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What Shall We Do About The Organ?

by J.W. McGarvey,A.M.
Professor of Sacred History and Evidences
in the College of the Bible, Kentucky
University
and
F.G.Allen
Editor of The Apostolic Guide

Nashville, Tenn.
McQuiddy Printing Company
1903

WHAT SHALL WE DO ABOUT THE ORGAN?

ANSWER TO A LETTER OF INQUIRY.

LETTER I.

My Dear Brother:  Your sad letter, giving an account of the trouble that has
sprung up in your congregation in regard to the use of an organ in its public
worship and propounding to me a number of questions on the subject, has
been carefully considered.  I have received so many letters of he same kind
that I have concluded not to try any longer to answer them separately, but to
write a somewhat elaborate answer to your letter and put it in print for the
benefit of others.  In doing this I am aware that I shall subject myself to the
sneers of some who have learned to speak with contempt of all persons,
however sincere and well informed, who claim to have conscientious
objections to the practice in question; that I shall be regarded by some who
are indifferent on the subject as needlessly agitating a question the
discussion of which they consider harmful; and that others who lament with
me the steady progress which this innovation is making among the disciples
will think that I am wasting time in battling against the inevitable.  But he who
makes peace with an evil because it is likely to prevail appears to me to
love peace more than he loves truth and to be deficient in the courage
proper to a soldier of the cross, while he who refrains from speaking on a
subject which to him appears important because others regard it with
indifference or with contempt seems to me to esteem the applause of men
more highly than the approval of his own conscience.  As I do not wish to
come under condemnation in any of these particulars, I will speak my mind
freely to you and to all who shall take the trouble to read what I write.

That a vast amount of evil has been occasioned by the introduction of
instrumental music into Christian worship is undeniable.  Beginning with the
first instance of it among us which I can remember -- that which caused a
schism in the church in St. Louis in the year 1869 -- its progress has been
attended by strife, alienation, and division, with all their attendant evils, in
hundreds of congregations.  Before this it had bred similar evils among
Methodist societies and Baptist and Presbyterian churches; for all these
bodies in their early days, knowing that the practice originated in the Roman
Catholic Church, regarded it as a Romish corruption and refused to tolerate
it until it was forced upon them by the spirit of innovation which characterized
the present century.

Now it is obvious that these evils, the baleful effects of which will never be
fully revealed until the day of judgment, must be charged either against those
who have introduced the instrument or against those who have opposed its
introduction.  The same must be true in regard to all the evils which in the
future are destined to spring from the same source.  It is impossible,
therefore, for those of us who occupy positions of influence among our
brethren to avoid a most solemn responsibility with reference to these evils.  
I dread the thought of shirking this responsibility, and I equally dread the
thought of giving advice which does not accord with the will of God.  I shall,
therefore, endeavor to avoid both by pleading earnestly for that which a
lifelong study of God's word has fixed in my mind as the truth.

The question of responsibility for the evils just mentioned turns upon the
question whether it is God's will that in his public worship his people may
employ instrumental, as well as vocal, music when it pleases them to do so.  
If it is, then all the past and future evils of the strife in question are
chargeable to those who resist the practice; if not, then all is chargeable to
those who favor it.  It follows that in this question, as in all other questions,
we are to find the pathway of duty and safety by finding the will of God.  You
and I have learned that this will is to be found, in all matters pertaining to life
and godliness, only in God's written word.  To this, then, let us make our first
and only appeal.  In doing this I will take up consecutively the questions
which have been submitted to me by you and others.

You ask: "How can I most successfully show that the use of the organ in
worship is wrong?  What are the strong points of the argument?"

