Are Mechanical Instruments of Music Authorized in Private Worship?

By Ron Daly

The Holy Spirit through Paul, the Lord’s apostle, enjoins, “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). In the context of 1 Corinthians 10, discussing Israel’s idolatry, and fornication, Paul warned believers to “flee idolatry” (v. 14), to have no “communion with demons” (w. 16-22), and to do only the things which “edify” and demonstrate love toward the “conscience” of the other (vv. 23-33). It is in this setting that the Holy Spirit says, “Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (v. 31). In Ephesians 5:20, Paul states, “Giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father. . .”

All of these passages clearly illustrate the necessity of doing all to “the glory,” or wonderful and majestic power and splendor of God. And, when this is done we can truly “give thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But a thing is done to his “glory, ” and “in his name” only when it is performed in the recognition of his sovereign authority. He has “all authority,” and this authority is revealed to men and bound on men through his word which stands written (Jn. 12:48; 1 Cor. 2:9-13; 2 P t. 13; Jude 3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). So, in things religious the crucial question is always, “What saith the Scriptures?” “What stands written?” It matters not what issues are being discussed, the authoritative answers are only found by searching what God spoke, Christ brought, the Holy Spirit revealed, the apostles wrote, taught, and preached, and the early church practiced under apostolic guidance, for revelation came from God, to Christ, by the Spirit, through the apostles and other inspired writers, and finally in the bound volume of the book which we have (Jn. 12:48; Jn. 16:13; Eph. 3:3-5; Jude 3; Col. 4:16, etc.).

The singing of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” is an act of worship by which we praise God, and “teach and admonish one another” (Rom. 15:9; Acts 16:25; Col. 3:16). God’s word regulates our activities in the assembly, and in private worship with regard to the kind of music we must offer unto him. The Scriptures teach us that God obligates us to engage in singing, to the exclusion of mechanical instruments of music relative to the individual’s acts in his private devotion.

Luke wrote, “But about midnight Paul and Silas praying were singing praises and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). James penned the following, “Is any among you suffering misfortune? Let him continue praying. Is any cheerful? Let him continue singing praises” (Jas. 5:13). Paul and Silas were not in a public assembly of worship, they were in prison. The action ascribed to them was performed out of a congregational gathering; individual, private devotion is expressed. The singing of praise commanded by James is to be done by any one who is cheerful – individually, privately.

So, in the case of Paul and Silas engaging in the private worship of God in song, out of the assembly, we have an apostolic example of singing without mechanical accompaniment. In James’ text, the Holy Spirit commands the cheerful one to sing praise. Therefore, by direct statement and example we learn that singing is the only kind of music authorized by God in private worship, such as in one’s home. This being true, if one may add a different type of music to his private worship other than what God requires, may he (we) not do the very same thing in congregational worship, and for the same reasons?

Some argue, “I agree that it would be sinful to sing with mechanical instruments if such singing were done as an act of worship, but we may sing ‘psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs’ for entertainment with the mechanical instrument and not be guilty of sin.” This argument has two very dangerous implications, viz. that one may properly sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” for entertainment (and we do not speak here of the joy and good spirit which comes from singing meaningful songs, but mere show, display of talent, and without full regard for the words and sentiment expressed by the songs), and that one may add mechanical instruments, even though God gives us authority for singing only. Therefore, instead of giving scriptural justification for the practice, this argument compounds the sin!

Furthermore, not only is it sinful to use mechanical instruments with singing in private worship, we are put at a very great disadvantage in making our verbal defense against this same practice among the denominations, the Christian Church included, because of the doctrinal in: consistency involved. If they violate the Scriptures by going beyond the teaching of Christ, and repudiating the authority of God’s word, and by adding an element to worship which is foreign to the New Testament, so do we, when we do the same thing!

May a Christian have a piano or other musical instrument in his home? Yes. May a Christian play secular music upon the musical instrument? Yes. These things are not the issue. The question is, may a Christian (or anyone else) use mechanical instruments of music as an accompaniment to the singing of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in private worship? We answer unequivocally no, because there is no authority provided for such in the New Testament. The conclusion is, it is sinful for one to sing religious songs with mechanical instruments of music at any time, on any occasion, in any place, and for any reason.

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 18, p. 555
September 21, 1989