By Don Hooten
The second argument is in hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the “science and methodology of interpretation” (Websters II). In other words, the argument against instrumental music is couched in the methodology we use to interpret things, namely the Bible.
Simply put, our method of understanding God’s will must presuppose that God’s speech permits us to do things by his authority but that his silence does not. If God has not addressed something, it is thereby reasonable to conclude that he does not want that particular thing practiced. In fact, God’s silence regarding any religious action has never served as authority for anything.
When God prohibited in Israel the “cursing of the Name of God or blasphemy” (Exod. 22:28), no punishment was given. Still, the people waited “so that the command of the Lord might be made clear to them” (Lev. 24:12). This shows they would not act on his silence. God had to authorize in speech what they were to do.
When a man in the wilderness had violated the law of the Sabbath, already declared a capital crime (Exod. 31:14-15), Israel still waited for the Lord to “declare what should be done to him” (Num. 15:32-34). Even the method of executing a capital case was one in which Moses and Israel would not proceed in without “God’s word.” This was true in Old Testament law and worship (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6).
What believers must be impressed with is that New Testament Christians who aim to worship God in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:24) cannot proceed in any endeavor “in truth” without the speech of God. This method of understanding God’s will (i.e., hermeneutics) is crucial. Only what God has spoken about can be said to be approved of him. The silence of God is not permissive.
As a life illustration, if I send my son to the store to buy bread with the $2 I give him and he returns with a bottle of Pepsi, has he acted with my authority? Of course not. I authorized him to buy bread with the $2 and that is all. Even if he bought the bread and the Pepsi, he acted without my authority to purchase the Pepsi. If my silence permits him to change what I wish at his whim in one situation, it permits him to do it in any situation.
So too, if God’s silence permits Christians to change what he willed in words at their whim, it permits them to do it with any situation or teaching. And as a result, no one belief system can ever be said to be out of harmony with the will of God. And that is completely inconsistent with the inspired Apostle John who wrote, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God” (2 John 9).
In fact, even New Testament writers use this hermeneutic principle to demonstrate biblical truth, making the principle just as valid and binding in the N.T. as it was in the O.T. In Hebrews, the inspired writer, in an effort to urge followers of Jesus not to leave the Gospel and return to the Mosaic Law, showed they could not serve Jesus and benefit from his ministry under the Old Covenant. Why? Because Jesus could not be their Priest! Under the Mosaic Law, only Levites who were descendants of Aaron could be priests. The writer reasons that Jesus could not be a priest at all under the Mosaic covenant because “it is evident that our Lord has descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests” (Heb. 7:14, my emphasis, dh). No one from Judah, even Jesus, could be a priest under the Mosaic Law — not because the Law explicitly prohibited it but because the Law spoke nothing about priests from any other tribe.
Consequently, the writer builds his argument around the hermeneutic principle that God’s silence prohibited things because only his speech authorized something. God did not have to say “No Judahite” could be priest. In fact, God never said that. All he had to say was what tribe he wanted priests to descend from and that he did. Therefore, no one from any other tribe than Levi could be or chosen to be a priest. When one king did that very thing, appointing priests who were not Levites, God called it sin and punished him for his transgression (cf. 1 Kings 12:31;13:34). Since Moses “spoke nothing” concerning a priest from any tribe except Levi, the only conclusion was and is that a priest from any other tribe would be unacceptable to God. God’s speech permits. But anything else is prohibited by his silence.
If God’s silence prohibited certain tribes from priestly service in the O.T., then under the N.T. things are just as rightly prohibited if God is silent. Peter says, “If any man speak, (let him speak) as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).
The truth is that if the only things that are prohibited in worship, the work of churches, and even the life of Christians, must have a “Thou shalt not” explicitly stated, then there are heaps of things that could never be challenged. No Protestant could ever prohibit a Catholic clergy-laity distinction because the N.T. never explicitly prohibits a separation in terminology between worship leaders and worshipers. No Catholic could ever prohibit the “Protestant” use of “lay-ministers” in the assembly because the N.T. never explicitly prohibits it. And on and on we could go.
