into the churches, since that organ was intended to serve and not to rule” (E Voto Dordraceno, Hoveker & Wormser, 1905, Vol. III, p. 570; my translation of the Dutch).

A warning arising out of Girardeau’s diatribe against musical accompaniment does seem to me to be in order for those churches that use an organ to accompany the congregational singing. In his favorable review of Girardeau’s work in the July 1889 issue of the “Presbyterian Quarterly,” R.L. Dabney charged that organs II tend usually to choke the congregational singing, and thus to rob the body of God’s people of their God-given right to praise Him in His sanctuary.” The history of congregational singing in the Dutch Reformed churches in general and in the PRC over the past seventy years in particular disproves this rash charge. Nevertheless, it reminds us that the purpose of organs in the churches is the help of the congregation in singing. The organ, therefore, must not be so loud as to drown out the congregation; so slow as to discourage the congregation; or so fast as to leave the congregation breathless. Organists must dedicate themselves to helping the people of God praise God by singing. The best organist is the one who is least noticed.

– DJE

More on the “Regulative Principle”

In response to your editorial, “Worshiping God as He Wills” (the Standard Bearer, 5/1/92), permit me to make a few comments.

I wish to acknowledge with admiration how ably, with firm confidence, without apologies, you promote the Protestant Reformed teaching on this subject. You firmly establish the PRC position as, “It is our glory. We must maintain it, if necessary by struggle.” A desire to be distinctively different; as written in the regulative principle; and proudly claiming the Reformed tradition.

In support of the PR position you honor the teaching expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism, as well as Westminster Shorter Catechism, both giving Scriptural proofs. Such teachings condemn the usage of images as a support in helping the worshipers in their approach to God.

In past ages, long before the mentioned Doctrinal Standards were drafted, during the seventh and eighth centuries, the church fathers opposed all usage of icons. Statutes, pictures in stained-glass windows, crosses with affixed images – all such was judged as iconolatry.

In past generations, there was a great disturbance in the churches concerning the introduction of organs as a proper instrument to lead the singing congregation.

In times more recent, the worshiping congregation seems to have no iconoclastic notions about organs for use in public worship. In addition to preludes (the playing of hymn tunes), offertories, and postludes, organ playing is allowed during the serving of the communion elements, all in “Reformed tradition.”

As much as your editorial afforded pleasant reading and seems to agree with the teachings of the “church fathers,” I find it rather distressing that you give your readers no Scriptural references for what is termed the “regulative principle,” which is the “creedal position” of the PRC. You write:

The manner of worship in the public services of the PRC is regulated by the Word of God…. Nothing maybe introduced as part of the worship that is not prescribed by Scripture…. Even though the activity does not conflict with the Word of God, it must be excluded.

Such wonderful statements, without Scriptural references. However, you do quote from the teachings and conclusions of fallible men in support of the PRC position.

Consider if you will, a few Scriptural references in support of hymns. “And when they had sung an hymn”; “Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs”; “…teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs…” (Matt. 26:30Eph. 5:19Col. 3:16). “In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David… the morning and evening hymns, and the hymn of prayer before the sermon shall be sung” (Church Order, PRC, Art. 69).

Again you write:

One reason why the PRC sing only the Psalms in public worship is their conviction that the Psalms are the inspired songbook of the church.

Conclusion: The Holy Spirit does not use the singing of hymns as a means of inspiration? That warrants the exclusion of hymns for singing in public worship? That makes for the PRC being “all-fenced-in” within the Reformed church world?

Some place along the line of continued generations it seems that the PRC have lost the singers. King David appointed him singers (I Chronicles 15:16ff); he wrote the first Psalm for singers and gave it to Asaph (I Chronicles 16:7); Ezra writes about 128 singers (Ezra 2:41); the singers were in a separate class after the return from captivity, 245 singing men and singing women (Neh. 7:67); 200 singing men and singing women (Ezra 2:65). “And the whole congregation worshipped, and the singers sang. . .” (II Chronicles 29:28).

Your editorial strongly suggests that worshiping in the “Reformed tradition” allows no room for singing hymns nor for singing men and singing women (choir).

Please recognize, if you will, that there are hundreds of Protestant Reformed families worshiping in the Christian Reformed Church (for several decades), who are edified by the singing of hymns, and the hearing of singing men and singing women (choir).

May the “voice” of the Standard Bearer be heard near and far.

