Music in the Adventist Church and Home

The Editor in Imagination Interviews Ellen G. White

-Editor of Ministry at the time this article was written

Mrs. White, what is the benefit and place of music in the life and ministry of the Christian?

"The history of the songs of the Bible is full of suggestions as to the uses and benefits of music and song. Music is often perverted to serve purposes of evil, and it thus becomes one of the most alluring agencies of temptation. But, rightly employed, it is a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes, to inspire and elevate the soul. . . . There are few means more effective for fixing His words in the memory than repeating them in song. And such song has wonderful power. It has power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures; power to quicken thought and awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of action, and to banish the gloom and foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort.

"It is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth. How often to the soul hard-pressed and ready to despair, memory recalls some word of God's, the long-forgot ten burden of a childhood song, and temptations lose their power, life takes on new meaning and new purpose, and courage and gladness are imparted to other souls!" 1

How was music used by Moses during the wilderness wanderings?

"As the people journeyed through the wilderness, many precious lessons were fixed in their minds by means of song. . . . Thus their thoughts were uplifted from the trials and difficulties of the way, the restless, turbulent spirit was soothed and calmed, the principles of truth were implanted in the memory, and faith was strengthened. Concert of action taught order and unity, and the people were brought into closer touch with God and with one an other." 2

Was music taught in the schools of the prophets, and if so, why?

In the schools of the prophets "the art of sacred melody was diligently cultivated. No frivolous waltz was heard, nor flippant song that should extol man and divert the attention from God; but sacred, solemn psalms of praise to the Creator, exalting His name and recounting His wondrous works." 3

"In both the school and the home much of the teaching was oral; but the youth also learned to read the Hebrew writings, and the parchment rolls of the Old Testament Scriptures were open to their study. The chief subjects of study in these schools were the law of God, with the instruction given to Moses, sacred history, sacred music, and poetry." 4

"Sanctified intellects brought forth from the treasure house of God things new and old, and the Spirit of God was manifested in prophecy and sacred song.

"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. What a contrast between the ancient custom and the uses to which music is now too often devoted! How many employ this gift to exalt self, instead of using it to glorify God!" 5

We have been charmed by what you have had to say about Jesus' life during His youth. What part did music play in His experience and how did He use it to over come temptation?

"When Christ was a child . . . He was tempted to sin, but He did not yield to temptation. As He grew older He was tempted, but the songs His mother had taught Him to sing came into His mind, and He would lift His voice in praise. And before His companions were aware of it, they would be singing with Him. God wants us to use every facility which Heaven has provided for resisting the enemy." 6

"The early morning often found Him in some secluded place, meditating, searching the Scriptures, or in prayer. With the voice of singing He welcomed the morning light. With songs of thanksgiving He cheered His hours of labor and brought heaven's gladness to the toilworn and disheartened." 7

"Often He expressed the gladness of His heart by singing psalms and heavenly songs. Often the dwellers in Nazareth heard His voice raised in praise and thanks giving to Cod. He held communion with heaven in song; and as His companions complained of weariness from labor, they were cheered by the sweet melody from His lips. His praise seemed to banish the evil angels, and, like incense, fill the place with fragrance. The minds of His hearers were carried away from their earthly exile, to the heavenly home." 8

You suggested that music can also be a power for evil. Would you please explain this point further?

"There has been a class of social gatherings . . . [or] parties of pleasure that have been a dis grace to our institutions and to the church. They encourage pride of dress, pride of appearance, self-gratification, hilarity, and trifling. Satan is entertained as an honored guest, and takes possession of those who patronize these gatherings.

"A view of one such company was presented to me, where were assembled those who profess to believe the truth. One was seated at the instrument of music, and such songs were poured forth as made the watching angels weep. There was mirth, there was coarse laughter, there was abundance of enthusiasm, and a kind of inspiration; but the joy was such as Satan only is able to create. This is an enthusiasm and infatuation of which all who love God will be ashamed. It prepares the participants for unholy thought and action. I have reason to think that some who were engaged in that scene heartily repented of the shameful performance." 9

In your day sophisticated automatic record players, transistor radios, juke boxes, and televisions were nonexistent. I wonder what you would say about the barrage of music that is belching forth from every nook and cranny to day?

"I feel alarmed as I witness everywhere the frivolity of young men and young women who profess to believe the truth. God does not seem to be in their thoughts. Their minds are filled with nonsense. Their conversation is only empty, vain talk. They have a keen ear for music, and Satan knows what organs to excite to animate, engross, and charm the mind so that Christ is not desired. The spiritual longings of the soul for divine knowledge, for a growth in grace, are wanting.

"I was shown that the youth must take a higher stand and make the word of God the man of their counsel and their guide. Solemn responsibilities rest upon the young, which they lightly regard. The introduction of music into their homes, instead of inciting to holiness and spirituality, has been the means of diverting their minds from the truth. Frivolous songs and the popular sheet music of the day seem congenial to their taste. The instruments of music have taken time which should have been devoted to prayer.

