SDARM, Music & Worship

Devil in the Drums

The Reformists of the SDARM generally BELIEVE and TEACH:
- So-called ‘modern’ forms of worship, such as drums and guitars, as well as dancing or clapping, are supposedly inappropriate or evil.
- Ellen White supposedly warned about worship with shouting, with drums, music and dancing.’
The Reformists are WRONG because:
- Psalms 149 and 150 explicitly mention the use of various music instruments (lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets), together with dancing, singing and shouting, as valid forms of worship.
- Such forms of worship are not ‘modern’ but actually ancient, long practiced by the children of Israel, and still practiced by Jews today.
- No instrument is in itself evil; rather, it is whether the instrument is used to glorify God or for evil.  Similarly, dancing has long practiced by Jews; however, Jews usually danced communally or segregated by gender, to safeguard against misuse as eroticism. 
- Ellen White was not making a broad statement against these forms of worship generally but was addressing specifically the Pentecostal ‘Holy Flesh Movement’ in Indiana, which involved: all of these various forms of worship simultaneously and chaotically (as opposed to individually and orderly); and which ironically embraced a theology of perfectionism.

In its official statement of beliefs under “Christian Temperance”, the SDARM observes:
‘Even things which are lawful in themselves, if practiced in a wrong way, with the wrong crowd, in the wrong place, and at the wrong time, may work as a snare of Satan. But, in the first place, we should shun the most evident evils, such as worldly associations, worldly music...’
This author wholly agrees. The question, however, is what exactly constitutes ‘worldly’ music practiced in a ‘worldly way’? For most congregations of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement, and many conservative Adventists, the use of drums, guitars and other modern instruments, in any capacity, is considered ‘worldly’ music – and thus should be prohibited.

What does the Bible say?

Psalms 149
Psalms 149, especially verses 1-3, mention praising God in the assembly with dancing, tambourine and lyre:
1 Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
3 Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory.
5 Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their couches.
6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
7 to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
8 to bind their kings with fetters
and their nobles with chains of iron,
9 to execute on them the judgment decreed.
This is glory for all his faithful ones.
Praise the Lord! (emphasis added)

Psalms 150
Similarly, Psalms 150, especially verses 3-5, mention praising God with trumpets, lute, harp, tambourine, dance, strings, pipes, clanging cymbals and loud clashing cymbals:
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! (emphasis added)
What are these instruments?
A trumpet is fairly self-explanatory, as is a harp or cymbals.  A lyre is a type of stringed instrument almost a cross between a harp and a guitar; however, it is strummed like a guitar rather than plucked like a harp.  A tambourine is a portable percussion instrument, like a small portable bongo drum, and still used today. 
Importantly, there is nothing necessarily Jewish about these instruments.  Rather, they were found through the ancient Near East, and could be used equally in the worship of pagan gods as they were of Yahweh.  The primary point being, it seems a range of instruments can be used to worship God, and it is not the instrument itself, but how it is used, which is the important matter.

What about the dancing?
The Bible mentions dancing in a positive light in several places, including: 1 Sam 18:6-7; Jer 31:13; Ecc 3:4 and Luk 15:25. However, context is everything.  These sacred dances involved acts of worship or celebration.  There is nothing to indicate the dancing involved was anything akin to modern sexualised dance routines.
If anyone has been to a traditional Jewish wedding, or that of many other traditional cultures, they will know that there is plenty of dancing.  It is just that men often dance with men, and women with women.  Alternatively, the dancing is usually communal, consisting of a group linking arms and swaying.  Such traditional dancing is not a private moment between couples as was common in the ballroom dancing of Ellen White’s own day or found in modern nightclubs. 
The traditional Jewish type of dancing should be distinguished from erotic dance movements.  These are also possibly mentioned in the Bible in several places, and painted in a less than positive light.  In the cases of both Queen Vashti in Esth 1:19-12 and Herodias in Mar 6:22, the dancing probably involved a single female be asked to move her body in an erotic manner for the visual pleasure of men – something akin to a modern-day strip-tease.  
Thus context is everything.  Dancing per se is clearly not evil – the Bible says so.  Rather, much like instruments, it is the type of dancing, and its ultimate purpose, whether for God or sexual gratification, which is the issue.

