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The Accompanist as Prophet?

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Bredenhof’s new book “Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship.” 

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If we have accompaniment, the accompanist has an important role in our worship service. ….We want our accompanists to aim to please the LORD along with the entire congregation. There has to be a pursuit of excellence in the craft of accompaniment. When this is done, we should be thankful and encourage our accompanists.

Regrettably, in our tradition there has sometimes been inordinate language when it comes to accompanists, and especially organists. Sometimes the organist has been described as a “prophet” and his playing as “prophesying from the organ bench.”

It seems that this rhetoric traces back to the famous Dutch organist Jan Zwart. According to Deddens, Zwart spoke of “prophesying during the worship service, before and after the sermon, in a language the people can understand.” Reformed theologian Klaas Schilder took over this language in describing Zwart posthumously: “His life’s work was to prophesy from the organ bench, and when we say that we give true expression to what motivated this man.” Deddens appreciated this rhetoric and took it over as well.

Prophesy is about words

The major problem with this description of the accompanist is that it does not stand up to biblical scrutiny. In the Bible, prophecy is almost always about words. A prophet without words is unheard of. There are instances where prophets performed prophetic acts, but these were exceptional, and even these acts never occurred in isolation from their words. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, prophecy is verbal. When Lord’s Day 12 of the Catechism says we are anointed to be prophets who confess the name of Christ, it is referring to a verbal activity. During and after the Reformation, preaching was sometimes called “prophesying” – because it had to do with words. The idea of a musical instrument being a means of prophecy is unheard of, biblically and historically.

While certainly appreciating the work of accompanists (more on that in a moment), let us also be modest about what they are doing. If one wants to employ the language of the three-fold office of all believers to describe accompanists, then it would be better to refer to them in priestly terms. With their accompaniment, they are offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving with the rest of the congregation. That is something which can be done both with and without words. 

Proper honor for accompanists

If an accompanist takes his or her work seriously, there can be quite a bit of preparation involved with each service. Moreover, a serious accompanist might even be a professional musician with years of training. A lot of time and money may have been invested in honing their musical craft. This ought to be honored and recognized.

That can be done in different ways, of course. One way would be for the pastor regularly to pray for the accompanist(s) in his congregation. Another would be for there to be occasional acknowledgement of the accompanist in the church bulletin or perhaps at a congregational meeting. Still another way would be to ask the accompanist to help the congregation in understanding music in worship. Accompanists have the musical understanding and skills that many of us do not, and asking them to share their insights also shows respect for them and their craft. Let them teach us.

It is also appropriate to show our gratitude to our accompanists with an honorarium. This recognizes the time, energy, and financial commitment they have made to pursue excellence in accompanying our singing. Churches that do not offer an honorarium to their accompanists can sometimes struggle to find accompaniment, especially if there are other churches nearby which do offer honorariums.

Now someone might object and say, “A lot of us do volunteer work in the church and we don’t get paid for it. So why should the accompanist get paid?” There are two things to say in response. First, the accompanist is not being “paid” for their labors. He or she is not an employee of the church, at least not typically. The accompanist is a volunteer, offering his or her services for the glory of God. Second, unlike most other volunteer work in the church, the accompanist has spent a lot of his or her time, energy, and money on learning to play well. Continuing to play well also requires investments, including the purchase of sheet music. Accompaniment is different than the other volunteer work done in the church. A modest honorarium recognizes this.

 Dr. Wes Bredenhof’s “Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship” is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca. To learn more about “Aiming to Please” tune in below as Dr. Bredenhof is the guest on Focal Point Episode 5, with host Dr. Chris deBoer.


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Documentary, Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Spirit & Truth

How does God want to be worshipped? Documentary 2019 / 87 minutes RATING: 8/10 How should we worship God?  It’s one of the most important questions a Christian can ask.  We often think that the Reformation was about important doctrines like justification by faith alone. It certainly was, but it wasn’t just about that. In fact, one of the most central issues of the Reformation was the manner in which God should be worshipped. Some believed that if God did not forbid something, then it was permissible. Others argued that the church had the authority to formulate Christian worship as it saw fit.  The Reformed churches, however, applied sola Scriptura (the Bible alone) to worship – only God, through his Word, can decided how God is to be worshipped.  This fundamental principle came to expression in Lord’s Day 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism and its explanation of the second commandment:  “We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.” That idea is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  This documentary, by Les Lanphere, is about the Regulative Principle of Worship and Reformed worship.  It’s about how this principle is biblical, how it’s needed for our day, what it looks like in practice, and why it matters supremely. Great content, with packaging to match Documentaries can sometimes be as inspiring as a grammar handbook.  Les Lanphere’s are decidedly not.  If you’ve seen his 2017 Calvinist, you know he has a gift for making films that grab you by the collar and pull you right in.  While it starts off a bit slow, Spirit & Truth rises to that same standard. I loved it, not only for the content, but also for the production qualities. The film features interviews with numerous pastors and theologians.  Some of the more familiar faces would be Tim Challies, W. Robert Godfrey (URCNA), John Bouwers (URCNA), and Kevin DeYoung. These interviews put meat on the bones of what Reformed worship is all about. Three facets There are several facets to Spirit & Truth that I really appreciate. The film is not only about the outward externals of worshipping God properly. It also speaks of the heart – the “spirit” of “worship in spirit and truth.” One can go through the motions of worshipping God to the letter, but without heart-engagement it’s all meaningless. While Spirit and Truth is a faithful explanation of Reformed worship in general, it carefully treads around some of the finer details about which some Reformed and Presbyterian believers may disagree. For example, there are some Presbyterians (and Reformed too) who are convinced that we ought only to sing Psalms.  Spirit and Truth leaves that issue alone. However, it does emphasize the thing we all agree on:  at the very least, Scripture does command us to sing Psalms.  That’s something often neglected in contemporary Christian worship. Finally, there’s sometimes a perception that Reformed worship (as we know it) is merely a white, western, Euro-centric practice.  If that’s true, that has implications for worship in cross-cultural contexts, both in our own country and abroad.  However, Spirit & Truth includes interviews with non-western or non-caucasian Christians in various contexts to illustrate that Reformed worship, following the RPW, transcends cultures.  It does so because it’s biblical and God’s Word transcends cultures. Conclusion I sometimes wonder whether we hold on to our Reformed worship practices just because they’re our practices or because they’re traditional.  Spirit & Truth persuasively argues that we ought to hold on to Reformed worship because it’s biblical.  And because it’s biblical, it honors God, it puts Christ and the gospel in the center, and it will serve for our blessing. There are a lot of pressures to modify worship in our churches to make it more like what we see in the broader ecclesiastical context. But if Spirit & Truth can help convince us that we have to hold on to distinctively Reformed worship for the right reasons, those pressures will be easily resisted.  This one is highly recommended for Bible or catechism classes, Bible study groups, and office bearer retreats. You can watch the trailer below, and find Spirit & Truth available for streaming rental here. Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the author of "Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship." ...


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