A universal application can be found in what we use as elements of the Lord’s supper. If God must specify what he does not want, then we could use lamb, T-bone steak, pizza or Kool-Aid and Coca-Cola as elements of communion because the N.T. nowhere explicitly prohibits it! The truth is all of them are prohibited because God’s word nowhere authorizes them! The Lord tells us what he wants in the communion by saying it was unleavened “bread” and “fruit of the vine” (cf. Matt. 26:26-29). To change his will is presumptuous and sinful, whether we are discussing the Old Covenant to appoint someone other than a Levite as priest or the New Covenant and discussing the elements of the Lord’s supper.
Therefore, since God nowhere speaks approvingly of instrumental music in the New Testament, the same hermeneutic principle teaches us that instrumental music today is likewise unacceptable to God.
This brings us to the third line of reasoning we call the Scriptural argument since it takes what the Scriptures say Christians did or were commanded to do in musical worship of God. And just as intentionally, the Lord, through his Apostles, tells us what he wants in musical worship. The same Lord who described the communion to the Apostles has through the Holy Spirit used only one word to describe how Christians praise God in music: “sing.”
And speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19).
Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your heart to the Lord (Col. 3:16).
I shall sing with spirit and I shall sing with the mind also (1 Cor. 14:16).
For the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Thy Name (Rom. 15:9-10).
In the midst of the congregation I will sing Thy praise (Heb. 2:12).
Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises (Jas. 5:13).
What God has authorized for the worship of him and his Son according to the Scriptures is singing or vocal music not instrumental music.
We are commanded to sing psalms, not play them (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Psalms, the liturgy of the O.T., was the most available inspired text early Christians had. And the Scriptures commands Christians to “sing” them — nothing else. That is just as clear as what the elements of the Lord’s supper were to be.
We are commanded to sing hymns, not play them (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Hymns, single melody poems to God of praise or thanksgiving in strophic form (Grout, History of Western Music 18), were simple, comparatively easy to sing and “originally for the congregation” (ibid.). And Scripture commands Christians to “sing” them — nothing else.
We are commanded to sing spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). These songs, likely inspired by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 14:15, 26), were the newly growing collection of songs appropriate for the praise of Jesus and God. And how does the Spirit say Christians are to do them? “Sing.”
Still, people use the following arguments to justify its use today.
“The Bible doesn’t say not to!” See the “hermeneutic” argument for a fuller discussion. But simply put, God has never explicitly prohibited everything he disapproves. He states what he wants. If using instrumental music pleases God, then so does pizza and cookies in the communion.
“David used harps — therefore, so can we!” Yes, David did use harps because it “was the commandment of the Lord” under the Mosaic Law (2 Chron. 29:25). But so was circumcision “a commandment of the Lord.” And Paul clearly says that it does not belong to the Covenant of Christ (cf. Gal. 5:2) and is therefore unacceptable. In fact, Paul says if we use the Law to seek justification in our practice as Christians, “we are debtor to keep the whole Law” (5:3). Even if David worshiped with instruments with God’s approval, it does not mean that God approves of it in his worship today.
“There are harps in Revelation!” Yes. And there are beasts too! Just because something is in the Bible does not mean God approves it! The “harps” of Revelation (5:8; 15:2) are being played by angels and “twenty-fours elders” “around the throne” of God (5:11) “in heaven” (15:1) on a “sea of glass mingled with fire” (15:2).
First, this incident is in heaven not on earth. And Jesus tells us that God commands some things on earth like marriage that he does not permit in heaven (Matt. 22:30). Therefore, it is not conclusive to say if it is in heaven it is acceptable on earth. Besides, what God revealed in “the faith . . . delivered to the saints” here on earth (Jude 3) was that when “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” were brought to praise the Lord, Christians are to “sing.”
Second, the language is obviously figurative: “sea of glass mixed with fire.” If the language surrounding the harps is figurative, why would the harps not be figurative too?
So then, that is why you will hear no pianos when we worship God. It is not because we dislike them. It is because we like and are committed to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). All God’s truth tells us to do is to “sing” with grace in our hearts” (Col. 3:16). What more appropriate way for a child of God to honor God in worship than to worship him the way he said?
Therefore, it is God himself in his word that should compel all of us to stop the “hearing of pianos” in worship of God. That is what God wants in his worship. And “true worshipers” Jesus says, worship him in “spirit and in truth.” So sing my brother and my friend!