What is the Reformist position in light of such clear scriptural texts?
The Reformist arguments against ‘modern’ worship
Concerning Psalms 149, in “Is Dancing Evil” from the ‘independent historic’ Reformist publication Sabbath Sermons:
‘What do those Psalms indicate? These are the two most favourite psalms. The Bible Old and New Testament, the original manuscripts were not separated into verse and chapter. To students studying the Bible, Psalms 149 and 150 are not separated.  They have only been separated for our usage. It is the same psalm through the poetry and language.  If you were going to choose a song, if we were talking about our hymn books today, you would choose a song for a special occasion out of the hymn, would you not choose a hymn appropriate for the event?  You wouldn’t choose a hymn like ‘Some Day the Silver Cord would Brake’ for someone’s wedding ceremony.
…Do you know why the drum was not an instrument that was used in the sanctuary although it was allowed in a more secular setting? 
…Was that a wedding song? What kind of song do you think that would be related to? Battle, it’s absolutely clear. What people are doing today is that they are taking portions of scripture completed out of the original meaning and context and they are throwing it into the sanctuary and worship of God. That is not how Seventh Day Adventists interpret the Bible. We have always used the context of scripture by comparing scripture with scripture and the historical setting to establish what is being taught here. It is very clear we can’t use Psalms 149. It is in accordance with everything we have established in all the other texts so far. All are related in the context of battle. When study the word of God in the way in which we are to study the word of God, scripture expounds scripture and the meaning becomes clear. All the crutches which we are using today bringing worship to an earthly level are slowly disappearing.’
And similarly concerning Psalms 150 it is explained:
‘The same types of aspects and motivations are mentioned. The expressions of worship being mentioned are the same as Psalms 149. It is the same Psalm but listen to what the verse says as this is one that people might grab on and listen to what it says.
…It says you can praise God in his sanctuary with this kind of worship, the drums and so on but is that really what is the text is saying?
…The big question we need to ask ourselves is what is David referring to?  Is he referring to the heavenly or to the earthly sanctuary? 
…All the other evidence in the other texts have told us it is the setting of battle outside the sanctuary.  Not even the drum was used in the sanctuary so that would exclude it automatically from all the evidence.
…I didn’t mean that we don’t battle, it does mean that we cannot literally take something that was in that historical setting in that context and justify that same thing happening today in our present setting.  It is an historical record of what happened in the children of Israel. When you get down to the bottom line of it all, the Old Testament is not establishing a doctrine of worship.’
In a nutshell, the Reformist argument against drums, stringed instruments, dancing and other forms of so-called ‘modern’ worship (although in reality the Bible demonstrates these are actually ancient forms of worship) as suggested in Psalms 149 and 150, includes the following reasons:

  • Psalms 149 relates to military battle;
  • Psalms 150 supposedly is the same song as Psalms 149, where the chapters are artificial, so it too supposedly also relates to military battle;
  • Both Psalms relate to worship outside – not inside the Sanctuary building;
  • Both Psalms relate to ‘secular’ worship – presumably suggesting worship outside of a usual Church-assembly service; and
  • We can’t take these worship activities literally, so we cannot spiritualise these activities and apply them today to the spiritual battles of Christians against Satanic forces not made of flesh or blood,
and so, according to the Reformists, we supposedly cannot apply these worship activities to the modern Christian Church service inside the modern Church building.

Problems with the Reformist arguments against ‘modern’ worship
There are, however, a number of problems with the Reformist arguments against drums, stringed instruments, and other so-called ‘modern’ forms of worship:

