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'Evil' drums and guitars


Last updated 2/2/2021 at 3:07pm | View PDF

Church is an interesting topic for me, because I didn't have a "normal" church background. My family moved to Germany when I was three years old to do missionary work with the American military. We attended chapel services on a U.S. Air Force base for several years, then went to a Baptist church which mostly consisted of American military families. When my family moved back to the United States, we attended two nondenominational churches, one with Pentecostal connections. Later when I went to a Christian college in Indiana, I attended chapel services several days a week and a Wesleyan church on Sundays. So all in all, I've had a lot of religious education, but I never grew up in one particular church or denomination.

Thus, I was a bit surprised to find the kind of things that churchgoers fight over, especially when it comes to music. I read books by pastors who described the "worship wars" of the 1960s where churches split over introducing guitars and drums to worship services. Shortly after high school, I was talking with a friend about this and he mentioned someone once told him that "drums are of the devil."

Really, I thought. I wonder where in the Bible they found that idea.

Five years later, I was attending a church service at a retreat center in Switzerland. The speaker gave a sermon on a Psalm where the writer talks about making worship music unto God. Early in his sermon, the speaker referenced some research that historians had done into the instruments that would have been used in an ancient Near Eastern temple like the kind King David or King Solomon would have used. The speaker noted that the worship services would have probably used lots of percussion instruments, such as brass cymbals.

Percussion, I thought. Along with cymbals that would probably include things like tambourines and... drums.

Of course, the other controversial instrument had been the guitar, a stringed instrument. I looked through my Bible and found several of the Psalms began with instructions "for the director of music" about what instrument to play with the Psalm. The most common recommendation was to play the Psalm to music made "with stringed instruments."

So we have percussion and strings used in Biblical times, the earliest worship services we know of. And yet as my grandparents and others remember, percussion and stringed instruments were seen as blasphemous not too long ago.

My point here is not that there's something especially holy about stringed or percussion instruments. My point is that these people didn't base their ideas of church music on what they found in the Bible. Nor did they base their opinions on historical research about what worship instruments Christians have used the longest, which would be the most traditional instruments possible. (Given that early Christians lived under Roman persecution and held church in secret, they likely didn't use many instruments; anything loud or hard to carry would have given them away). Instead, people had based their ideas about proper church worship music on whatever they happened to grow up with. Organs were what they grew up with, guitars and drums were new and therefore "dangerous."

These days, every time I attend church and hear someone bring up a feud or debate, I try to remember drums and guitars. It reminds that while there are church matters we should be concerned about (the quality of the preaching, for example) there are many areas where we argue over foolish things. More often than we care to admit, we build our ideas about "what church should be" on our own preferences.


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