Henry Doorn

Kentwood, MI

Response

The biblical basis for the “regulative principle” of public worship is the second commandment of the law of God with all the passages in Scripture that explain and apply the second commandment. I stated this in my editorial.

The “hymns” in your references (Matt. 26:30Eph. 5:19, andCol. 3:16) are all, in fact, the Psalms of the Old Testament. Permit me to quote what I have written elsewhere in explanation of Colossians 3:16:

But even if the issue of exclusive Psalms-singing versus the singing of hymns also were to be decided on the basis of

Colossians 3:16

alone, the churches would sing only the Psalms. “Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” are not three different kinds of songs: the inspired Psalms of David; uninspired hymns based on the New Testament; and uninspired spiritual songs treating of various religious themes. Rather, they are all the inspired Psalms of the Old Testament. The inspired Psalms are of two different kinds: hymns and spiritual songs. “Hymns” are the Psalms that explicitly praise God, e.g.,

Psalm 150

(“Hallelujah! Hallelujah! In His temple God be praised”). “Spiritual songs” are the Psalms which deal with other aspects of the believer’s life and experience, e.g., repentance

Psalm 51:

(“God be merciful to me”) and the duty to obey God’s Law

Psalm 119:

(“How I love Thy law, O Lord!”). The proof of this, namely, that “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” in

Colossians 3:16

are all Psalms, is immediately plain to all: The church of Paul’s day, specifically, the congregation at Colosse, Asia Minor, had no other songs than the Psalms! She had no “hymns” in the sense in which we are accustomed to speak of hymns today, referring to such songs as “Glory be to the Father,” or “Rock of Ages.” Besides, the meaning of the Greek word, “hymn,” is “song of praise to God.” Elsewhere in the New Testament, the word, “hymn,” is clearly used to refer to a Psalm which consists of the praise of God. Such an instance is

Matthew 26:30:

“And when they had sung an hymn, they went into the mount of Olives.” The reference is certainly to the Psalms; undoubtedly, the reference is to Psalms 113-118, the “Great Hallel” (Song of Praise to Jehovah), which the Israelites customarily sang on the occasion of the Passover. In addition, in the Greek Old Testament used by the apostles, the Septuagint, the Psalms were exactly labelled, “Psalms and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs” (“Music in the Church,” Beacon Lights, February, 1983, pp. 12, 13).

The mention of a few hymns in Article 69 of the church order of Dordt was a concession to a difficult situation then obtaining in the Dutch Reformed churches (cf. VanDellen and Monsma, The Church Order Commentary, Zondervan, 1954, pp. 282, 283). The spirit and intent of the article, however, are that only the Psalms be sung in the public worship of the Reformed churches.

There is a basic difference between the statement that the Psalms are the inspired songbook of the church and the statement that the singing of hymns can be inspiring. The latter refers to the effect of singing on the singer and others. The former asserts that the Holy Spirit Himself gave the church her marvelous and adequate songbook for worship in Holy Scripture.

The Protestant Reformed Churches are not fearful or embarrassed to be “all fenced in” within the Reformed church world, on this or any other issue, when obedience to the Lord Christ requires it.

The members of the PRC allow for, and are edified by, the singing of good hymns (as distinguished now from Psalms) and choirs of singing men and women outside the public worship of the congregation.

The PRC have lost the singers of the Old Testament, with a good deal that belonged to the church of the shadows, in the interests of finding the congregational singing of the New Testament.

Consider whether the alternative to the “regulative principle” of worship is not that the churches themselves introduce into the public worship of God whatever under heaven suits the fancy today of the minister, council, worship committee; or vocal element of the congregation. That is, not God Himself in His Word, but the people decide how they will worship God. This is what is going on presently in Reformed churches. The result is that the worship in some churches is barely distinguishable from that of Roman Catholicism, the worship in other Reformed churches resembles nothing so much as a frenzied, old-west camp meeting, and the worship in yet other churches comes perilously close to the ritual prostitution of old paganism, as the troop of dancing girls cavort on the stage. I do pray, with some ardor, that God mercifully spare the PRC all such “worship.”

The question governing worship is not, “Do I feel edified?” Some feel edified by a troop of dancing girls. But the question is, “Has God revealed in His Word that He is pleased to be worshiped in this way?” This will edify.

Whatever are Protestant Reformed families doing in the Christian Reformed Church? Protestant Reformed believers and their children and grandchildren belong in Protestant Reformed churches. We must talk about this.

May the voice of the Standard Bearer be heard near and far.

– DJE