Comparing Music/Singing in the LDS & RLDS: Part 2

By: Guest
May 11, 2014

p5090155Markag continues his series on differences and similarities of LDS and RLDS worship services.

The worship service of the LDS and RLDS both utilize congregation hymn singing and special music; by which I mean any musical pieces outside the official hymnbook and/or prepared by members in advance. The RLDS in recent years refer to them as “ministry of music”.

The LDS Church has a set of guidelines for planning/choosing music for church worship services; found at

Briefly summarized, the guidelines are:

All music must be approved by the Bishopric. Any one of them will do; usually whoever is conducting that particular service.

Texts should be doctrinally correct. This is why you probably won’t hear “Amazing Grace” in an LDS worship service. As a choir director, I needed to know for myself the doctrines as I would ponder ideas for music. I have used several Restoration hymns from RLDS authors that were perfectly acceptable.

Secular music should not replace sacred music in Sunday meetings. I remember attending RLDS worship services when once the ministry of music was “Annie’s Song” by John Denver; another time it was a Michael Jackson recording.

Some religious music presented in a popular style is not appropriate for sacrament meetings. This could include music from LDS composers. Again, a Bishop must pre-approve.

Sacred music that is suitable for concerts and recitals is not appropriate. Uh-Oh. I love singing Handel’s Messiah but I guess it won’t be in a sacrament service.

Recorded songs/accompaniments must follow the same guidelines. A few years ago for the sacrament service before Memorial Day, I played a recording of “Mansions of the Lord” which the Bishop had approved.

Brass and percussion instruments are not appropriate for sacrament meeting. Don’t expect a brass quintet or a handbell choir playing “O Come all ye Faithful” but woodwinds or strings would be okay.

These guidelines are viewed as unifying by some, restrictive by others. But all of these “inappropriate” selections, with the possible exception of the text guidelines, could be used in an informal gathering.

In the RLDS there are no official guidelines in the Church Administrative Handbook, but there is a series of advice columns on church music at

Before the 1970′s, RLDS worship services followed the pattern of hymns and specials with organ or piano accompaniment. Woodwind, string, and brass instruments were not prohibited but not often used. The only restrictions are from a revelation in 1887 which states ….let the organ and the stringed instrument, and the instrument of brass be silent when the Saints assemble for prayer and testimony, that the feelings of the tender and sad may not be intruded upon.(RLDS Doctrine and Covenants, Section 119:6e).  Since then, those designated services have singing with no instrumental accompaniment.

Eventually, youth-oriented spiritual songs with acoustic guitar accompaniment began to be used in worship services. Several songs were arranged to be included in the Hymnbook  and a large selection of hymns now have correspondent guitar chords.

In the 1980′s the RLDS began sponsoring separate congregations called Contemporary Christian Centers with worship service music of a more popular style usually played by musicians with various instrumentation. I even got to participate occasionally on drums. As these members came back into the “traditional church”, so did the music.

So it’s quite possible that several Community of Christ congregations will have worship service music styles totally different from each other.

Whatever music is used in the worship service, it should be carefully and prayerfully planned in order to enhance the spirit of worship.  What are your thoughts concerning music in worship services?

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16 Responses to Comparing Music/Singing in the LDS & RLDS: Part 2

  1. Mormon Heretic on May 11, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    Timely post! I’m here in Kirtland, and was able to attend a devotional service at the Kirtland Temple here today! We had a wonderful service this morning. Most songs were accompanied by the piano, but there was a special number of Ave Maria that was played by trumpet. It was really nice.

    After the service, I thought it would be fun to attend the Community of Christ church across the street. I wasn’t able attend the whole service (I’m currently at the airport on the way home), but we sang a couple of hymns, and heard a very interesting meditation song played on a dulcimer. (It’s a good thing it was on the program, because I was wondering what the instrument was–I was guessing harpsichord or mandolin.) It was very nice. I was also struck by a prayer/talk given in which a bell chimed at certain points. One of the young women sang a song accompanied by a recording (kind of like karaoke, but without the party). It was a very different, moving experience to see the different kinds of instruments played in a very worshipful manner. I really liked it.

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  2. New Iconoclast on May 11, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    I think it’s safe to say that “Ave Maria” would probably not be performed in an LDS sacrament meeting, although it would be pretty enough. I did have one of my MTC instructors sing it for us as a tribute to Italy, where he had gone and we were going, but he did apologize in advance.