I think you put the question in the proper form.  If the "strong points of the
argument" will not convince, it is certain that the weak ones will not; and it is
well to save words by discussing the former alone.  I begin by arguing that
the practice belongs to a class of things expressly condemned in the New
Testament.  Jesus said in reference to certain additions which the
Pharisees had made to the ritual of the law: "In vain do they worship me,
teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men."  In these words he
propounds the doctrine that all worship is vain which originates in human
authority; or, to put it negatively, that no worship is acceptable to God which
he himself has not authorized.  Paul echoes this teaching when he
condemns as "will worship" the observances of ordinances "after the
precepts and doctrines of men." (Col. 2:20-23, R.V.)  The Greek word here
rendered "will worship" means worship self-imposed, as distinguished from
worship imposed by God; and the practices referred to in the context are
condemned on this ground, thus showing that all self-imposed worship is
wrong in the sight of God.

Now it is universally admitted by those competent to judge that there is not
the slightest indication in the New Testament of divine authority for the use of
instrumental music in Christian worship.  He who employs it, therefore,
engages in "will worship" according to Paul, and he offers vain worship
according to Jesus.

You tell me just here that those in your community who insist upon the use of
the organ deny that its use with the singing is any part of the worship,
affirming that worship is altogether in the heart, and that the instrument is
used merely as a help; but in taking this ground they depart from our Lord's
use of the term "worship."  In the passage referred to above he uses it with
reference to the ceremonial washing of hands and the dipping of persons,
cups, pots, and brazen vessels. (Mark 7:3,7.)  All such things done as
religious acts are included in "worship" as Jesus uses the term, and similar
regulations are included in "will worship" by the apostle Paul.  So must
instrumental music be when used in company with singing in the house of
God; so it was regarded, indeed, when, under the Jewish economy, musical
instruments were thus employed, for the psalmist exclaims: "Praise him with
the sound of the trumpet; praise him with the psaltery and harp.  Praise him
with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs."

To deny, then, that the present use of instrumental music in the church is a
part of the worship, is a subterfuge and an afterthought ingeniously got up to
obscure the fact that it comes under the condemnation pronounced against
vain worship and will worship.

As to the position that the use of the instrument is no  more than a help to the
worship, even if it could be maintained as the fact in the case, it would still
leave the practice without divine authority; for while the authority to perform a
certain service carries with it the authority to employ all helps that are
necessary to its effective performance, it cannot do more.  On this principle,
if the use of an instrument were necessary to effective worship in song, this
fact would give the needed authorization; but it is certainly not necessary to
worship as defined by those just referred to -- that is, the homage of the
heart; and that it is not necessary to effective singing is obvious from the fact
that most effective singing has been done in the churches in all ages and all
countries without it and from the other fact that any one who can sing with an
instrument can sing without it.  In reality, the use of an instrument does not
help the singing; for the singing is the same that it would be if the same
vocal sounds were made without the instrument.  It helps only the music, and
it does this by adding to the vocal music, music of another kind.  The
position, then, is from every point of view involved in misconception and
fallacy.  Nor is this the worst feature of it; for if it be granted that men are at
liberty to adopt any unnecessary helps to the worship which they may think
desirable, then it follows that the Romanist is justifiable in using candles,
images, incense and crucifixes as helps in his worship; and should the day
come that the majority of disciples in any congregation shall desire to
introduce all these practices, the men who have admitted the organ on this
ground must consent to it or abandon their present position.

