Problems In Reformed Church Music -- By: Henry A. Bruinsma

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 17:2 (May 1955)
Article: Problems In Reformed Church Music
Author: Henry A. Bruinsma

Problems In Reformed Church Music

Henry A. Bruinsma

The Present Chaos

IF ONE were to make a survey of the present conditions of music in the churches of America and Europe which claim to be Calvinist in origin, he would find not only important differences in musical principles but also in musical practice.

There are some churches which allow only congregational singing of the Psalms. Of these, some use organ accompaniment and others do not. There are some churches which have allowed the use of certain selected hymns in addition to the Psalms; some sing the Psalms only to the tunes of Calvin’s authorized Genevan Psalter; others, while clinging to the psalmody principle, allow these Psalms to be sung to tunes of other background, including various assorted national patriotic anthems, folksongs and dances, military marches, and the like. Of the latter group, again some use the organ and some do not. Some churches allow choir participation in the service. Of these churches, some encourage elaborate choral processionals and choral pronouncement of the invocation and the benediction. Some limit the choir to one anthem a service to leave room for several congregational psalms or hymns. Others have the choir sing several anthems, responses after every prayer, and do not seem to find it strange that the choir sings the congregational hymns while the congregation merely stands and listens. Some churches try to limit the choir anthems to scriptural text settings. Others give the minister of music the privilege of choosing anything he feels is proper for the service, including the use of songs in a foreign tongue, so long as the mood created by the music is “religious” or “worshipful.”

Additional variations in practice from one church to another could be added to this list. It is sufficient indication, however, that there is no common musical practice or principle

in the assorted Reformed, Presbyterian, and other Calvinist churches of the twentieth century.

If the music of a church is criticized, we often hear the minister or the elder plaintively mourn that we have no standard for church music, no measuring stick for judging our church music program. He points to the very absence of uniformity in the American and European Calvinist churches as a vindication of his church’s method. With a shrug of the shoulders he will usually say, “If we have nothing to compare with, and if no principles of church music have ever been adopted by a responsible body representing the Calvinist churches, how can we do other than set up our own standards to fit the needs or demands of the local congregation?”

Recent Criticism

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