The power of music in evangelism was evident even in early Christianity. For example, in the fourth century, the Council of Laodicea prohibited “all private hymn singing” because of its influence in spreading heresy. This prohibition emerged from the spread of Arianism, a third-century heretical movement whose members, according to Austrian historian and musician Egon Wellesz, “spent their nights singing their heretical songs which had refrains in the style of modern songs [gospel], thereby attracting large crowds and much attention.” This led Chrysostom, the fourth-century patriarch of Constantinople, to forbid the Arians from entering the city on Saturday, Sunday, and some festival days.
The Protestant Reformation was a great evangelistic movement, and, without minimizing Luther’s exaltation of the Scriptures, one historian alleges “Luther did as much for the Reformation by his hymns as by his translation of the Bible.” “Except for theology,” writes Luther, “there is no art which can be placed in comparison to music.”
Charles Wesley forwarded the English Reformation with 6,600 hymns. Dyerman says that the old Methodists were remarkable for their singing. He writes, “Their religion made them happy, and happiness always finds vent in song.”1
One of Dwight L. Moody’s biographers acknowledges Moody’s extensive use of music in his evangelistic meetings. He writes: “From the time he came before his great audiences to the moment he rose to preach, he kept the entire audience absorbingly occupied with something interesting. Singing by the massed choir, by quartettes, duettists, soloists and by all the whole assembly never ceased except for prayer.”2
Similarly, the early-Advent/William Miller movement was able to stamp its imprint during the Great Advent Awakening through gospel songs and hymns generated by its urgent message.
Note the following positive influences music can have on evangelism:
1. Music attracts. Music of a high standard, professionally performed, exerts immense drawing power. It will attract many people who otherwise would not attend a religious lecture. When Moody first heard popular soloist Ira Sankey sing, he arranged to meet him the next day on a downtown Chicago street corner. Moody arrived with a wooden box. He instructed Sankey to stand on it and sing. Before long, a large crowd had gathered, whereupon Moody took Sankey’s place on the box and began preaching. Thereafter, preacher and singer became a team, attracting and holding large crowds and winning thousands of souls.
2. Music speaks a common language. It provides a meeting place for all races, all classes, and all creeds. The great hymns of the Christian church were composed by musicians representing a variety of denominations. And when music is partnered with evangelism, whether Jew or Baptist, Methodist or Catholic, Congregationalist or Presbyterian, all can unite their voices on common ground in any evangelistic venue, be it a tent or theater.
3. Music can create an atmosphere conducive to removing barriers. Music and song offer common ground. Music can promote a spirit of conviviality and a feeling of goodwill and even has the power to awaken sympathy and banish gloom and foreboding, . . . subdue the rude and uncultured, . . . quicken thought, and . . . [carry] the mind from heaven to earth.3 Under such an influence, is it unreasonable to suppose that those attending evangelistic meetings would have their prejudices softened and reservations removed?
4. Music impresses the truth. If there is thematic correlation between the music and the message, people can be favorably receptive to the truth being presented. And there is no limit to the variety of available hymns and song topics. The topical index of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Hymnal clearly shows that sacred music covers the same range of doctrinal subjects presented in an evangelistic series. Ellen G. White argues, “Song is one of the most effective means of impressing spiritual truth upon the heart.”4
5. Music can lead to conversion. “Often by the words of sacred song,” writes White, “the springs of penitence and faith have been unsealed.”5 Thousands can attribute their actual conversion to a gospel song or hymn.
Finally, those participating in and providing music for evangelism must have consecrated talent. White cautions about using “worldly singers” when she presses the question, “How can those who have no interest in the Word of God . . . be expected to sing with the spirit and the understanding?”6
1 Dyerman, Life and Tunes of Wesley, 1:397.
2 R. D. Johnston, The Man Who Moved Multitudes.
3 Ellen G. White, Evangelism, 496.
4 White, “Freely Ye Have Received, Freely Give,” Review and Herald, June 6, 1912.
6 White, Evangelism, 509.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University