Instrumental Music As an Aid

By Keith Ward

There have been many arguments presented in favor of instrumental music. Their sheer number argues against their plausibility. If the practice were scriptural, only one argument would be necessary. Or, as Shakespeare wrote, “Me thinks thou protesteth too much.”

Nature of Aids

Before it is possible to determine whether instrumental music is an aid, the nature of New Testament aids must be understood. It is impossible to separate the concepts of aids and expediencies. Aids arise under the authority of a generic command. God authorized the doing of an act, but left the method and the tools up to man. An aid is anything that will help one to obey the generic command, which does not contradict that or any other command. An aid must be a lawful act, but not all lawful acts are expedient (I Cor. 10:23). There may be several possible aids authorized by a generic command. It is up to the Christian to determine which one will best serve the purpose under his particular circumstances, which one will edify most. This is called expediency.

Thus, in order to be right in the sight of God, an act must be: (1) specified, (2) included in a generic command, or (3) an aid to the furtherance of “a generic command. If number three, it must not contradict any principle of scripture and it must be expedient. The command “Go” illustrates this principle. Specifically, we are to go. But, this is a generic command relative to method; I may walk, ride, drive a car, etc. These are aids to the command “Go”. However, I may not steal a horse or stowaway on a ship, since that would be unlawful. One must consider the circumstances (finances, distance, ability, etc.) to determine which method is most expedient.

When the proposition that instrumental music is an aid arises, two questions immediately follow: (1) Is it an aid? and (2) Is it expedient?

A Command In Old Testament; Not An Aid

When one claims that instrumental music is an aid, he has occupied a scripturally untenable position. By the nature of aids, he has conceded that it is not a command, for an act cannot be both a precept and an aid. Precepts must necessarily be obeyed; aids are only helpful to the prosecution of the precept, not vital to it. God chose to command instrumental music in the Old Testament. It was not on the level of an aid, but on the higher plane of a command. “And he set the Levites in the house of Jehovah with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet; for the commandment was of Jehovah by his prophets” (2 Chron. 29:25). The inspired poet also commanded instrumental music in Psalm 150. He said to sing praises to Jehovah and did not assume they would use instrumental music as an aid but commanded it.

“Praise him with trumpet sound:

Praise him with psaltery and harp.

Praise him with timbrel and dance:

Praise him with stringed instruments and pipe.

Praise him with loud cymbals:

Praise him with high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise Jehovah.”

In every case known to me where instrumental music accompanied singing in the Bible, it was specifically commanded. A careful reading of Exodus 15 shows that Miriam danced to the timbrels after the singing of the Children of Israel. Nothing indicates that she sang with the timbrels. God gave instrumental music the status of command. The instrumentalist defies the authority of God by down-grading instrumental music to the level of an aid. He cannot so do without usurping God’s authority. By making the aid argument, one has already conceded that there is no precept authorizing it. Therefore, the argument is lost. Instrumental music is not an aid.

Aids Are Subordinate To A Command

An aid must be recognized as being subordinate to the thing commanded. If it is an equal type, it cannot be an aid. It is excluded by the choice of the other which is commanded. If asked to state the common factor of automobiles, planes, boats, and trains, almost anyone would say that they are methods of going and are subordinate members of the general class, going. Walking sticks and luggage are aids to going that are not directly related to it. Instrumental music is not a subordinate class of singing, but it is co-equal with it in the general field of making music. Since it is music, it cannot be an unrelated object that aids one in the prosecution of the command to sing, as does a songbook or a pitchpipe. Instrumental music is not an aid.

Aids Must Not Constitute Another Act

Aids do not result in another act of worship. It would still be possible to worship if the songbooks and pitchpipe were removed. It would not be the same if instrumental music were removed. It does not merely aid; it adds another element to the worship. The congregation is no longer singing praises to God; they are now singing and playing to God. A new act was created by adding a new element. Deleting the instrument changes the nature of the acts; deleting an aid does not change the act. Instrumental music is not an aid.

Sentence Diagram of Eph. 5:18-20

Instrumental music cannot be considered as an aid to the act of worship commanded in Ephesians 5:18-20. We find three components of worship enjoined under the general heading “Be filled with the spirit.” They are: (1) “speaking one to another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” (2) “singing and making melody with your heart to God,” and (3) “Giving thanks to God.” Notice that in point two, “singing” and “making melody” are joined by the coordinate conjunction “and” (in the Greek, kai). This means that they are equally modified by any phrases that apply to either of them. In this case, “with your heart” modifies both “singing” and “making melody”; not only one. This is parallel to the statement “seeing and recording with the eye.” Both seeing and recording take place with the same instrument, the eye. No one can deny this. The instrument upon which “singing and making melody” take place is the heart. The word psallo in this passage is translated “making melody;” not “singing” as so many people assume. Therefore, the word that often is used to-provide authority for the instrument is found very closely tied in with a named instrument, the heart. Instrumental music cannot aid “speaking.” We learn from a parallel diagram of Col. 3:16 that “teaching and admonishing” constitute what is termed “speaking” in Ephesians. Instrumental music does not help in either teaching or admonishing fellow Christians.

Instrumental Music Hinders God’s Plan

If the above parallel is disallowed, it is still impossible to show how instrumental music can aid speaking. The booming organ drowns out the vocal “speaking one to another” and leaves each one speaking alone. It distracts the mind from the teaching or the devotional thought, and concentrates it on the aesthetic beauty of music. This is not worship. It is difficult to see how one could claim that instrumental music is an aid to the “singing” or the “making melody.” The simple construction of the sentence makes it plain that they take place on the heart and are “to the Lord.” Thus it is not a sound that can be kept in tune or otherwise musically improved by any sort of aid. Nor are “singing” and Amaking melody” to be done to anyone but God. Instrumental music cannot aid the soul in communication with God. We speak to each other; We sing to God with our hearts. Instrumental music cannot aid either, by any stretch of reason or flight of fancy.

Not Expedient

Even if it were possible to prove that instrumental music were an aid, that would still not prove that it is permissible. For an aid to be permissible, it must also be expedient. The instrument does not in any measurable way edify. It teaches nothing; it does not add to true spiritual feeling; it does not strengthen the soul. In fact, it probably detracts from all three of these. It keeps the worshiper from hearing the teaching of those about him. It also drowns out his voice and makes his contribution less significant in his own mind, so he loses the full measure of spirituality that could have been gained. Finally, instrumental music destroys any feeling of group participation. Each worshiper is isolated from every other worshiper by the sound of playing, and the strength gained by the sense of mutual sharing is gone. In addition to these drawbacks, instrumental music has caused so much division and strife that it could never be considered permissible. An aid must be dispensed with if it is causing trouble or causes a weaker brother to offend (I Cor. 10). This principle would certainly apply to the instrument, for who could deny that it is offensive to many?

Instrumental Music Fags Test

Instrumental music is not an aid. It fails to pass any test as an aid, yet it must pass all such i tests to be scriptural. Instrumental music was compared to different characteristics of aids and in every case the conclusion was that it is not an aid. Even if it were accepted as an aid (for the sake of argument) it ~till could not be used. It is not expedient because it does not edify and it divides brethren. Thus, instrumental music is unscriptural.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:36, p. 11-12
July 18, 1974