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Instrumental Music in Worship

By: David A. Beck

     In Prov. 14:12 and Prov. 16:25 God tells us that, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death." In Isa. 55:8-9 God reminds us that His ways and thoughts are far above ours.  The prophet Jeremiah said, "0 Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23)  These passages, as well as many others, teach us that we must follow God and not our own judgments or feelings on how we conduct our lives.

     God gave us His word, the Bible, to instruct us concerning our relationship with Him and with each other. That means we must honor His instructions in all things.  During the time before the Law of Moses, God spoke directly to the Patriarchs (or heads of families; i.e. Job, Noah Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.).  Then God gave a law especially to the Jews (or Hebrews); the 0ld Testament. But this law, too, was only temporary. (Heb. 7:12; 8:7-13; 9:11-18; 10:1-10.)  It was to last until God sent His Son to save the world (Col. 2:14).  The New Testament, the law we are under today, is the law we will be judged from (Jas. 1:25; 2:12).

     Jesus said, after His crucifixion and resurrection, "All power (authority) is given unto Me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18).  And in Eph. 1:22-23 Paul wrote that God "........hath put all things under His (Christ's) feet and gave   Him (Christ) to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. "  Jesus told the apostles that when the Holy Spirit came they would be guided into "all truth" (John 16:12-13).  Peter later said that they (the apostles) had been given this truth (see 2 Pet. 1:3).  The New Testament is the writing of that truth, by Spirit filled men, for us to follow (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Pet. 2:21; 3:11-13); to love (2 Thess. 2:10); to obey (1 Pet. 1:22; 25); and to be judged by (John 12:47-48).  We are to honor His word in all our practices.  Paul wrote to Timothy, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for  instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Peter wrote, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God."  (I Pet. 4:11).

      We are to accept nothing other than the revealed truth. Paul wrote to the Galatians, in Gal. 1:8-10, "...though we (himself and the other apostles) or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed .........For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."

     God's laws are never open for man to add to them or take away from them (see Deut. 4:2 and Rev. 22:18-19). 

What does the Bible teach concerning our worship?  The Old Testament is to be understood today as a "shadow of good things to come" (Heb. 10:1).  It is given to us, even though it was a law for the Jews, so that we might understand the law of Christ for today. (Read Gal. 3:21-29; Rom. 15:4)  One thing that we can learn from the Old Testament is that God demanded that we be very exact in our worship of Him.  In Genesis 4 we find Cain worshiping by making a grain offering (that he had grown) instead of one of Abel's animals.  God rejected his sacrifice because it was not of faith (see also Heb. 11:4; Rom. 10:17).  Every time the Jews would begin idolatrous activity God always rebuked them soundly.  The Old Testament, then, serves as a reminder for us to follow only God's instructions when it comes to our religious service to Him. Heb. 8:5 reminds us how exact God was with the construction of the physical tabernacle of the Old Testament.,.. "see, sayeth He, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount" ......showing that we must be just as exact with the spiritual tabernacle (the Lord's church) revealed in the New Testament (read Heb. chapters 8 -10).

     The church is His (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28).  He has all authority (Eph. 1:22-23; Matt. 28:18).  It is only in His word that we can find out how we are to worship Him and the Father.  If we read the entire New Testament, after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, we find that the first century church, (while being directly guided by Spirit filled apostles) when they worshiped by singing, always worshiped with vocal music only.  Here are the passages: Acts 16:25, "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God;" 1 Cor. 14:15, "I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also;" Eph. 5:19, "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;" Col. 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God;" Heb. 2:12, "In the midst of the congregation I will sing Thy praise;" Heb.13:15, "Through Him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to His name;" James 5:13, "Is any among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is any cheerful?  Let him sing praise;" and Rom. 15:9, "Therefore will I give praise unto Thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto Thy name."

     There is not one passage that gives authority for the use of mechanical musical instruments in worship.  Since Christ left instrumental music out of the worship of His church, we should too.

     What causes such a difference of opinions on this subject is our approach to the authority of the scriptures.  Some today teach that anything that the Lord has not specifically spoken against is all right.  But it doesn't take much imagination to envision all that that would include.  Almost all religious division is not over what God has said; but what He has not said.

     Many assume that churches have always used instrumental music and the church of Christ came along trying to change this practice.  As we consider history from the first century until now, the truth is that instrumental music is a rather new innovation in the worship.  Professor Edwin Dickinson of Oberlin College states the following:

     In View of the controversies over the use of Instrumental music in worship…It is an Interesting question whether Instruments were employed by the primitive Christians. We know that Instruments performed an important function In the Hebrew temple service and in the ceremonies of the Greeks.  At this point, however, a break was made with all previous practice, ... as a general rule, the use of Instruments in worship was condemned, many of the fathers, speaking of religious song, make no mention of instruments; others like Clement of Alexandria and St. Chrysostom, refer to them only to denounce them.  Dickinson, History of Music in the Western Church, p.54)

     Dickinson is a historian.  I don't quote from him for any authority; merely to show that instruments of music were unaccepted by the early Christians.

     From the American Encyclopedia, Vol. 12,  p.688, we read: 

    "Pope Vitalian is related to have first Introduced organs into some of the churches of Western Europe about 670; but the earliest trustworthy account is that of the one sent as a present by the Greek Emperor Constantine Copronymos, to Pepin, king of the Franks, In 775"                                                         

     From McClintock and Strongs Cyclopedia. Vol. 8, p739, we read:

But students of ecclesiastical archaeology are generally agreed that instrumental music was not used in churches till a much later date; for Thomas Aquinas, in A.D. 1250, has these remarkable words: 'Our church does not use mechanical 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.

     I could multiply historians who would testify that instrumental music in worship came many hundreds of years after the first century.  Men understood that this would be an unacceptable addition, without authority.

     Instruments of music were introduced into worship long after the Catholic Church was established.  When men like Wesley, Calvin, and Luther broke away from the Catholic Church they were trying to reform it.  They were trying to get them to turn back to the Scriptures.  Notice what these first Protestants had to say:  "I have no objection to Instruments of music to our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen." (Cited by Clark's Commentary. Vol. 4. p.684)

     "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. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by apostte is far more pleasing to Him." (Calvin, Commentary: on Psalm 33 and on 1 Samuel 18:1-9)

     Finally, I quote from Benedict, a Baptist historian: "to my earliest intercourse among this people, congregational singing generally prevailed among them. - The Introduction of the Organ among the Baptists - This instrument, which from time immemorial has been associated with cathedral pomp and prelatical power, and has always been the peculiar favorite of great national churches, at length found its way into Baptist sanctuaries, and the first one ever employed by the denomination In this country, and probably In any other, might have been standing in the singing gallery of the Old Baptist meeting  house In Pawtucket, about forty years ago when I then officiated as pastor (1840) — Staunch old Baptists in former times would as soon tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ In their galleries, and yet the instrument has gradually found Its way among them. — How far this modern organ fever will extend among our people, and whether it will on the whole work a RE-formation or DE-formation in their singing service, time will more fully develop." (Benedict, Fifty Years Among Baptists pp.204-207)

     Again, I quote from these people not as a standard of authority, but merely to show the history of the use of instrumental music in worship.  The Bible, however, is our only authority.

     My friend, I write these things not to be upsetting on this issue, but to let you know why we must take a stand against the use of instrumental music in our assemblies. Please remember that our desire should be to please God. If we choose to add mechanical music into our worship, we do so by our own authority. We can find no authority from Christ, who has "all authority," for its use.  Furthermore, the fact that it has been in common use for over a hundred years does not establish authority for its use.