When we come together to worship, what does God expect of us? What pattern of worship should we follow? What acts of worship must we perform? Do certain innovations such as instruments have their place in worship to God in the New Testament?
Some people think so.
Millions upon millions of people listen to Christian music with instrumental accompaniment every day. From small churches to mega churches, instruments are used to worship God whether it be Aunt Sally on the piano or a large rock band.
But I’m here to tell you: I see a few dangers in instrumental music that I want to address before its eternally everlastingly too late.
It Focuses on a Few Talented People
Can anything good come from Nazareth? Were some of the apostles not fisherman? Has God not chosen the humble, foolish things in this world?
Instrumental music requires that a few talented people come together to play their songs. It doesn’t require participation of the whole congregation. Does God have a habit of doing this? Sure, you might cite Exodus 26:1 and the other handful of references where God had Moses select a “skilled” workman to construct and decorate his tabernacle. And, yes, you might also quote Exodus 31:6 which says that God gave them their gifts so that they could use them to make the place of worship. I get it. The word skilled, or a variation of it, is used like fifty-six times in Exodus, but what’s your point?
That’s Old Testament stuff, right? Key word: old.
Now I know you want to try it, but you really shouldn’t bring up David and the fact that he was specifically chosen to play his harp for Saul because he was skillful and that this was part of God’s plan to set David up as king (1 Samuel 16:16-18). Everybody knows that David wrote the Psalms that were to be sang with instrumental accompaniment, but that’s Old Testament stuff, remember?
God doesn’t focus on just a few talented people.
I know what you’re thinking: “But Daniel, what about Hiram?” Yeah, I know all about Hiram. I know about how he was filled with wisdom and skill so that he could construct a beautiful house for God in 1 Kings 7:14. And do we really need to acknowledge the priests who were skilled vocalists and instrumentalists in 2 Chronicles 5:12-13; 25:6-7; 34:12. Yes, these passages teach that instruments were commanded to be used by God, that God loved their music, and that they specifically chose people who were trained and skillful in making music, but weren’t they just kind of… showing off?
Now, let’s be honest with ourselves. We don’t do things like this, right? I mean, do we really care who leads singing as long as they’re glorifying God? Does a preacher’s public speaking skills really matter? We’ll hire just anybody to make repairs to the building, right? And if someone isn’t good at handwriting, the point is that they’re sending a card, isn’t it?
The facts are that some people have gifts, and we prefer that the people who have them exercise them. We don’t discourage people from singing, or at least we shouldn’t, but we do prefer song leaders and worship leaders who can carry a tune, who have practiced, and who know their songs well.
Apollos was a skilled speaker, Paul was a master logician and trained in the Scriptures, and Jesus’s wisdom, wonders, and signs drew large crowds. Far be it from any of us to charge them with just wanting to be seen! Can God use people who don’t have these talents? Absolutely! But that doesn’t mean that we have to pretend that everyone has the same gifts or talents and that we should discourage people from using them.
So this first point didn’t really work out as well as I thought it would, so let’s try another.
Evil Spirits Would Be Driven Away
“Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well.” 1 Samuel 16:16
This evil spirit was apparently from God. Should we turn away any gift that God has given us, regardless of how terrible? By asking David to play the harp and drive the evil spirit away, were these people not violating God’s plan?
We need to keep instruments out of our assemblies or the evil spirits that torment us may be driven away as well. Let me name a few.
The Spirit of Prooftext might be driven away. There are no passages in the New Testament which talk about a pattern for New Testament worship. Accepting instruments into the assembly of the saints would be a major step in admitting this and would free us up in other ways. This would lead to a slippery slope, but as anyone who’s attended a seven-year-old’s birthday party in the summertime knows, slippery slopes are not only a logical fallacy, but they are a lot of fun!
The Spirit of My Way or the Highway might be driven away. This is one of the spirits I have. I prefer worshipping with a cappella music on Sunday, but there is coming a day when someone will want to use an instrument to worship God. Here’s my dilemma: if I readily admit that there is nothing wrong with it, would I be wiling to allow and even encourage them to use their gifts to worship God? Would I demand that they worship my way or hit the highway? If there is nothing wrong with it, then what good reason would there be to not allow them to play their guitar?
