By Jon Quinn
In the quest to discover some inkling of Biblical authority for the employment of musical instruments in the worship of the Lord’s church, proponents have searched high and low. Finding no scriptural authority for such in this age and realm, their search takes them beyond the boundaries of this earth to that place we know only by faith and not yet by sight. In this lesson, we shall consider John’s inspired account of the vision he saw and its use (or misuse) today in the vain attempt to justify the innovation of mechanical instruments of music into the worship of the church of Christ.
The Book Of Revelation
The attempt to find authority for the playing of instruments in worship by citing their use in heaven leads one to the book of Christ’s Revelation to John. John had been exiled to the island of Patmos (1:9). The year was 96 A.D., during the reign of the cruel tyrant Domitian. Christians were being severely persecuted because they were refusing to worship the emperor-god. The book of Revelation is God’s encouragement to His persecuted people; if they continue to live by faith that they will ultimately triumph. The message rings forth that despite all earthly appearances, God is still in control of His universe (He is still on His throne). John employs brilliant imagery and figures to communicate unto us the glories which he witnesses. How inadequate human speech must be to reveal the true grandeur of heaven! And yet, how impressed we are as we glimpse its beauty through the words John employs.
In John’s description of the events taking place around God’s throne, he mentions four awe-inspiring creatures as well as twenty-four elders who fall down before the Lamb of God. Each has a harp as well as golden bowls of incense, which John explains represents the prayers of the saints (5:8). Also mentioned are those who have triumphed over the beast. They are represented as standing on the sea of glass holding harps of God (15:2). The message: God knows about the trials being faced for His people and eternal victory awaits those who endure. This is the central purpose of the Book of Revelation.
Now then, the question is not whether musical instruments are mentioned in John’s description of his vision – they are indeed. Nor is it a question as to whether or not these instruments are literal. I am persuaded that the crowns of gold, sea of glass, bowls of incense and the harps represent other things. We have already seen that the incense represents the prayers of the saints. Also, we see in 14:2 a voice from heaven “as the voice of many waters.” Not a voice of many waters literally, but as many waters. Also mentioned is the voice of many “harpers harping upon their harps” which represent the praise offered by these heavenly beings. Certainly the harps do not represent pianos and organs used in worship on earth! But literal or not, that is not what is at issue.
The question is whether mechanical instruments of music are authorized in the worship of the church on earth. That is precisely what is at issue here.
Brief Course In Bible Study
When considering any Bible passage, it is good hermeneutical practice to ask oneself several questions: Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to? What are the circumstances? How does it apply?
For example, after the flood, Noah built an altar and offered a lamb on it. God was pleased with Noah’s worship because he was worshipping as he had been authorized. But what God approved of in Noah, He does not necessarily approve of in us. Noah lived in another time and under another system. God would not accept such an offering on our part because He has not authorized the church to worship Him in such a manner. It would be an abuse of scripture to attempt to justify burnt offerings today on the basis of what God accepted under other circumstances.
In the book of Revelation, we find heavenly, not earthly, creatures worshipping God. The twenty-four elders are not only pictured as having harps, but also wearing crowns (4:10) and offering incense (5:8). We also find the use of a censer (8:5), tabernacle (15:5) and the sea of glass (15:2). If those who attempt to justify the use of mechanical instruments of music on the basis of their mention in John’s vision were at all consistent, then they would also be insisting upon these other items. In fact, if the harps are authorized, then all are, and we have not the right to omit any of them from our worship!
Authority In Heavenly Visions?
Our standard of authority must be God’s word. We must obey the scripture’s commands, examples, and those things which we necessarily infer when they apply to the church. The mere fact that proponents of instrumental music have had to leave behind God’s instructions for the church on earth and search in a heavenly vision for authorization of their innovation makes it evident that they are having a difficult time justifying it in a reasonable way.
The argument for the use of musical instruments in worship based on the book of Revelation is stated in several different ways:
“The only example in the New Testament of a member of the church seeing and hearing singing on the Lord’s day involved an instrument.” This argument leaves out some important information that is revelant to the conclusion being drawn. It leaves out the fact that what John saw did not involve an assembly of saints on earth at all. Besides, what John saw and heard is not, nor ever has been, the cause of division. The issue still is whether the church is authorized to use musical instruments in worship.
“Harps are in heaven; God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven; therefore, musical instruments are authorized for the church (Matthew 6;10).” Infants are also in heaven. Shall we baptize them into the Lord’s body? It is the old case of mixing apples and oranges. God’s will for His heavenly creatures is not the same as His will for His children on earth. Also, the meaning of Matthew 6:10 is distorted by this argument. This verse tells us that we on earth should obey God’s will even as angelic creatures obey Him in heaven.
“Instruments should be used because they are used in heaven and the church sits in heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6).” Of course, “heavenly places” does not refer to the eternal place of reward but to the spiritual nature of the church. It is a divine, blood-bought institution. Heaven is God’s throne and the earth is His footstool, It has been given a plan to follow and this plan does not include what heavenly creatures may or may not practice.
The fact if the matter is that these scenes of heavenly worship are clothed in highly symbolic language. They were intended to encourage faithfulness on the part of persecuted Christians, not to instruct them how to worship God.
Some Final Thoughts
Our God is a jealous God and we must approach Him as He has ordained (Hebrews 10:28-29). The book of Revelation says absolutely nothing about the New Testament church worshipping God with musical instruments. To add “worship of the church” to the harp passages is to add to “the words of the prophecy of this book” and, therefore, falls under the condemnation of Revelation 22:18.
- What is the purpose of the book of Revelation?
- Precisely, what is the issue involved?
- Do you believe the harps to be literal? Why or why not? Does it make any difference as far as the worship of the church is concerned?
- The lesson employs the example of Noah. What was the point of this example?
- Think of another example similar to the above.
- If Revelation did authorize musican instruments, what kind would be authorized? What other items would also be authorized?
- Answer the arguments: “The only example in the New Testament of a member of the church seeing and hearing singing on the Lord’s day involved the use of an instrument.”
- Answer the argument: “Harps are in heaven; God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven; therefore, musical instruments are authorized for the church.”
- Answer the arguments: “Instruments should be used because they are used in heaven and the church ‘sits in heavenly places in Christ.”‘
- How does Revelation 22:18 apply to attempting to justify instrumental music in the worship of the church by using the book of Revelation.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 21, pp. 340-341
May 22, 1980