Question on Musical Instruments now as a Circumstance of Worship

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by NaphtaliPress, Sep 18, 2019.

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  1. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I've seen several conversations that touch on this but don't recall seeing a satisfying answer to this. Presuming the old Reformed view that instruments are weak and beggarly elements of OT worship, it is said they once being OT elements of worship cannot have a circumstantial NT use in worship. Is that just in worship that this rule applies; how do they have any use at any time if some past elemental use makes them illicit for a circumstantial of one kind, in worship? The sacrifices, priesthood, etc. had no use outside OT worship, but musical instruments were used so and in other cultures and are so used now. While an elemental use has passed with the ceremonies, can musical instruments serve a circumstantial use now in any way to aid the singing? Can someone play a few bars on an instrument instead of singing or humming or using a pitch pipe to remind of the tune before the congregation sings? Can someone play unobtrusively along to aid the singing? If so, where is the line between acceptable and unacceptable use? Where in Scripture is a rule that something that had an elemental function in the OT can never have a circumstantial use in the NT?
  2. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior

    It doesn't usually happen that way. They don't stay circumstances. Once the instrument is introduced people get attached to it. The organ has been justified that way, but in places where it's been called a circumstance it acts more like an element. It's big, expensive, loud, played before and after service to aid meditation, played during offertory without singing... Suppose the congregation became astute in its singing thanks to the organ, I think it would be like pulling teeth to get the organ out of worship on the basis that its circumstantial use is past.

    I can't imagine much different with a piano.

    The introduction of the organ in Dutch churches according to Beeke was that they would be used as a circumstance to aid singing, and only that. A visit to the local Dutch churches here show they are an element, practically speaking .
  3. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    You could also say the same thing about a beautiful melody. Why not get rid of it before anyone gets too attached to it?
  4. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    In practice I think that may be true. However, I'm asking in theory, can they be used if controlled to that one thing of aiding the singing? As I say, I've seen it said they can't be used in any way because they were elements in OT worship. I don't see how we get to no circumstantial use ever in worship since musical instruments existed in culture and use before their OT elemental use. I know Girardeau addresses this but I could never follow the reasoning.
  5. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    These are the notes I have on musical instruments as circumstances:

    The Standards say, “Nevertheless, we acknowledge that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” WCF 1.6

    Ursinus shows that circumstances in their nature do not involve our approach to God or our response to His word. Those things are elements (word, sacraments, prayer). Circumstances are the times and places at which, and the languages with which we worship, but the way we respond to or approach God are regulated strictly by God’s Word. This is how the Reformed understood the function of the formal principle of the Reformation (sola Scriptura) in worship.

    Ursinus gives this list of examples of circumstances – “of which kind are the time, the place, the form and order of sermons, prayers, reading in the church, fasts, the manner of proceeding in the election of ministers, in collecting and distributing alms, and things of a similar nature.”

    Thomas Peck defined a circumstance of worship this way, “A concomitant of an action, without which it can either not be done at all, or cannot be done with decency and decorum.”

    Examples of circumstances of worship are the time on the Lord’s Day and place the worship service is held, the order of worship (liturgy), having pews or chairs. None of these things have any spiritual significance, but they are needed for orderly worship. “So soon as you attach a spiritual meaning, a sacred significance, to anything connected with worship, it becomes a part of worship.“ And no longer a circumstance. For example, candles would be a circumstance of worship if used for lighting, but as soon religious significance is added to them, such as the lighting of Advent candles, it becomes an unlawful element of worship.

    Girardeau addresses circumstances and singing of praise:

    There are three criteria by which the kind of circumstances attending worship which fall under the discretionary power of the church may be determined: 1), they are not qualities or modes of the acts of worship; they are extraneous to them as a certain kind of actions; [THEY ARE NOT THE ACTS OF WORSHIP NOR INTRICATELY INVOLVED AROUND THEM, they are outside of them] 2), they are common to the acts of all societies, and, therefore, not peculiar to the acts of the church as a particular sort of society — they are not characteristic and distinctive of her acts and predicable of them alone; and 3), they are conditions necessary to the performance of the acts of worship — without them the acts of this society could not be done, as without them the acts of no society could be done.

