Spirit and Truth Worship

Ellen G. White On Music Within the Context of the "Holy Flesh" Movement - Part 2

A while back I created a document dealing with Ellen White’s comments on music within the context of the “Holy Flesh” movement. I then later created a shorter version of that document. This is the second and final post of the shorter version of that document. I also plan to make the document available as a PDF file on the resources/documents page of this website soon. Please feel free to offer your thoughts and feedback by commenting below.

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Drums are mentioned in Ellen White’s letter as included in Selected Messages, Book Two: “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.”9 Drums are mentioned, along with “shouting,” “music, and dancing.” Does the mention of drums in this context indicate that drums are wrong in worship settings? As already suggested, Ellen White was not opposed to music in the context of worship when it was done right. Therefore, the fact that “drums” and “music” appear in the same sentence above in a negative context does not automatically mean that Ellen White was making a blanket statement that drums and music are always evil. It seems possible that the proceeding sentence should be taken as a qualifier. Given the context, it could likely be said that Ellen White was referring negatively to “uncouth” shouting, “uncouth” playing of drums, “uncouth” music, and “uncouth” dancing. Ellen White’s words seem to indicate that things carried out in an “uncouth” way are not prompted by the Holy Spirit and are not appropriate in the context of worship.

While Ellen White may not have intended to make a blanket statement that drums are always wrong, it does seem telling that she does not refer specifically to the other instruments that S. N. Haskell mentioned to her in his report of the 1900 Indiana camp meeting. It is as if she singled drums out from a number of different instruments as a special area of concern within the context of worship. The fact that drums are specifically mentioned should be a cause for caution regarding their use within the context of worship.

The immediate context of Ellen White’s words regarding music in her letter to Elder and Mrs. Haskell was the “Holy Flesh” movement. But in her letter, Ellen White seemed to open up the applicability of her words to apply to the future as well. Fanaticism is not only a thing of the past. Ellen White pointed out that there would be issues in the future: “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.”10 Ellen White also pointed out the following: “Those things which have been in the past will be in the future. Satan will make music a snare by the way in which it is conducted.”11 Ellen White’s concern regarding the future in this context seems to have been more focused on the music than on the theology of the “Holy Flesh” movement. Apparently, music was to be an issue in the future.

How can this information be applied to the church and to its members today? It seems that Ellen White gave a clear warning in 1900 regarding inappropriate music within the context of worship shortly before probation closes. Could we be living in that time now? Is the music that we use in worship pleasing to God? Or is it more like the “bedlam of noise”12 that Ellen White so boldly opposed in the early twentieth century? Is our worship reverent and dignified, or could it be called “uncouth”?13 Has Satan been allowed to make music into a distraction from the truth of God’s Word in the church today? Could the music in our church services, camp meetings, and other religious events be referred to as “a bedlam of noise” and “din and noise”?14 Is uncouth “shouting, with drums, music, and dancing”15 taking place in any of our religious gatherings? Are we allowing excitement and a desire for entertainment in our worship experiences to sidetrack us from proclaiming the vitally important truth that God has given us to spread to the world at this time in earth’s history?

Music was a powerful and dangerous tool in the “Holy Flesh” movement. Ellen White had some blunt and forceful things to say about music within that context. But her words regarding music within that context were not limited to the “Holy Flesh” movement. They should also serve as a warning to God’s people living shortly prior to probation’s close. Are we taking her words to heart today? Are we willing to heed God’s warning given through His servant?

9 Ellen G. White, Letter 132, 1900, Selected Messages, Book Two (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2006), 36.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid., 38.
12 Ibid., 36.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
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