Instrumental Music In Worship (1)

Donald P. Ames
Tampa, Florida

Practically every major denomination today has a piano in it, and some even have an organ to accompany it. However, such is absent from others, including the churches of Christ. Why? It is not because we can't afford it, nor is it because there aren't any among us who can play it. Why then do we not have instrumental music in our worship?

Since our Lord has commanded us to "make things according to the pattern" (Heb. 8:5), and warned us that "whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teachings of Christ hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9), we are forced to face the fact we must not add to, or take from the word of God. Paul said that if we try to alter the gospel in any way, we are condemned (Gal. 1:6-10). Again, he says we are to "learn not to go beyond the things which are written" (I Cor. 4:6-A.S.V.). The Bible contains all we need to know for doctrine, worship, work, organization, etc. (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Pet. 1:3), and whatever man adds to God's plans are but vain efforts to worship Him (Matt. 15:8-9).

In view of these facts, it is wise to consider just what the apostles have taught on this topic. Turning to Eph. 5:19, we find: "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." "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 the Lord" (Col. 3:16). Nowhere do the apostles command, provide us with an example, or necessarily imply that they used the instrument in worship to Jehovah. If we want to do as the Lord desired then, what should we do? We would follow their example, and be content to "sing" our praises. "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments," Christ says (John 14:15).

But, the question is raised, why do most of the denominations today have the instrument? Of course, one of the most prominent reasons is that many have never tried to establish scriptural authority for all their practices. However, it wouldn't do to say that there are no arguments made in defense of this practice. Certainly there have been some advanced. The question before us now is, do they justify the instrument? This IS an important question! We don't want to be guilty of binding anything which the Lord has not, and likewise, we don't want to be guilty of adding anything that the Lord has not given us the authority to add. To do this would be to fall under the condemnation of Paul (Gal. 1:6-10) and John (2 John 9). So, let us take up these arguments, and test them by the word of God and see what His will authorizes.

"It Was Used By David"

One of the first arguments usually advanced by those using the instrument is that it was used in the Old Testament, so therefore we can use it in worship today. To this we might ask, Are we under the Old Testament todav? Paul says, "But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:23-26). Again, he adds in Gal. 5:4, "Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace." It was the commands, etc. of the Old Testament that were abolished on the cross (Col. 2:14-16). Hebrews shows that the New Testament is a new law given by God and that the Old Testament has been done away (Heb. 8:6-13-see also 9:15, 7:12, Jer. 31:31-34). We cannot get our authority from the Old Testament. Christ established the church (Matt. 16:18), and he is the law giver today (Acts 3:22-23, Heb. 1:1-2, Matt. 28:18). If we seek justification by the Old Testament, we are then "fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4).

Is the Old Testament then worthless? No, for in I Cor. 10:1-12, Paul shows it was given that we would learn God fulfilled his word and warnings. Paul said it was to prepare us (Jews) for Christ (Gal. 3:23-26). Also, it is the only account of the origin and history of man, as well as the prophecy of Christ necessary to prove Him to be the Redeemer of mankind. Certainly, we are not to minimize the value of the Old Testament, but we are not to seek to be under a law that has been abolished either. It cannot be the authority for us today for the acts of worship any more than burnt offerings can remove our sins (Heb. 10:3-4), or tithing be bound upon Christians (2 Cor. 9:7). David cannot be authority; he didn't establish the church, die for it, and he isn't our mediator today. This position can on1y be fulfilled by Christ and the New Testament, and that is silent on this topic.

"It is Used in Heaven"

Even if the instrument were used in heaven and in the Old Testament, that wouldn't establish the authority for us to use it today. They would have it before and after the New Testament age, but would have nothing dealing with the New Testament age.

But, are they really using instruments for worship in heaven? There are two main passages advanced in defense of this view. The first is Rev. 14:2, where John says, "And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers with their harps." (Although the word "as" is not included in the King James version, it is in the American Standard and also in the Greek.) What did you hear, John? Voices. What kind of voices? As harpers with their harps. But, did you hear harpers? No. Well, did you hear voices or harps? I heard voices. This is too plain for anyone to be able to misunderstand it.

The second scripture advanced is Rev. 5:8-9, where the elders are mentioned as having harps, and they "sang a new song, saying." However, in verse 8, it's to be noted that the prayers are symbolized by a bowl of incense, and in the context, the harps symbolize the praise of the saints. If this passage were to be taken literally, why are the prayers symbolized, and the praise is not? Even if it were taken literally, let us note that they "sang"but nothing is said about "playing."

With these two passages lost, there is no support for this contention to be found. It is not in heaven (and hence okay for the church), as they claim. Nor can we justify it on this basis, any more than we could justify incense, horses, etc. in worship today because they are in heaven. That which proves too much, proves nothing.

''The Bible Doesn't Say Thou Shalt Not"

This argument seeks to make the Bible a book of "thou shalt nots" but God doesn't deal that way. To list all the "thou shalt nots" would require a book so big we would be unable to carry it. God has told His people what He DOES expect of them, and that EXCLUDES what he DOES NOT want them to do. A good example of this is found in Lev. 10:1-2, where Nadab and Abihu offered up fire on the altar of God, "WHICH HE HAD NOT COMMANDED THEM" and lost their lives is a result. They could have argued God hadn't said not to, but the facts were He hadn't told them TO. This same principle is followed in the New Testament too (2 John 9, 1 Cor. 4:6).

There are two kinds of music: vocal and instrumental. God has commanded the former (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16), and since His word is silent concerning the latter, we know we must not "go beyond."

We use this same principle today. You order a blue dress from Sears catalog, P. 75. You don't say, "On page 75 you also have a red dress, but I don't want it. On page 10 you have a brown coat, but I don't want it. On page 146 you have a pair of shoes, but I don't want them, etc. etc." You say what you want, and that excludes the other things. If they change your order in any way, they haven't sent you what you desired. So it is with the Bible. God has told us what He does want, and that excludes the other things. God has said he wants VOCAL MUSIC, what does that do to instrumental music?

Second Article: Instrumental Music In Worship (2)

Truth Magazine IV:6, pp. 10-11
March 1960