The Judgment Of A 1574 Dutch Provincial Synod On Organs And Alms

50. As to the playing of organs in the church, it is maintained that this should be completely discontinued in accordance with the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:19. And although some of these churches still use it at the end of the preaching as the people are leaving, it nevertheless generally causes the people to forget what was previously heard. There is also concern that organ playing will lead to superstition as it now does to levity. If organ playing would be discontinued, then it would be more appropriate to collect the alms at the doors as the people are leaving rather than in the middle of the service which hinders the worship of God.

Provincial Synod of the Churches of Holland and Zeeland,Acts and Decisions of the Provincial Synod of the Churches of Holland and Zeeland held in Dordrecht Beginning on 16 June and ending on the 28th June 1574 in The church orders of the 16th century Reformed Churches of the Netherlands Together with their Social, Political, and Ecclesiastical Context, trans. and collated by Richard R. Ridder with the assistance of Rev. Peter H. Jonker and Rev. Leonard Verduin (Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary, 1987), 159.

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16 comments

  1. Not sure how they got there: 1 Corinthians 14.19 is embedded in a lengthy discussion of tongues; no mention of music, either expressly or implied, in either the verse or its context. Is this grasping at straws?

    • Richard and Jack,

      The Synod was aware that the passage does not mention instruments. So, how do we proceed? Do we assume that they did not know what they were doing or do we assume that these ministers were thinking about 1 Cor 14:19 differently than we are used to doing? I choose to do the latter.

      In the 1559 Geneva Bible it says, “Yet had I rather in the Church to speak five words with mine understanding, that I might also instruct others, than ten thousand words in a strange tongue.”

      They are applying this verse to the question of instruments by equating “strange tongues” with musical instruments on analogy with 1 Cor 14:7 “Moreover things without life which give a sound, whether it be a pipe or an harp, except they make a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?” Synod is saying that organ is a strange tongue. Better to hear God’s people singing God’s Word than to have a strange tongue (organ).

    • Somewhat related, Augustine saw the use of instruments in the Old Covenant as pointing towards the diversity of languages with which God would be worshiped in the New. It was how he explained the absence of instruments in the church.

  2. I am wondering if it is permissible to have singing of hymns accompanied by organ music to enhance the quality, or if the organ music would in some way corrupt the hymns?

  3. Thank you for this, Dr. Clark. I am curious when were organs reintroduced into Dutch worship. As far as I can tell, they are ubiquitous nowadays.

  4. Boy, that’s a stretch, Scott. Since they had already decided that they didn’t want organs in their churches, Synod decided that, if they artificially tied 1 Corinthians 14.7 and 19 together, they had an “analogy” that worked for them. So – presto chango! – no instruments in the churches. Never mind that Paul is talking about a completely different subject in both of those places.

    You’re right: they were “thinking about 1 Corinthians. . .differently than we are used to doing.”

    What’s that old saying? “A text without a context is a pretext. . .”

    • Richard,

      Look at the resource page. This is a complex argument. A church order is not an exegetical manual. It’s unusual for a church order to cite a passage. I think that, instead of being dismissive, we should try to read them sympathetically. We may end up disagreeing with their use of a passage but let’s be patient. I’ve been working this question for a while and I’m still learning what their thinking was. I’m not prepared to dismiss them out of hand.

      Their conclusion was held universally by all the Reformed churches everywhere and this was just one place to which they appealed.

  5. While not at all dismissing the content of the confessions, one might ask; Is the process at which its authors arrived at the proof-texts attached, a hermeneutically justifiable one? It appears that the confession / creed authors approached the texts with their theology in mind, and read that into the ‘proof’-texts with a dubious integrity. For it is a fact that he proofs offered are taken out of verses that are not concerned with that particular point at all. This is not to say that the principles/truths they sought to ‘prove’ are necessarily wrong, but the risk of getting it wrong, such as with the Regulative Principle, was very real.

  6. Allan’s point is well-taken, and is what I was getting at: no, their “process” is not “hermeneutically justifiable.” I think that, at Westminster Seminary (either campus), no hermeneutics prof would let a student get away with such bad eisegesis regarding 1 Corinthians 14.7 and 19.

    The simple fact of the matter is that musical instruments in public worship are not banned anywhere in the New Testament – either expressly or by implication. In fact, musical instruments are rarely mentioned at all. So, it’s an argument from silence – and, therefore, hermeneutically bogus – to bend and twist the New Testament to make it say so.

    Calvin, in his remarks on Psalm 150.3, says “. . .let the reader remember that sundry different kinds [of instruments] are here mentioned, which were in use under the legal economy, the more forcibly to teach the children of God that they cannot apply themselves too diligently to the praises of God.” And it’s always his insistence that musical instruments were not carried over into the New Testament church. But his arguments – unless I’ve missed something – never seem to amount to more than “because I say so.” In the two or three places I’ve read Calvin on this subject, he never seems to offer any actual biblical proof for his assertion.

    Isn’t it possible that the banning of instruments was an over-reaction to the practices of the Roman Catholic church, and that the theologians of the time (and later) then read this ban back into the New Testament to justify it?

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