Off Beat: Of Drums and Worship
It can be a show-stopper for some. As soon as the drum set is seen perched upon the platform throne, they exit the building. I used to be among that tribe. Honestly, I continue to view a drum kit in a church somewhat negatively- as unsightly, and irreverent. But, I'm also that guy who covets the Longwood Organ at the Longwood Gardens wishing that the sound of those 10,010 pipes of that Aeolian organ could fill the room in the church I attend each Lord's Day. I realize my personal taste in musical worship is certainly no authoritative standard. And that brings up the question, "can drums be used in musical worship on Sundays?"
When I do a search in my ESV for "drum" or "drummer" the results: 0. I couldn't even find the story of the Little Drummer Boy. (That was surprising. :-) But a similar search result happens when I searched my Bible software for "violin", "piano" or "tuba." Doing a word search really isn't that helpful. There are percussion instruments mentioned in the Scriptures. The "tambourine," "cymbals" and "timbrel" are listed. Timbrel and tambourine come from the Hebrew word "Tof" or "Toph." These were frame drums. They are mentioned multiple times in the Old Testament. Here's a sample:
“Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister took a tambourine (drum) in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing.” Exodus 15:20
“Begin the music, strike the tambourine (drum)…” Psalm 81:2.
“Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with the tambourine (drum) and dancing, praise Him with the strings and flute, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.” Psalm 150:3-6.
[See also I Samuel 10:5-6; I Samuel 18:6; Isaiah 30:32; Psalm 68:25; 81:2;149:3.]
The listing of such a rich variety of instruments used in the worship of Jehovah reminds us that variety in musical instruments and different genres of music are grace gifts from the Lord. He designed melody, harmony and rhythm. He created music.
The Psalm 150 passage cited above, appears to feature the psalmist calling for every instrument he can think of to be employed in the musical worship of the Lord, including drums. We shouldn't forget that this has been an ongoing debate in the church for centuries. The disagreement was about which, if any, instruments could be legitimately used for church worship. This heated debate was particularly intense just after the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers were siding with either a stringent, regulated worship or with a more free, normative style of worship. Both sides were understandably reacting to the formal, heartless, unintelligible musical worship of the Roman Catholic Church.
I think allowing the Scripture to guide us, combined with some plain reason not only helps us answer discerningly about drums in worship, but also to draw principles for other instrumentation in musical worship.
Drummers and all other instrumentalists should serve the Word. We are never told to go to church in order to worship. Why? Part of the reason is that New Testament local church worship is no longer geographical.(John 4:23-24) All of life is worship. The other reason is that the purpose of the gathering of the church on Sundays is for believers to be edified and equipped by the Scriptures. Every instrumentalist and vocalist is there to "serve up the Word" to the saints, rather than performing.
Drummers and all other instrumentalists should serve Congregational singing. The praise team, including the drummer, are not at a "gig" nor a concert. They are all servants to the congregation in order to stimulate congregational singing. Loud. Vibrant. Theologically-rich. Singable. Congregational singing!
Drummers and all other instrumentalists should worship with the Congregation. We have some amazing drummers at our church. I especially love it when I see them singing along with us. That's also true for all the other instrumentalists. (Except, of wind and brass!) When I see a drummer looking at me and passionately drumming AND singing, I praise God for the drummer, and the drums!
Praise Him with the drum!