The two Mormon “elders” I was having discussions with agreed to continue the dialogue and attend mid-week Bible class with me if I would accompany them to one of their Thursday evening gatherings. It turned out to be a truly eye-opening experience. The entire Mormon service was a satellite broadcast from Salt Lake City, including performances by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. At the end of the meeting the whole assembly was invited to sing along, and I must admit that it was the most pitiful congregational singing I had ever heard. I realized that these people were so accustomed to letting the choir do the singing for them, they had lost the ability or desire to sing themselves.
Years later I was having Bible studies with an Anglican vicar, and he was surprised to learn that Christian worship in the New Testament consisted of a cappella singing (i.e. without the accompaniment of musical instruments). He then relayed the following story. The organ player of this particular Anglican Church had died, and no one else in the congregation knew how to play the organ. It was suggested that a musician from the community be hired until a replacement could be found, but the conscientious clergyman would not allow an unbeliever to participate in leading their worship. He told his congregants that for too long they had relied on the organ to worship for them and that it was now time they learned how to use their voices to praise God. He then confessed to me that over the next few months, without the added organ music, the singing significantly improved. But when an organist was eventually found, they reverted to their former routine. I asked my vicar friend, “If the singing was so much better without the organ, why did you start using it again?” He had no answer.
On another occasion, while visiting relatives out of town, my family and I went to worship with a nearby congregation. As the singing began, we discovered that a “praise team” was being used, and their voices were amplified and quite prominent. I couldn’t help but notice that a number of the people sitting around me were either barely mumbling the words or were not singing at all. It dawned on me that while the praise team may have been intended to “improve” the singing, in reality it was having the opposite effect. Many in the congregation seemed content to merely sit back and listen to others do the singing.
These experiences have impressed upon me the wisdom of God’s elemental design. Man’s attempts to externally assist or enhance worship, particularly without scriptural direction, have so often proven to be distractions and hindrances. Worship that is supposed to be “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24), directed to God from each accountable worshiper, is generally impeded by human innovations that cater to the human senses.
Biblical authority is still the bottom line concerning all that we practice in religion, and the simple pattern of the New Testament just cannot be improved upon. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16 NKJV).--Kevin L. Moore
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Image credit: http://trinitarianworship.blogspot.com/2010/09/congregational-singing-and-how-special.html