In part 3 of our series on Questioning the Questions, we now come to the question of instrumental music. In the brand of Churches of Christ from which I come, acapella music is not just preferred, it is required. If one elects to use musical instruments in the Sunday assembly, then they are in danger of eternal Hell according to some.
So, the question we will be questioning today is “Are musical instruments authorized in worship service?” First, I will give the traditional argument I’m familiar with. Then, I will give a few responses to that question. Remember, the answers we find in the Bible change depending on the questions we ask of it. A lot of times, the “answers” we find do not even make sense in light of the context.
Before I begin I want to just say that we use acapella music where I worship. I have no intentions of changing that because it is my preferred way of worshiping God. At the same time, believing that 99% of the churches in the world are doomed to Hell because they have a piano is something that I cannot just ignore. Jesus prayed for unity among His believers, so I must address things that I see unnecessarily dividing believers.
Are musical instruments authorized in worship service?
Before we really get into it, we have to start with another question: are we under the Law of Moses or the Law of Christ? While I need to question this question in a future article as well, the typical answer is we are under Law to Christ. The Law was nailed to the Cross, and we are no longer under the Old Covenant.
So, are musical instruments authorized in New Testament worship service? This added term New Testament is necessary because the natural inclination of most Christians is to turn to Psalms to justify their use of instruments in the worship assembly.
So, now we turn to the New Testament and ask if there is any passage authorizing instruments. In the book Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ, Leroy Brownlow begins by saying, “Here is the record of the music mentioned in the New Testament” (Reason 24, p. 176). He then lists all of the following passages: Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; Hebrews 13:15; and James 5:13.
As you can see if you read the above list, instruments aren’t mentioned one time. In fact, out of all the Psalms quoted, not one of them mentions instruments in the context.
The fact is that the New Testament is silent when it comes to instruments. Since we are to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent, there ought to be no instruments in the worship service of the Church of Christ. As Brownlow says, “Christ’s leaving instrumental music out of the worship settles the matter.” Had He wanted us to use instruments, He would have told us.
There is simply no reason to include something in our worship that God has not included. If one wishes to go to the Old Law that was nailed to the Cross to get music, then they might as well bring incense, sacrifices, and the Sabbath right along with it.
Now, some will say that God didn’t tell us not to use instruments. No, but He did tell us what He did want.
When I go to McDonald’s and order a burger, I do not have to say that I only want the burger; if I go to pay and they have included all of the other menu items based on the argument “Well you didn’t tell us not to do it” then I would be understandably angry.
God told us to sing; He did not tell us to play. If we want to add to what God has told us to do, then we are violating Revelation 21:18-19 which warns not to add or take away from the word of God. Now we can either do what God told us to do in the worship service, or we can be like Nadab and Abihu and risk facing the wrath of God.
On top of giving some of the normal arguments against instrumental music, here are the syllogisms he uses. You can skip this section if you’d like, but I did give a small lesson on syllogism’s in part two of this series you can refer to.
- Every Scripture is given that the man of God may be furnished unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- No Scripture authorizes instrumental music in worship today (cannot be found).
- Therefore, instrumental music in the worship today is not a good work.
- It is a violation of the Lord’s will to go beyond things which are written (1 Corinthians 4:6).
- Musical instruments in New Testament worship have not been written (cannot be found).
- Therefore, those who use musical instruments in the worship today violate the Lord’s will.
- “So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
- The word of Christ does not give us instruments in the worship (cannot be found).
- Therefore, instrumental music in the worship is not an act of faith.
- God has given us all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)
- What God has given does not mention instrumental music in New Testament worship (cannot be found)
- Therefore, instrumental music in the worship today does not pertain unto life and godliness.
Questioning the Question
Does the Bible Talk About a Worship Service?
The question “are musical instruments authorized in New Testament worship service” presupposes that there is such a thing as a New Testament worship service.
First, here’s a little bit about the worship service. The worship service lasts for roughly one hour on Sunday morning, and it consists of five “acts of worship:” sing, pray, preach, give, Lord’s Supper. In some circles, if all five of these acts are not performed, then what’s done is not a worship service. For example, on Wednesday nights churches get together and often sing a few songs before Bible class. This isn’t worship because there is no collection and no communion.
Now, let’s question the question: where does such a service exist in the New Testament? For all the talk of speaking where the Bible speaks, no such service with five ritualistic acts exists. To show this, let’s briefly look at every mention of the word worship in a Christian context. If I miss one that disproves my point here, let me know.
saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”Acts 18:13
since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.Acts 24:11
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.Romans 12:1
the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.1 Corinthians 14:25
for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,Philippians 3:3
And that’s it. Those are all the times in the New Testament that the word “worship” is used in a Christian context. Not one of these refers to a so-called worship service on Sunday morning. In fact, the only passage that mentions the words worship and service is Romans 12:1 which says that our lives are our spiritual service of worship.
The original question, then, makes no sense because if there is no “worship service” with five ritualistic acts that takes places from 10-11 on Sundays, then the decision to use or not to use an instrument is up to the individual.
In Hebrews 9, we are told that there were “regulations of divine worship” in the Old Testament. These regulations were given in great detail to Moses on Mount Sinai. The New Testament contains no such list of regulations. Instead, well-meaning Christians go to five different books of the Bible to find five different acts of worship and mash them together to make one worship service, something the New Testament never mentions.