"Music, when not abused, is a great blessing; but when put to a wrong use, it is a terrible curse. It excites, but does not impart that strength and courage which the Christian can find only at the throne of grace while humbly making known his wants and with strong cries and tears pleading for heavenly strength to be fortified against the powerful temptations of the evil one. Satan is leading the young captive. Oh, what can I say to lead them to break his power of infatuation! He is a skillful charmer, luring them on to perdition." 10

How do you think God and the angels feel about most of our music?

"Eternal things have little weight with the youth. Angels of God are in tears as they write in the roll the words and acts of professed Christians. Angels are hovering around yonder dwelling. The young are there assembled; there is a sound of vocal and instrumental music. Christians are gathered there, but what is that you hear? It is a song, a frivolous ditty, fit for the dance hall. Behold the pure angels gather their light closer around them, and darkness envelops those in that dwelling. The angels are moving from the scene. Sadness is upon their countenances. Behold, they are weeping. This I saw repeated a number of times all through the ranks of Sabbath-keepers. . . .

"Music has occupied the hours which should have been devoted to prayer. Music is the idol which many professed Sabbath-keeping Christians worship."11

Do you have any thoughts on Satan's attitude on this subject? "Satan has no objection to music if he can make that a channel through which to gain access to the minds of the youth.

"Anything will suit his purpose that will divert the mind from God and engage the time which should be devoted to His service. He works through the means which will exert the strongest influence to hold the largest numbers in a pleasing infatuation, while they are paralyzed by his power. When turned to good account, music is a blessing; but it is often made one of Satan's most attractive agencies to ensnare souls. When abused, it leads the unconsecrated to pride, vanity, and folly. When allowed to take the place of devotion and prayer, it is a terrible curse." 12

Today we have rock 'n' roll performances that not only involve music but also body movement. Then we have music associated with theatrical performances. What counsel do you have on this sort of thing?

"Among the most dangerous resorts for pleasure is the theater. Instead of being a school of morality and virtue, as is so often claimed, it is the very hotbed of immorality. Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals.

"Every youth who habitually attends such exhibitions will be corrupted in principle. There is no influence in our land more powerful to poison the imagination, to destroy religious impressions, and to blunt the relish for the tranquil pleasures and sober realities of life than theatrical amusements. The love for these scenes in creases with every indulgence, as the desire for intoxicating drink strengthens with its use." 13

"Balaam knew that the prosperity of Israel depended upon their observance of the law of God, and that there was no way to bring a curse upon them but by seducing them to transgression. He decided to secure to himself Balak's reward, and the promotion he desired, by advising the Moabites what course to pursue to bring the curse upon Israel. He counseled Balak to proclaim an idolatrous feast in honor of their idol gods, and he would persuade the Israelites to attend, that they might be delighted with the music, and the most beautiful Midianitish women should entice the Israelites to transgress the law of God, and corrupt themselves, and also influence them to offer sacrifice to idols. This Satanic counsel succeeded too well." 14

"Beguiled with music and dancing, and allured by the beauty of heathen vestals, they cast off their fealty to Jehovah." 15

What about Christians taking part in worldly musical programs and entertainments?

"It is not safe for the Lord's workers to take part in worldly entertainments. Association with worldliness in musical lines is looked upon as harmless by some Sabbath-keepers. But such ones are on dangerous ground. Thus Satan seeks to lead men and women astray, and thus he has gained control of souls. So smooth, so plausible is the working of the enemy that his wiles are not suspected, and many church members become lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.

"There is a right way and a wrong way. Ever since Adam yielded his mind to Satan's device, the conflict has raged between right and wrong, between God and Satan. Connected with the doing of right there is a power that Satan cannot overcome. Righteousness has a vitality that is divine. Truth will triumph at last over falsehood, and God will vanquish the enemy.

"Good and evil never harmonize. Between light and darkness there can be no compromise. Truth is light revealed; error is darkness. Light has no fellowship with darkness, righteousness no fellowship with unrighteousness. The safety of Christ's soldiers is assured only when they work and sleep with their armor on." 16

Tell us frankly, Mrs. White, have you ever enjoyed any type of secular music, and if so, where?

"[I remember a time when we were traveling by ship and were delayed by fog.] For about one hour the fog did not lift and the sun did not penetrate it. Then the musicians who were to leave the boat at this place entertained the impatient passengers with mu sic, well selected and well rendered. It did not jar upon the senses as [did the music they played] the previous evening, but was soft and really grateful to the senses because it was musical." 17

For our last question, what would you suggest specifically as contributing to desirable quality in church music?

"As a part of religious service, singing is as much an act of worship as is prayer. Indeed, many a song is prayer." 18

"No words can properly set forth the deep blessedness of genuine worship. When human beings sing with the spirit and the understanding, heavenly musicians take up the strain and join in the song of thanksgiving. He who has bestowed upon us all the gifts that enable us to be workers together with God, expects His servants to cultivate their voices so that they can speak and sing in a way that all can understand.

