5+ years ago, I would use Ephesians and Colossians as proof that singing is the only authorized form of music in New Testament worship on Sunday morning. Any addition to this would be considered sin. The passage I would cite to prove that one shouldn’t add to this command was Revelation 22:18-19, which isn’t even talking about adding or subtracting from the New Testament as if it is a constitution. Other passages I might cite would be texts such as John 14:15, Galatians 1:6-9, or 2 John 9. All of these, of course, have nothing to do with reading the New Testament like a constitution either, and they definitely have nothing to do with determining what can be or can’t be done on a Sunday.
Do Colossians and Ephesians restrict the Sunday service to singing without instruments? Or, to word it in a way I used to, what kind of music is authorized in Ephesians and Colossians?
First, what do Ephesians and Colossians say?
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; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.Ephesians 5:18–21
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.Colossians 3:16–17
These two passages about singing do not say anything about a so-called worship service which must take place every Sunday.
The first passage says that the Christians should be filled with the Spirit instead of being drunk with wine. Being filled with the Spirit would produce singing which praises God, not drunken songs one may hear at the banquets among the rich or among the poor who congregated in local taverns.
The second passage says something similar, but Paul goes on to write, “Whatever you do in word or deed…” Paul’s encouragement to sing is obviously not restricted to some commanded weekly required worship service. Markus Barth and his co-authors wrote,
M. Dibelius (Dibelius-Greeven, p. 45) points out the possibility that logos kai ergon (word and deed) can be understood to refer to the worship service and can thus be a reference to “word and sacrament.”137 But here we have an emphatic “everything” at the end of the elucidations that deal with “putting on the new self” and thus with the actions of Christians in all areas of life. Simultaneously, this “everything” is in a declaration that can serve as a superscript to the following Haustafel (3:18–4:1), because there the reference is repeatedly back to “Lord” in v 17. Thus any restriction to the worship service is improbable.Barth, Markus, Helmut Blanke, and Astrid B. Beck. Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 34B. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008. Print. Anchor Yale Bible.
If these passages are commands to sing to the exclusion of playing instruments, it would mean that any singing done outside of the Sunday assembly must be unaccompanied as well. This, of course, was a belief held by many early Christians, but I do not know of any member of the Church of Christ who refuses to listen to, or even play, instruments in their home or while driving in the car. Many which believe that instrumental music in the assembly is wrong don’t even mind listening to praise albums which use instruments instead of listening to music with profanity.
Now, back to the original questions: Do Colossians and Ephesians restrict the Sunday service to singing without instruments? Or, to word it in a way I used to, what kind of music is authorized in Ephesians and Colossians?
It cannot be proven that Colossians and Ephesians are limited to a Sunday service, so they do not restrict the type of worship that can be offered on Sunday. Secondly, asking what kind of music is authorized in Ephesians and Colossians assumes that Ephesians and Colossians are trying to authorize a certain type of music. This is not even the function of the passage. Both of these passages are talking about a Christian’s daily conduct as members of the New Covenant community, not the regulation of worship on Sunday.
But let’s take it a step further. The word “worship” is used forty-five times from Acts – Revelation with twenty-three of those times being in Revelation itself. Of course, I’ve been told that Revelation doesn’t count when I’ve pointed out that the saints within the book play harps without any warnings from John about the deadly nature of such activities, so we’ll leave Revelation out of the following study.
Out of those remaining twenty-two times, do you know how many refer to a required weekly assembly on Sunday which follows a pattern with five specific acts?
In many of the cases, Christian worship isn’t even under consideration. This leaves us with just a few verses:
That’s it. Every other instance refers to worship under the Law, idolatry, the worship of an unbeliever when they see an entire congregation prophesying, and when Cornelius bows down before Peter. I might have missed one, but I double checked and couldn’t find any stragglers.
Here are the three verses:
But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”Acts 18:12–13
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. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:1–2
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
The first verse isn’t even about Christian worship specifically; it’s a complaint about Christianity. The second says that our entire lives our how we worship God under the New Covenant. And the third verse simply distinguishes between worship in the Spirit instead of worshiping in the flesh.
A required weekly worship service which takes place every Sunday and follows a pattern with five necessary acts isn’t found in the New Testament. This idea came about through stringing together multiple verses out of context and demanding that others conform to their interpretation, something that coudln’t even be done until the entire New Testament was completed and distributed to every Christian.
There is no command in the Bible to meet every Sunday. There is no command in the Bible that says that if one misses the assembly, they are in sin. There is no command in the Bible demanding that people worship on a specific day every single week.
In fact, the New Testament teaches that our lives are worship. Everything we do in word or deed is done to glorify the name of Jesus. We worship in Spirit and in Truth, that is we are not tied to a sacred location. Thus, all that we do in “every place” is done for God (1 Corinthians 1:2; cf. 1 Kings 8:29). Worship is not something that is offered up once a week; we always “pray without ceasing” as priests in the holy place. We always offer up spiritual sacrifices in this royal priesthood through conforming ourselves to Christ, not the world.
For more information on the worship service, or lack thereof, please see Dallas Burdette’s essays Worship 1-5: