Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 13 No. 12 December 2011
Page 2


Music in Christian Worship:
Singing, Instrumental or Both?

Louis RushmoreThe question of the type of music that is acceptable to God in Christian worship pertains to Bible authority, and the use of instrumental music in worship is evidence of an incorrect view of Bible authority. Not even one Scripture authorizes the use of instrumental music in Christian worship! Every New Testament passage that pertains to Christian worship instructs Christians to sing. Rather than being general commands whereby one might choose for himself whether to use instrumental music in worship, New Testament commands are specific enough to include singing and to exclude everything else. Exclusions include not only instrumental music but also other forms of vocal music, such as humming, whistling or voices imitating instruments of music.

The principle of biblical specification being inclusive and exclusive at the same time rings out from the sons of Aaron as they “offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not” (Leviticus 10:1-2). Remember, God destroyed Nadab and Abihu with fire. Likewise, the enduring biblical account of the failed worship of Cain versus that of his brother Abel (Genesis 4:3-7) underscores that there is true worship, contrasted with false worship. For worship today to be acceptable to God, it must be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

The word “sing” from the Greek psallo appears in these New Testament verses: Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; James 5:13. In addition, psallo is translated “making melody” in Ephesians 5:19; the melody occurs “in your heart.” By the time of the New Testament, the Greek word psallo referred to singing without accompaniment by instruments of music. Hence, it was translated accordingly.

To sum up – In its primary sense psallo had no reference to music at all, but meant merely to touch or twitch or pull; then it was used to denote the drawing of the bowstring in shooting arrows; afterwards it was restricted to making music on a harp by touching its strings; then it was applied to singing with the accompaniment of harp-music; finally it was used to denote singing psalms without any instrument save the organs of speech. In this last and latest sense it is used exclusively in the New Testament, and occurs only five times – Rom. 15:9; 1 Cor. 14:15 (twice); Eph. 5:19; and Jas. 5:13. … The question now, as every one knows, is not about the roots or the original meaning of words, but about the sense in which they were used by the inspired writers… (Kurfees 57, 61)

Another Greek word translated “sing” (aido) also appears in Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Revelation 5:9; 14:3; 15:3. The words “sing,” “sang” and “sung” from humneo appear in Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25 and Hebrews 2:12.

Not all of these references pertain to Christian worship (e.g., Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26 – before the Christian Age; Revelation 5:9; 14:3; 15:3 – after the Christian Age). However, all of the references to worshipful music in the Christian Age – both instructions and examples – specifically cite singing. Specification of singing leaves no room for any other type of music for Christian worship! “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

Apostolic authority established singing without accompaniment by instruments of music as the authorized and acceptable worship of God under Christianity. Consequently, secular history observed that the primitive church did not use instrumental music in Christian worship. The early writings of Pliny the Younger (A.D. 110), Ignatius (A.D. 110), Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd century), Tertullian (beginning of 3rd century), Hippolytus of Rome (beginning of 3rd century) and Eusebius (beginning of the 4th century) bear this out. “Thomas Aquinas, 1250, has these remarkable words: ‘Our Church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.’ From this passage we are surely warranted in concluding that there was no ecclesiastical use of organs in the time of Aquinas” (McClintock and Strong).

There is not a solitary mention of instrumental music in the worship of any New Testament church, nor in any instance of Christian worship throughout the apostolic age. …Its [instrumental music] first appearance in history in Christian worship was about the sixth century, A.D., the exact date of its introduction varying in different localities and according to different authorities, but there was no general attempt to introduce it till after the eighth century. … From the very earliest introduction of this practice, it excited strenuous and prolonged opposition. (Kurfees 2-3)

The general introduction of instrumental music can certainly not be assigned to a date earlier than the 5th and 6th centuries… Several centuries later the introduction of the organ in sacred service gave a place to instruments as accompaniments for Christian song… 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)