My second argument against the practice in question is derived from
apostolic precedent, the second of the two sources from which we learn the
divine will.  The acts and order of congregational worship were appointed by
inspired men tow hom the gift of inspiration had been imparted for this
purpose as well as for others.  All that they introduced, therefore, has the
divine sanction, whether enjoined by precept or not; and it is equally true that
what they omitted was omitted under the same divine guidance.  Their
omission of instrumental music from the worship has, therefore, the divine
approval; but the circumstances under which this omission took place give it
an additional force as an indication of God's will.  The apostles and their
fathers before them had been taught to regard instrumental music as an
approved element in the worship of God at the temple.  They thought it
proper to participate as Jews in the temple worship long after they had
established the Christian church; and we know from the Scriptures that they
did so up to the time of Paul's last visit to Jerusalem; as recorded in Acts
21.  Now during the whole of this time, from the great Pentecost on, there
were two different worshipping assemblies in the temple every Lord's day,
and often every day in the week -- one, the Christian assembly; the other, the
Jewish assembly.  In the latter there was the offering of the sacrifice,
accompanied by the sound of trumpets (Num. 10:10), and the burning of
incense, accompanied by the prayers of the people (Luke 1:10); and in this
worship the disciples participated because they were Jews and they had not
yet been taught that the law had come to an end.  In the other, composed of
Christians and directed in its exercises by the inspired apostles, there was
neither sacrifice nor incense nor the sound of musical instruments.  What
clearer proof can there be that in the mind of the Spirit guiding the apostles
all these things were alike unsuited to the worship of a Christian assembly?  
As respects instrumental music, there was here not a mere failure to
introduce it, but the deliberate laying of it aside -- the quiet rejection of it -- by
those who had been accustomed to its use under the former dispensation
and who yet continued to worship with it when engaged in the ritual of the
law.  Unquestionably there is here an indication of the divine will to the effect
that however acceptable to God this form of service may have been under
the fleshly covenant, he desired none of it under the spiritual covenant.

This evidence derives additional force from the consideration that although
in respect to both faith and practice the churches fell rapidly into corruption
after the death of the apostles, their practice in this particular was so firmly
fixed that they continued to worship without the use of instruments of music
for about seven hundred years.  Nearly every item of the old Jewish ritual
and the old pagan ritual which now helps to make up the ceremonial of the
Roman Church was introduced before the return to the discarded use of
instrumental music.  The first organ certainly known to have been used in a
church was put into the cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle by the German emperor,
Charlemagne, who came to the throne in the year 768.  So deposes
Professor Hauck, of Germany, in the "Schaff-Herzog Cyclopedia," which you
can find in some preacher's library in your vicinity.  The same learned author
declares that its use met with great opposition among Romanists, especially
from the monks, and that it made its way but slowly into common use.  So
great was this opposition even as late as the sixteenth century that he says it
would probably have been abolished by the Council of Trent but for the
influence of the emperor, Ferdinand.  This council met in 1545.  Thus we see
that this innovation was one of the latest that crept into the Roman apostasy,
and that it was so unwelcome even there that a struggle of about eight
hundred years was necessary to enable it to force its way to universal
acceptance. The Lutheran Church and the Church of England brought it with
them out of Romanism; all other Protestant churches started in their course
of reform without it, and so continued until within the present century; while
the Greek Church and the Armenian Church, both more ancient than the
Roman Church, still continue to reject it.

To sum up these arguments, you can now see that this practice is one of
recent origin among Protestant churches, adopted by them from the Roman
apostasy; that it was one of the latest corruptions adopted by that corrupt
body; that a large part of the religious world has never accepted it; that,
though employed in the Jewish ritual, it was deliberately laid aside by the
inspired men who organized the church of Christ; and that several precepts
of the New Testament implicitly condemn it.  If you can get those who think of
pressing it into your church to see all this, they will, of course, desist, unless
they belong to that increasing class who hearken more to the spirit of the
age than to the Spirit of God.

It is claimed, you say, by those brethren that there is no argument against the
use of the organ that is not equally good against the use of hymnals and
tuning forks; and you wish to know the best answer to this.  The answer is
that if they can make this appear we stand ready to reject the hymnal and the
tuning fork and to do the best we can without them.  Insist, however, that we
should settle one question at a time, and that the organ question is the one
now before us.  When this is settled, we can more easily settle the other
question; and it is certain that the use of the organ cannot be justified on the
ground that the use of a tuning fork or of a hymnal is just as bad.  Two wrong
things never made each other right.

I am now ready for your second question, but I will endeavor to answer it in
another letter.

J.W. McGarvey