    Let us submit it to the test of the criteria by which these circumstances are determined.

    First, they are not parts of the acts of worship by which they are modified; but this circumstance is a part of the act of singing praise by which it is performed.

    Secondly, these circumstances are common to the acts of human societies, not peculiar to, and distinctive of, those of the church. It is very certain that instrumental music is not such a circumstance. It will hardly be said that all societies play on instruments to be necessary in singing.

    Thirdly, these circumstances are conditions necessary to the performance of the acts of worship, without which they either cannot be done at all, or not done decently and in order. That the singing of praise cannot be performed at all without instrumental music will be affirmed by none. But it may be affirmed that it cannot without it be performed decently and in order. Let it be noticed that the question is not whether it may be performed in an indecent and disorderly manner. Granted; but so may instrumental music. The question is, whether it cannot be done decently and in order without instrumental accompaniment. The question can only be determined by reference of the practice to a permanent and universal standard of propriety and decorum. And to say that the simple singing of God’s praise in His house is indecent and disorderly is to say, that for twelve centuries the church of Christ was guilty of this impropriety; for it is a matter of history that for that period not even the Church of Rome knew anything of instruments in her worship. To say that the simple singing of God’s praise violates the standard of decency and order of this age is to censure the glorious Free Church of Scotland and the Irish Presbyterian Church for an indecent and disorderly conduct of this part of divine worship. The ground, therefore, that instrumental music in public worship is one of those circumstances required by the rule that all things be done decently and in order cannot be maintained without a spirit of arrogance and censoriousness which would itself violate the higher principle of Christian charity. It is submitted, with all modesty, that this line of argument ought to be conclusive with Presbyterians, at least, against ranking instrumental music in public worship as one of the circumstances common to human actions and societies which fall under the discretion of the church.

    So, in answer to your question, no. Musical instruments in God's worship can neither be elements or circumstances.
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  6. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I never could follow Girardeau's case. It is true is it not that musical instruments are used outside the church to aid singing, learn singing, etc? And it is not a question if in the past the church has gotten along just fine without them, and my church could very well get along just fine without the piano (we don't have accompaniment in the evening service, but again, we have a strong precentor), but whether a congregation may use them to aid their singing if it is simply used for that, not out front, not in the way, not obscuring the singing. I know that cuts down the use considerably from what the majority use is. But that is what I'm seeking a better answer on. So someone put it is laymen's terms why musical instruments cannot be used to aid the singing like precentors, pitchpipes, psalm books, projectors, etc. are circumstances that aid the singing?
  7. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Sure, but the issue of 'circumstances' is that it isn't absolutely necessary to singing songs to have said instruments outside the church.

    There's absolutely no way to have an instrument where it will not obscure and/or effect the singing in some way. If used for the very purpose of being an aid, then it is obscuring the singing, is it not? The point, however, is that such an aid is unnecessary for the element to take place.

    I know you said you don't get Girardeau's case, but I'll provide for everyone else as it is presented here addressing this question: Is Instrumental Music a Circumstance of Worship?

    I need to get working on my sermons and prepare for prayer meeting so I won't be able to respond anymore. Hope you find the answers you need!
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  8. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior


    I think carefully categorizing musical instruments into elements and circumstances can become problematic. We are to sing praises to God. Are we to do that in four part harmony, chant, pentatonic scales, chromatic, diatonic, antiphonal, loud, soft, with our without instruments, clapping, moving, smiling...

    Psalm 149:3b says, "Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp." The immediate context is the people of Israel, children of Zion (v. 2), His people (v. 4), the saints (v. 5). Nothing indicates that this was restricted to the Levites. Similarly, Psalm 150 in the list of instruments is calling on everything that has breath to praise the Lord. Again, this is not restricted to temple worship.