The Spirit of Traditionalism might be driven away. There is nothing wrong with traditions, but there is something wrong with binding or demanding traditions for traditions’ sake. Sometimes change “for the sake of change” isn’t bad because it keeps us on our toes. It helps us to hold our traditions lightly so that we do not establish habits that future generations have to pry out of our hands. If nature teaches us anything it is that only the fittest survive and that this survival is dependent upon the ability to adapt, to change.
God, send skilled people of all kinds to drive away our evil spirits.
Let me try two more arguments to demonstrate the dangers of instrumental music.
Worship Would Look too Much Like Heaven
We need people to be “heaven sick” not “home sick.” If we used instruments in worship, it would almost be cheating. If we mimic what departed saints are doing for God in heaven, then what do we have to look forward to?
Revelation 5:8 says, “When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
These elders worshipped Jesus with harps after his resurrection and ascension. This is definitely not “Old Testament stuff.” With no prohibition against instruments in the New Testament, how would the seven churches of Asia come up with the conclusion that many of us in the Churches of Christ have that instruments were not allowed?
Is there anything done in heaven by the saints that is against God’s will? Is God’s will not to be done on earth as it is in heaven? I know this argument is silly, but could one really reach the conclusion that instruments are sinful even after reading these passages in Revelation?
This isn’t the only place Jesus is worshipped with instruments, though. In Hebrews 1, the author quotes Psalm 45 which 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).
Sure, he didn’t quote the full text, but if this passage is talking about Jesus, then apparently stringed instruments make him glad too. After all, he is the “son of David!”
A Bunch of Guys I Think Are Going to Hell Anyway Don’t Like Them
Multiple articles online as well as several books cite a list of “denominational preachers” who did not support instrumental music. Among these are Adam Clarke, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Wesley. Just search something like “denominational preachers on instrumental music” and click on the first “Church of Christ” website you find, or you can consult your copy of Brownlow’s Why I Am A Member of the Church of Christ.
What’s interesting about this argument is that these men apparently are all lost, so not only it is an appeal to an authority (another logical fallacy), but it is an appeal to some of the most evil perpetrators of false teaching known to men. These are people who, we are told, started new denominations or publicized lies which are contrary to gospel truth.
If this is really their character, why should we dare listen to their testimony? Why should it bear any weight?
I get the point, but the argument just doesn’t work. The slippery slope is a lot more fun than “appeal to authority.” This logical fallacy just doesn’t bring as many kids to the birthday party.
An Unnecessary Disclosure and a Few Thoughts on Authority
First, the unnecessary disclosure is that most of this article is satire. I have no problems with instrumental music during the worship assembly on the first day of the week except for the fact that they may offend the conscience of some of my brothers and sisters whom I love dearly. For this reason alone, I see no reason to try to implement them in my own congregation. Furthermore, I truly do prefer a cappella music. While I love playing instruments with my friends, even gospel songs, I enjoy singing even more, and we have some of the best singing I’ve heard at North Broad thanks to our skilled (see what I did there) worship leaders and praise team.
Now on to the question of authority. Do we have authority to use instruments in a Sunday assembly? I guess this is best answered by asking the question, “Where in the New Testament does anyone talk about a Sunday worship assembly which must follow a God-ordained pattern?”
Paul talks about following a pattern or guide for life in general in Philippians 3. Jesus talks about worshipping in Spirit and in Truth. But where is the pattern? There was a a pattern for the tabernacle and “regulations of divine worship” in the Hebrews Scriptures (Hebrews 9:1). But these were specifically given and explained in detail. No such example of a pattern exists in the New Testament. To get our pattern, we have to go to five different passages in five different books written at five different times to five groups of people. Would a just God send someone to an enteral Hell for misunderstanding that?
So, do we have the authority to use instruments on Sunday? The real question is if we need it. The whole argument, it seems to me, is made based off an honest misunderstanding of a few passages and a pattern of looking for patterns which are not there. These misunderstandings do need to be cleared up, but they are understandable. We have inherited these from traditions that are much older than the Churches of Christ (capital ‘C’). The real problem here is another evil spirit which needs to be driven away by a good harpist, and that is the Spirit of Do It My Way or Burn in Hell Forever.
When it comes to this evil spirit, there needs to be a zero tolerance policy. If we do not exorcise this spirit from our assemblies, sermons, and writings, we will be in danger of the very judgement with which we judge others!