Vol. 7, No. 10
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It is important to reinforce fundamentals of the Christian faith, especially when they differ from popular religion. Contrary to accepted practice among many who profess Christianity, whether instrumental music is used in Christian worship is a matter affecting the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Therein lie the question and the biblical answer to follow: "Why do the churches of Christ not use instrumental music in worship?” “Is it a question of preference or a legitimate matter of faith?"
The churches of Christ (Romans 16:16) belong to Jesus Christ, and consequently, they are obligated to conduct themselves according to what Jesus authorized (Colossians 3:16-17). People living in the Gospel Age must heed the words of Jesus Christ rather than Moses or the Old Testament prophets; God the Father emphasized this at the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ when he uttered, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matthew 17:1-5). Remember that Moses (the lawgiver of the Old Testament) and Elijah (representing all the Old Testament prophets) were present at the Transfiguration; the significance is that the Father essentially said, “Listen to my Son, Jesus Christ, rather than Moses or the prophets.” Jesus himself drove that point home during his earthly ministry when he said, "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
Further, Jesus Christ is the Lawgiver (James 4:12) and Mediator of the New Testament (Hebrews 9:15), to which people living today must turn for religious instruction. Little surprise then that Jesus Christ condemned alteration of divine revelation (Judaism then, Christianity now) with “the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9), and that the inspired apostle Paul likewise condemned false Gospels (Galatians 1:6-9) and the human will instead of God's will discernible in the New Testament, specifically regarding worship (Colossians 2:23). One must turn exclusively to the New Testament to learn what God has authorized, including the topic of worshipful music.
The Old Testament and heaven are incorrect places to look for what God has authorized for worshipful music today. The Old Testament has been replaced with the New Testament for people living today. It has been “done away” (2 Corinthians 3:6-11), "abolished" (Ephesians 2:15) and taken out of the way by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). People living today have been "delivered" from all of the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments (Romans 7:6-7). Further, the New Testament is a "better covenant" (Hebrews 8:6-7). Therefore, the Old Testament is an incorrect place to look for what God has authorized in worship today (including worshipful music).
What may or may not occur in heaven is irrelevant regarding the Christian Age, and often passages about heaven are misrepresented in a vain attempt to justify what God has not authorized for Christian worship. Every soul will be judged at Final Judgment respecting the law of God under which he or she lived--no more and no less (Revelation 20:12-15). Therefore, supposed references to instruments of music in heaven are meaningless regarding what is authorized in worship of God today. First, Revelation 14:2 really discusses voices, not "harps"; there are no harps in this verse except for comparing voices to the sound harps make. In addition, the Book of Revelation is a volume of highly figurative language and symbols, so that mention of "harps" in heaven may not actually refer to instruments of music (Revelation 5:8; 15:2); the supposition that imagines real harps in heaven might as well imagine real harp manufacturers and harp service personnel in heaven, too. How soon we forget that heaven is a spiritual realm rather than comparable to our earthly, physical existence. Appeals to what may or may not occur in eternity are irrelevant regarding Christian worship today.
Singing is the only type of music that God has authorized for use in worship today. Instrumental music existed in the first century when the church was begun by Christ, and could have been authorized by our Lord for Christian worship, though he did not authorize instrumental music for Christian worship. Near the dawn of man's habitation of planet earth, Jubal invented "the harp and flute" (Genesis 4:21 NKJV). King David introduced instruments of music into Jewish worship (1 Chronicles 23:5; 2 Chronicles 7:6; 29:26; Amos 6:5); each passage attributing introduction of instrumental music into Jewish worship emphasizes that David did it, leading many to conclude that God did not authorize instrumental music but overlooked it then, though through the New Testament God refuses to overlook some things any longer (Acts 17:30).
The Jewish synagogue, after which the New Testament church is patterned, did not use instrumental music in worship:
Instruments were not used in the worship of the ancient synagogue. They belonged to the tabernacle and the Temple, especially the latter; but were never in the congregational assemblies of Gods people. ...No hint is given in Old Testament or New that instruments were ever used in the synagogue worship. (b) Orthodox Jews do not allow the organ or any other instrument in their synagogues. ("Music, Instrumental")
All worshipful music associated with the Lord's church in the New Testament is singing without accompaniment by instrumental music (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13). A sample of a first century Christian worship assembly identifies singing as the type of worshipful music that had apostolic sanction or authority (1 Corinthians 14:15). "Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" in first century worshipful music were spoken through singing, and the instrument used to make melody was the "heart" (Ephesians 5:19). "Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" through singing taught one another spiritual truths (Colossians 3:16), which instruments of music are incapable of doing. The type of music in a first century congregational assembly was singing (Hebrews 2:12). Irrespective of the place or occasion, first century worshipful music involved singing "psalms" (James 5:13).
There is no warrant in the New Testament for their use. (a) There is no example of such by Peter, Paul, John, James, or the Master himself, nor by any others in the apostolic age; nor have we any in the first three centuries...(b) We have no command either to make or to use them. ...(c) We find no directions, formal or incidental, for their use; while we have line upon line about singing--what to sing, when to sing, how to sing. ("Music, Instrumental")
Famous religious leaders throughout history realized that instrumental music is not authorized by the New Testament for Christian worship. The first century church did not use instrumental music in worship because there is no biblical authorization for it. At first, not even the Catholic Church used instrumental music in worship.
The general introduction of instrumental music can certainly not be assigned to a date earlier than the 5th and 6th centuries; yea, even Gregory the Great, who towards the end of the 6th century added greatly to the existing Church music, absolutely prohibited the use of instruments. Several centuries later the introduction of the organ in sacred service gave a place to instruments as accompaniments for Christian song, and from that time to this they have been freely used with few exceptions. The first organ is believed to have been used in Church service in the 13th century. ("Music, Christian")
There was a time when denominational churches did not use instrumental music in worship.
Luther called the organ an ensign of Baal; Calvin said that instrumental music was not fitter to be adopted into the Christian Church than the incense and the candlestick; Knox called the organ a kist [chest] of whistles. The Church of England revived them, against a very strong protest, and the English dissenters would not touch them. ("Music, Instrumental")
No one has ever been authorized to add instrumental music to Christian worship!
Anyone unconcerned about biblical authority or pleasing God can do anything or nothing at all in religion. However, everyone who respects biblical authority and wants to please God will render to the Almighty worshipful music that he has authorized--singing. "Why do the churches of Christ not use instrumental music in worship?" Not using instrumental music in worship is a legitimate matter of faith, rather than a mere preference. The churches of Christ are obligated to practice what Jesus Christ has authorized, and he has not authorized instrumental music in Christian worship.
Likewise, anyone unconcerned about biblical authority or pleasing God can do anything or nothing at all regarding human salvation; such a person will remain lost. However, everyone who respects biblical authority and wants to please God will implement God's divine plan of salvation in his or her life (Mark 16:16 for non-Christians; 1 John 1:9 for erring Christians).
"Music, Christian." McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
"Music, Instrumental." McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.