  • There is nothing to suggest Psalms 150 is merely a continuation of Psalms 149.  Scholastic techniques such as form criticism help identify the form, genre and setting of biblical passages.  Psalms 149 and 150 are types of Hymns (other types of Psalms include Enthronement Scenes, Laments, Thanksgiving, Royal Psalms and Wisdom Psalms to name a few).  For Hymns, the phrase ‘Praise the Lord!’ is often found at the beginning and ending of each separate song – see Psalms 146, 147 and 148.  This is why Bibles (including the KJV) place the chapter divisions where they are – it is quite obvious where one Psalm finishes and another begins.  Moreover, Psalms 149:1 even explicitly says it is a ‘new song.’  Thus, there is no basis to conclude Psalms 149 and 150 part of the same song.
  • Whilst Psalm 149 may be relate to military victory, there is no indication that Psalm 150 does.  Psalm 150 has nothing to do with war.  Thus, the key argument of the Reformists is misplaced. Psalms 150 is not a military song like Psalms 149 – it is a generic song.  It is no doubt for this reason that the book of Psalms finishes with this song, which provides a generic instruction about how to worship God.  The generic Psalm 150 makes clear that these types of worship are acceptable to God.
  •  There is nothing to suggest the Psalms only relates to ‘secular’ worship – and such a notion is an oxymoron anyway.  Even if Psalms 149 relates to a military victory celebration, verse 1 says this celebration occurs ‘in the assembly of the faithful.’  The assembly is associated with the Sanctuary – see Duet 23:1. The notion of the ‘assembly’ is also where we obtain the notion of the Church congregation, where the Greek word ‘ecclesia’ means ‘assembly’.  Thus, the Psalms clearly involve congregational worship – like the modern Christian Sabbath service.
  • At the time of David’s Psalms, there was no Temple Building – only a tent, which was at times moved.  The assembled people did not worship God inside the Lord’s Tent (comprising the Holy Place and Most Holy Place), which was only accessible to the Jewish Priesthood; thus, arguably all such assembly worship was in fact outside.  Thus, the whole Reformist distinctin between outside-inside worship is a nonsense.
  • Christians don’t consider modern churches as types of the OT Sanctuary.  The OT Sanctuary was merely an archetype fulfilled in Jesus, whose body (and ours) is the true Sanctuary.  Instead, where two or three believers come together there is a modern Sanctuary, and where a synagogue (the proto-type for the church) is nothing more than a prayer hall – there is nothing particular holy in the bricks and mortar.  Jesus similarly made clear in John 4:20-21 to the Samaritan woman at the well that for Christians, the place of worship is irrelevant – either on mount Gerizim or on mount Zion.  Thus, the obsession with distinguishing Sanctuary vs non-Sanctuary worship activities of worship is largely irrelevant – and arguably unChristian.
  • Contrary to Reformist assertions, the Bible makes clear that these various instruments, including harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets, were permitted in relation to Sanctuary worship.  1 Chron 16:4-6: He appointed certain of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel. Asaph was the chief, and second to him Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, with harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbalsand the priests Benaiah and Jahaziel were to blow trumpets regularly, before the ark of the covenant of God. (emphasis added)
  • Even assuming both Psalms relate to war (which is denied above concerning Psalm 150), there is no basis whatsoever to suggest we can’t apply these literal Jewish battle songs to Christian spiritual warfare against Satan.  The Reformists themselves continually make parallels to the most obscure things found in the Jewish Law, such as their argument for closed communion (which they say is paralleled to the original Exodus Passover meal).
·       Despite the tortuous arguments of the Reformists the plain ‘Thus saith the Lord’ is clear.  We are to worship God with these various instruments, including percussion-like instruments, with singing, and sometimes even with shouting and dancing!

