Olsen Park Church of Christ

Should We Worship God with Instrumental Music?

Introduction. A question that often arises when we talk with those in the religious world about worship is, “Why don’t you use instrumental music in worship?” As some see it...

         Instrumental music is much more moving.

         Many enjoy it more than singing alone.

         It is a mark of growing progressive modern churches.

         The Bible doesn’t say you can’t use instruments.

Because of this many who may have called themselves “churches of Christ” increasingly are either adopting the use of mechanical instruments of music or taking positions that argue—“There’s nothing wrong with it, its just our tradition not to use it.” What does the Bible teach on this? What should our position be on this subject?

I. Instruments of Music in the Bible.

A. Instrumental music was authorized during the Old Testament period in temple worship (2 Chron. 29:25).

1.  According to the Jewish Encyclopedia instrumental music is “a modern feature in synagogal worship” (“Synagogal Music”).

2.  The first organ was introduced in Berlin June 14, 1815 by Israel Jacobson causing great indignation and division (“Organ”).

B. Singing is commanded under the Law of Christ (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-19l James 5:13).

1. New Testament examples of music in worship are all singing alone.

         Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn before going to Gethsemane (Mark 14:26).

         Paul and Silas in prison sang together (Acts 16:25).

         Paul describes the church assembly in which “each of you has a psalm” (1 Cor. 14:26).

2. New Testament references to instrumental music in worship describe conditions in heaven (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2).

II. Instrumental Music in Church History.

A. Early church writers opposed instrumental music.

         “The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we  honour God, is what we  employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and  trumpet, and timbrel, and flute.”  — Clement of Alexandria, A.D.  153-217).

         “...Now, instead of organs, we  may use our own bodies to  praise him withal.... Instruments  appertain not to Christians.”  — John Chrysostom , Homily  on Psalm 149 (4 th  century).

         “We render our hymn with a living psalterion  and a living  kithara , with  spiritual songs. The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to  God than any musical instrument. Accordingly in all the churches of God,  united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and  piety, we send up a unison melody in the words of the Psalms.”  — Eusebius (church historian/bishop, Palestine),  Commentary on Psalm 91  (4 th  century).

1. It was gradually introduced into Roman Catholic practice.

a. According to Vatican librarian Bartholomaeo Platina, in his De vitis Pontificum (Cologne, 1593), pope Vitalian (657-72) first introduced the organ into church worship.

b. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “a strong objection to the organ in church service remained pretty general down to the twelfth century... But from the twelfth century on, the organ became the privileged church instrument...” (“Organ”).

c.  “But our Church does not make use of musical instruments such as harps and psalteries, in  the divine praises, for fear of seeming to  Judaize.... As the Philosopher says (Polit. viii,  6), “Teaching should not be accompanied with  a flute or any artificial instrument such as the  harp or anything else of this kind: but only with  such things as make good hearers.”  — Thomas Aquinas,  Summa Theologica (13th century).

2. Greek Orthodox churches have generally opposed its use.

B. During the time of the Protestant Reformation instrumental music was again opposed.

         “We have brought into our churches a certain operose and theatrical music...as I hardly think was ever heard in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres.  The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes  and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their  part with them.... Men run to church as to a theatre, to  have their ears tickled.”  — Erasmus  (classical scholar and humanist),  In Novum Testamentum... Annotationes  (1522).

         “When we are told that David sang with a musical instrument, let us carefully remember that we are not to make a rule of it. Rather, we are to recognise today that we must sing the praises of God in simplicity, since the shadows of the  Law are past, and since in our Lord Jesus Christ we have the truth and embodiment of all  these things which were given to the ancient  fathers in the time of their ignorance or  smallness of faith.” — John Calvin  (Reformer,  Geneva), Sermons on Second Samuel (1562).

1. It was gradually introduced into most Protestant churches.

2. Some still opposed its use.

a.  In 1888, John L. Girardeau a Presbyterian seminary professor wrote a book, entitled Instrumental Music in the Public Worship, arguing that if Presbyterians put instrumental music into their worship they would be returning to Roman Catholic practice.