“The testimony of early church history is clear and strong that early Christians employed vocal music but did not employ instrumental music in their assemblies” (Ferguson 79). Leaders of the Reformation Movement and other religious leaders recognized that instrumental music in Christian worship was unscriptural, and hence they spoke against it (e.g., John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Adam Clarke). “In Scotland, the early Reformers, while they banished instrumental music from churches, paid great attention to singing” (McClintock and Strong). At one time, no church used instrumental music in Christian worship. The addition of instrumental music into church worship always has been met with resistance and always has resulted in division. Note just one example:

In 1829 the question was brought up in the Relief Synod, as an organ had been introduced into Roxburgh Place Chapel, Edinburgh. The deliverance, given by a very large majority, was as follows: “It being admitted and incontrovertibly true that the Rev. John Johnston had introduced instrumental music into the public worship of God in the Relief Congregation, Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh, which innovation the synod are of opinion is unauthorized by the laws of the New Testament, contrary to the universal practice of the Church in the first and purest periods of her history, contrary to the universal practice of the Church of Scotland, and contrary to the consuetudinary laws of the synod of Relief, and highly inexpedient, the synod agree to express their regret that any individual member of their body should have had the temerity to introduce such a dangerous innovation into the public worship of God in this country, which has a manifest tendency to offend many serious Christians and congregations, and create a schism in the body…” (McClintock and Strong)

The apostles gave the first century church the pure Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9) and “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Further, “Paul told the elders of the Church in Ephesus: ‘I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you’ (Acts 20:20), but he didn’t give them instrumental music, therefore instrumental music must not have been profitable” (Woods 7-8).

Now it is an undeniable fact that all that can be known of what will please the Lord in worship is what has been revealed in his word. Anything, therefore, which has not been revealed in the New Testament Scriptures can never be known to be pleasing to him; so that all such worship must of necessity be, to say the best of it, of doubtful propriety. Since all service to God must be free of doubt in order to be divinely approved (see Rom. 14:23), and since God has nowhere in his word given any assurance that worship associated with instrumental music is acceptable with him, it must, therefore, be classed among those things which are doubtful. (George G. Taylor qtd. in Kurfees 240)

Only singing in Christian worship corresponds to one of the purposes of worship in song. Singing in worship is multidirectional – upward to God and horizontally to fellow worshippers, “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). “Psalms” refers to the Book of Psalms, which equates to Scripture put to music. “Hymns” are songs that are sung directly to God about Him, but do not necessarily involve quoting Scripture in song. “Spiritual songs” have a spiritual tone to them, speaking of heaven, Christian life, but they are not necessarily about God or Jesus Christ. Instrumental music lacks the capacity to teach and admonish worshippers with scriptural information. Instrumental music is not only unacceptable to God, but it cannot teach and admonish. “That which ‘floods the building with sound’ and prevents the worshipers from ‘hearing their own voices,’ not only cannot help in obeying the command ‘to teach and admonish one another’ in song, but hinders from obeying it” (Kurfees 148).

The type of music used in worship of God is a test of fellowship between God and man, as well as between the worshippers themselves (2 John 9-11). Only singing is sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ for Christian worship (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:11-20; 10:29; 13:20), whereas instrumental music is not sealed in the blood of Christ. Singing in Christian worship is walking by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), but using instrumental music in Christian worship is not walking by faith. Singing in Christian worship is speaking as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), but using instrumental music in Christian worship is not speaking as the oracles of God.

The laws of inclusion and exclusion include singing in Christian worship, but they exclude the use of instrumental music in Christian worship. Instrumental music in worship was part of the Old Testament, which has been replaced with the New Testament (Romans 7:6-7; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14). Instrumental music in Christian worship does not appear in the New Testament – meaning that there is no biblical authority for the use of instrumental music in Christian worship.

