Ecclesiastical Idol: Not so special music

Submitted by Prof. Renihan

In my travels, I occasionally find myself present in a less-than-simple worship service. Most of our churches take the regulative principle of worship seriously, and avoid the intrusions of choirs and solos. But every once in a while I am invited to preach in a congregation that does not understand (or sometimes accept) the RPW, and have to endure the stylings of the not-so-special music.

Let’s be honest. Most church music of this type is mediocre at best. The pastor (or worship leader) smiles after the performance, duly thanking the individual(s) involved, and the people say ‘Amen’-or worse, they applaud; what an abomination!-and the performer returns to his/her seat alternately to revel in the acclaim for a job self-perceived to be well-done or wallow in self-deprecation over a poor performance.

There have been moments when I wish that I could be Simon Cowell: “That was Cruise-ship karaoke” or “that was bad even for a high school musical” or even “That was a nightmare”. At least Mr. Cowell is honest in his evaluations of those who wish to be America’s Idols.

Perhaps we should give our ‘special’ musicians a title like ‘Ecclesiastical Idols.’ That would fit in well with the mood of the day, and more accurately express just what they are doing-performing, not worshipping. And then, the leaders of the church can give proper evaluations. It might even be possible to let those who sit on the platform respond to the routine with comments.

I guess that it does say something about our culture that those who covet stardom are titled ‘Idol’. But isn’t it ironic that in worship, the same kind of idolatry is overlooked. Shouldn’t we call it there exactly what it is? Listen to Charles Spurgeon:

You will observe, first, that it is praise exclusively rendered to God. “Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion.” “Praise for thee, and all the praise for thee,” and no praise for man or for any other who may be thought to be, or may pretend to be, worthy of praise. Have I not sometimes gone into places called houses of God where the praise has waited for a woman-for the Virgin, where praise has waited for the saints, where incense has smoked to heaven, and songs and prayers have been sent up to deceased martyrs and confessors who are supposed to have power with God? In Rome it is so, but in Zion it is not so. Praise waiteth for thee, O Mary, in Babylon; but praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion. Unto God, and unto God alone, the praise of his true church must ascend. If Protestants are free from this deadly error, I fear they are guilty of another, for in our worship, we too often minister unto our own selves. We do so when we make the tune and manner of the song to be more important than the matter of it. I am afraid that where organs, choirs, and singing men and singing women are left to do the praise of the congregation, men’s minds are more occupied with the due performance of the music, than with the Lord, who alone is to be praised. God’s house is meant to be sacred unto himself, but too often it is made an opera-house, and Christians form an audience, not an adoring assembly.

Maybe we need to think a little more on John’s words: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21