Reformed Church Music


During the Reformation in the 16th century music in the church took a new direction. John Calvin's Genevan Psalter has been sung by the church ever since.


1.    Introduction

- Within the churches of the Reformation, there are many differences in opinion regarding church music:
- Who may and can determine what kind of music will be played in the church?
- Who determines what good church music is and what is its quality?
- Should the songs be more adopted to the taste and preference of the "regular church member"?
- Should organists not necessarily have to follow the taste and preferences of the "regular church member"?     
- This matter is too complicated to give a quick solution that will solve all issues with regard to church music today. Influential factors can be found on theological, musicological, sociological, and psychological levels. In this article we will only briefly touch on these points. 

2.    Biblical References

Church music and its Biblical references have been a point of discussion throughout the ages. Whenever Scriptural references to church music are being considered today, different answers will be given, even within the same denomination. 

- In the article about the Scriptural references to music, we saw that music is prominent in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament and the book Revelations. It is not possible to apply the Biblical music references to today's world. The problem is that the cultural and social differences between Biblical times and our age are huge. 

*** Today we do not have a theocratic culture in which certain (musical) standards and values will be generally accepted;
*** The music of our time is even used for non Christian and anti Christian purposes.

- Thus we cannot refer to the Old Testament to prove that various contemporary music styles of today should be accepted in the worship service. Neither can we appeal to the Old Testament to find a rationale for allowing all kinds of musical instruments (associated with pop music) in the worship services. 
Nor does the Old Testament give any convincing justification for the monopoly position of the organ in the worship services, or to sing or play in a certain style. The Bible is not a manual for church music.
- The issues regarding church music are often related to value and authority of (liturgical and church musical) heritage and tradition. Mostly the discussions are about the status of the standards and values, which are turned over to us from heritage, history, tradition, etc. 
Views about church music are also influenced by doctrinal decisions
- However, we are able to formulate Scriptural points of departure for the church music of the 21st century. 

4a.     In the relation of God with his people, music plays  a very significant role. 
4b.     Music in the temple service was instituted and mandated by God himself. 
4c.     The ordinance of David with regard to music is treated as equivalent to the Law of Moses. 
4d.     The purpose was primarily: the song of praise may not fall silent.
4e.     Church music was not without obligations, it was not a hobby for amateurs.
4f.      The regulations make clear that quality and longevity were guaranteed.
4f.      The musicians were professionals and their living is taken care of.

- Qualifying the Old Testament as entirely a "shadow practice" and that in the New Testament the Old Testament matured, is not correct. The Old Testament sacrifices are fulfilled in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, but this cannot be said about the ordinance of David
On the contrary, we read in Revelations about the songs of the church, and the instruments used in the new heaven and the new earth. Music and music ministry are not "Old Testament" oriented and hence outdated.

- The Ordinance of David has a meaning for the Canadian Reformed Church of the 21st century. This means that it is a matter taken seriously by God Himself. We have to give this matter high priority in our churches. The ordinance of David requires the Canadian Reformed Churches to make sure there are qualified musicians, and that there are quality norms in church music. This will prevent the song of praise of the congregation from falling silent. 

In the discussions about music, the church musician needs to understand his/her calling: serving the song of praise of the congregation. The discussion should originate from that starting point. The congregation should respect the competence of the church musician and (with Scriptural reference) honor his/her lawful position. 


2.    Quality, Style and Taste

- Quality means that something, in this case music or a music style, complies with certain standards. Closely related to this is the function and purpose of the music (compare for example rhythm and volume in light background music in a shopping mall or a live performance of a (school) band). 

- Quality of music is dependent on the assigned functions related to certain places and certain situations. Good quality church music could be defined as music, compliant with the functions and conventions, in history defined, regarding music for liturgical use. 

- Discussions about music acceptable versus unacceptable in church services, falls generally into two main categories. 

1. Some people are concerned that church music becomes too exclusive. Gospel songs, contemporary songs, popular praise songs, and choruses should be a part of the Reformed Church hymnal. 
2. Others emphasize more the tradition and heritage of the church music throughout the ages. Church people should be educated more and therefore gain more appreciation for traditional church music. The assumption is that knowledge and familiarity will have a positive impact on the taste of people. In this way the musical experience of the people can be affected. 
- Taste is less autonomous than once thought. The beauty of something is highly dependent on experience. "I like what is familiar to me, what is a part of my expectation and experience, built up in the past." There are many examples in anyone's live. What we call "taste" is to a large extend an acquired attitude and can be changed

- This brings  up the question: is it necessary to to influence the taste of the church goers? Why should we continue to maintain the traditional church music styles? Why should we not use the music styles we hear in our daily life around us?

- Each music style has non-musical functions and purposes. These functions and purposes are strongly related to music theoretical techniques. The function and purpose of music determines most of the time what techniques are useful. Deciding on functions and purposes of music and the used techniques in different circumstances could easily result in ethical conflicts. 

- Music in shopping malls ("muzak") functions as "musical wallpaper" to stimulate buyers to buy or to dull the shoppers' sales resistance. Of course, music on a 12 tone scale from Schönberg or Webern would not serve this purpose. Music serving the purpose of the shopping mall will not function well in the church service (unless church service music is also musical wallpaper to help sell the truth of faith).        

- Apart from individual views on music styles in the worship service, any music style has a non-musical context that is inseparable. With the introduction of Christian pop music, Christian rock music, Gospel music, also the accompanying culture will penetrate into the churches. A gospel rock group in suit and tie performing with much motion in a Reformed church auditorium is not convincing to even an inspired rock music lover.  

Music styles useful for the church services are to a high degree dependent on non-musical considerations, such as: theological position, the purpose of liturgy, and the position and function of church music in the liturgy.