Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.

The Greek philosopher Plato in The Republic argued that music could strengthen a person, cause the person to lose his mental balance, or cause the person to lose normal willpower so as to be rendered helpless and unconscious of their acts. Modern research supports this ancient verdict when it comes to the influence of music on the emotions. Obviously, whether one is affected positively or negatively depends upon the type of music used. For instance, certain scales and instruments were thought to have specific ethical powers. So the softvoiced kithara (a stringed instrument), and the austere Dorian mode (scale) were thought to be ennobling. In contrast, the raucous aulos (a reed instrument), and the Phrygian mode (gypsy music or contemporary jazz) were thought to have the power to incite people to violence and immorality.

Inasmuch as the emotional impact of music is undisputed, leaders of church music must avoid choosing music that induces feelings, in contrast to allowing the faith to induce the feelings. In other words, church music should contain objective points of reference—that is, the music should anchor the congregation to God.

Augustine argued it is an offense against God for a person to be emotionally moved by a hymn, except from the thought expressed in its text. The question is: What effect does the rhythm or the beat have on you? Are you more interested in the sound or the meaning? Do the tune and lyric inspire noble thoughts and incline your heart to God? Ellen G. White advocated the following standard: “Music . . . rightly employed . . . is a precious gift of God, designed to uplift the thoughts to high and noble themes, to inspire and elevate the soul” (Messages to Young People, 291). The ultimate question to evaluate appropriate music might be: Could you imagine Christ listening to it? Would you be comfortable if He suddenly materialized in the pew?

To those who are considering a more contemporary or “celebration” type of music, note this reflection by Robert H. Mitchell:

We would be well to be guided here by the dictionary definitions of “celebration,” which place the emphasis upon remembering rather than feelings. Scripture is full of this kind of celebration . . . . To celebrate in these terms . . . is to remember who God is and what He has done. It is the remembrance of His mighty acts and the fresh weakness of their meaning for today that, if given opportunity, lead to confidence and hope, courage and anticipation, excitement and joy, and true peace (Ministry and Music, 87).


Strings and woodwinds incline a worshipper to a meditative, introspective, and serene mood, and are ideal as a preparation for worship. In contrast, brass ensembles add energy and impact to worship. Ellen G. White once attended a worship service in Sweden where a guitar was used as a substitute for organ music. She commented that it was “new to us. . . . A lady . . . was a skillful player on the guitar, and possessed a sweet, musical voice; at public worship she was accustomed to supply the place of both choir and instrument. At our request she played and sang at the opening of our meetings” (Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists, 195).

Electronic instruments can provide a variety of orchestral combinations of brass, acoustic, and electronic pianos. When specific instrumentation is scarce, a synthesizer can offer chimes for calling a congregation to worship, harpsichord for the offertory, organ for hymns, and a string ensemble for preludes and postludes. The flexibility of such an instrument is inexhaustible. However, percussion instruments like cymbals and drums require judicious use. Negatively, there is always the danger that the instrument can overpower the vocal lines.

Note these further cautions. No instrument of itself is holy or unholy. Thus, develop an approach relating to the choice of instrumental music that values inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness, worship rather than performance, and encourages a deep encounter with God rather than superficial entertainment. Our choices of church music should be based on congregational consensus rather than leadership dictatorship.

In conclusion, reflect on this observation by Ellen G. White:

Music can be a great power for good; yet we do not make the most of this branch of worship. The singing is generally done from impulse or to meet special cases, and at other times those who sing are left to blunder along, and the music loses its proper effect upon the minds of those present. Music should have beauty, pathos, and power. . . . Let the voices be lifted in songs of praise and devotion. Call to your aid, if practicable, instrumental music, and let the glorious harmony ascend to God, an acceptable offering (Evangelism, 505).

Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.

Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.

2019 Third Quarter

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