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JULY 2016 - Instrumental Music in Public Worship
by Rev. Robert Johnson
Synopsis: It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that most Protestants, especially Presbyterians, had to face what would often be known as “the organ question.” Prior to this, most of these congregations had worshipped a cappella. This had been their practice since the Reformation, a practice they shared with the early church. With the advent of revivalism, and the “new measures” proposed by Charles Finney (who began his career as a Presbyterian), the advocates for instrumental music in the worship of God increased amongst the Presbyterian and Non-conformist churches in North America. By mid-century, this controversy was sweeping through many towns stirring many people to ask questions that had previously seemed to be settled practice. As a church devoted to the Scriptural principle of worship, as other Presbyterian communions introduced musical instruments into the worship of God, the Reformed Presbyterian church found itself often increasingly isolated in the war against the organ.
“A Discourse on Instrumental Music in Public Worship” presents a detailed argument against this innovation in the worship of God. Written from a pastoral point of view, it also contains a thorough discussion of the place of musical instruments in the Old Testament and their relation to the New Testament church. Johnson explains the nature of the former worship and why it is not suited to the worship of the church today. Writing amidst the controversy, he addresses many of the common objections that were raised in favor of using musical instruments and shows how those proposals fail to conform to the teaching of Scripture. Johnson’s treatment of the subject necessarily involves questions of Biblical interpretation which his opponents fail to grasp. The result is a spirited and well thought out defense of the Biblical and historic position of the church with regard to the use of musical instruments in the worship of God. This pamphlet contains one of the clearest and concise treatments against musical instruments written by a Reformed Presbyterian minister in North America.
Author(s) Bio: Robert Johnson was born in Killygore, County Antrim, Ireland, November 17, 1810. He received a classical education under his pastor and graduated from the Belfast Academical Institution, in 1836. He then studied theology at the Seminary of Paisley, Scotland, and was licensed to preach by the Northern Presbytery, Ireland, May 17, 1839. He was ordained as pastor of the mission congregation in Manchester, England, in August of 1842 and resigned that charge in April, 1849. In 1849, Mr. Johnson came to the United States and was received by the Reformed Presbyterian Synod, May, 1849. His first North American pastorate was in Toronto, Canada, from 1852 through 1859. Next, he served in Vernon, Wisconsin from 1859 to 1867. Finally, he was installed as the pastor of the Kossuth, Iowa congregation in January of 1868. There he remained until he was forced to resign because of health problems, in 1875. Although he was not a prolific author, besides this discourse, he published a small work on “The Absurdities of the Popish Dogma of the Immaculate Conception” (1855), while pastoring in Toronto. He was known to be a bold defender of the principles and testimony of the Covenanters. He died at his home, near Kossuth, Iowa, on July 27, 1879.
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