“You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy.” Ps 16:11

A Cappella Singing, Part One

“I’d come to your church if you had music.” I wish I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard those words. Perhaps you think the same thing. Or maybe you may have uttered these words. Think about it. You cannot really sing without music. Some people try to though. We have a fellow in our church who cannot carry a tune in a wheat truck. He always makes a joyful noise to the Lord. That’s the exception. The point is, Reformed Presbyterians do not use instruments in worship. Why are we so different?

Actually, we are not really different. The historic approach to worship is with a cappella singing. The word a cappella means “as in chapel.” It refers to singing the way it was always done in chapel or in religious services. Historically this meant singing without the use of any instruments. The human voice was the only acceptable instrument for offering praise.

Does this sound strange? Of course it does. Imagine a Baptist church without instruments. They once were that way. The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon never used a piano or organ in worship. He favored a cappella singing for very specific theological and biblical reasons. A biographer, Arnold Dalimore, notes with regard to the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, “There was no organ and no choir. A precentor set the pitch of each hymn with a tuning fork and led the singing with his own voice.”[1] This was the common practice. In our area when Mennonite people occasion our worship services they tell us a cappella singing was once the norm in their circles. Our local Presbyterian USA friends acknowledge the same.

Let’s let Charles Spurgeon tell us why he preferred a cappella singing in worship. Psalm 33:2 commands, “Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.” Spurgeon comments: “Men need all the help they can get to stir them up to praise. This is the lesson gathered from the use of musical instruments under the old dispensation. Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her to learn; but in these days, when Jesus gives us spiritual manhood, we can make melody without strings and pipes. We do not believe these things expedient in worship, lest they should mar its simplicity….”[2] Israel used instruments in worship because in their estate, anticipating the Savior, they depended upon external stimulation. Today’s church depends, or should depend, upon the Spirit powering the human voice. As a local music teacher told me, the human voice does give a more pure sound.

Spurgeon’s comments on the Psalms speak much about the use of instruments in the worship of Israel. “There was a typical signification in them; and upon this account they are not only rejected and condemned by the whole army of Protestant divines . . . . so that we might as well recall the incense, tapers, sacrifices, new moons, circumcision, and all the other shadows of the law into use again.”[3] The old church fathers held instrumental music was “part of the abrogated legal pedagogy.”[4] It is part of the Ceremonial Law set aside by the sacrifice of Christ. Christ and His Spirit should be sufficient to energize us for worship. “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15).

  1. Arnold Dalimore, Spurgeon (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), p. 98.
  2. C. H. Spurgeon, A Treasury of David (Newark: Cornerstone Publishing Company, n.d.), vol. II, p. 115.
  3. Ibid., vol. III, p. 313.
  4. Ibid.

2017-03-17T18:02:21-05:00 December 9th, 2013|