Worship is an expression of our love for God–homage paid to deity.
From the time of Cain and his worship to this very day, Satan has attempted to get men to worship God in vain. Do you know what vain means? It means useless. All worship is not acceptable worship. All worship is not beneficial to the worshipper.
Pagans worshiped in ignorance. Acts 17:23 “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ These people were worshipping in ignorance.
Ancient Israel mixed wickedness and worship. Isaiah 1:13 “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me, New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations–I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” These people added the practices of others to their worship to God.
The answer to the problem in Israel is given in Isaiah 1:16, 17 “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
Those who worship according to man’s teaching do so in vain. Matthew 15:9 “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
The only worship accepted by God is worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24).
Today, we are looking at worship, and “Why we do not use instrumental music in Christian worship.”
- A Brief History of Instrumental Music in Christian Worship.
The Church Fathers. These are men who were the influential theologians, teachers, and writers from the first few centuries of church history. Sometimes we call them the church fathers. What did they write about instrumental music?
Music historian James McKinnon sums it up by saying, “The antagonism which the Fathers of the early church displayed toward instruments has two outstanding characteristics: vehemence and uniformity.”
The Middle Ages. Students of ecclesiastical archaeology are generally agreed that instrumental music was not used in churches till a much later date; for Thomas Aquinas, A.D. 1250, has these remarkable words: ‘Our Church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God…’ From this passage we are surely warranted in concluding that there was no ecclesiastical use of organs in the time of Aquinas. (John McClintock and James Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, Volume 8)
The Reformers of the Reformation Movement. In the 1500’s there was a movement to leave the Catholic church and start churches that reformed the doctrines of the church.
There are several men that I could site, but I will just stick with one man, John Calvin. John Calvin was the man who came up with the faith only doctrine so many follow today. But what he says pretty-well represents the thinking of most of his fellow Reformers:
“I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching the harp and the viol, and all that kind of music, which is so frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was part of the…service of the Temple…but when they (Christians) frequent their sacred assemblies, 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 Ten Commandment 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 apostle is far more pleasing to him.” (John Calvin, Commentary Upon the Psalms, vol. 1)
The Protestant Reformers showed unrelenting zeal to remove the practices introduced by the Roman Catholic Church, including its use of musical instruments.
By the 1700’s things were about to change. The historic vocal-only conviction began to gradually erode among and by the late 1800’s, vocal-only praise was an endangered special in both American and Western European church life.
The Restoration Movement. There have been many different restoration movements in various countries, at various times. In fact a Christian in Germany, Hans G. Grimm testifies that he can trace the plea for the New Testament church in Europe back to 1117 A.D. Many of his ancestors were killed or burned at stake in their struggle for New Testament Christianity. (Otis Gatewood, Preaching in the Footsteps of Hitler, 1960) The Restoration movement that I am referencing to today is the American Restoration Movement.
This movement started shortly after the Revolutionary War, and was in full swing during our Civil War. Among those who wanted to be “Christians Only” there was vocal-only praise in their assemblies. This continued for many years.
In 1860, Dr. L.L. Pinkerton, preacher at Midway, Kentucky, introduced the melodeon to the worship. He wrote “So far as known to me, or, I presume to you, I am the only preacher in our brotherhood who has publicly advocated the propriety of employing instrumental music in some churches, and the church of God in Midway is the only church that has yet made a decided effort to introduce it.” The instrument was justified at Midway on the grounds that the singing would scare even the rats from the worship. (Dabney Philips, Restoration Principles and Personalities, p. 164, 165)
These statements from history and from religious leaders are not offered to settle the question. But they demonstrate that instrumental music is not a problem that has come in the last few year.
Every time instrumental music has been introduced into worship, it has caused division. To add it today would only divide us again.
II. Biblical Worship Must Be Authorized
Authority from God comes through Christ and the apostles. This is how we got the New Testament.
1. John 16:7-13–The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into “all truth.”
2. John 17:8 “The words that you gave me, I given unto them…”
3. John 12:48 “all will be judged by the words of Christ.
4. The apostles wrote the commandment of Christ. I Corinthians 14:37
5. They wrote the words of the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 2:12
The Bible is God’s inspired word (God breathed ESV) and has authority over our lives.
New Testament Passages relating to music in Christian Worship.
Matthew 26:30 “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Acts 16:25 “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,”
Romans 15:9 “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
I Corinthians 14:15 “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.”
Ephesians 5:19 “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” (Notice that we are to sing to one another. An instrument cannot do that.)
Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Notice that our singing teaches and encourages each other. An instrument cannot do that.)
Hebrews 2:12 “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
James 5:13 “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? let him sing praise.”
Each of these passages specifies vocal-only singing as the kind of music authorized for Christian worship. The law of exclusion and inclusion must be understood.
A specific command excludes-while a generic command includes.
a. There are two types of music, vocal & instrumental
b. The New Testament specifies vocal-only, therefore…
c. Instrumental music is excluded.
There are several Old Testament illustrations of this principle. Often we note that Noah built the ark with a specific type of wood. The command to do so excluded the substitution or the addition of other types of wood. We also often mention the worship offered by two sons of Aaron. They knew the law of God, but ignored what they were told to do and added “strange fire” to their worship. God was not pleased and killed them on the spot.
A modern illustration would go like this. You go to your favorite Burger place and order the #1 combo, and supersize it. Then when the food comes, you receive something else. Well, did you authorize a substitution? No, you said what you wanted, and expected to receive what you ordered. When you ordered you did not have to says, I don’t want combo #2, I don’t want combo #3, I don’t want onion rings instead of fries, I don’t want a shake instead of a drink…etc.
We can take this principle and apply it to vocal-only worship. To argue that “if singing was so important to God He would have made it clearer” is to totally misunderstand how to read Scripture. God has said what He wants, and He expects to receive what He has asked for.
But What About…
There is one verse that has to do with music, but it doesn’t have anything to do with worship in the church. However, people who want to use instruments will try to bring this into play.
Revelation 5:8 “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. ”
Questions to ask yourselves about this verse…
- Is it literal or figurative? Much of what we read in Revelation is figurative. And guess what, the verse even says that part of what it is talking about is figurative. The incense is not incense at all, it is prayers. So does the creature have a literal harp in one hand but a figurative bowl in the other?
- Where is this happening? It is in heaven. So if people have harps in heaven, does that authorize us to use them in worship here on earth? Certainly during the Temple worship, there were stringed instruments commanded by God. But just because that is the way people worshiped then, does that authorize us to use them now. I don’t see how worship in heaven authorizes the same type of worship now.
- What are the four living creatures holding? In one hand they have a harp and in the other they have a golden bowl. Let me ask you a simple question. How are they going to play the harp if both of their hands are full? Will they use their nose, will they use their toes, just how are they going to play these instrument?
4. What sound is the harp making? There is no sound coming from the harps. So if there is no sound, and the creatures hands are full, can we use this scripture to prove that instrumental music is authorized in worship. In fact, in chapter 14:2 a voice is heard and it sounds like harps, but no harps are being played. In fact, Revelation 14:3 there is singing going on, not harp playing.
Realize that when someone thinks they got you on this, they haven’t thought this through. There is no music coming from the harp, the harp is in heaven not on the earth, and we are dealing with a highly figurative book describing events at the throne of God. So be nice to them, and politely help them with their ignorance. Help them understand that these verses do not prove that we can have anything but vocal-only praise today.
III. What can be said of Instrumental Music in Christian Worship?
- Instrumental music is not authorized by Jesus Christ.
Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Who has the authority over our worship? Jesus. Jesus did not teach or authorize the addition of instruments to our vocal-only praise. Therefore, instrumental praise is not a part of the doctrine of Christ.
2 John 9 “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”
- instrumental music was not taught by the apostles.
Matthew 28: 19-20 The apostles were commanded to teach new converts “to observe all things that I (Jesus) had commanded them…”
The apostles did not add to Jesus’ teaching by authorizing the use of instruments. Therefore, instrumental music is not part of the “apostles doctrine” Acts 2:42
- Instrumental Music is not taught by the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit was to guide the apostles into “all truth” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit did not guide the apostles to use instrumental music. Therefore, this addition is not according to truth.
There is a lot more that needs to be said, but We believe that the Bible is clear in its instruction regarding Christian worship. We desire to be pleasing to the Lord and therefore, we worship as Jesus directs us through His Holy Spirit inspired Word.
The question of instrumental music in Christian worship involves a deeper principle…the authority of Scripture.
So, does the Bible have authority over what you say and do?
Does it have any sway over how you worship your Creator?
Do you regard the Word of God as authoritative?
What we be governed by a “thus says the Lord” or shall “every man do that which is right in his own eyes?”
Our plea is for a return to the New Testament for our worship and practice. Will you join us in standing up for what the New Testament says about vocal-only praise?