Sunday, 21 December 2008

Music in the church (1)

Recently, during a trip to America, I attended three different congregations in which music was an important feature of their worship. The first congregation was composed mainly of older worshippers (about one hundred of them), but among them was an organist and a choir of about a dozen people. It was obvious to all in the congregation who could hear them that their voices were well past their best days. I don’t mention this to demean them; all I mean is that they did not help the audible worship of God.

The second congregation numbered several hundred (at least five hundred). It did not have a choir or an organist; instead it had a music group with four singers. The musical instruments were very loud, as was the singing of the group. In fact, it was so loud that I could not hear the voices of the large congregation. All that could be heard was the group on the stage, which means that I was observing a concert instead of taking part in the worship of God. The event was no different from a secular concert in which the attenders listen to a group and sing along to the songs without disturbing their neighbours’ attention on the group.

The third congregation was a Presbyterian church in a university city. Most of the congregation was young, with a few older persons in attendance. It also had a group, although unlike the previous one it did not play rock music or scream into the microphones. Instead they sang traditional hymns. Nevertheless their voices also drowned out the sound of the congregation and, in addition, some of the group looked bored stiff.

In each congregation I wanted to inform them that there is a better way to use their voices in the praise of God. Instead of using musical instruments to drown out their voices, they should abandon their instruments and use only the voices of the congregation. In the first and third congregations it would have helped if the worshippers had sat together instead of all over two large buildings. Of course, such would have to sing with all their hearts.

Why tell this story? Because my denomination is considering introducing musical instruments into its public worship services. No doubt some will say that there are congregations in which the above scenarios do not occur. Strange to say, as I think about the very many congregations in which I have observed the use of musical instruments, I cannot think of any which did not have one or more of the above features.

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