Vol. 9, No. 3
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The purpose herein is to ascertain from New Testament authority the kind of music in Christian worship that God commands. Of course, New Testament authority only concerns those who realize that what God wants, what God has specified and how God has specified various things really matters. Articles such as this will have no interest to people resigned to ignore divine instruction. However, anyone who esteems divine instruction can appreciate a biblical lesson such as this one.
Consider the following illustrations to set the proper consideration of the question before us: God-Authorized Music for Christian Worship. Vehicles manufactured by several different automobile manufacturers doubtless are parked in parking lots around church buildings, at any malls/shopping center, hospitals, etc. Certainly, some people are very passionate about their cars and cars from certain manufacturers. However, really the personal choices people make regarding what cars they will drive are relatively unimportant in the larger scheme of things. Likewise, there are several different locations throughout our country where someone may choose to live. Some people prefer the gulf coast, the east coast, the west coast, along the Canadian border or further inland. Some people prefer flatland while others prefer hills or mountains. Personal choices as to where one lives are relatively unimportant in the larger scheme of things.
However, there are some things that are so important that we simply do not have the right to make personal choices. For instance, we must obey the laws of the land, as long as they do not require of us anything that runs counter to God's Word (Romans 13:1-7; Acts 5:29). Likewise, we do not have the right to make personal choices in areas where God has specified what and how he wants something to be done. This is true, in among other ways, regarding the type of music God expects from us in Christian worship.
There was a time when no one used instrumental music in Christian worship; everyone used singing only in Christian worship. A wide spectrum of students of the Bible over the centuries have acknowledged that the music used in Christian worship by the early church and which the New Testament authorizes is singing without the accompaniment of instrumental music. Clearly, the New Testament only authorizes the use of singing in Christian worship.
Since the churches of Christ endeavor to practice primitive Christianity without admixture of human doctrine, we do not use instrumental music in Christian worship. It is not a matter of not liking instrumental music, not wanting to invest in organs and such or not having anyone capable of playing instrumental music. If it were left to my personal preferences or if God had asked me, I might well encourage the use of instrumental music in Christian worship (but God did not consult with me or ask for my advice). The reason that the churches of Christ do not use instrumental music in Christian worship is that it is a matter of sincere religious conviction based on what the New Testament authorizes for music in Christian worship.
First, let's note the studied conclusions of famous denominational students of the Bible. There are myriads more than we will notice to which we could appeal, but these, who may have more name recognition to the present generation than some others, will suffice to illustrate the point. Martin Luther, from whose influence the Lutheran Church formed, called "the organ an ensign [banner] of Baal" (qtd. in Taylor 37). John Calvin, founder of the Presbyterian Church, said:
Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists [Catholics], therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to Him. Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints, only in a known tongue (1 Cor. xiv. 16). (qtd. in Kurfees, "Walking" 20).
John Knox, a Presbyterian, called the organ a chest of whistles (Taylor 37). John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, said: "I have no opposition to the organ in our chapel provided it is neither seen nor heard" (qtd. in Howard 6). Charles Spurgeon, famous Baptist preacher, said reproachfully of instrumental music in worship: "I would as soon to pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery" (qtd. in Howard 8).
Second, let's observe what standard reference works record about the type of music the early church used. Historical records uniformly agree that the church of the first century and for several centuries afterward did not use instrumental music in Christian worship. Again, a long list of historical references could be used to duplicate corroboration of the following, but these brief references suffice to illustrate the point.
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. Organs were, however, in use before this in the theatre. They were never regarded with favor in the Eastern Church, and were vehemently opposed in some of the Western churches. (McClintock and Strong)
From the time of the Reformation Movement, several religionists refused to use instrumental music in worship, as noted by McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia:
Against the use of instruments in Christian churches the following reasons may be urged: 1. There is no warrant in the New Testament for their use. ...2. Instruments were not used in the worship of the ancient synagogue. ...3. The early Reformers, when they came out of Rome, removed them as the monuments of idolatry. ...5. Instrumental music is inconspatible with directions for singing given in the N.T.
At one time, no one used instrumental music in Christian worship, and some churches still refrain from using instrumental music in Christian worship (e.g., Greek Orthodox, churches of Christ).
Third, let's look for ourselves at the New Testament for divine instruction respecting the type of music God has authorized for Christian worship. However, first, we must realize that Christian worship differs from worship of ages prior to the Christian Age. Both Patriarchal and Jewish worship included animal sacrifices. Jewish worship included burning incense and lighted lamps. King David inaugurated the use of instrumental music in Jewish worship in the Temple (1 Chronicles 23:5; 2 Chronicles 7:6; 29:27-28). However, through the prophet Amos God rebuked David for adding instrumental music to Jewish worship (Amos 6:1-5). Jewish synagogue worship (without the use of instrumental music) developed after the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and during the 70 years captivity. The church and its worship was organized similar to the pattern of Jewish synagogue worship, which did not include the use of instrumental music.
There is a specific reason that Christian worship differs from worship in ages prior to the Christian Age. The Old Testament is no longer the authority in religion to which mankind appeals for divine instruction. The apostle Paul wrote that we have been delivered from the Law of Moses (Romans 7:6-7), that the Old Law has been abolished (Ephesians 2:15) and that the Old Testament has been nailed to the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:14). The church and its worship pertains not to the Old Testament, but to the New Testament, to which we must turn for divine instruction.
