MUSIC has proved to be an indispensable element in religious services, as an adjunct to worship as well as evangelism. It has proved to be a great source of controversy, probably because it is a property that belongs to everyone, not just a few. Music has been called the "handmaiden of religion," and is used as a vehicle for the expression of man's religious spirit.
The noted churchman, Luther D. Reed, has said—
Religion is the deepest concern of the human spirit. Music is the most powerful exponent of human emotion. It is natural, therefore, that music should reach its greatest heights—attain to its purest expressions—in the service of religion. 1
Music in our churches has become controversial because what is worship for one person may be merely noise for another. Worship is a very personal experience. However, in the church service, in addition to being a personal experience it must also serve a group. Music for worship, either corporate or individual, must serve to invoke meditation, quietude, reverence, praise, or a combination of these.
Sometimes people think of their favorite religious music as that which was familiar to our Lord when He was ministering on earth. However, in reality, the music Christ knew would sound quite foreign and dissonant to Western ears. The plain song attributed to the time of Pope Gregory I, who died in the year a.d. 604, comes as close to the music of the time of Christ as any generally known. It is the earliest known Christian music.
In considering music it is well to con-sider the motives of the composer. It was Johann Sebastian Bach, considered the father of modern church music, who said, "All music should be composed for the glory of God and the permissible delectation of the mind; otherwise it is nothing but a devilish hubbub." A composer could not have a more noble or honorable objective for his work. But here we see that mere motivation may not have much consequence, for many sincere people are unable to derive satisfaction of any nature from hearing the music of Bach. However, apparently Bach succeeded in his work, for his music is used today in the worship of God more than it has ever been used before.
A prominent church musician, Carl Halter, has stated:
The chief, and perhaps only, difference between the music of the Church and secular music is a difference in function. Where secular music is free to address itself to any of man's emotions, the music of the Church is restricted to serving the Word of God, its presentation to man, and man's response to the Word. Church music is never an end in itself, nor is its function to entertain. 2
Ellen Gould White states:
Music was made to serve a holy purpose, to lift the thoughts to that which is pure, noble, and elevating, and to awaken in the soul devotion and gratitude to God. . . .
Music forms a part of God's worship in the courts above, and we should endeavor, in our songs of praise, to approach as nearly as possible to the harmony of the heavenly choirs. 3
The servant of the Lord has put before us a high challenge: to approach the harmony of the heavenly choirs. In actuality, this is a dilemma. To some the harmony of the heavenly choir would be the singing of the frenzied "holy rollers," to others it would be the other extreme. There are few absolutes that fit all situations in music. If one is to accept the beliefs of authorities in church music, a little study reveals that historians are generally agreed that the high point of church music was reached during the time of Palestrina, who lived during the Golden Age, or the Renaissance. That music is still with us, and scholars are agreed that it remains unequaled in the realm of religious music. Thus it would follow that the polyphonic music of the age of Palestrina, representing man's great achievement in the realm of church music, would come as close to the sound of the heavenly choirs as any man-made music. The late Joseph W. Clokey stated that— The purpose of worship is to elevate, not to degrade. The quality of the music used should be above rather than below the cultural level of the congregation. If the music seems to be "over your head" the best plan is to raise your head. 4
We have seen some very exalted ideals for music proposed by Ellen G. White. She says: "Singing, as a part of religious service, is as much an act of worship as is prayer." 5
She also says— Music has occupied the hours which should have been devoted to prayer. 6
Again quoting Joseph Clokey: From the first the Church has taught that the finest of human expression should be dedicated to the glory of God. Less than the best is sacrilege. Therefore great cathedrals have been built. They are filled with treasures of stained glass, sculpture, and painting. Great musicians have devoted their creative genius to the music of the Church. The grand total of sacred art is overwhelming in its magnificence.
But this very magnificence is at once a danger. When religion relies too much on professionalism it defeats itself. Worship becomes a mere esthetic experience. Cathedrals become museums, the Liturgy becomes a show. 7
Luther Reed says:
Music that is not good service music is an intruder in public worship, no matter how beautiful it may be in itself. . . . Concertistic character it must not have. . . . Organ transcriptions which bring the literature of the orchestra into the sanctuary, florid musical masses composed in operatic style and sung dramatically, quartet choirs with ostentatious display of individual vocal powers and excessive solo performances of whatever character—all are out of order in the church. 8
The layman often says, "I know nothing about music, but I know what I like." If you know nothing about music, then learn something. You will get more satisfaction out of what you like if you know something about it.
The man in the pews has a perfect right to have his likes and dislikes, but they should be based on something more substantial than mere caprice. Religion is no mere caprice. The Church is no mere caprice. And the music of the Church should not be determined by anyone's whim, be he layman, minister, or musician. 9
Worship has two directions, from man to God and from God to man. A hymn of praise, a prayer, . . . these are man-to-God. The reading of the Holy Scriptures, the benediction, these are God-to-man.
Whenever the direction is man-to-man, that is not worship. If much man-to-man direction creeps into a religious service, worship will be crowded out. The direction of secular music is man-toman. 10
Bearing these factors in mind, an analysis of the music which is to be used in a religious service becomes an easier matter. Music should be selected to fit each specific occasion. Music in a religious service should be functional, and should be selected very carefully, in consideration of its intended function.
While music does belong to everyone and is the common property of the people, its use in religious services should not lower it to the least common denominator. It should serve to elevate its auditors and performers. Because of the emotional appeal of music, it must be used with discretion, and should not be used to compensate for the shortcomings of the spoken word.
While music and worship are both verv personal things, the corporate aspects of religious services should also be considered, and the music should be used to serve the functions of corporate worship.
Where worship is man to God and God to man, a hymn can best serve the purpose. Where the service indicates the music should be of a testimonial, or man-to-man nature, a gospel song would be appropriate. These two occasions and functions should not be confused.
Ibid Instead of limiting the concept of the heavenly choirs by our own experience and ideas, let us elevate our own concepts to serve the Lord with the finest that we are able to offer.
1 Luther D. Reed, Worship (Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia), p. 158.
2 Carl Halter, The Practice of Sacred Music (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis), p. 8.
3 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Pacific Press, Mountain View), p. 594.
4 Joseph W. Clokey, In Every Corner Sing (Morehouse-Barlow Co., New York), pp. 20. 21.
5 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 594.
6---------, Testimonies to the Church, vol. 1, p. 506.
7 Clokey, op. cit., p. 10.
8 Reed, op. cit., p. 18.
9 Clokey, op. cit., p. 1.
10 Ibid., p. 5.