    Is the natural reading of this usage of instruments to be that one cannot worship God until they have someone to play each instrument listed? I think not! Rather, the use of an instrument was to be an amalgam of both voice and instrument which produced one unified praise. Comparatively, what are permissable ingredients for bread in the Lord's supper? Flour and water would seem to be minimum, but what of salt, yeast, sugar? Are salt, yeast and sugar circumstances or when combined part of the bread?

    Should I refrain from using yeast lest people get too attached to leavened bread? Or should the minister not wear a suit since the priests had ceremonial clothing? Perhaps the minister should wear simply blue jeans and a plain white T?

    Once we see the praise as a composite, the discussion which would seek to classify into one category or another is moot.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2019
  9. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Senior

    Addressing the OP cause that's all I have time to do: The best version of the argument "if element before, not a circumstance now" is as follows. A circumstance is that which is necessary for performing an act worship; Christian prudence and the light of nature then arranges that circumstance in some concrete manner. The fact that musical instruments were commanded as part of worship and were not used before they were commanded (or better put, that they required God's command to introduce into the worship) shows that musical instruments are not necessary for performing an act of worship. Therefore, musical instruments are not circumstances and therefore cannot be arranged in a concrete manner. Of course, anyone who knows that singing can be done acapella would know that musical instruments cannot be circumstances.

    A circumstance of worship is that in order to sing, there must be a tune, and in order to sing together, there must be some way to unify the congregation. Christian prudence and the light of nature then organize this circumstance into a concrete form: hence, the use of psalm books, pitch pipes/phone apps, and precentor. Nothing more is needed. The pitch pipe doesn't matter; another instrument could do just as well, so yes, a "circumstantial" use of an instrument could be made at this point of making a concrete arrangement of a circumstance. The pitch pipe or whatever doesn't actually enter into the action of singing anymore than the lights used for the worship service, so there can be no argument from their use to the use of instruments adding their voice to the song by playing along with the singing.

    As for playing while singing to aid the singing, it doesn't really aid the singing (aside from providing a tempo and a reminder of the tune when one goes off it), but supposing it did, there is no necessity for them. Perhaps in some unusual situation, a congregation might really need a piano to play the tune with them for a time, but usually, there are people in the congregation who can get people singing acapella. Singing with an instrument is not ideal because the whole reason they were abolished in the OT was to promote a spiritual worship (i.e., a worship without the dead elements of the world but worship by living instruments) and also because they had an elemental use in the OT and no necessary use now, there is a prejudicial meaning attached to the use of instruments that will inevitably cause people to think of the musical instruments as offering worship to God. Suppose that the meeting place had a stench when people arrived and the only thing one could do to remove it was to burn incense throughout the service. This would be a circumstantial use of incense but obviously, not something one would want to do unless necessary due to their use in the OT.

    Some in the past have introduced choirs by arguing that each part of the harmony needs to be led. Circumstances really ought to be restricted to what is necessary or by multiplying circumstances one will end up with the Anglican view of circumstances as aids to worship.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2019
  10. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    This goes beyond what I'm asking to arguing against the presumption in the OP, that elemental use of musical instruments is OT use now done away with. We've done that ad nauseum but feel free to start a thread yet again on it.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2019
  11. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I don’t have a specific text, and this is likely not a full argument, but Hebrews being the go to book for the abrogation of the ceremonial parts of temple worship, we infer from all it says and other parts of Scripture that incense has been abrogated, for instance, though Hebrews doesn’t specifically mention incense. So knowing that incense is forbidden by way of good and necessary consequence would not that be the same way we’d arrive at forbidding musical instruments as circumstances? Edit: never mind, I still don’t think this answers your actual question.
  12. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Some of this make sense some I just am not yet seeing. I wish I had more time and will have to look at this more deeply when I do. I'm just not seeing the necessity of the conclusion that because they had a prescribed use in OT worship, when musical instruments pre existed and were used by folks outside of worship in other cultures and context, that this rules out some instrument, not even one prescribed in OT worship, could be used to aid the singing. If aid is needed, instruments are not necessary, but something is necessary to help sing if the song is not known or familiar and I don't see how if it is not in the way that it is absolutely ruled out. I agree there are a lot better options, but looking at it as absolutely ruled out or not. I'm not musical; so I'm not sure that 1. they cannot be used without being in the way (in our church it does not seem to be) or 2. that they simply don't actually aid the singing (maybe not; as I say our precentor has a strong voice and he's sufficient in the evening). I'd like to see musical people weigh in on those questions. If the instrument were used to play the tune through first not during the singing, or like one humming through it, would that be a circumstantial aid as long as it was not during the singing?

