A Joyful Noise

Psalm 150

Any good Baptist knew the God-ordained instruments for proper worship are piano and organ. If you don’t have an organist, that’s acceptable, as long as you have a competent pianist. You still have to have the organ, though, even if it just sits there unused. If you do have an organist, be sure to have him or her play occasionally for the prelude, offertory, and postlude. Most of the churches I grew up in only had a pianist. The organ sat unused. Guitars in church were suspect, at best, and drums were certainly out of the question. Those were instruments used in bars and by errant denominations, such as the Assemblies of God.

One thing Baptists all agreed on was the Bible is our sole authority for all matters pertaining to proper worship. Therein was the rub, the fly in the ointment. The Bible has numerous references to worshiping with stringed instruments, horns, and tambourines.  We didn’t use those, even though the word of God never mentions piano and organ, not once.

Early in my ministry I served as Minister of Music, and I decided to allow all God’s servants who were skilled use their talents in worship. I remember when Dusty Rhodes (not the wrestler) worked up his courage to ask if he could play his harmonica on a Sunday night. When I said, “Of course!” tears came to his eyes. He was moved to be able to contribute, and he was good! In that same congregation we had a musical presentation just before Easter one year. Junior High, High School, and college students were on stage with their horns, drums, reeds, and strings. They weren’t perfect, but they were thrilled to practice and perform songs of high praise. Some in the congregation were not pleased. “It might be in the Bible, but it ain’t Baptist.”

A couple of years after  I took my first pastorate, the phenomenon called “Cowboy Church” was gaining steam in urban areas. These churches just outside of town encouraged people to wear their boots and jeans to church and they used guitars in worship. That never made much sense to me because this church had always been a cowboy church. Boots were left at the front door because the men had been feeding cattle before church. Alan Dillingham and Dale Burson brought their guitars and mandolins. Elizabeth Davis fiddled while they sang “We’ll Be Rounded up in Glory, By and By.” (Elizabeth was a role model for my two daughters who both learned to fiddle.)

In another congregation, one of the old deacons approached me with a similar question. His friends all called him “Boozy” for reasons I didn’t inquire into, but his heart was gold. Boozy’s dilemma was how to use his four stringed banjo for God’s greater glory. I assured him we would find a way. The first time he played in church, he couldn’t keep from grinning ear to ear, nor could I. Old Boozy played hymns with a Dixie-Land hop.  Everyone loved it, partly because he was so talented and partly because he had a red light mounted on the inside of the banjo body; it glowed and so did his face. Shortly after that I visited in his home, and he couldn’t wait to show me his treasures. He took me to a back room where he lovingly pulled out a 1965 Gretsch and a 1965 Fender Stratocaster. If you’re a guitar buff, you know these are iconic pieces.  With misty eyes, he explained to me how, in his younger days, he had played in bars. After he committed his life to Christ, he felt a loss because he couldn’t find a way to integrate his love for music and his love for the church. He was grateful for the new opportunity to do that.

The only time my preconceived notions were truly challenged was when my wife and I visited a congregation that one of her co-workers attended. This friend played in the worship band. When time came to start, she stood on stage playing the washtub bass. For those who don’t know, this is simply an overturned washtub with a broomstick mounted on the upturned rim. A piece of twine runs from the top of the broomstick into a hole in the middle of the tub. When you pull back on the stick, it makes the string tight, and you pluck it. The tone changes depending on the amount of tension on the twine. She rocked that tub back and forth all through the song service. Even now I smile thinking of her looking toward heaven, pulling on that stick, popping the string, and singing her heart out.

Thankfully, the worship wars are almost at an end now. Most churches allow and embrace most instruments. The Bible encourages us to “make a joyful noise,” so get out your kazoo and call your friend who plays the spoons. Maybe you know someone who can bow a saw. As long as your heart is in it, God will be pleased.

washtub bass


Published in: on September 18, 2018 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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