No musical style nor musical instrument can, on its own, please God in worship. Christian worship is only acceptable when it is wrought by the Spirit of God, offered in Christ Jesus, and rooted in his word; worship that pleases God is worship in spirit and truth: a Spirit-wrought response to God’s self-revelation. Neither homophonic hymns nor modern worship music can even begin to address this spiritual task apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Inspiring singing which honors God is a work of God, not a work of music.
I don’t follow baseball, but I am fascinated by the fact that the organ is still strongly associated with America’s great pastime. As Josh Buice pointed out in an article posted here recently, this keyboard instrument has maintained a place of significance in baseball for many decades. Why, then, Josh asks in his article, has the organ fallen on hard times within the church?
I wish to echo some hearty agreement with Josh’s appreciation of the organ, but I also hope to offer some helpful clarifications and a different perspective on the matter.
The organ is a wonderful instrument. I have no desire to disparage the instrument nor those who champion it. I’ve witnessed the construction of two sizeable pipe organs and have marveled at the engineering and artistry they feature. What’s more, the organ is a spectacularly helpful instrument for the church when it supports and encourages congregational singing, particularly homophonic singing (think four-part hymns).
But the organ can also work against congregational participation, as many of us have experienced. For the organ to serve congregational singing, it must be played in a specific manner, utilizing appropriate ranks, performance techniques, and maintaining a volume which does not supplant the congregation’s voice with its own. Some organ performances are just as complex, entertainment-oriented, and earth-shakingly loud as a rock concert. There’s a reason Stravinsky called the organ “the monster that never breathes.” I love these experiences as performances, but this approach does not serve congregational singing well. Instead, they encourage me to watch and listen.
Many modern praise bands make the same mistake. Complex, entertainment-oriented, and earth-shakingly loud are all-too-common descriptors for many modern worship gatherings. But the modern praise band does not need to function in this way. The same things which mark helpful organ accompanying can also be true of a modern praise band: the band must play in a manner that supports the congregation, they must utilize supportive sounds and timbres, and they must keep the volume at a reasonable level—one where the congregation’s voice is served rather than overshadowed (room acoustics may play a major role in perceived volume as well, by the way). Praise bands can collectively produce sounds that complement the human voice and encourage congregational singing.