Just what does the New Testament authorize for music in Christian worship? No New Testament Scripture provides an example or instruction respecting the use of instrumental music in Christian worship; we cannot turn to verses of Scripture respecting the use of instrumental music in Christian worship because they do not exist. Every New Testament reference to worshipful Christian music specifies only singing.
Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 precede the establishment of the church, but Jesus Christ and his disciples sang an hymn; the Greek word (humneo) translated "had sung an hymn" refers to singing and has not been the subject of controversy respecting its translation. Acts 16:25 also uses humneo when it records that Paul and Silas sang praises to God; though they perhaps did not have opportunity to use instruments of music on that occasion, singing in worship lends itself to everyone everywhere. Romans 15:9 has psallo in the text when it refers to singing to God, not singing and playing; though centuries before psallo referred to plucking the strings on an instrument of music, by the first century A.D., psallo referred to singing. Consequently, translators of our English Bible uniformly translated psallo as "sing" except in Ephesians 5:19 where it is translated as "melody" ("in your heart"). First Corinthians 14:15 refers to two aspects of Christian worship in the assembly of the saints--singing (psallo) and praying--no instrumental music here.
Ephesians 5:19 is a particularly important and instructive verse respecting music in Christian worship. It specifically authorizes "speaking" ("to talk, i.e. to utter words" Biblesoft's). The verse specifies "singing" (aido) as the type of music authorized for Christian worship; here again a Greek word over which there has been no controversy respecting its translation appears and is translated "singing." In the same verse, "melody" (psallo) is to be made within a person, in one's heart. Rather than simply instructing to make music, a generic command, a specific type of music is specified--singing, which effectively excludes humming, whistling, clapping, foot stomping and instruments of music.
Colossians 3:16 is another especially important and instructive verse respecting music in Christian worship. This verse, too, specifies "singing" (aido) as the type of music authorized for Christian worship. In addition, Colossians 3:16 advises that this singing instructs and admonishes the congregation, which, for instance, humming, whistling, clapping, foot stomping and instruments of music cannot do. The specification for singing for Christian worship pertains to the action of worship irrespective of the location; no location appears in the verse, only the activity of worship.
Hebrews 2:12 refers to singing (humneo) in congregational worship. James 5:13 refers to singing (psallo) in personal worship. References to music in the Book of Revelation pertain to what occurs in heaven. Revelation 5:9; 14:2-3 and 15:3 refer to singing. Revelation 14:2-3 also refers to "the voice of harpers harping with their harps," along with "as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder." First, what happens in heaven does not any more directly relate to the Church or Christian Age than does worship under Patriarchy or Judaism directly relate to what is authorized now by the New Testament. Second, Revelation 14:2-3 employs figures to qualify the "voice from heaven"; the verse does not say instrumental music, figurative or literal is used in heaven.
Summarized, what does the New Testament teach about the type of music in Christian worship that God expects from Christians? A specific type of music--singing--is authorized in the New Testament for Christian worship. Sometimes, the specification of singing in Christian worship is associated in the verse with a congregational assembly. Irrespective of when and where one participates in Christian worship where music is a part of that worship, only singing is authorized by the New Testament for that Christian worship. Were we to hum, whistle, clap, stomp our feet or use instrumental music, we would be going beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18-19).
Growing up as a Catholic, I grew to appreciate and still appreciate the sound of a mighty pipe organ. On one or more occasions I have listened to moving instrumental music accompanying religious songs, such as when in boot camp I escaped the misery for an hour by attending a lively denominational worship service. Personally, had God asked me for my input, I might well have opted for the use of instrumental music in worship along with singing (but God neither asked me for my two cents worth nor gave me permission to alter divine instruction in this matter or any other). Anyone who is interested in doing what God said do in the way in which God said to do it in religion will not attempt to alter the type of music that he through the New Testament authorized for Christian worship. Adam Clarke, a Methodist preacher, expressed an admirable sentiment respecting worshipful music.
I am an old man and a minister; and I declare that I never knew them (mechanical instruments) productive of any good in the worship of God; and I have reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire; but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music and I register my protest against all such corruption in the worship of the Infinite Spirit who requires his followers to worship him in spirit and in truth. (qtd. in Howard 6)
Similarly, mankind has often attempted to alter God's plan of salvation to suit himself, but mankind cannot obligate God to a plan for human redemption that God did not author. God's plan is simple as it is effective (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). God even anticipated Christians needing forgiveness of their sins as well (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). We need God-authorized redemption as much as we are obligated by New Testament Scripture to employ God-authorized music in Christian worship.
Works Cited & Consulted
Ferguson, Everett et. al. The Instrumental Music Issue. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1987.
Howard, V.E. Instrumental Music in Worship. West Monroe: Central Printers and Publishers, 1970.
Kurfees, M.C. Instrumental Music in the Worship. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1969.
- - -. Walking by Faith: Origin of Instrumental Music in Christian Worship. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1970.
McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
Taylor, Robert R., Jr. "Instrumental Music in History." Spiritual Sword 10:1 (1978): 36-39.
Woods, Guy N. Why the Churches of Christ Do Not Use Instrumental Music in Worship. Memphis: Getwell Church of Christ, 1982.