Monday, August 03, 2009

Wayland on Singing and Instruments in Worship

Wayland on Singing and Instruments in Worship:
One of our essential beliefs is that of the spirituality of the church, that is, that the church of Christ is composed exclusively of spiritual or regenerated persons. As God is a spirit, and those that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth, we have always believed that the real worship of God was performed only by believers. To us, worship, either in public or private, is the offering up to God of holy and devout affections. Hence we believe that no one can be a minister of the sanctuary, unless he be a devout and regenerate man. Hence we believe that to sing the praises of God without really lifting up the heart to him, is in no sense Christian worship, and is, in fact no acceptable service. Hence our belief always has been that singing is a part of worship which belongs, in a peculiar manner, to the disciples of the Saviour. In this service they, with one voice, utter the confessions of penitence, the triumphs of faith, the confidence of hope, and bow down together with one feeling of holy adoration. Hence our singing was a service of the church, in which others united with them only in so far as they could sympathize with them in the sentiments which they uttered. These are, if I mistake not, our beliefs on this subject, and to it our practice, until lately, conformed. A member of the church selected the tunes, led the singing, and the whole church, and the devout portion of the congregation, united with him in this part of religious worship. Their design was to make melody in their hearts to the Lord.

For these reasons, Baptists formerly were universally opposed to the introduction of musical instruments into the house of God. They asked, How can senseless things speak the praises of God? In this, they may or may not have erred. I do not deny that something of this sort may be useful to harmonize the voices of a congregation. I leave the decision of this question to the judgement of others, yet I can not but remark in passing, that I have rarely met a Christian person who did not prefer the singing in a vestry-room below, where nothing was heard but the voices of the congregation, to the music of the choir, aided by the organ in the meeting-house above. Hence the singing in Baptist churches was formerly what is now denominated congregational. We had neither choirs nor organs. Nothing but the voices of worshipers was heard in hymning the praises of God, and in this service every devout worshiper was expected to unite.
Source: Notes, pp. 149-150.
Note that Wayland stresses:
  • Only believers can truly sing praises to God.
  • The old Baptists did not use musical instruments but relied solely on the instrument of the human voice.
  • The old Baptists only did congregational singing with "neither choirs nor organs."



Joseph said...

2 Samuel 6:5 (King James Version)

And David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals.

1 Chronicles 15:16 (King James Version)

16And 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, by lifting up the voice with joy.

Isn't scripture supposed to be the final authority no all these things? (not Wayland)

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for your post.

Some responses:

Up front, by no means am I saying that we should do anything because “Wayland said so.” I obviously take for granted the authority of Scripture, sola scriptura. Rather, this is an exercise in historical theology, looking at what our forebears in the faith believed and practiced in order to learn from their labor and example.

Sadly, many today think that the way do worship, for example, is the way it has always been done (e.g., taking for granted the use of instruments). Things were shifting even in Wayland’s day, but his testimony seems to be that the old Baptists (and the old Presbyterians as well) did not use instrumental music in their worship.

Why did they do this? Were they unaware of the OT texts that mention instruments, such as the two you cited? Of course, they were not ignorant of such texts. They were Scripture saturated. The question is, “How do you interpret the relevance of those passages for New Covenant worship?”

The point is that they were guided by the Regulative Principle. They did not want to do anything in worship that was not specifically proscribed in the New Testament. Yes, surely instruments were used in OT worship, but so were sacrifices. Psalm 66:15, for example, says, “I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats. Selah.” We would hardly use that verse as a proof text for animal sacrifices in our worship today! The hermeneutical question is whether it is appropriate to use the kinds of OT texts you cited (and many more we might use) as a proof text for instruments.

New Testament worship is certainly very different from Old Testament worship. We are clearly told to sing (cf. Eph 5:19; Col 3:16), but there is silence on the question of instrumental accompaniment. The old Baptists did not make the decision not to use instruments on a whim or on the authority of any tradition (quite the contrary, their decision was contrary to Roman Catholic tradition that used choirs, organs, etc.), but on their convictions about what Scripture teaches and regulates.

When you look at the entertainment driven music in many churches today, you can perhaps see some of the wisdom of their convictions. At this time, I am not fully convinced that they were right on this, but I am open to hearing their interpretation of Scripture so that I can profit from them.