"It is not loud singing that is needed, but clear intonation, correct pronunciation, and distinct utterance. Let all take time to cultivate the voice so that God's praise can be sung in clear, soft tones, not with harshness and shrillness that offend the ear. The ability to sing is the gift of God; let it be used to His glory." 19

"Music can be a great power for good; yet we do not make the most of this branch of worship. . . . Music should have beauty, pathos, and power. Let the voices be lifted in songs of praise and devotion. Call to your aid, if practicable, instrumental music, and let the glorious harmony ascend to God, an acceptable offering.

"But it is sometimes more difficult to discipline the singers and keep them in working order, than to improve the habits of praying and exhorting. Many want to do things after their own style; they object to consultation, and are impatient under leadership. Well-matured plans are needed in the service of God. Common sense is an excellent thing in the worship of the Lord." 20

"Good singing is like the music of the birds subdued and melodious. In some of our churches I have heard solos that were altogether unsuitable for the service of the Lord's house. The longdrawn- out notes and the peculiar sounds common in operatic singing are not pleasing to the angels. They delight to hear the simple songs of praise sung in a natural tone. The songs in which every word is uttered clearly, in a musical tone, are the songs that they join us in singing. They take up the refrain that is sung from the heart with the spirit and the understanding." 21

Thank you for making the effects and power of music upon our lives so clear and plain.


FOOTNOTES

1. Education, pp. 167, 168.

2. Ibid., p. 39.

3. Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 97.

4. Education, p. 47.

5. Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 594.

6. Evangelism, p. 498.

7. The Ministry of Healing, p. 52.

8. The Desire of Ages, pp. 73, 74.

9. Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 339.

10. Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 496, 497.

11. Ibid., pp. 505, 506.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 652, 653.

14. Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4a, p. 49.

15. Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 454.

16. Manuscript 82, 1900.

17. Letter 6b, 1893, p. 3. (Written of the landing in New Zealand in February, 1893.)

18. Education, p. 168.

19. Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 143,144.

20. Evangelism, p. 505.

21. Ibid., p. 510.


Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus
-Editor of Ministry at the time this article was written

July 1975

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Evangelicals in Critical Discussion With WCC

IT IS A FACT of recent church history that the churches controlled by conservative evangelicals have generally not joined the World Council of Churches. This abstention is because they do not believe that the WCC legitimately represents the church's given unity in Christ. Furthermore, they have serious reservations regarding the deployment of the limited energies and means of the WCC and the churches it represents in dubious and, at times, divisive socio-political activities. . .

What Does Adventist Architecture Say?

THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH speaks. It speaks of the seventh day, Saturday, as the Sabbath. It speaks in its community by the open door of the church, the groups in the entry or court yard; it speaks through sound, color, and movement; it speaks when others are busy shopping, conducting business, or the like. . .

Good Catholics Make Good Adventists

A Former Nun Tells How to Witness to Catholics. . .

Evangelistic "Guerrilla" Tacitcs

THIS AGE has been called the Age of Aquarius, but it might also be labeled as the Age of the Anonymous. Society has demanded new systems of labeling of foods, drugs, clothing; in fact, almost everything one buys. Why? The answer lies in the anonymous marketing of almost everything. A natural suspicion has arisen. It has been proved to be justifiable time and again. . .

A Wise Youth Ministry

"THERE IS a special work to be done for our young people by those bearing responsibilities in local churches throughout the conferences." --Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 77. What a tremendous challenge this presents before us all. The devil bids high for the souls of young people because if he can steal them away from the church he has destroyed a lifetime of service for Christ. . .

Nahum--When Cobwebs Become Cables

NEARLY TWO HUNDRED years after Jonah's spectacular revival campaign at Nineveh, the ax of judgment fell on the stiff neck of the rebellious Assyrians. The cob webs of evil habit finally became strong cables that bound them so firmly to wrongdoing that God could do no more for them. There fore, they were left to drain the cup of divine wrath. . .

New Books on Blibical Archeology

EACH YEAR The Ministry provides its readers with a brief review of the most recent books in the field of Biblical archeology, history, and geography. The last such review appeared in the March, 1974, issue but covered only those books published in 1972. This review covers significant works published in the two years since that time during 1973 and 1974. . .

"Lord, You Don't Mean Me?"

THE CHURCH and the world both stand under impending judgment, but before judgment falls, God in love and justice sends warning. . .

America's Favorite Drug Habit

Caffeine is a tasteless substance and a natural constituent of a number of plants including coffee, tea, kola nuts, and mate. Caffeine is also found in products made from these plants, such as cola and pepper-type drinks. . .

Why Nobody Came

THE AUDITORIUM was spotless and clean. Three hundred metal folding chairs were arranged in rows of twelve across the room. The speaker's stand was occupying its position of prominence and dignity at the center of the stage. The clock on the wall pointed to ten minutes of eight. . .

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All