Foreword.—Professor Steinel has had years of experience in planning and conducting the music in evangelistic and regular church services. He has ever sought to use this great talent to the glory of God, and to lift the standard of music in our churches. For a number of years he was associated, as accompanist, in the musical activities of the noted evangelist, Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, and his famous song leader, Charles Alexander. It was then that he first began to sense the almost limitless power of evangelistic music. These matured convictions he has expressed at our request in this and other articles to follow. Many of our readers have heard Professor Steinel play at General Conferences, camp meetings, and conventions, and sense his competence to deal with this theme. We welcome his counsels, cautions. and appeals, for they are pertinent and are needed. —Editor.
It is most interesting to take the subject of "singing" and, with the aid of the concordance, find the many references to that subject in the Bible. If any doubt has existed as to the value God places on singing as a part of worship, it will surely be dispelled by such a study. Repeatedly the admonition occurs to "sing unto the Lord," and many and varied are the occasions in which music was employed as a vital part of worship in Bible times. Just sit down some Sabbath afternoon and look up the references under such headings as "Music," "Sing," "I will sing," "Singers," "Singing," "Singing-men and Singing-women," "Song," and "Songs," and you will surely be impressed with the importance of music as worship.
After a great victory, in times of special rejoicing and thanksgiving, on occasions when the head was bowed in shame or sorrow, and in seasons of great spiritual refreshing, songs were composed and sung. We need mention but a few: the song of Moses and Miriam, the triumphant hymn of Deborah and Barak, the mourning of David upon the death of Saul and Jonathan, Hannah's hymn of praise, Jeremiah's lamentations, and the Magnificat of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
If God has placed so high a valuation upon the worshipful aspect of song, what a pity that today in many cases its value has been lost from view, and it is sometimes considered but a necessary evil,—an adjunct to the church service, placed in the program because of custom, and treated with the idea of making it as brief as possible. Verily the brevity of it is in many instances, a blessing to those of sensitive, refined nature.
Whether it be in the Sabbath school, Missionary Volunteer meeting, evangelistic meeting, or the regular church service, much thought and planning should be devoted to the music. Too frequently the pastor or leader comes to the church without having given thought to this important part of the service. Just before the time to begin, one may often hear the question asked, "Well, what shall we sing?" Then a few songs are hastily selected, which do not always blend with the rest of the service.
"Order is heaven's first law" is a truism generally accepted. It is possible, yes, it is very important, to have a service that is unified in all its parts. An appropriate opening hymn, a beautiful message-filled solo or choir number, and a closing hymn fitting the sermon or program, will seal the message in the hearts of the people as nothing else can.
Recently our Sabbath school lesson was about Jesus bearing the cross, and the crucifixion. Preceding the opening hymn there was a lovely and impressive organ recital for about fifteen minutes. The opening hymn was, "At the Cross." Just before the lesson-study period there was a touching solo, "Bearing His Cross." A poem entitled, "Cross Bearers," was read, and at the close of Sabbath school we sang, "Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?" This was like a benediction to a beautiful, impressive session.
On another Sabbath, instead of having the ordinary review of the preceding lesson, we had four musical numbers—two solos, a duet, and a trio—all carrying out the thought of the lesson. This made a profound impression on the school. It takes thought and time to plan services of this kind; but, oh, how it pays!
When this plan has been carried out in church services, I have had pastors tell me that when they started to preach, the atmosphere of worship was all created for them, and it was much easier to proceed.
Dignity and Reverence
All too frequently we find noise and confusion in the church before the services begin. In an attempt to overcome this, leaders sometimes say, "Let's have a song service to get the people quieted and into their seats." Alas, very often the effect of this is to create even more confusion and noise. Singing is part of the worship, and should not be used merely as a device for obtaining order. Have you noticed that when the pastor and elders come to the platform after such a song service, the one who announces the hymn almost invariably say, "Let us begin our service by singing hymn number 273"? The song service is not even considered a part of the worship; whereas if it were carefully planned, it might be a real blessing. If our people were taught the meaning and value of singing, they would enter wholeheartedly into it.
Here also enters the matter of choosing appropriate hymns—hymns of beauty and dignity. Certainly we cannot expect to create reverence and quiet with any of the jiglike, almost jazzy songs, some of which have crept into our hymnals. If the intent is to arouse action and excitement, these songs might be used successfully. They are based almost exclusively on rhythm, and rhythm is the element employed by savages to arouse the fighting spirit.
It is my sincere opinion that, wherever possible, an organ recital of quiet, reverential selections is far preferable to a song service as a prelude to a church service. At a convention where it is desired to arouse enthusiasm, a rousing song service is of great value—if it is conducted as a part of the meeting.