  13. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Senior

    I have musical training; I have also been my congregation's precentor for some years and have precented in gatherings of up to 100-200 people.

    I would answer your question as "yes;" the musical instrument is not being used in an act of worship, so I see no more contoversy here than using a pitch pipe or having the precentor hum the first line.

    " 1. they cannot be used without being in the way (in our church it does not seem to be) or 2. that they simply don't actually aid the singing (maybe not; as I say our precentor has a strong voice and he's sufficient in the evening)."
    You are correct on point 1 for the most part. However, the musical instrument does add its voice to the song, so in that sense, they are inevitably "in the way" even if for some reason they needed to be used and were used no more than needed.

    For point 2, I admitted that they are able to keep tempo/timing and correcting people when they sing a wrong note. They do not aid the singing in any other way, even in theory.

    This was the conclusion I was trying to reach in my post in a technical way (i.e., denying that musical instruments are circumstances--which is what I understand the best version of the argument from the commanded use in the OT to be arguing--but that there might be some use in the arrangement of other circumstances; however, they should not be used even in that case unless really needed): I agree with you. At worship, of course, we should be focused on worshipping: worship is not the time to be learning new tunes; this ideally should have been done outside of the worship service.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2019
  14. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    My apologies. Continue! :)
  15. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I’ll second Raymond’s point that musical instruments add a “voice” - foreign, because not prescribed- to that of the congregation, even if played quietly and modestly. You’d need to hear them and then there they are.
  16. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Maybe helping, maybe not, but can we come to any conclusions about what OT instruments were used for? Certainly timbrels didn't help with a tune.

    Can we suppose that they were there for setting a celebratory mood in getting people worked up with all the joyful noise?

    I think it has bearing because that aspect of OT worship seems obvious, and we turn from that because it is ceremonial. So, related to Chris' question, is it the mood setting that we want to avoid, or is it an actual prohibition of any sort of instrument?
  17. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    Victor, I read a good bit about this several years ago and I'll post a few thoughts I had on it then.

    "And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of musick, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding (shama`) by lifting up the voice (qowl) with joy" (1 Chronicles 15:16).

    "It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound (qowl) to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice (qowl) with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD..." (1 Chronicles 5:13).

    "And the priests waited on their offices: the Levites also with instruments of musick of the LORD, which David the king had made to praise the LORD, because his mercy endureth for ever, when David praised by their ministry; and the priests sounded trumpets before them, and all Israel stood" (2 Chronicles 7:6).

    So it was the human voices together with the voices of the trumpets, cymbals, and instruments of music that made this 'sounding' and voice that God had prescribed. The human voices and instrument "were as one;" lifted up together, they made one voice "to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord," and David praised God by their (the instruments') ministry.

    I found all this to be very helpful in studying it.
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  18. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Show me that it's necessary to have an instrument in order to sing a song, and I'll grant that it's a circumstance.
  19. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Is a pitch pipe necessary; is a precentor necessary, is a psalm book necessary; is an overhead necessary? Is anything short of folks just memorizing them necessary? I'm not sure that question solves the matter. The definition is not just necessity but use toward decency and order. I grant the sloppier slope argument is a strong one; ie. you can put plus and minus by each thing to weigh what is best and the misuse of musical instruments as with anything misused is a strong argument for care, if not going another route.* I'm just not convinced musical instruments are completely outside the list of choices of aids one can choose. Again, my question is limited to just those who defend or claim musical instruments are fine to use just for this specific purpose; not mood music or any other use. It's a small set in either claim or in reality but its what sparked my pondering.
    *Added this, which folks raising it may know, this is one argument against preaching nativity or other sermons on the old pretended idolatrous holy days.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2019
  20. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I was wondering about this point earlier but didn't say anything. The necessity test seems pretty strict.

