Calvin, Calvinists, and the organ by Jan Luth

by Jan Luth | Het ORGEL | Year 105 | (2009) | Issue 6

Jan Luth Calvin, Calvinists, and the organ
Het ORGEL 104 (2009), nr. 6, 4-9 [summary]

The reformer Johannes Calvin thought that no instruments might be used in the liturgy and that polyphony should not be permitted either. According to him, the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 verse 16 forbids praise in a public service in an unfamiliar language. Instrumental music and polyphony were considered to be an unfamiliar language; they did not contribute to the building of the congregation. Calvin thought furthermore that liturgical instrumental music belonged with the Old Testament and not with the New. He also thought that the human voice rather than instrumental music deserved the first place.
Calvin’s opinions about the (liturgical) use of instruments had existed already since the early days of Christianity, and later also among humanists and Roman Catholics. The rejection of instrument was thus nothing special and in any case not specifically Calvinistic.
The government of the Dutch Calvinistic churches have generally resisted the use of the organ in services. The primary argument used to keep organs and organ music out of the service was Calvin’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14.