For centuries, those who composed music for the church were arguably the major influencers on the development of music in the western world. At other times, the culture of music in vogue was adopted by the church and integrated into worship elements. Church music has generally been based on singing, written for individuals and choirs to express the words of Scripture and the experience of faith as encouraged by the words of Bible, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:19)

From the early, simple monophonic chants sung by the clergy and monks alone, to the complex polyphony of the Renaissance sung by choirs, to the vibrant congregational singing inspired by the Reformation and the revivals, to the simple singing of the Psalms without instruments in the settlements of the New World, music has continued to lead God's people in personal and corporate worship experiences. This exhibit provides selected examples of church music starting with the plainsong of the Middle Ages on through the development of Gospel hymns and the shape-note tradition of the 19th century.

The Biblical Heritage Gallery where these items were exhibited closed in 2019 to make way for the Warren and Betty Wiersbe Library and Reading Room, which opened in the fall of 2019. The items in the on-line exhibit described below are housed in Special Collections at the Centennial Library at Cedarville University and are available for use by the public on request. Follow this link to contact the University Archivist.


Browse the Sing to the Lord a New Song: Early Church Music Exhibit:


Early Polyphony

Martin Luther (1482-1546)

William Byrd (1540-1623)

The Council of Trent (1545-1563)

Metrical Psalters

From Hymns to Gospel Songs