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A Cappella


Church music. Without accompaniment. That’s a cappellaA cappella comes from the Latin, ad, according to, and capella, chapel. A cappella is the style of church or chapel music.

But the term a cappella could hardly be applied to the music heard in most churches today. That which used to be the only means of praising God in church (a cappella) is seldom seen in most houses of worship.

When Everett Ferguson was doing his graduate study at Harvard, he lived in the same dormitory with a Greek Orthodox student who was a graduate of the University of Athens and a candidate for an advanced degree at Harvard. Everett asked him if it was correct that the Greek Orthodox churches did not use instrumental music in their public worship. He said, “Yes.” When asked the reasons why, he replied: “We do not use instrumental music because it is not in the New Testament and it is contrary to the nature of Christian worship.”

Under the Old Testament, instruments of music certainly had a part in the worship of God. But when we come to the New Testament they are not mentioned. The nature of Christian worship is spiritual. Thus even those who had formerly used the instrument failed to adopt it in primitive Christian worship. In fact, the general introduction of instrumental music can certainly not be assigned to a date earlier than the fifth and sixth centuries. Even Gregory the Great, who toward the end of the sixth century added greatly to the existing church music, absolutely prohibited the use of instruments.

Chrysostom gives us a picture of what Christian worship was like up to the fifth century. “It was the ancient custom, as it still is with us, for all to come together, and unitedly to join in singing. The young and the old, rich and poor, male and female, bond and free, all join in one song . . . All worldly distinctions here cease, and the whole congregation forms one general chorus.”

In the words of the apostle Paul, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:16-17).

John Gipson

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