Copyright (c) 2010 Robert Hinchliffe
The use of instrumental music in church goes back to the earliest days of Old Testament writing. There are quite a number of psalms which refer to the playing of musical instruments in acts of worship Psalm 150 is a particularly good example:
"Praise him with trumpets. Praise him with harps and lyres. Praise him with drums and dancing. Praise him with harps and flutes. Praise him with cymbals. Praise him with loud cymbals."
In Psalm 149 we read:
"Play drums and harps in praise of him."
Elsewhere, we read of women using tambourines whilst dancing in worship. The fact is that in Old Testament days the use of instrumental music was widespread. People of that time were very exuberant and demonstrative in their ways of worship.
In more recent times, indeed for several centuries, the vast majority of instrumental music in church has been the exclusive province of the organ. There is no doubt that a good organist playing a good organ in a large cathedral is a thrilling sound which greatly enhances worship. However, this isn't the only form of instrumental music which finds its way into churches these days.
Many acts of contemporary worship are led by worship bands of one kind or another. This really is a throwback to the Old Testament times mentioned above. Ever since the early 1960's there has been an increasing use of contemporary music styles and idioms in worship which inevitably draws in the instruments which we associate with that kind of popular music. Contemporary worship bands today are usually built around the playing of guitars, drum kit, saxophones, trumpets, etc. which are particularly appropriate for the expression of contemporary worship songs.
Apart from the accompaniment of hymns and worship songs, instrumental music in church can be used very effectively for the creation of atmosphere. Many Christians are used to the soft playing of the organ during the offering or as underscoring to Communion. I even encountered a church some years ago where the lights were dimmed and the organ played softly beneath the voice of the preacher as he led the congregation in prayer.
The use of other appropriate instruments can be most effective too. I. myself, used a flute and violin to underscore a meditation in a Service of Remembrance which I was leading a couple of years ago. I have used a similar technique in an Easter Service too. On each occasion the feedback from the congregation was most encouraging. If it is done with taste, this approach can be most effective.
The issue always with the use of music in church is that it must enhance worship and not detract from it. So long as that criteria is met, instrumental music in church can be used in many different ways. It can be used simply to accompany singing or to create atmosphere or, as with early liturgical music, act as a framework around which the other aspects of worship are woven. Of course, if it is to enhance the worship experience of a congregation, it must be well prepared and well done. Poor instrumental music in church is like poor hymns or unimaginative worship songs. Instead of enhancing the worship experience it will have quite the opposite effect.