Faulty rationalizations and defective counterparts aside, the New Testament explicitly specifies singing without instrumental accompaniment as the type of Christian music acceptable to God. Contrary to assertions, instrumental music in Jewish worship was a part of that worship, not merely an aid to that worship (1 Chronicles 23:6; 2 Chronicles 29:28). Therefore, it is a false claim by proponents of using instruments of music in Christian worship that musical instruments are merely aids to but not a part of worship.

Likewise, the claim that psallo means to play instrumental music is seriously flawed. “If the idea of instrumental music is inherent in the word [psallo], no Christian can obey the commands of God without playing on an instrument of music” (Music in Worship 3). Yet, no one is willing to accept this logical conclusion to his argument. Anything that proves too much does not prove anything at all!

Some say, “Instrumental music is permissible in the home, so why would it not be permissible in the church?” Well, mothers give birth to children in the home, but that does not pertain to Christian worship. People sleep at home, but sleeping is inappropriate in Christian worship.

Others assert, David did it – used instrumental music worship, and so Christians can use instrumental music in Christian worship. Remember, though, that David committed adultery, too. Obviously, then, simply because King David did it does not justify using instrumental music in Christian worship. Furthermore, David lived under the Old Testament, which has been removed (Romans 7:6-7; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14). Therefore, that David used instrumental music in worship is irrelevant to the type of music used in Christian worship.

Still others boldly declare that the Bible does not say not to use instrumental music in Christian worship. However, the Bible authorizes because of what it does say, not based on what it does not say. For instance, Noah was instructed to use gopher wood in building the ark, which precluded the use of any other kind of wood (Genesis 6:14). Nadab and Abihu used unauthorized fire in worship, for which God killed them (Leviticus 10:1-2)

Proponents of instrumental music in Christian worship claim that it is comparable to songbooks, pitch pipes, tuning forks, pews, lights, etc. and is not an addition to worship. However, instrumental music is an additional music to singing. The other items mentioned do not alter or add to Christian worship, but instrumental music alters and adds to Christian worship. Instrumental music is a type of worship itself, rather than being an expedient (Psalm 43:4; 150:3-5).

Another effort to allow instrumental music in Christian worship is the assertion that since it will be used in heaven, it is, therefore, permissible for Christian worship, too. Note, though, that heaven will have infant membership as well, but that does not authorize infant membership in the church. Hence, what may occur in heaven does not justify what occurs in Christian worship. What may or may not pertain to heaven no more authorizes something for Christian worship than what may have been approved under Patriarchy or Judaism authorizes anything for Christian worship.

Finally, desperate defenders of instrumental music in worship attempt to deny that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 pertain to worship, saying that the references pertain to celebrations. At least, someone announces that Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 do not pertain to congregational worship. Attackers target these two verses since they are the chief instructive passages about singing in Christian worship. Yet, both books were written to congregations of the Lord’s church. Ephesians contrasts festive and religious activities. Both passages deal with the activity of singing worshipful songs rather than location. Singing is the proper type of music for Christian worship irrespective of whether done by one or more or by a congregational assembly.

“Those who use the instrument admit that all can worship God acceptably without it [instrumental music]. Then, what is the safe course?” (Bradfield 4). Instrumental music in worship is recorded in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 29:25), but since instrumental music in Christian worship does not appear in the New Testament, instrumental music is not approved for use in Christian worship. Neither under Judaism nor under Christianity are mortals permitted by God to add to or take away from God’s Word or what it authorizes (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19).

Works Cited

Bradfield, W.A. Is Instrumental Music in Worship Scriptural? Henderson: W.A. Bradfield, n.d.

Kurfees, M.C. Instrumental Music in the Worship. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1969.

Lewis, Jack P., Everett Ferguson and Earl West. The Instrumental Music Issue. Bill Flatt, ed. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1987.

McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.

Music in Worship. Ft. Worth: Star Bible Publications, n.d.

Woods, Guy N. Why Churches of Christ Do Not Use Instrumental Music in Christian Worship. Memphis: Getwell Church of Christ, 1982.

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