Should We Worship God with Instrumental Music?
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
music was authorized during the Old Testament period in temple worship (2
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).
Testament examples of music in worship are all singing alone.
Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn before going to Gethsemane
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;
II. Instrumental Music in
A. Early church writers opposed
“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.
to Vatican librarian Bartholomaeo Platina, in his De vitis Pontificum (Cologne,
1593), pope Vitalian (657-72) first introduced the organ into church worship.
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...”
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).
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
“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
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.
is just an argument from silence!”
even members of the church will approach it this way, urging people to have a
respect for the silence of the Scripture.
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.
the Bible doesn’t say you can’t!”
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?
the Bible gives prohibitions, but we understand that when positive instructions
are given it necessarily prohibits alternatives that don’t conform to that
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.”
argue that the absence of a specific prohibition gives approval for any of
these action? No.
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.
the word psallō mean ‘to pluck’?—Doesn’t that show it’s ok?”
is an argument that rests on the meaning of a word used five times in the New
In Ephesians 5:19 it is translated, “singing and making melody in your heart to the
In James 5:13 it is translated, “Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”
In 1 Corinthians 14:15 it is translated, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.”
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.
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).
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...
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.
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.