The Case against the Choir- Free Presbyterian Magazine 1896

The Case against the Choir

TheChurch Choir is such an invariable feature of the present dayreligious service, and such an apparent necessity to public worshipas now conducted, that all controversy respecting the rightness ofthe institution might seem to be put out of court. A bad choir willhave many detractors, but a good choir is esteemed to be a good thingin every way.

If, however, religious persons were content tohave regard only to New Testament rules in the conduct of NewTestament worship, they might, we believe, find it needful to excludethe choir, having in that case come to see that it is an unspiritualdevice, not suitable to the glory of the New Dispensation.

Inpresenting our case against the choir there are four points which wewill endeavour to prove. The first of these hardly needs proof. It isthat in the New Testament there is no warrant either formally or byimplication for setting up a Choir. The favourers of instrumentalmusic have been fain to derive some countenance for their device fromthe Book of Revelation where they find music made by harpers withtheir harps, but neither there nor in any other writings of theapostles or evangelists is there any suggestion of a choir, and thissurely is a significant omission, and might be held to prove thewhole case. But we go on to our second point, which lies in theessential character of the New Testament dispensation. It is this,that in the erection of a Choir there is an infringement of thepriestly honour which pertains to all believers. Under the olddispensation the functions of priesthood were vested solely in thetribe Levi. For this tribe were reserved the honours and privilegesof the public service of God in His temple. The Levites alone wereentitled to wait at the altar, to burn incense, to keep the doors ofthe holy house, and theirs also was the right to offer the publicsacrifice of praise: “For the Levites which were the singers,all of them of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthan, with their sons andbrethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals, psalteries,and harps, stood at the east end of the altar.”—(2 Chron. v.12.) It was a high offence for the common Israelite to intrude uponany of these sacred offices. Here, therefore, was a distinction madebetween secular and sacred persons, and an election of theconsecrated tribe to dignities and duties which inferred acorresponding denial of privilege to the great body of the people.But this was only imposed till the time of reformation, for now inChrist this distinction is done away, and all His people are placedon one platform, not by levelling down the privileges of any, but byelevating all the sons of Israel to equal rank, and this thing theHoly Spirit testifies in these grand words, “Unto Him who lovedus and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us tobe kings and priests unto God and His Father.”—(Rev. i. 5,6).And like as the apostle in his vision of the New Jerusalem (which isbut a vision of the Gospel Church) saw no temple therein, for theplace was all temple, so also he heard no choir therein, for theworshippers were all in the choir.

They therefore dealinjuriously with His people’s honour, and thwart (so far asmistaken creatures can) the gracious intention of Christ, who revivethis relic of Judaism, and erect upon the forefront of Christianworship this device of an unspiritual and restricted dispensation.But some patrons of the choir may say, “We meddle not with sucha high matter as the priestly function of believers, we only set onfoot a common sense method for the cure of bad congregationalsinging.” But it is not possible so to limit the scope andsignificance of things done in the worship of God. Innovations madeby the will of man upon the Divine order have meanings and issues farbeyond what the innovators seemingly innocent and pious proposal ofcircumcision for the Galatian converts. On the contrary he wrote anepistle showing what weighty consequences hung upon this act, andthat if they would be circumcised, Christ would profit them nothing.And the searching and powerful argument of his epistle to theGalatians has a valid bearing upon all carnal Judaistic deviceswhatever which men would introduce into the Church.

We passto our third point, viz., that the Choir is at variance with thefamily character of Christian worship. The church is God’shousehold, and the redeemed are all His sons and daughters by faithin Christ. Under the old Testament this kindly filial relation wasobscured, and a formal, ceremonious, burdensome worship wasprescribed. But now this darkness is past, and the true lightshineth. The fact of adoption is revealed, and the Spirit of adoptionis poured out, and the only worship that befits this new relation isa worship characterised by the utmost simplicity of form, and theutmost sincerity of spirit. His people are commanded with “onemind and one mouth to glorify God, even the Father of our Lord JesusChrist.” When Aquila and Pricilla had family worship in theirhousehold we cannot think that two or three of the younger members,more musical than the others, were set forward to do the singingowing to their superior mastery of the art. This would offend boththe eye and the heart of the master of the house, and he would by nomeans suffer it. But now, when the “church that was in theirhouse” met—when the family of which the condescendingomnipresent Christ is the head was assembled, would the choir be anymore suitable there? Surely not! If Aquila would be offended by thisinvidious distinction made among his sons and daughters, much morewould Christ be offended.

