Here’s a good insight from “When Is a Pipe Organ Just a Pipe Organ?” from the Alban Institute:
People confuse accretions with traditions, and this confusion leads to worship wars. … [W]e cannot be intentional about connecting with the Holy through our practices until we are able to distinguish between what is accretional and what is foundational to a tradition.
There are some valuable reminders in this article about what we try to create or foster in worship, and how we go about it. I have taken to stating at the first of each worship why we have come together: “We’re so glad you are with us today, as we look for ways to connect with the holy and work to transform our lives in community.” After that reminder, whatever we do should be aimed at those goals.
An organ is not a sacred object, nor is a piano or a harp or an electric guitar. They are tools with which we look for ways to connect with the holy. I recently heard someone talk proudly of the organ in their church, which has been valued at $1.5M. I was simultaneously struck by admiration of a magnificent musical instrument and horror at what possession of it must mean for the worship life of that congregation.
I’m reminded of Abraham Kaplan’s “law of the instrument”: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. When your most cherished tool would command several years of your church’s total budget to replace, you will no doubt use it at every opportunity, whether or not it’s the appropriate tool for the situation. Is an organ the only way to connect us to the holy, musically? Is it the best way? We could reformulate Kaplan’s quip to get “the law of the sanctuary instrument”: Give a church musician an organ, and she will find that every worship service she plans needs Buxtehude.”
The same is true for pianos and harps and electric guitars. They are just tools, and the use of any tool in worship should be constantly evaluated to see whether it is the best one for the job of connecting to the holy and transforming lives in community.