Instrumental Music and The Nature of New Testament Worship

By Weldon E. Warnock

The nature of New Testament worship is spiritual. It is taught in several places. By spiritual, I mean that which pertains to the mind, the soul and the heart in contrast to that which is tangible, external and physical. Spiritual worship is the heart offered to God, molded by truth, and not the rites, ceremonies and pomp of external worship.

Spiritual Sacrifices

The apostle Peter wrote “Ye also, as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). In this passage, God’s people are depicted under two figures: (1) A spiritual house, and (2) An holy priesthood. The priests in this spiritual house (temple, Eph. 2:21) are to offer up to God spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God. Many want to offer sacrifices without giving any consideration as to whether they are acceptable to God or not.

“The kind of sacrifices which this holy priesthood is to offer is described as `spiritual’ to distinguish them in nature and character from the sacrifices required by the law of Moses. They are also spiritual to conform to the nature of the building (church) in which they are offered; to the priests which are to offer them; and to the God to whom they are to be offered” (Peter, John & Jude by Guy N. Woods).

Worship In Spirit

When Jesus was conversing with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, He said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-24).

Worship must spring from the heart. It must be offered sincerely and genuinely in truth as opposed to mere form and ceremony. There is so much formalism and ritualism in so-called Christendom, even in the Lord’s church. Men come to the altar of worship with their praise, but their hearts are empty of holiness and destitute of devotion.

Barclay wrote, “If God is spirit; a man’s gifts to God must be gifts of the spirit. Animal sacrifices and all manmade things become inadequate. The only gifts that befit the nature of God are the gifts of the spirit – love, loyalty, obedience, devotion” (The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, p. 161).

Jesus said of the Scribes and Pharisees, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:8). Those pretenders had the form but their hearts were not in their worship. How true this is today, also. “Formality is always imperilling piety . . . . When a man knows that all his spiritual religion is gone, he will keep up his ritual and be more exact in obeying his rules, and try to persuade himself that `formality’ will do instead of `spirituality”‘ (Pulpit Commentary on Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 125)”

William Temple said, “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God” (copied from The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, by Wm. Barclay, p. 117).

The apostle Paul wrote, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence’ in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). “For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son . . . .” (Rom. 1:9). The Pulpit Commentary says, “The word latreuo (`I serve’) when used in a religious sense, most usually denotes `worship’ . . . . Paul’s latreia intended here is not ceremonial function, but a spiritual one . . . . an inward devotion of himself to God’s service in proclaiming and furthering `the gospel of his Son” (Romans, p. 6).

The Hebrew letter says, “By him (Jesus) therefore let us offer the sacrifices of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15). Our sacrifice of praise is to be the fruit of our lips.

Spiritual Acts

Having shown the spiritual nature of New Testament worship, let us direct our attention toward the acts of worship that are specifically prescribed by God’s word and observe how they are to be exercised from the heart or spirit.

(1) Prayer. Jesus taught against stereotyped, insincere prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:5-15). Paul said, “I will pray with the spirit . . .” (1 Cor. 14:15). He told the Ephesians, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit . . .” (Eph. 6:18). In this verse Lenski translates pneuma (spirit) in the lower case, making it the human spirit. If the Holy Spirit is meant, prayer would still be from the heart as a Christian would pray under the teaching and influence of the Spirit.

(2) Singing. Paul wrote, “. . . but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19). Each worshipper is to sing spiritual songs, making melody in the heart. The heart is to accompany the singing. A parallel verse is in Col. 3:16. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

(3) Lord’s Supper. Concerning the Lord’s Supper we are told, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). Jesus said, “. . . this do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). The Lord’s body is to be discerned (1 Cor. 11:29).

(4) Giving. A Christian is to give from the heart. Listen to Paul: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Improper motive in giving is condemned by Jesus in Matt. 6:1-4.

(5) Teaching. “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4). “But that on the goody ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Lk. 8:15).

In everyone of the preceding acts, nothing is pompous, artificial or mechanical. All are to be sincerely engaged in. from the heart.

Instrumental Music

In view of the spiritual aspects of New Testament worship, instrumental music in worship must be classified as mechanical, carnal, theatrical, diversive, subversive, formalistic, pompous, artifical and corruptive.

(1) Instrumental music is mechanical because it is machinelike, lacking expression and intelligence.

(2) Instrumental music is carnal because it is materialistic or worldly in contrast to the spiritual.

