Change has always been a problem in the religious community. For centuries, theological differences have splintered Christians into camps that have become Catholics and Protestants, new denominations, and even sub-groups within denominations.
In 1611 as the King James Bible was about to be published, Dr. Hugh Broughton, a seventeenth-century British scholar in Greek and Hebrew, wrote the following review: “[The Authorized Version] was sent to me to censure: which bred in me a sadness which will grieve me while I breath, it is so ill done. Tell his Majesty that I would rather be rent in pieces by wild horses, then that any such translation by my consent would be urged upon the poor churches . . . .The cockles of the seashores, and the leaves of the forest, and the grains of the poppy may as well be numbered as the gross errors of this Bible.”
The King James Version . . . really? I thought that was the supreme sacred version?
Music within the church is no exception to this problem and has been a difficult subject for worshippers and worship leaders. Consider how German churches in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach reacted when new instruments were introduced in their worship services. Here, the incident happened within the sphere of classical music in a church setting: “When in a large town [Bach’s] Passion Music was done for the first time, with 12 violins, many oboes, bassoons, and other instruments, many people were astonished and did not know what to make of it. In the pew of a noble family in church, many Ministers and Noble Ladies were present, who sang the first Passion Chorale out of their books with great devotion. But when this theatrical music began, all these people were thrown into the greatest bewilderment, looked at each other and said: ‘God save us, my children! It’s just as if one were at an Opera Comedy.’ But everyone was genuinely displeased by it and voiced just complaints against it.”
Upset about J.S. Bach in church? Really? Wow!
One last story: A nineteenth-century Protestant Church was considering acquiring an organ for the worship services. At that time, most churches did not accept the use of instruments in worship. Even organs were not allowed since they were commonly used in theaters for entertainment. But one progressive church went against the established tradition: “Though the demand for better music was becoming increasingly insistent, the non-Episcopal Churches were very reluctant to admit organs. An English gentleman made an offer of 500 pounds to the first ‘dissenting’ church that would venture on the innovation . . . Finally the Brattle Street Church surrendered to the inevitable and decided to have an organ, but even after the order had been sent to England and the instrument was on its way, the congregation was torn with bitter strife. One wealthy member besought with tears that the house of God be not desecrated, promising to refund the entire cost of the organ if the evil thing might be thrown to the bottom of Boston Harbor. But gradually opposition subsided.”
Opposition to organs in church!?! The humanity!
The examples presented here illustrate the concept that, at one time, everything is new, then it becomes tradition, then it becomes old. The guiding force presented in the New Testament should be our litmus test when it comes to such things. The examples and theme here is taken directly from Lilianne Doukhan’s book “In Tune with God.” I would close with her illustration of a passage from Romans where she substitutes music-related terms for some of Paul’s expressions:
“One man’s faith allows him to [listen to] everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, [listens only to a particular style]. The man who [listens to] everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not [listen to] everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (Romans 14:2-4).