    Chairs or benches aren't necessary. A building is not necessary. I dare say, holding a tune isn't even necessary (singing together off key isn't the end of the world; chanting in unison was recognized for centuries as being orderly and proper). So why should this test be applied to instruments?
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  21. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    I guess I don't see why the pre-existence of musical instruments is relevant. The cities of the Cainites pre-existed the establishment of Zion as the Holy City, but that's no argument that we should have holy sites today. It was sacred until Christ abrogated the ceremonies, and now it's not. Instruments were sacred until Christ abrogated the ceremonies, and now they're not. Whether these things existed before they became sacred doesn't seem relevant to whether, after they're no longer so, it's wise to reintroduce them to worship.
  22. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    Do you not have elderly in your church? :) Of course a chair or bench is not necessary, and we could just let the old folk sit on the floor and hold an umbrella over them if it rains.
  23. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I agree with you, Earl. If I stand too long I have trouble walking from swollen knees. But people have worshipped without chairs, so it's possible--i.e. not strictly necessary. That's why "necessary" doesn't work as a test for circumstances.
  24. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    I think we simply disagree what would, or should, be necessary. :)
  25. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Was my polite request to Tim which he honored not clear enough? I'm splitting the last several posts off to a new thread.
  26. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    I don't want to add obvious things that others have stated before, but I'll just say that it seems to me to be an unhelpful approach to argue "something that had an elemental function in the OT can never have a circumstantial use in the NT".

    The above is from a Mr Boyse, cited by Archibald Hall in "Gospel Worship". This doesn't directly answer the OP but perhaps this additional thought might be helpful:

    The primary concern to be focused on is whether instruments are used to worship God. The use as an act of worship seems clearly ceremonial.

    The use as an aid (circumstance) is more murky to me but as many have pointed out, unless carefully guarded against, these quickly become an act of worship. But to state that an old element can not have a new circumstantial use seems to me to be misguided. If so, wouldn't one be driven to say we couldn't have light in our services because lamps were an element of the tabernacle/temple worship?
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  27. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    This is some of the reason I'm not finding it a compelling case either. It is far more compelling that the introduction as a circumstantial aid, does not remain so, witness what the intro of the organ has led to in 200 years in the majority of churches.
  28. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Reminds me of the Calvin quote on the bronze serpent. Once lawful, but later a cause of idolatry.
  29. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Senior

    Circumstances as things that necessarily attach themselves to the worship is still the correct definition. Confusion arises because in our short-hand way of speaking, we fail to distinguish between circumstances and prudential arrangements of circumstances. If "necessary" is not used as the test for circumstances (which to my mind, is the end-result meaning of "common to human actions" [for circumstances of worship] "and societies" [for circumstances of church government]), then one will be left with circumstances as "aids."

    Example. In order to worship God, a place must be chosen. Place is a circumstance of worship. The circumstance of place is then prudentially arranged. Meeting inside or outside? In a building or in a pavillion or in the fields? In this location or that location? A/C and heat or fans and windows?

    As another example, in order to worship God, some posture must be assumed during the worship actions (per the 2nd commandment that external worship is also commanded, along with the light of nature). A prudential arrangement will take into account biblical and cultural guidelines to be sure (since the Bible is not entirely silent here), but when the posture is indifferently sitting or standing, these postures are then prudentially arranged. Standing or sitting for this particular act of worship? If sitting, chairs or no chairs? Cushioned chairs or metal chairs? Hard floor or carpet?
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2019
  30. Henry Hall

    Henry Hall Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for that.
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