The problem with this piece-meal approach is that while these letters were eventually shared among the churches, there is no hint, clue, or suggestion that the first Christians were to go on a scavenger hunt through all the letters to find what was authorized versus what was not.
Finally, before I get to some of the specific arguments, let me say one thing about Acts 18:13 and Acts 24:11 listed above. Acts 18:13 is a mischaracterization of Paul’s ministry. In Acts 24:11 Paul said that he went to Jerusalem to worship. This was in reference to the events of Acts 21. Acts 21 was Paul’s counter to the argument to Acts 18:13. He went through the purification process to prove once and for all that he was not teaching the Jews to “forsake Moses” (Acts 21:21). So, any argument which involves discounting the Old Testament as irrelevant goes against what Paul both said and did in Acts.
The Record of Music Mentioned in the New Testament
In the first section, I gave a list provided by Brownlow of a “record of the music mentioned in the New Testament.” This record confused me because my entire life I was taught that the Book of Revelation was part of the New Testament. I’ve taught from it, answered questions concerning it, and treated it as if it was a New Testament book. Imagine my confusion, then, when Brownlow provided a record of music in the New Testament but failed to mention Revelation 5:8 which records a vision in which elders worship Jesus with harps.
Now, let’s say you are an early Jewish Christian. You’ve read in Paul’s writings how the sacrifices were not necessary because the blood of bulls and goats can’t take away sins. You’ve read how people aren’t to judge one another based on days, weeks, months, and years. But you’ve never read that instruments were no longer appropriate or loved by God. In fact, you continue to worship in the synagogue and in the temple alongside apostles of Jesus. Furthermore, you read in Revelation how Jesus is worshiped with a harp.
How would you ever know that instruments were simply done away with? All of these other things Paul mentions, but this one is not only left out, but it is apparently validated in Revelation. Who could reach the conclusion that instruments were done away with unless they were asking the wrong questions?
Psalms and the New Testament
One point that I have heard on occasion is that none of the Psalms quoted in the New Testament mention instruments. For example, Hebrews 2:12 is a citation of Psalm 22:22. The heading above the Psalm doesn’t even mention instruments; it specifically mentions the choir.
This argument begins to fall apart, though, when one reads Hebrews 1:8ff which is a citation of Psalm 45. Notice what this passage says:
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows. All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made You glad.Psalm 45:7–8
The Hebrews writer said that this passage concerned God’s Son, and in it stringed instruments make Him glad. No wonder they used harps in Revelation 5.
Nadab, Abihu, and Specificity
In Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire to the Lord. This is often cited as a reason for Christians abstaining from instruments. When God specifies a particular type of worship, we better not add to it. Of course, this argument assumes once again that there is such a thing as New Testament worship. (We’ll look at Ephesians and Colossians later; don’t worry.) The situation with Nadab and Abihu is simply not parallel with our situation under the New Covenant. They were given very specific instructions while we were not. There is no “New Testament worship service” that follows some sort of pattern like they had in the Old Testament.
There is nothing wrong with the way we do it, but to bind it on others is simply not biblical.
Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16
I’ve already decided that I need to write another article on this, so I won’t be too long here. So, let’s just look at Ephesians 5:19.
speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;Ephesians 5:19
The argument is that this passage restricts the type of music on Sunday mornings to acapella only. The problem is that the passage has nothing to do with a so-called Sunday morning worship service. Read the verse above it:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;Ephesians 5:18–19
Paul’s point is that instead of getting together, getting drunk, and singing bar songs, Christians should be filled with the Spirit and sing spiritual songs. Get drunk on the love of God instead. This passage is about our life, not a Sunday morning worship service.
Conclusion… for Now
Well it is obvious I need to write another article. One, I need to cover the syllogisms, but maybe this would be a good time for you to find the problems with them. I also want to do a deep dive into Ephesians 5:19. Be looking for an article called “God is a Lover of Music.” I’ll link it here once I write it, but I’ll also publish it on my blog.
The title of the upcoming article (not sure when I’ll publish it) is a tribute to an essay written by my friend Dallas Burdette which can be found at his website freedominchrist.net. Dallas still regularly gets good feedback from that article. It has opened a lot of hearts and changed a lot of minds.
Thanks for reading!
Daniel, this is an excellent essay dealing with the music question. A few years ago, I wrote an essay on worship. I examined every word in the Greek text that is translated worship. What I discovered is that not one of those words had to do with a so-called worship service. What you have correctly pointed out is that worship is one’s way of life (Romans 12:1-2). Today, Christians are divided over something that the New Testament writers never address. The Greek text of Ephesians 5:19 does mention instruments. I look forward to your next essay on this subject. Also, I appreciate your calling attention to my essay: “God Is a Lover of Music.” Numerous Church of Christ ministers have changed their views after reading my essay.
5567 psállō – properly, pluck a musical instrument (like a harp); used of “singing along with instruments”; “to make music,” or simply sing.
Romans 15:9., I Cor 14:15 (is used in church service) Eph 5:19 James 5:13
Psalm 150 (which is not the law of Moses)
1Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
2Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
3Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
Are we not suppose to worship him in the tabernacle with musical instruments?
I have a deep love of Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ etc but hate that we have been divided on such issues. The bible does not tell us exactly what we need to do. e.g. the bible does not tell us to drive to church so therefore we should walk? Our Church group points to Unity yet we divide over musical instruments. I would love to see the Church of Christ groups unite corporately and simply allow the diversity to be at the local or even individual level.
Me too, Mark. Me too. It’s sad that we are as divided as we are.