What is the purpose of church bells? Where did the tradition of church bells originate?
The history of ringing church bells dates back to AD 400. Paulinus of Nola was the first man to introduce them to the Christian church, and Pope Sabinianus sanctioned their use in AD 604. Church bells became much more common in Europe during the Middle Ages, and the Eastern Orthodox Church carried on a long history of using bells during services. The Russian Orthodox Church also has a long history with bell ringing.
Pagan winter celebrations included ringing bells, which were believed to drive out evil spirits. This belief perpetuated the idea that the sound of ringing bells has significant spiritual value. Sanctus bells, or small hand bells, are rung during a service in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Anglican tradition. These bells were said to have apotropaic power, which is the power to ward off demons or evil. It is superstition that bells drive away evil, and weight should not be placed on this belief because it is not Bible-based.
Today, the main purpose of ringing bells is to announce that a service is beginning and worshippers should gather together for the church service. Some denominations such as Anglican, Catholic, and Lutheran churches ring their bells three times a day (6:00 A.M., noon, and 6:00 P.M) as a reminder to recite the Lord's Prayer. Further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that in the early church, the Lord's Prayer was recited three times a day, though there is no mention in the Bible of such a tradition. It seems the tradition was created to parallel the Jewish practice of praying three times a day (Psalm 55:17; Daniel 6:10). The Islamic tradition of the adhan also calls the faithful to pray three times a day by ringing bells thrice daily.
Bells are also rung during most Catholic and High Church services. Sanctus bells are rung shortly before the consecration of the bread and wine and also when the elements are displayed to the people. Not all Anglican churches follow the Catholic traditions surrounding the Eucharist. The High Anglican Church is quite similar to Catholicism, while the Low Anglican Church more closely resembles Prostestantism.
Because ringing bells often symbolizes joy, they are sometimes played on Christmas Eve to celebrate the coming of the Lord (Psalm 95:1; 98:4). Bell choirs create wondrous music, and often churches will simply ring the bells because of their beautiful sound.
The Bible does not have a concrete position on church bells. Traditionally, most bell ringing is steeped in superstition or various Christian denominations. However, bells can be enjoyed for their joyful and celebrant sound. Bells can remind Christ followers of the Lord's presence, and the music often produces a calm and reverence in those who listen.
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