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The Controversial Organ

VINTAGE FAITH by Dan Kimball: Oh, how I love Lemon Jelly

The Controversial Organ
Picture1I love tracing origins of how things developed and why we do or think the things we do today. I have taught a class on worship at 2 different seminaries and when I was preparing for those, I did a study on the origin of various instruments used in worship. It turned out that the organ was quite a controversial instrument in it’s time.

Christians in the early church originally protested the bringing in of the organ into the church saying it was a “worldly” instrument. The organ at that time was used to signal praise in the emperor’s court, like trumpets are used when someone of royalty was formally entering. Around 500 AD the church began to adopt the usage of the organ from culture and used it to signal the entering of the Pope. So there was protest from Christians who felt there was compromise happening and that the church was allowing a worldly instrument into the church.

As time went on, there remained a high suspicion of the organ in thePicture2
church. They would only limit it to sounding off the pitch for the church singing of chant. So only a single note was allowed to be played because of it’s worldly association. Eventually, they weren’t as scared of the organ and began using it like we use it today. It’s so ironic that in more recent culture, the organ was so associated with what church music sounds like - that there are arguments when the organ is removed by people who are used to it. So there was a argument to get it unto the church, and arguments to get it out of the church.

When you study history, you realize that forms and expressions of worship have always been changing. Culture has influenced worship practices and styles - so much of what we do in our church gatherings today stems from a specific point in culture and what was happening at that time.

I just read a transcript from a sermon by Nicky Gumbel and in the sermon he included two letters written from individuals in churches, who were complaining about the song selection and music.
One letter said:
“I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday’s new hymn - if you an call it that - sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this - in God’s house! - don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need”
This letter was written in 1863 and the song they were concerned about was the hymn
“Just As I Am”.

Another letter said:
“What is wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted with learning a new hymn. Last Sunday’s was particularly unnerving. The tune was un-singable and the new harmonies were quite distorting.”

The letter was written in 1890 and about the hymn “What A Friend We Have in Jesus”.

It is fascinating how our own personal choices and preferences dictates what we feel is appropriate worship or not. The Scriptures themselves do not give us instruction about what style or instruments to use. I definitely have personal bias and preferences when it comes to various worship expressions and song styles. But I hope when I get older and there are new styles and approaches to worship that develop, that I will remember these letters and desire more for future generations to worship in ways that culturally they express their praise and worship to God (like the organ did in its time, or these songs criticized here).

It is all so interesting.

Posted by Dan Kimball on July 02, 2008