Clement and Instrumental Music

By Jimmy Tuten, Jr.

In their efforts to defend instrumental music in worship, some have argued that Christians like Clement of Alexandria in A. D. 190 favored the use of instruments in worship. They dispute the claim that the instrument was introduced into Roman Catholic services rather late and was unheard of in Christian worship until then. Burgess’ Documents On Instrumental Music takes this position. So does Dwaine Dunning in the Christian Standard, February, 1966. The matter is of upmost significance since in all of the literature of the church fathers, Clement is the only one who mentions it favorably and permissively. His quotation is the only one of its kind.

However, Clement was not talking about worship when he said, “even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame.” The fact that he used Ephesians 5:19 only shows that he did not limit the passage to worship. Go to some preacher’s library or to the Public Library and get a copy of Clement’s works. It is found in Volume II of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. You will want to read Book II. As you read chapter one of Book II you observe that it is entitled “On Eating.” Chapter two is “On Drinking,” chapter three is “On Costly Vessels,” and chapter four is entitled, “How To Conduct Ourselves At Feasts.” It is in connection with chapter four that Clement makes his statement. He is therefore speaking in the context of a banquet arranged by Christians rather than a service involving worship. The chapter is a plea against making the feast into drunken brawls and “burlesque singing.” In this section Clement says, “let the pipe be assigned to the shepherds, and the flute to the superstitious who are engrossed in idolatry. For, in truth, such instruments are to be banished from the temperate banquet” (italics mine, jt). It is here that the quotation about not sinning if one plays on a harp or lyre occurs. Immediately after this he says, “and as it is befitting, before partaking of food (italics mine, jt), that we should bless the Creator of all; so also in drinking it is suitable to praise him on partaking of His creatures.” So Clement is talking about “partaking of food” and “drinking.” He is not talking about worship.

Those who use Clement are grasping at a straw. They will not look at the context and admit the clear import of the language. But even if they did have him by denying the context, they would have only one witness. There would be no case for them over the years and this is what they need. The church fathers, with the exception of Clement, unanimously opposed the instrument. They did this down to the middle ages. Apart from the New Testament, this constitutes the strongest argument that the Bible does not authorize the use of musical instruments in worship.

Truth Magazine XIX: 12, p. 185
January 30, 1975