    I’m convinced that the next LDS hymnal release will have about ten songs in it, and five of them will be arrangements of “I Am a Child of God.” We just had a stake conference up here, one of the few opportunities to combine a multi-ward choir worthy of the name and do a decent piece of music, and they chose another, oh, spare me, one more stupid, insipid, mind-numbing, arrangement of “I Am a Child of God.” Just shoot me now.

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  3. Mormon Heretic on May 11, 2014 at 5:53 PM

    I don’t know the words to Amazing Grace past the first line, so I don’t know what doctrinal problems are in the song.

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  4. Roger on May 11, 2014 at 7:29 PM

    The Mo Tabs have a version of “Ave Maria” entitled “Heavenly Father” that should be doctrinal criteria. As they do with “Holy, Holy, Holy”– when singing it at Protestant services, I adopt the LDS wording, substituting “Blessed Diety” for “Blessed Trinity”. My evangelical wife does cut her eyes at me when I do so.

    Gaining currency in evangelical services is a version of “Amazing Grace” sung to the melody of “House of the Rising Sun”. Hauntingly beautiful, actually.

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  5. Hedgehog on May 12, 2014 at 1:22 AM

    I have some very nice arrangements of carols and hymns for accompanied trumpet that are unlikely ever to be heard in a sacrament meeting. There are some lovely Easter arrangements for trumpet too. My daughter and I did get to play some brass at out ward Christmas Eve service though, so that was a nice change.

    So far as the handbook goes, in my position of music chair, I’m still trying to argue that less familiar hymns are not inappropriate hymns, because the handbook says to include less familiar hymns in sacrament meeting. To no avail so far. We’ve been restricted to only 180 hymns from the entire hymnbook, which given I know most of the hymnbook, feels like a heavy restriction when it comes to matching hymns and topics without too much repetition. We’re only allowed to sing it if one of the bishopric know it, basically…

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  6. ajd.ender on May 12, 2014 at 2:48 AM

    I have a comment on two points in your summary of the guidelines from the handbook. First the handbook says “much sacred music that is suitable for concerts and recitals is not appropriate”. Note the qualifier “much”. Second, the handbook also says “Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion”. Again, note the qualifier “most”.

    In both cases, there is room for actual thought at the local level. If you have a professional trombonist or french horn player who can play a beautiful mellow version of a hymn, there is nothing prohibiting that. If you have a professional pianist who can play a beautiful arrangement of All Creatures of Our God and King which could also be part of her next concert, there is nothing prohibiting that.

    Finally, there is nothing doctrinally incorrect in the lyrics to Amazing Grace. It does not paint the full picture of the restored gospel, but chooses to focus on God’s Grace, which we all need! One might note that many of our hymns focus on one point of the gospel as well.

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  7. ajd.ender on May 12, 2014 at 2:53 AM

    Oh, and regarding the choice of “Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound”: Who is to judge the less worshipful qualities of a sound? The local leaders. So musicians need to train their local leaders that nearly any instrument can be worshipful. And, a truly strict reading of that line would also disqualify the organ. So, if you have a strict bishop, help him open his eyes that a strict reading of that line would prevent the use of an organ (or really all instruments — they all can be ‘prominent’ as they’re meant to be heard!).

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  8. markag on May 12, 2014 at 6:08 AM


    Of course there are no absolutes in the guidelines. The Bishop when we first became members (1999) allowed a high-school trombone player to render a hymn arrangement in Sacrament meeting; although he did give an announcement/explanation beforehand.

    “We don’t believe in salvation by grace” is probably the response some members would give to the use of Amazing Grace. I would try to have it as an instrumental first.

    Hedgehog: I think your Bishopric are going way over the line if you can’t make full use of our own hymnbook. Does the Stake Presidency concur with their rule? It reminds me of a full-time missionary in our ward when I was called as choir director and was selecting hymns outside of the LDS hymnbook, He said “If it’s not in our hymnbook, it’s not a REAL hymn.” After I glued myself back together, I said “so a current hymn that gets deleted from the next edition is no longer real?” End of discussion.