What about Ellen White’s condemnation of drums?
Given the Bible is so clear on the matter, in typical style, the SDARM are then left with plan B – Ellen White. Within that context, the following comment from Ellen White is usually upheld by Reformists and other conservative Adventists for their position on the prohibition on so-called ‘modern’ forms of worship:  
‘[Camp meeting in Muncie, Indiana:] The things you have described as taking place in Indiana, the Lord has shown me would take place just before the close of probation. Every uncouth thing will be demonstrated.
There will be shouting, with drums, music and dancing. The senses of rational beings will become so confused that they cannot be trusted to make right decisions. And this is called the moving of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit never reveals itself in such methods, in such a bedlam of noise. This is an invention of Satan—better never to have the worship of God blended with music than to use musical instruments to do the work which last January was represented to me would be brought into our camp meetings.’2SM pp. 31, 36. (emphasis added)
With everything on this subject, context is everything.  In particular, what Ellen White was addressing was what later became known as the ‘Holy Flesh Movement’.
The Holy Flesh Movement was an early version of Pentecostalism, following the teachings of A F. Ballenger (1861-1921), which influenced the Indiana Conference of the SDA Church for a time.  However, with the greatest irony, the primary theological objective of the Holy Flesh Movement was the supposed attainment of perfection, which was said to transform the person into a sinless and immortal state:
‘The Holy Flesh theory alleged that those who follow the Saviour must have their fallen natures perfected by passing through a “Garden of Gethsemane” experience... Eyewitness accounts report that in their services the fanatics worked up a high pitch of excitement by use of musical instruments such as organs, flutes, fiddles, tambourines, horns, and even a big bass drum. They sought a physical demonstration and shouted and prayed and sang until someone in the congregation would fall, prostrate and unconscious, from his seat. One or two men, walking up and down the aisle for the purpose, would drag the fallen person up on the rostrum. Then about a dozen individuals would gather around the prostrate body, some singing, some shouting, and some praying, all at the same time. When the subject revived, he was counted among those who had passed through the Gethsemane experience, had obtained holy flesh, and had translation faith. Thereafter, it was asserted, he could not sin and would never die.’ – 2nd Selected Messages Chapter 3 – Intro
Thus, Ellen White’s criticisms were not merely about drums or dancing.  Importantly, the Holy Flesh Movement did not merely use drums – and Ellen White’s major criticism was not just about drums.  Rather, the Holy Flesh Movement also used organs, flutes and fiddles – instruments found in a symphony orchestra and commonly used by Reformists and other conservative Adventists today in their own worship services.  As such, the issue was clearly not about instruments per se – it was about how these instruments were being used and for what purpose.  
As outlined above, music, shouting, prostration and singing can individually constitute true and proper worship, if they occur within the proper context with the right objective. There is nothing evil in itself with clapping or shouting to the Lord – as Psalms 47:1 and 98:4 attests.  There is nothing evil in itself with prostration prayer, which is exactly the way Christ prayed in Gethsemane – as 1 Kings 1:47 and Mar 14:35 demonstrate. There is nothing evil in itself about singing – as Psalms 100:1-2 and Col 3:16 explain.  Importantly, there is nothing evil in itself with percussion instruments, including drums, in the same way there is nothing evil about organs, fiddles or flutes – as described in Psalms 149 and 150 above.
Concerning styles of worship, Ellen White seemed primarily concerned about a ‘bedlam of noise’, where all of these aspects, good individually, but which occurred simultaneously at the same time during the service – thus creating a confusing cacophony. However, we should never forget that such a confusing Babylonian-style of worship can be accomplished with any number of instruments – or with no instruments at all.  
Furthermore, one will note Ellen White mentioned using no instruments whatsoever.  If one were to take her statement absolutely literally, as Reformists do, then they would use no instruments in worship.  However, that clearly wasn’t the point.  Sister White’s point was that if instruments are misused, in a chaotic fashion, then they should not be used at all.  Thus, she wasn’t talking about instruments – she was talking about misuse of instruments in worship.
Finally and most importantly, it seems Ellen White’s greatest concerns were about a perfectionist theology.  Again with the greatest of irony, it is this perfectionist theology, often known as ‘Last Generation Theology’, that pervades the most conservative factions of the Adventist Movement.  Whilst the methodology can and is of concern, the greater issue is the objective to which this methodology was intended.
For these reasons, we can see that this so-called condemnation of drums and other ‘modern’ forms of worship by Ellen White is not quite straight forward as many might think.  One could argue that it is many Reformist and conservative Adventists who are in fact the unwitting heirs of the Holy Flesh Movement, unknowingly becoming the tools of Satan.


  1. Hahahahah you are working for the devil my friend!
    I pity you.
    Good riddance

    1. Who are you talking to? Your comment generally makes no sense whatsoever

  2. "Sister White’s point was that if instruments are misused, in a chaotic fashion, then they should not be used at all. Thus, she wasn’t talking about instruments – she was talking about misuse of instruments in worship."

    Drums are most certainly misused. I'm talking about the trap set drums. Put frankly the polyrhythmic beats and syncopated rhythms produced invite evil spirits.

    I will not address the guitar as this is up to the player.

    Our church claps when it acknowledges a member's Birthday, or Anniversary. When it goes into worship the motives become questionable, whether it is to gratify the senses, or to praise God.

    In terms of dancing, the motivation of this style of worship is questionable as to whether it is practiced out of a sincere love for God, or due to the euphoria experienced.

    If we worship in a manner in order to please the senses, we can cause our limbic system to overpower our cognitive system. This will ultimately result in it being immensely difficult to resist temptation.

    Actually self-indulgence in anything can increase the power of the appetites and passions, until they have almost unlimited control. This is why Jesus fasted in the wilderness, to resist the most basic desire, appetite.

    Here are a few interesting things of the effects of anything we watch or listen to on the brain for those curious:

    Media on the Brain -- Mini Seminar

    The Distraction Dilemma -- A Music Overview

    I would also suggest to read:
    The Desire of Ages (Chapter 11 -- The Temptation)

    Just a note to readers. I suggest you do some research on this and don't just take what I've written at face value. That way you'll be vigilant of subtle means the enemy uses to intercept communion between the Children of God and the Most High.

    Here's a quote from The Desire of Ages (Chapter 11), I thought I'd end with:
    "... our only hope of eternal life is through bringing the appetites and passions into subjection to the will of God."


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