The use of instrumental music in church goes back to the
earliest days of Old Testament writing. There are quite a
number of psalms which refer to the playing of musical
instruments in acts of worship Psalm 150 is a particularly
"Praise him with trumpets. Praise him with harps and lyres.
Praise him with drums and dancing. Praise him with harps
and flutes. Praise him with cymbals. Praise him with loud
In Psalm 149 we read:
"Play drums and harps in praise of him."
Elsewhere, we read of women using tambourines whilst
dancing in worship. The fact is that in Old Testament days
the use of instrumental music was widespread. People of
that time were very exuberant and demonstrative in their
ways of worship.
In more recent times, indeed for several centuries, the
vast majority of instrumental music in church has been the
exclusive province of the organ. There is no doubt that a
good organist playing a good organ in a large cathedral is
a thrilling sound which greatly enhances worship. However,
this isn't the only form of instrumental music which finds
its way into churches these days.
Many acts of contemporary worship are led by worship bands
of one kind or another. This really is a throwback to the
Old Testament times mentioned above. Ever since the early
1960's there has been an increasing use of contemporary
music styles and idioms in worship which inevitably draws
in the instruments which we associate with that kind of
popular music. Contemporary worship bands today are usually
built around the playing of guitars, drum kit, saxophones,
trumpets, etc. which are particularly appropriate for the
expression of contemporary worship songs.
Apart from the accompaniment of hymns and worship songs,
instrumental music in church can be used very effectively
for the creation of atmosphere. Many Christians are used to
the soft playing of the organ during the offering or as
underscoring to Communion. I even encountered a church
some years ago where the lights were dimmed and the organ
played softly beneath the voice of the preacher as he led
the congregation in prayer.
The use of other appropriate instruments can be most
effective too. I. myself, used a flute and violin to
underscore a meditation in a Service of Remembrance which I
was leading a couple of years ago. I have used a similar
technique in an Easter Service too. On each occasion the
feedback from the congregation was most encouraging. If it
is done with taste, this approach can be most effective.
The issue always with the use of music in church is that it
must enhance worship and not detract from it. So long as
that criteria is met, instrumental music in church can be
used in many different ways. It can be used simply to
accompany singing or to create atmosphere or, as with early
liturgical music, act as a framework around which the other
aspects of worship are woven. Of course, if it is to
enhance the worship experience of a congregation, it must
be well prepared and well done. Poor instrumental music in
church is like poor hymns or unimaginative worship songs.
Instead of enhancing the worship experience it will have
quite the opposite effect.
Robert Hinchliffe is a professional musician and Methodist
local preacher. He is an oboist and composer;-also a writer
of worship songs. This article is a result of his recent
research into the development of music in Christian
worship. For more details visit
http://www.robsworshipmusic.com/mcweb.htm and find out how
you can access a FREE copy of Robert's new Christmas song,
"The Greatest Gift"
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