C. This issue divided the Restoration Movement in America. The first recorded use of an instrument among churches of the Restoration Movement came in Midway Kentucky in 1859 when a preacher named L.L. Pinkerton introduced the use of a small foot-pedaled organ called a melodeon.

1. Those who became the Christian Church (and Disciples of Christ) denomination accepted the use of the instrument in worship.

2. Those who sought to be simply churches of Christ opposed it.

3. The efforts of “Progressives” within churches of Christ to introduce this into worship is nothing new—it is an old digression.

a.  In 2006 the Richland Hills church in Fort Worth, Texas introduced the use of instruments into their worship. The move came at the urging of their preacher Rick Atchley, who claimed in a sermon on December 10, 2006 to have been rebuked by the Holy Spirit for leading people to believe it was wrong.

III. Answering a Few Objections.

A.      “This is just an argument from silence!”

1.      Sometimes even members of the church will approach it this way, urging people to have a respect for the silence of the Scripture.

2.      There may be a place for that type of caution, but really when it comes to this issue it is not about silence, but about what is said. The Bible says to sing—anything else is adding an action that is not commanded.

B.      “But, the Bible doesn’t say you can’t!”

1.      When a positive instruction is given, is it logical or reasonable to conclude that we are only restricted to that if it carries with a negative prohibition of every other alternative?

2.      Sometimes the Bible gives prohibitions, but we understand that when positive instructions are given it necessarily prohibits alternatives that don’t conform to that instruction.

3.      For example, “Love you neighbor as yourself”—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Have you ever considered all the things that are NOT specifically prohibited, but we understand do not conform to this instruction. We don’t see anything that says:

         “Don’t pour salt in their coffee.”

         “Don't put trash in their front yard.”

         “Don’t key the side of their car.”

Would anyone argue that the absence of a specific prohibition gives approval for any of these action? No.

4.      In the same way, when the Bible says sing, it doesn’t have to say “don’t play a drum, or a guitar, or a tuba, or a harpsichord.” None of those things are inherently necessary to the definition of what it means to sing.

C.      “Doesn’t the word psallō mean ‘to pluck’?—Doesn’t that show it’s ok?”

1.      This is an argument that rests on the meaning of a word used five times in the New Testament.

a.       In Ephesians 5:19 it is translated, “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

b.      In James 5:13 it is translated, “Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”

c.       In 1 Corinthians 14:15 it is translated, I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.”

d.      Finally, in Romans 15:9 it is translated, “I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.” This is a quote from 2 Sam. 22:50.

2.      The word here is the Greek word psallō which is defined to mean, “1) to pluck off, pull out; 2) to cause to vibrate by touching, to twang; 2a) to touch or strike the chord, to twang the strings of a musical instrument so that they gently vibrate; 2b) to play on a stringed instrument, to play, the harp, etc; 2c) to sing to the music of the harp; 2d) in the NT to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song” (Thayer). A similar definition is offered for the Hebrew word from 2 Sam. 22:50—zamar means, “1) to sing, sing praise, make music; 1a) (Piel); 1a1) to make music, sing; 1a2) to play a musical instrument” (BDB).

a.       The evidence seems to be that psallō underwent a shift in meaning over time from originally meaning only to pluck—then to sing to accompaniment—by New Testament times often to sing alone—in modern Greek just to sing. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to satisfy people who are wrestling with this issue. If this is a sticking point for you or someone you are studying with let’s just look at two questions about this...

b.      If this does mean play (or even sing to accompaniment) in the New Testament why hasn’t it been translated that way?—Most translators are denominational. Many accept the use of instrumental music, but they recognize in its NT use it means to sing.

c.       If this does mean play what instrument does it command is to be played? Note: making melody in your heart to the Lord”  (Eph. 5:19)—I will sing with the understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15). If any instrument is to be played it is the “heart”—it is the “understanding” (or “mind” NASB). Hearing an instrument might move the heart or mind, but if we want to argue that this means to play the instrument that is specified is the heart or the mind.

Kyle Pope 2015

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