Neither will it avail to objectthat what is unfit for a small gathering may yet be suitable andnecessary in a large assembly, for the gift of song is diffused in acompetent measure throughout the visible church, and if the spirit ofgratitude were present, the sacrifice of praise could rise as readilyfrom a thousand worshippers as from ten. The Church is but acollection of families, and if family worship were observed in everyhousehold, the familiar song that was sung by each family apart couldas easily be raised by all the families together. The decay ofcongregational singing is directly due to the disuse of familyworship.

But however we may reason for or against the choir,we shall find, we believe, that the Spirit of God has decided thecontroversy long ago, and plainly set forth what at least is theDivine ideal of congregational praise. For in the 148th psalm Hecalls all creatures, both animate and inanimate, to praise the Lord,and thus He summons human society in all its relations.

“Kingsof the earth, and all people, princes, and all judges of the earth;both young men and maidens, old men and children, let them praise thename of the Lord.”

The modern choirmaster sets littlestore by the praises of old men and little children. None areeligible for his purposes but the young men and maidens, but theSpirit of God plainly declares His disapproval of this partialityshown for the more artistic it may be, but often least spiritual partof the congregation, and intimates that His will is to have all agesand degrees put upon one footing in the matter of the public serviceof praise—that is, He declares for congregational singing asagainst choir music.

Our fourth and last point is that theChoir is a failure. Whatever be the case in isolated instances hereand there, we scruple not to affirm that the choir has quite failedto accomplish the end ostensibly aimed at in its erection. viz.—theimprovement of sacred song. We confine our view to the Presbyterianprovince of the Church. The choir is an institution alien toPresbyterianism. The more spiritual minds among us have always beensuspicious of it. Our fathers, we believe, received spiritual lightto cast out many inventions and devices of men from the worship ofGod, and among others they cast out the choir.

DegeneratePresbyterian Churches who have admitted choirs have, therefore, hadto rebel against the light, and the Divine disfavour has visitedtheir rebellion in various ways. One token of the divine disapprovalhas been that the management of this innovation has usually beenabandoned to the most uns0piritual and unpromising members of thecongregation. Very few seekers or fearers of the Lord would evermeddle with it, but if there were any of the thoughtless youth ofboth sexes, who had never strived to enter in at the strait gate, andwho wished to diversify the Sabbath with a little recreation, themyou would find forward to go into the choir. The choir, we say, hasfailed to mend the bad congregational singing. The pews have becomemore dead and songless. And then when the artistic sense of somepersons demanded satisfaction, they have been fain to mend the matterby the introduction of instrumental music. The organ has been seta-blowing, but still the pews have sunk into deeper deadness, andthen, perhaps in the interest of high art, paid singers have beenimported from the concert room into the choir. Music of an elaborateand classical character has been performed.

This is the casein some of the more debased churches in Britain and America, and inthem the worshippers have finally given up the idea of congregationalsinging, and have transformed themselves into a mere concertaudience. What message do these dead songless pews carry to dwellersin heavenly places? “We have not been made kings and priestsunto God, and we care not for it.” This is the desolation thathas overtaken those churches who have in this and in other mattersstrayed form the path of the Divine commands.

It is writtenthat he that “loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver,”and in like manner those professing Christians who dote on mere musicshall not have the music they desire. Their churches shall becomedead and songless in spite of their devices to produce music. Forindeed the springs of church melody lie deep, and cannot be movedsave by God Himself. Not till He Himself has tuned the heart, and putthe new song into the mouth of the worshipper can that music be heardwhich is acceptable to heaven, and pleasing to the ear of rightthinking men. When the day of Pentecost is fully come, and Hissalvation is made known to multitudes of renewed souls at once, thenwill the sound of the Divine praise flow forth as a torrent, and itwill be seen how clu8msy, froward, and superfluous were all thedevices of choirs and organs to accomplish this end. The only curefor death is life, and songless churches are dead churches. When,therefore, the reproach of a dead formal worship becomes a burden toany, let them set their hearts upon the more excellent way ofremedying that, viz.—to importune the outpouring of the Spirit ofGod, whose excellent power can move young men and maidens, old menand little children to praise the Lord God of Israel, who alone doethwondrous things; and whose glory shall one day fill theearth.