Speaking Smooth Things About . . . Instrumental Music in Worship

By Lewis Willis                    

Music is divinely authorized in the worship of the church. The question is: What kind? This issue has long been divisive between the Lord’s church and denominationalism. Perhaps the most distinctive thing about our worship, compared to that of denominational churches, is our use of acappella music. There are several other differences but the use of vocal music is most noticeable to our visitors.

How important is the issue of music in the church? Music is no more important than prayer, the Lord’s supper, giving, or teaching which is true to the Scriptures. However, it is every bit as important as any of these other authorized and required practices.

The “smooth things” and “deceits” which brethren are now preaching all over the country will produce a generation which will conclude that it is all right to disagree over the use of the instrument in worship.

One need not spend much time in examination of what the New Testament says about instruments of music in worship. As a matter of fact, no time is needed since the New Testament says absolutely nothing about instruments of music and their use in the worship of the church. Does that thought send any message to us at all? We have an on-going major dispute in modern religion over a subject that is not so much as mentioned in describing the music we are to offer unto God. On the surface, one would think people would pause and reflect upon the significance of that fact. Through the years, this point has been emphasized to denominationalists, but it has received a rather cool reception, to say the least.

The Music Authorized For Worship

Allow me to list the passages which address our subject. This will not require much space, because there are only nine passages in the New Testament which address the music of the church. Read the following passages: Matthew 26:30; Mark14:26; Acts 16:25; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; 13:15; James 5:13. They all use either sing, sang, sung, or singing to describe the music of our worship; there are no exceptions!

One needs help to misunderstand the teaching of God’s Word on this subject. And guess what? That is exactly what he gets! On every hand there are preachers who readily speak “smooth things” and “deceit” to all who will listen. We hear them say things like, “I think . . . I believe   . . . I feel . . . It seems to me . . . I don’t see anything wrong with  . . .” in reference to the use of mechanical instruments. Actually, who cares what they think, believe, or feel? If we were worshiping them, that would be important information to have. However, since we worship God, we must discover what he thinks on the subject by reading and following the passages cited earlier.

Nonetheless, just as ancient Israel liked the words of the false prophets; people today like the “smooth things” and “deceits” which they hear. As long as this spirit prevails, there will always be a dispute between them, and those who follow the guide of the Scriptures in their practice.

A Battle At Our Doorstep

A division over institutionalism and sponsoring churches produced a division in the church in the 1950s. As a result, most brethren have little knowledge of what is going on among liberal churches today. These liberal churches are in the process of dividing today, and one of the issues dividing them is instrumental music in worship. Some of their most prominent preachers regularly participate in worship with denominations in which instrumental music is used.1

As these new apostates move further to make themselves just another denomination, they are beginning the process of softening up their followers to accept the instrument in their worship. They have already begun to speak “smooth things” and “deceits” to their members, and many, if not most, of their members are falling for the deceit.

They speak “smooth things” in referring to the worship of the church. Rubel Shelly writes of our worship “tradition,” with the obvious point being that if vocal music is nothing but a “tradition,” it can be changed. We have several “traditions” (two songs, a prayer, and another song) that we readily change, so the thought is, we can change the “tradition” of vocal music as well. “The problem is,” Shelly says, “those traditions become so fixed that they are seen by many to inhibit true worship . . .”2 He further suggests that those using vocal music “. . . be a bit more under- standing and incorporating toward the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers who want some things more in sync with their pulses and those of their searching contemporaries.”3

Shelly advises that we stop fighting one another over the “externals” of our worship. Larry Bridgesmith writes of our “worship styles,” adding that “we probably need to be more concerned about the idolatry in our theology than finding a worship style we like . . . we must remain vigilant to use worship forms consistent with biblical freedoms which connect with God seekers who are not familiar with ‘the way we have always done it.’”4 You see, folks, it’s just a question of style, externals, traditions, and biblical freedom in deciding if we will use instrumental music, at least, ac- cording to these men. These expressions are the “smooth things” which are spoken to deceive.

What do these pseudo-intellectual infidels think of our position that there are five acts of worship? Listen to Shelly: “This is the result of a penchant for systematizing rather than good theology. The very language misleads — leads away from a significant biblical truth. It is more precise to say that worship is always an attitude of reverence before God that is exhibited by appropriate actions. Fundamentally, there are three types of actions that are appropriate to the corporate worship of the church: praise, prayer, and preaching.5 This little “deceit” will open the door to any action, including the use of instrumental music, so long as your attitude of reverence is maintained. You can also easily guess who is going to decide what actions are appropriate.

Dave Miller itemized some of the changes this modern theology has already brought to the worship in liberal churches. Special music (including solos and choirs) is common; drama (using costumed actors) is used; the Lord’s supper is observed on any day; babies are dedicated in the assembly; hand clapping and lifting up of hands, Pentecostal-style, are common; women are used to lead songs and prayers; and religious holidays, like Christmas and Easter, are observed with the appropriate actions gleaned from denominationalism.6

With ample space, this list could easily be expanded upon. The battle rages in liberal churches over these questions. Having years ago abandoned divine principles regarding scriptural authority in order to get church sup- port for human institutions, these brethren who oppose this next generation of apostasy (such as Buster Dobbs, editor of Firm Foundation and Alan E. Highers, editor of The Spiritual Sword) are left virtually powerless to stop the march of heresy. The division among them has already happened. The only thing to be determined is how many of their churches will adopt the “smooth things” and “deceits” which they are being taught. “Professing themselves to be wise . . .” they have foolishly fallen further from the Lord than before (Rom. 1:22).


The message to us is, we must continue to preach the truth, even on “old” subjects like instrumental music. Al- ready seed has been sown, through the controversy over the application of Romans 14 to matters of “doctrinal differences,” which can lead us down the same, sad path institutional brethren have traveled. The “smooth things” and “deceits” which brethren are now preaching all over the country will produce a generation which will conclude that it is all right to disagree over the use of the instrument in worship, without it affecting the fellowship of brethren. Folks, if Romans 14 tolerates false teaching and practice on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, why does it not do the same on the use of instrumental music? We know our duty in regard to things like this. “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:17-18).

1  Max Lucado exchanged pulpits with Trinity Baptist Church, 4/2/95, The Spiritual Sword, 10/96, 4.

2 Wineskins, Vol. 3, No. 5, 5.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 9-10.

5 Ibid., 5.

6 Spiritual Sword, 10/96, 25-28.