By Mike Willis
One of the characteristics of the churches of Christ which strike our visitors as different and unusual is the fact that we do not have a piano, organ, or other kind of mechanical instrument of music in our worship. Some appreciate the difference and some do not.
When visitors learn that our reason for not having mechanical instruments of music in worship is doctrinal, frequently they react negatively. When a sermon is heard condemning the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship, some judgmentally condemn us for “judging” others and “judge” us to be extremely narrow-minded and bigoted.
Recognizing that some people will immediately dismiss any discussion of the issue as “much ado about nothing,” I find myself faced with the difficult task of trying to convince a prejudiced person when I try to explain what I believe. I only request that you give me a fair hearing, and that whatever decision you reach on the subject will be based on what the Bible teaches rather than on preconceived notions.
Some Misconceptions People Have About Why We Oppose Mechanical Instruments Of Music In Worship
Some people who are aware that we do not use mechanical instruments of music in worship do not understand why we have chosen not to use them. Here are some misconceptions which people have: (1) We have a personal distaste for instrumental music in worship. Actually, most of us like to hear songs sung with mechanical instruments of music and some among us are very talented musicians. (2) We think singing with instrumental accompaniment is better. Our reasons are not based on personal opinion and judgment. (3) Our objection to mechanical instruments of music is a cultural objection, much like the Amish objection to driving automobiles. Our objections are not related to our culture. (4) We cannot afford a piano. Most congregations among us can easily afford a piano or organ. (5) We do not have anyone qualified to play the piano. In most congregations with which I have had contact, someone among them has the ability to play the piano or organ. Hence, the conceptions which some have of why we object to mechanical instruments in our worship are inaccurate.
Having set aside these misconceptions, let me explain why we oppose mechanical instruments of music in worship.
Divine Worship Is Revealed From God
God has never left man to grope in the dark to find the kind of worship which pleases Him. Instead, God has given man a divine revelation to show men the kind of morality, family life, and worship which pleases Him. This is demonstrated for us very early in the Scriptures.
God revealed the kind of worship which men were to offer when they left the Garden of Eden. The Scriptures relate, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. . . ” (Heb. 11:4). One can walk by faith only when he moves in obedience to God’s divine revelation (Rom. 10:17). Hence, Abel offered unto God the kind of sacrifice which God commanded. In contrast, Cain offered a sacrifice to God with which God was not pleased, and He rejected it (Gen. 4:4-5). This Bible account demonstrates that not all worship pleases God; the only worship which pleases God is that which is offered in compliance with God’s divine revelation.
Another incident which demonstrates that worship must be offered according to the revelation which God has given to us is found in 1 Kings 12:13. God had revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai the kind of worship which His people were to offer to Him (see Exod.-Deut.). About 500 years later, the kingdom of Israel divided into two nations-Israel and Judah. King Jeroboam of Israel was afraid that the worship in Jerusalem would draw men back to Judah. Consequently, he established an alternate form of worship in Bethel and Dan. He changed the worship place from Jerusalem to Bethel and Dan; he used idols in their worship; he used men from every tribe for priests rather than using only Levites; he changed the date of the holy day (cf. 1 Kgs. 12:25-33). The Scriptures say, “This thing became a sin” (I Kgs. 12:30). God had revealed the kind of worship which should be offered to God; when they departed from it, they were guilty of sin and their worship was unacceptable.
The New Testament reinforces these same facts. Jesus taught that worship had to be offered according to the pattern which God revealed for it to be acceptable to God. When the Pharisees made “washing of hands” a religious ceremony, Jesus condemned their practice saying, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). There is nothing morally wrong with washing one’s hands before eating. However, to make it an act of worship to God was to render worship useless. Anything which is introduced into worship on the authority of man will nullify one’s worship.
Paul described a kind of worship as “will worship” (Col. 2:23). Will worship is a worship devised by man, according to man’s perception of what is good. Men subjected themselves to ordinances such as, “Touch not; taste not; handle not” –ordinances from men, not from God (Col. 2:22). This worship is useless. It honors and glorifies the men who invented, devised, and willed it. Rather than glorifying God, it dishonors Him.
The warnings of Scripture emphasize the need for man to content himself with obeying what God’s word has commanded and revealed. The punishment of hell will come upon those who step outside the boundaries of God’s word in their worship. Notice the following warnings:
Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son (2 Jn. 9).
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Rev. 22:18-19).
Other Scriptures such as Galatians 1:8-9, 1 Timothy 1:3, 4:1-3 and others could be cited. All of them warn of the dangers of failing to do what God has commanded and doing things which He has not commanded. All of them urge Christians to walk within the revelation of God’s word given to us through the inspired apostles and prophets.
The Kind Of Music Which God Accepts
Having learned the importance of confining our worship to what the Bible has revealed, we now need to learn what kind of worship pleases God. From the outset, we recognize that the kind of worship which pleases God must be revealed in the New Testament. All Christians understand that a return to the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament would be a rejection of the all-sufficient atonement of the blood of Christ. Hence, the kind of worship which Christians are to offer must be learned from the New Testament.
Our study of the kind of worship which pleases God is limited to the kind of music which pleases God. Here are the New Testament passages which discuss the music of the saints:
And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30; cf. Mk. 14:26).
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God. . . (Acts 16:25).
Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name (Rom. 15:9).
I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also (1 Cor. 14:15).
. . . speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19).
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God (Col. 3:16).
I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise (Heb. 2:12).
Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing psalms (Jas. 5:13).
These are all of the New Testament passages which refer to the music used by the disciples in their worship to God. The things which impress us about their worship in song are that (1) it was congregational and (2) it was vocal. The early church knew nothing about special singing groups to entertain them in worship. The early church did not use mechanical instruments of music in worship.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 18, pp. 546, 567
September 19, 1985