By Mike Willis
The use of mechanical instruments of music in worship was not a part of the worship of the early church. When were they introduced into the church’s worship? The church historians tell us when mechanical instruments became a part of the worship of the churches:
The use of organs in churches is ascribed to Pope Vitalian (657-672). Constantine Copronymos sent an organ with other presents to King Pepin of France in 767. Charlemagne received one as a present from the Caliph Haroun al Rashid, and had it put up in the cathedral of Aixla-Chapelle . . . . The attitude of the churches toward the organ varies. It shared to some extent the fate of images except that it never was an object of worship . . . . The Greek church disapproved the use of organs. The Latin church introduced it pretty generally, but not without the protest of eminent men, so that even in the Council of Trent a motion was made, though not carried, to prohibit the organ at least in the mass (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 4, p. 439). (For further verification of these facts concerning the introduction of the organ in worship, see American Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, p. 688 and Chamber’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, p. 112.)
In view of the controversies over the use of instrumental music in worship which have been so violent in the British and American Protestant churches, it is an interesting question whether instruments were employed by the primitive Christians. We know that instruments performed an important function in the Hebrew temple service and in the ceremonies of the Greeks. At this point, however, a break was made with all previous practice, and although the lyre and flute were sometimes employed by the Greek converts, as a general rule, the use of instruments in worship was condemned. Many of the fathers, speaking of religious song, make no mention of instruments; others like Clement of Alexandria and St. Chrysostom, refer to them only to denounce them (Edwin Dickinson, History of Music in the Western Church, p. 54).
Although mechanical instruments of music were available for use in the first century (they were used in the worship of both the Jews and Greeks), the early church chose not to use them. Through the years, as mechanical instruments of music were introduced into the worship of the various denominations, well-known religious leaders protested their use.
Thomas Acquinas (Catholic scholar of the 13th century): Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize (Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 11, p. 483).
John Calvin (Presbyterian founder): Musical instruments, in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far from pleasing to Him (Commentary on Psa. 33 and on 1 Sam. 18:1-9).
John Girardeau (Presbyterian): It has thus been proved, by an appeal to historical facts, that the church, although lapsing more and more into defection from the truth and into a corruption of apostolic practice, had no instrumental music for twelve hundred years; and that the Calvinistic Reformed Church ejected it from its services as an element of Popery, even the Church of England having come very nigh to its extrusion from her worship. The historical argument, therefore, combines with the Scriptural and the confessional to raise a solemn and powerful protest against its employment by the Presbyterian Church. It is heresy in the sphere of worship (Instrumental Music, p. 179).
John Wesley (Methodist founder): I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 684).
The testimony of history is that the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship was introduced in the worship of the church many years after the first century and over the protest of many leaders. The use of mechanical instruments of music in worship was not a part of the worship of the church of the New Testament. Though instruments of music were available, the early church chose not to use them.
Attempts to Defend Mechanical Instruments in Worship
The fact that mechanical instruments of music were not used in the worship of the church until later years would be meaningless if scriptural authority can be produced to show that God approved their use in worship. Through the years, there have been many attempts to defend the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship. Let us examine those arguments.
1. David used instruments of music in the Old Testament. Without a doubt, mechanical instruments of music were used in the Old Testament period of worship. Psalm 150 commanded the use of trumpet, psaltery, harp, timbrel, dance, stringed instruments, organs, and cymbals in the praise of God. Many other passages could be added to demonstrate that mechanical instruments were used in the worship of the Old Testament. These two facts need to be considered with reference to this point:
(a) If the usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship in the Old Testament proves that they can be used today, anything else used in worship in the Old Testament can also be used today. During the Old Testament era, the following things were also practiced:
Burning Incense (Lev. 10:1-2)
Observance of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16)
Daily animal sacrifices (Num. 28:1-6)
Observance of the Sabbath day (Ex. 20:8)
A separate priesthood (Lev.)
In addition to this, the Old Testament allowed the practice of polygamy, commanded Levirate marriage, and many other things which would not be accepted today. In Galatians 5:3, Paul wrote, “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.” The Old Testament is not a religious smorgasbord from which Christians can pick and choose items to add to religious worship according to their personal taste. If a man is going to accept the Old Testament as his authority for one item, Paul said he is “debtor to do the whole law.” One must practice either all of the Old Testament or none of it.
(b) Mechanical instruments of music were not added to the worship of the Old Testament as a matter of personal preference at the whim of the Old Testament saints. The mechanical instruments of music were added by divine commandment.
And he set the Levites in the house of the Lord 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 so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets (1 Chron. 29:25).
The Lord commanded mechanical instruments of music in the Old Testament. Where is the similar commandment for them to be used in New Testament worship?
(2) The Bible does not say not to use mechanical instruments of music in worship. There is no express condemnation of mechanical instruments in worship. However, the Bible is not a book designed to list everything to which the Lord would object. Can you image what a book the Bible would be if the Lord had to tell us everything not to do? For example, the Lord would have had to say, “Thou shalt not put potatoes, peas, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. on the Lord’s supper.” If the Lord omitted telling us any item, one could argue, “The Lord did not say, ‘Thou shalt not use seaweed in observing the Lord’s supper.”‘ The nature of positive, divine authority is that the Lord tells us what to do. By telling us to use unleavened bread and fruit of the vine in observing the Lord’s supper, the Lord prohibited the usage of anything else. Perhaps this chart will help:
|1. Passover lamb
|male lamb, one year old,
|another kind of animal:
pig, goat, cat
|2. For Naaman to be cleansed of leprosy (2 Kgs. 5)||dip 7 times in
|3. Items on the Lord’s table
(1 Cor. 11)
fruit of the vine
|another kind of food:
|4. Music (Eph. 5:19)||singing||another kind of music: instrumental|
When God specified the kind of animal to be used in a given sacrifice, that eliminated every other kind of animal. When God specified that Naarnan dip seven times in the Jordan River to be cleansed of his leprosy, that eliminated every other river. When God specified the items to be used on the Lord’s table, that eliminated every other kind of item which might be used. When God specified the kind of music to be used in His worship-singing, that eliminated every other kind of music. Hence, the Lord does not have to say “thou shalt not. . . ” in order for mechanical instruments of music in worship to be unauthorized.
Too, there are many other religious practices which many people condemn for which there is no “thou shalt not.” Here are a few of them:
A separate priesthood
Sprinkling or pouring for baptism
Religious celebration of Easter, Christmas, etc.
Burning incense and candles
Use of holy water
Ecclesiastical synods, councils, associations, etc.
If the argument which says “The Lord did not say, ‘Thou shalt not use instrumental music… proves that one can use mechanical instruments of music in worship, then the same argument will prove that each of the above (and many other things not mentioned above) is also acceptable.
(This series will be concluded in the next issue of Guardian of Truth.)
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 19, pp. 578, 598-599
October 3, 1985