(3) Instrumental music is theatrical because it is used to entertain. Many go to worship (?) to see and hear a performance rather than to enter into spiritual homage to God.

(4) Instrumental music is diversive because it distracts from the singing of the hymns. People pay more attention to the burst of the guitar, the beat of the drums, the run of the piano or the staccato on the organ than they do the sentiment of the words being sung.

(5) Instrumental music is subversive because it changes the spiritual into the carnal, the holy into the profane.

(6) Instrumental music is formalistic because it is external and outward, having nothing to contribute toward worshipping God in spirit and truth.

(7) Instrumental music is pompous because it is a display of ostentation and showmanship. It is vain pageantry.

(8) Instrumental music is artificial because it is manufactured and constructed by the wisdom, whims and fancies of men.

(9) Instrumental music is corruptive because it destroys the spiritual fiber and vitality of God’s appointed instrument, the heart.

We can see, therefore, that instrumental music has no place in New Testament worship. It is contrary to and different from the very nature and character of the worship Jesus instituted.

Excerpts From Opponents

Instrumental music has been opposed since it was first introduced into so-called Christendom, especially since the Reformation, on the grounds that it would destroy the spiritual devotion and adoration to God. Notice the excerpts from the following men:

John Calvin said, “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law . . . . Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise . . .” (Calvin’s Commentary, on 33rd Psalm).

Adam Clarke wrote about the instrument, “Away with such portentous baubles from the worship of that infinite Spirit who requires his followers to worship him in’ spirit and in truth, for to no such worship are those instruments friendly” (Commentary, Vol. 2, pp. 690-691).

Alexander Campbell wrote in the Millennial Harbinger: “To those who have no real devotion or spirituality in them, and whose animal nature flags under the oppression of church service, I think . . . that instrumental music would be not only a desideratum, but an essential prerequisite to fire up their souls to even animal devotion. But I presume to all spiritually-minded Christians, such aids would be as a cowbell in a concert” (Memoirs of A. Campbell, Vol. 2, p. 366).

Robert Milligan stated, “The tendency of instrumental music is, I think, to divert the minds of many from the sentiment of the song to the mere sound of the organ, and in this way it often serves to promote formalism in Churches” (Scheme of Redemption, p. 386).

Charles Louis Loos, professor of Greek at Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, wrote in the Millennial Harbinger: “But, before God and man, in its real good and final effects, better by far the humbler music of praise swelling up from the warm, earnest hearts consecrated to God, than the bewildering, heartless, aesthetic art performances of organ and choir. God hears and accepts the one, as he hears and accepts the humblest prayer; but he rejects the other for it is carnal offering to men’s ears, and not to God. Think of it! – Change the worship of God to an attraction for men’s ears! . . . . Tell men honestly that these musical church performances are, like the music on the balconies of museums, shows and theaters, to attract men, to invite patrons, and men will understand you and appreciate the performance accordingly” (Copied from Instrumental Music. in the Worship by Kurfees, p. 232).

Let us close this study with the words of LB. Grubbs: “The soul all alive to a love all divine, gives vent to its emotion in songs and petitions that gush forth in spiritual power from the internal fountains of life. With such offerings God is well pleased. We cannot, we will not tolerate anything that tends to destroy this spiritual life” (Kurfees, p. 234).


  1. What does “spiritual” mean?
  2. From 1 Pet. 2:5, list 4 reasons why the sacrifices are described as “spiritual.”
  3. Who are the priests in 1 Pet. X2:5? In what place do they offer the sacrifices?
  4. What did Jesus mean when he said God must be worshiped “in spirit”?
  5. What basic criticism did Jesus make against the Scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 15:8? How does this differ from what Paul said he did in Phil. 3:3 and Rom. 1:9?
  6. In Heb. 13:15, what sacrifice did the author say was to be offered to God?
  7. List the 5 acts of worship. What do they all have in common from the standpoint of spiritual worship? Show this from Scripture references.
  8. Enumerate the 9 listed things that instrumental music does to worship and briefly define each one.
  9. Who said that instruments of music in worship would be as a cowbell in a concert to all spiritually-minded Christians? What is meant by this statement?
  10. In what way did Robert Milligan say instrumental music would affect worship?
  11. Charles Loos said that instrumental music in worship is used for what reason?

Truth Magazine XXIV: 19, pp. 313-315
May 8, 1980