Taylorsville church of Christ

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Instrumental Music


One can hardly imagine worship services with no singing. It would be like a McDonalds restaurant without its golden arches. The two just seem inseparable. Singing has been a fixture in the church from the beginning. The early Christians sang praises to God in their assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:15, 26). However, some wonder why we do not use instruments when we sing. That’s a good question.

 

The absence of instruments has nothing to do with personal preference or financial expense. It has everything to do with authority. We do not read about instruments being used in the church. While they were mentioned in the Old Testament, the New Testament just says to sing in worship. Here are some of the passages:


“I will sing praise” (1 Corinthians 14:15)


“Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19)


“Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16)


“In the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (Hebrews 2:12)


“Offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips” (Hebrews 13:15)


The church sang without instruments for several hundred years after the apostles. This may come as a surprise, but it is true. Instruments were a very late innovation in the worship service that many people opposed. Here are some quotes:


Philip Schaff, church historian: “The use of organs in churches is ascribed to Pope Vitalian” (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, p. 439).

 

Thomas Aquinas, Catholic theologian: “Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize” (Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 3, p. 137).

 

Martin Luther, Protestant theologian: “The organ in worship is the insignia of Baal” (McClintock & Strong’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 762).

 

John Calvin, Protestant theologian: “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews” (Calvin’s Commentary, Psalm 33, p. 539).

 

John Wesley, Protestant theologian: “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels provided they are neither HEARD nor SEEN” (Clarke’s Commentary, Amos 6, p. 684).

 

David Benedict, Baptist historian: “Staunch old Baptists in former times would as soon have tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ in their galleries” (50 Years Among the Baptists, p. 283).

 

Charles Spurgeon, Baptist preacher: “What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettinesses of a quartette, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it” (The Treasury of David, Vol. 1, Psalm 42, p. 272).

 

Catholic Encyclopedia: “Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments, the first Christians were of too spiritual a fibre to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, p. 651).

 

The great stories of the Old Testament were preserved for our learning (Romans 15:4). Some of those stories emphasize the importance of authority in worship. For instance, Nadab and Abihu were killed for offering “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1-2). These men worshipped God the wrong way, and they were punished. That should serve as a lesson for Christians. We must have proper authority for our religious practices. To put it another way, we must worship “in truth” (John 4:24).

 

Some suggest that since we read about instruments in the Old Testament, we can use them in the church today. However, those who say that fail to realize that Christians are to follow the New Testament. We are under the law of Christ, not the law of Moses. Others argue that the Greek word psallo (“making melody” in Ephesians 5:19) means to pluck a stringed instrument. However, by the time of its use in the New Testament, psallo simply meant “to sing.” This is indicated by a host of lexicographers, including Thayer, Mounce, Green, Arndt-Gingrich, and Liddell-Scott. Psallo is translated “sing” in Romans 15:9, 1 Corinthians 14:15, and James 5:13. Still others contend that since instruments are mentioned in Revelation about heaven, they can be employed in our worship. However, we need authority for instruments in the church, not heaven. There are many things in heaven that are not in the church (angels, infants, the throne of God), and there are many things in the church that are not in heaven (hope, marriage, the Lord’s Supper). Moreover, one misunderstands the apocalyptic style of Revelation if he thinks material instruments will literally be in the spiritual realm of heaven.   


There are two kinds of music — instrumental and vocal. The New Testament specifies the kind of music God desires for the church. It says to sing. Thus the term a cappella, which means “in the manner of the church.”

 

We all agree that God approves of singing in worship. The issue arises when instruments are added. Why risk your soul over something that was introduced centuries after the apostles and has been the source of such bitter division among the Lord’s people? Let’s just sing!