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  9. ajd.ender on May 12, 2014 at 6:50 AM

    “Of course there are no absolutes in the guidelines.” I just wish more leaders knew this was true! So many of them never bother to read the section on music (or possibly the other sections, but I mostly interact with the bishopric via musical planning) and just assume it says the summary you posted.

    And your response to Amazing Grace is no doubt what they would say, proving that many Mormons just don’t understand the Atonement completely. *sigh*

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  10. markag on May 12, 2014 at 7:06 AM

    Some points can be nit-picked for sure. The organ has “brass” settings on it and the piano is a “percussion” instrument.

    Always remember that the worship service is not the time or place for a showdown.

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  11. MB on May 12, 2014 at 7:48 AM

    I suspect that it isn’t the “grace” of Amazing Grace that a bishop might find objectionable, but rather the “wretch” reference which seems to reflect the Calvinist doctrine of “total depravity” which originated in the Augustinian doctrine of original sin, neither of which gel with the second article of faith.

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  12. New Iconoclast on May 12, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    We’ve been restricted to only 180 hymns from the entire hymnbook

    What is it with some people and their intense desire to control others? I understand, although barely, concerns that a choir number from a non-LDS source might contain some deadly heresy which could bring an entire ward to the brink of apostasy, in the same way that a Protestant opening the Book of Mormon lets Satan loose in his home to rampage to and fro in the land. But what could possibly lead them to think that 161 of the hymns in the current English-language hymnal (I assume you use the same one in the UK as we do in the US, since “God Save The King” is the last hymn) are unacceptable?

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  13. Hedgehog on May 12, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    I know! It’s that they don’t know them, though goodness knows the hymnbook is old enough, and at least two of the bishopric them have been around long enough, they ought to know them. They insist it is distracting a) to try and sing a hymn they don’t know or b) that the congregation appear to be struggling with. Never mind that they’ll never know them if they never sing them. I have been getting small groups of people together to sing the ‘unapproved’ hymns as musical items, but as yet it doesn’t seem to be enough to get them on the approved list.
    They are convinced that if they don’t know it they can catergorise it as inappropriate. I don’t think stake will help (though the presidency have changed recently). And not the stake music.
    My somewhat earlier post on nondistraction adds a bit more insight

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  14. Rich Brown on May 12, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    The primary difficulty I have in my CofC congregation is that music choice is left almost entirely to the musicians performing it, which has led me to cringe at the sometimes sappy and schmaltzy songs offered. I try to unclench my jaw by telling myself others are finding ministry in it, often to little avail. Hymn choice is usually the responsibility of the planner/presider (not always the same person). Hitting the correct balance of theology and musicality can be tough. Sometimes I wish we had more official guidance for all this, but judging by the comments above as that works out in the LDS context, maybe “anything goes” is better than a local bishop’s prerogative. Or perhaps this is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

    Having said that, we’ve also had terrific instrumental solos and groups playing trumpet, trombone, flute, clarinet, oboe, English horn, xylophone, multiple snare drums (yes, really!), viola, violin, and both acoustic and electric guitars. I’m sure I’ve left something out. So it can work and it can be a very meaningful part of worship. But you need people with musical knowledge, ability, and taste.

    The CofC introduced a wonderful new hymnal last fall with 664 selections. Somebody told me recently that if a congregation doesn’t try a new hymn within 18-24 months of a hymnal’s introduction, they never will. That’s not much of a window of opportunity.

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  15. Rich Brown on May 12, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    One other little story. Way back in my teenage years I recall playing an organ prelude before a prayer and testimony meeting at a reunion (a week-long summertime family camp). The music director for the week asked me to accompany the congregation (they needed all the musical help possible), but I was only a few bars into the first hymn when the presider marched all the way to the organ at the back of the hall and in a loud voice ordered me to stop, as the Doctrine and Covenants forbade such heresy. Yeah, that was a worshipful moment for everybody.

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  16. New Iconoclast on May 12, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    Or perhaps this is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

    I am increasingly convinced that this is true, as the proliferation of “Contemporary Service – 9:00, Traditional – 11:00″ signs on local churches seems to demonstrate. I would imagine that most CoC congregations aren’t large enough to split like that. But the disintegration of consensus on what is considered “reverent” has led to “I Am A Child Of God” on one hand and The Worship Rock Band on the other. Heaven help us.

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