Recently, I reread some quotes that I had collected that are attributable to the famous Baptist preacher from England, Charles H. Spurgeon. One might be surprised to discover that, with the exception of his embrace of Calvinism, Spurgeon differed from many “modern” Baptists in regards to such issues as the use of instrumental music in worship and essentiality of baptism in the role of salvation.* Two of Spurgeon’s quotes against the use of instrumental music in worship caused me to think of certain villains that would be featured more than 70 years following Spurgeon’s death in the English science fiction series, Doctor Who; specifically, I thought of the mechanical Cybermen.
The name, “Cybermen,” was derived from the word “cybernetics,” coined by Norbert Weiner in 1948. Cybernetics is the “the science of communication and control theory that is concerned especially with the comparative study of automatic control systems.”1 In the former Soviet-Union, the expression was used almost exclusively when referring to computer science and engineering. (Perhaps this is why we refer to the Internet as being “cyberspace” today.) Essentially, the Cybermen of the original Doctor Who series gradually replaced their humanoid bodies over time with machinery until they became fully mechanical. When the series was reintroduced in 2005, the new Cybermen were from a parallel Earth and were created by the placement of the human brain into a mechanical body. In the new series, the Cybermen would tell those whom they forcibly turned into creatures such as themselves that they were superior because they had been freed from all human emotion. They likewise branded their creations, “Humans 2.0.”
At this point, I am sure that most of you are likely curious as to the Spurgeon quotes to which I refer and how I could possibly connect it to the world of science fiction. The first quote originates from an occasion upon which Spurgeon was asked why the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle of London never used instrumental music during his 20 year tenure. Spurgeon referred the inquisitor to 1 Corinthians 14:15: “…I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also” (NASB). Spurgeon then stated in commentary of that particular verse that, “I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery.”
The second Spurgeon quote comes from his commentary on Psalm 42:4: ”
David appears to have had a peculiarly tender remembrance of the singing of the pilgrims, and assuredly it is the most delightful part of worship and that which comes nearest to the adoration of heaven. What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettinesses of a quartette, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.
It seems to me, as apparently it did to Charles H. Spurgeon, that the use of instrumental music in worship causes the worshiper to disengage his heart from the process of offering praise to God. Rather than being organic in nature and originating from an ability with which God blessed all, instrumental music supplants the natural expression of praise with one that is wholly artificial in its origin. At this point there would be those who would offer in debate that God has blessed some with the talent to utilize musical instruments and that their hearts are attune with God as they play for the congregation of which they are a part.
I would not argue with the truth of that assertion. Instead, I would refer the disputant to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 which teach that our singing must be done congregationally; that is, each person in the congregation must participate as the purpose for music in worship is so that we may teach and admonish one another. (We know that such learning is possible as most of us have likely found ourselves in a situation in which we became reminded of a product, service, or political candidate when we heard a certain tune or jingle. Our minds connected the music with a message, albeit a potentially silly message. For example, you can probably tell me the name of my bologna because of a jingle. I bet that statement even caused you to sing the jingle, at least in your head.)
Therefore, to consistently argue for the use of instrumental music, in light of the context of New Testament Scripture, one would have to say that each and every person in the congregation would need to be able to “pluck the strings” of an instrument (in keeping with the defender’s understanding of the Greek word “psallo”) so that he or she can be obedient to the admonition to teach and admonish his or her fellow congregants. However, such would be unfair as God has not blessed us all with such abilities. Yet, each of us can sing, even if our voice is not the most melodious. Note that the emphasis in the aforementioned Scriptures is the heart. That is literally the “instrument” that we are to play in worship; it is that which strings must be plucked!
What goes through the mind of the one listening to the pianist, the band, or the choir? I know that I do not have God’s ability to read the contents of one’s heart; thus, I offer only what I believe would be my own thoughts in such a situation, based upon previous experience. I might think, “Oh, that is so beautiful. ‘Sally’ is such a talented pianist.” Perhaps I would say to myself, “Those guys can really rock.” Maybe I would conclude, “Our choir sounds like angels.” Possibly, I would acknowledge, “That is one of my favorite songs.” In any event, in recognizing the talent that God has given them or in my sheer enjoyment of the songs, I am thinking more about the players, singers, and myself and less about the God to Whom such worship is supposed to be given. Neither am I mindful of my brother and sister who I am supposed to be teaching through the employment of church music.
Such would be as the worship of the Cybermen who have been stripped of their human emotion and do things in keeping with their mechanical nature. The Cybermen could have conceivably joined the Pharisees in the worship that they offered to God. Do you recall the words of Isaiah as quoted by Jesus? “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” (Matthew 15:8-9 NASB) The fictional Cybermen could undoubtedly offer up worship to Deity, but never could they engage their nonexistent hearts in the process. They may be compelled to offer such worship because of their programming, but could never do so out of a sense of awe or love of Deity or from a desire to teach and exhort their fellow Cybermen. (I would caution at this point, though, that even those congregations that forego the use of mechanical instruments in their worship can still be as guilty as the fanciful Cybermen when it comes to the music they offer. Are their hearts engaged? Do they sing? If not, then they, too, must heed the rebuke of Jesus.)
Let us, therefore, avoid the worship of the Cybermen. Rather, let us give our God and our brethren what they deserve, worship originating from the heart and governed by the precepts of God.
* To clarify Spurgeon’s stance on baptism, I must represent him correctly by stating that Spurgeon did not believe that baptism was the moment at which one was regenerated. However, he felt that one could not be saved, ultimately, until he had put on Christ in baptism as enjoined by New Testament Scripture.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
1 “cybernetics.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online. 10 August 2010 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cybernetics>