Instrumental Music in Worship (III)

By Earl E. Robertson

Introduction Of Instrumental Music

Having already observed that no apostle ever wrote anything about instrumental music in worship to God and that no New Testament church ever practiced such, we must conclude that it is not now possible to use it and walk by faith. But in the light of this conclusion and the fact that many churches do use mechanical instrumental music as worship to God, when did such a practice begin? Since it did not have its beginning with God we cannot locate its origin in Holy Writ. We must, therefore, turn to the testimony of men for this information.

“The Greek word `psallo’ is applied among the Greeks of modern times exclusively to sacred music, which in the Eastern Church has never been any other than vocal, instrumental music being unknown in that church, as it was in the primitive church (McClintock c& Strong, Vol. 8, p. 739).

“But this argument would prove that it is as much a duty to play as to sing in worship. It is questionable whether, as used in the New Testament, `psallo’ means more than to sing . . . . The absence of instrumental music from the church for some centuries after the apostles and the sentiment regarding it which pervades the writing of the fathers are unaccountable, if in the apostolic church such music was used” (Schaff-Herzog, Vol. 3, p. 1961).

“It is not, therefore, strange that instrumental music was not heard in their congregational services . . . In the early church the whole congregation joined in the singing, but instrumental music did not accompany the praise” (W. D. Killen, The Ancient Church, pp. 193, 423).

“Yet there was little temptation to undue elaboration of hymnody or music. The very spirituality of the new faith made ritual or liturgy superfluous and music almost unnecessary. Singing (there was no instrumental accompaniment) was little more than a means of expressing in a practicable, social way, the common faith and experience …. The music was purely vocal. There was no instrumental accompaniment of any kind . . . . It fell under the ban of the Christian church, as did all other instruments, because of its pagan association” (E. S. Lorenz, Church Music, pp. 217, 250, 404).

“While the Greek and Roman songs were metrical, the Christian psalms were antiphons, prayers, responses, etc., were unmetrical; and while the pagan melodies were always sung to an instrumental accompaniment, the church chant was exclusively vocal” (Edward Dickinson, History of Music, p. 54).

“All the music employed in their early services was vocal, and the rhythmic element and all gesticulation were forbidden” (Frank L. Humphreys, The Evolution of Church Music, p. 42).

The Eastern Church “Fathers” definitely occupy this same position. They could be quoted at length to support this contention that the early church did not use instrumental music in its worship. G. I. Papadopoulos wrote, “The execution of Byzantine church music by instruments, or even the accompaniment of sacred chanting by instruments, was ruled out by the Eastern Fathers as being incompatible with the pure, solemn, spiritual character of the religion of Christ. The Fathers of the church, in accordance with the example of psalmodizing of our Savior and the holy Apostles, established that only vocal music be used in the churches and severely forbade instrumental music as being secular and hedonic, and in general as evoking pleasure without spiritual value” (A Historical Survey of Byzantine Ecclesiastical Music (in Greek”, Athens, 1904, pp. 10, 11).

“It was, however, purely vocal” (Dr. F. L. Ritter, History of Music from the Christian Era to the Present Time, p. 28).

In the absence of Christ’s disciples making use of instrumental music in their worship, there is an emphasis on the spiritual: they praised God in singing-music in their hearts (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and with understanding (1 Cor. 14:15). Their concern was vocal rather than instrumental music. But inasmuch as instrumental music is today offered unto the Lord as worship, though such was not the case in the early church, when was instrumental music introduced into the churches? The American Encyclopedia says, “Pope Vitalian is related to have first introduced organs into some of the churches of Western Europe about 670; but the earliest trustworthy account is that of one sent as a present by the Greek emperor Constantine Copronymus to Pepin, king of Franks in 755” (Volume 12, p. 688). The Chambers Encyclopedia (Vol. 7, p. 112) says, “The organ is said to have been introduced into church music by Pope Vitalian in 666 A.D.”

This testimony, both historical and scriptural, bears witness to the fact that instrumental music in worship to God today is a departure from the word of God and does not represent the order of divine service rendered in the early church.

Testimony of Eminent Authors

Dr. A. T. Robertson, Greek scholar of the Southern Baptist said, “The word (psalleto) originally meant to play on a stringed instrument (Sir. 9:4), but it comes to be used also for singing with the voice and heart (Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 14:15), making melody with the heart also to the Lord” (Studies in the Epistle James, comment on James 5:13).

Albert Barnes, the eminent Presbyterian commentator, said, “Psallo . . . is used, in the New Testament, only in Rom. 15:9 and 1 Cor. 14:15, where it is translated sing; in James 5:13, where it is rendered sing psalms, and in the place before us. The idea here is that of singing in the heart, or praising God from the heart” (Notes on The Testament, comment on Eph.5:19).

John Calvin, founder of the Presbyterian Church and an able student of Augustine’s doctrine, said, “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law” (Comment on Psalms 33).

J. W. McGarvey, long-time recognized as one of the world’s better Greek students, said, “And if any man who is a preacher believes that the apostle teaches the use of instrumental music in the church by enjoining the singing of psalms, he is one of those smatterers in Greek who can believe anything that he wishes to believe. When the wish is father to the thought, correct exegesis is like water on a duck’s back” (Biblical Criticism, p. 116).

Conybeare and Howson wrote, “When you meet, let your enjoyment consist not in fullness of wine, but fullness of the spirit; let your songs be, not the drinking songs of heathen feasts, but psalms and hymns; and their accompaniment, not the music of the lyre, but the melody of the heart; while you sing them to the praise, not of Bacchus or Venus, but of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Life and Times of the Apostle Paul, comment on Eph. 5:19).

Alzog, the Catholic Scholar, Church Historian of the University of Freiburg and champion of instrumental music in worship, was faithful to his scholarship when he wrote, “St. Ambrose and St. Gregory rendered great service to church music by the introduction of what are known as the Ambrosian and Gregorian chants . . . . Ecclesiastical chant, departing in some instances from the simple majesty of its original character, became more artistic, and, on this account, less heavenly and more profane; and the Fathers of the Church were not slow to censure this corruption of the old and honored church song. Finally, the organ, which seemed an earthly echo of the angelic choirs in heaven, added its full, rich, and inspiring notes to the beautiful simplicity of the Gregorian chant” (Universal Church History, Vol. 1, pp. 696, 697).

From this testimony one can see the process of denominational experience with this innovation. The denominations at first opposed the introduction of the instrument into their worship but finally yielded to the demand of the masses for it. This long, weary process should be enough to convince any fair-minded person that had there been one statement from the New Testament authorizing its practice or one example where any New Testament church used it under apostolic guidance, the controversy would have been forestalled.

John Kurtz, the Lutheran scholar and church historian, said, “At first church music was simple, artless, recitative. But the rivalry of heretics forced the orthodox church to pay greater attention to the requirements of art. Chrysostom had to declaim against the secularization of church music. More lasting was the opposition of the church to the introduction of instrumental accompaniment” (Church History, Vol. 1, p. 376).

Truth Magazine XXI: 10, pp. 138-139
March 3, 1977