Worship (VIII): Singing (1)

By Mike Willis

God has commanded that Christians offer the “fruit of their lips” as a sacrifice of praise to His name. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our. lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15). Men can offer the sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of their lips, when they pray to God. Another way of offering the sacrifice of praise to God which He demands of us is through singing. When man sings hymns of praise to God, he is offering to God a sacrifice of praise. Inasmuch as singing is a part of divinely revealed worship, let us strive to become better acquainted with what God expects of us in worship through song.

Individual and Congregational Worship

God has commanded that worship through singing be offered on ‘ a congregational basis and on an individual basis. We see an approved apostolic example of individual worship through singing in Acts 16:25 when Paul and Silas lifted up their voices to praise God during their imprisonment at Philippi. The instructions in James 5:13 certainly were not limited to the assembly; it involved individual worship. James wrote, “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (5:13). Other passages show that the individual is to offer worship to God through singing (cf. Col. 3:16).

The New Testament also shows that the early church offered congregational worship through song. The assembly in Corinth engaged in worship through song (I Cor. 14:26). Paul commanded that brethren sing to one another as he wrote, “Speaking to yourselves is psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Hence, we have both a commandment and an approved apostolic example of brethren offering congregational worship to God through singing.

Perversions In Singing

The purity of first century worship has been perverted in several ways with reference to singing. Men have not been content to follow the divinely revealed pattern for worship and have, consequently, departed from the pattern of worship for singing as revealed in the Bible. Here are some ways in which the divine worship has been perverted:

1. Appointment of a special singing group. In the fourth century, the Catholic Church started appointing singers as a distinct class of officers in the church for this part of religious worship. This happened as the music of the theater was brought into the church. We have the remains of this apostasy today in many denominations as they have their choir, chorus, or other special singing groups. The man who should be offering worship to God is entertained by a group of professional or semi-professional singers. We can find nothing in our New Testament that in any way authorizes the use of a special singing group. We might as well appoint a special group to observe the Lord’s supper for everyone as to appoint a special group to engage in singing for everyone.

2. Use of mechanical instruments of music in worship. The early church worshiped God by lifting their voices to God in worship. However, men were not content with the simplicity of New Testament worship. In the sixth century, the mechanical instruments of music were brought into the worship of the New Testament Church (cf. Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. XVI, p. 892; World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. XIV, p. 644; etc.). To bring into our worship those things for which we cannot find divine authority is condemned by the Scriptures (cf. Mt. 15:9; 1 Cor. 4:6; 1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Jn. 9-I1; Rev. 22:18-19). The person who introduces a practice into worship for which he can find no divine authority is guilty of sin before God.

Some try to authorize the usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship through an argument from silence. They say, “The Bible does not say not to use instrumental music in worship.” Let us notice some other things which the Bible fails to condemn to see if they would be suitable for usage in New Testament worship; would each of the following be scriptural: sprinkling for baptism, counting beads during prayer (the Catholic rosary), celebration of Easter or Christmas, the establishment of a special priesthood, using elements such as peanut butter on the Lord’s table, etc.? If the argument that the Bible does not specifically prohibit mechanical instruments of music in worship proves that they can be used in worship, the same argument will justify peanut butter on the Lord’s table, for there is certainly no divine prohibition of using it there. Actually, this argument opens the flood-gate to introducing practically anything in divine worship.

Others try to justify the usage of mechanical instruments of music as an aid to singing. We need to be able to clearly distinguish aids from additions. Please carefully study the following chart to help you see the difference in aids and additions:

Command Expediencies Additions
Make Ark (Gen. 6) Hammer, Saw, Other Tools Another kind of Boat (Canoe, Row boat, etc.)
Baptize (Rom. 6:4) Baptistry, Baptismal garments Another kind of Action (sprinkling, pouring)
Lord’s Supper (Mt. 26:28f) Table, Clothes, Communion cups, etc. Another kind of element (peanut butter, meat, etc.)
Preach Gospel (Mt. 28:18) Radio, TV, Blackboard, literature Another Message (jokes, politics, etc.)
Sing (Eph. 5:19) Song books, shaped notes, etc. Another kind of music (instrumental music)

Notice the difference between aids and additions: an addition is another item of the same class. Men fail to obey God’s word when they substitute another item of the same class as that which God specified. Hence, adding another kind of music to that which God specified is a violation of God’s word; it is not an aid to the obedience of a commandment He has given.

We notice that sprinkling is not an aid to baptism because it is another action than the one commanded by the word baptize. We observe that hamburgers and coke on the Lord’s supper is not an aid to observing the Supper because these are others kinds of elements than that which Christ commanded. We perceive that burning incense is not an aid to praying, Sabbath keeping is not an aid to worship on the Lord’s day, etc. Similarly, we should be able to see that using mechanical instruments of music is not an aid to singing because it is another kind of music.

Another attempt to justify the usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship is to appeal to the Old Testament for authority for using them today. The person who reverts to the Old Testament to find authority for one item today is under obligation to obey all of the Old Testament (Gal. 5:3). Hence, the man who seeks to authorize instrumental music on the basis of the Old Testament is obligated to offer animal sacrifices (Gen. 4:4; Heb. 11:4); circumcise his male infants (Gen. 17:9-14; Gal. 3:29); observe the Sabbath day (Ex. 31:14-16); observe other Old Testament feast days (Psa. 81:1-5); etc. There is no basis for going back into the Old Testament and bringing forward selected portions of it for usage today and treating the rest of it as if it were not binding. Such is a misuse of the Scriptures.

Another attempt which has been made to prove that instrumental music is authorized in divine worship to argue that the words psallein and psalmos mean “to sing with instrumental accompaniment.” First of all, let me assure you that no one has been able to prove that this is the definition of these words. The lexicographers do not so define the words as having this meaning in New Testament times. However, let us notice some consequences should this be true. (a) If the words psallein and psalmos mean “to sing with the accompaniment of instrumental music,” as the proponents of instrumental music assert, then one cannot obey the commandment in these words without using mechanical instruments of music. Just as the word baptizo means “to immerse” and one cannot obey that commandment while sprinkling or pouring the subject to be baptized, so also one cannot obey the command to psallein without using a mechanical instrument of music if the word has that meaning. (b) The early church did not obey the Scriptures since history confirms that they did not sing with instrumental accompaniment. Hence, the church first obeyed Paul’s command to psallein in the seventh century when instrumental music was introduced. (c) The failure to use instrumental music is a violation of the Scriptures and, therefore, sinful. I add this because those who say that instrumental music is authorized want to treat it as an optional matter. To do so is impossible if psallein is the basis for introducing it in worship. If it is commanded of God, it is not optional! We either use it or are guilty of sin for not using it.

Back To The Pattern

Let us call upon men from every walk of life to go back to the pattern of New Testament worship! The pattern of worship with reference to the music of the New Testament church is clear: congregational singing. We can have nothing to do with the perversions of modern churches in introducing mechanical instruments of music or using choirs to offer their worship to God anymore than we can participate in prayer which is offered through Mary’s name or partake of the Lord’s Supper using water and light bread.

All such deviations in worship are a departure from God’s divine revelation. The Bible offers the following warnings against such departures: (a) “But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men” (Mt. 15:9). (b) “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). (c) “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son’ (2 Jn. 9). (d) “If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which 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 from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19). With these warnings before us, let us be content to remain within the authorized limits of divine authority.

There is ample authority for worshiping God through song. The following passages demonstrate this:

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives (Mt. 26:30; 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; 1 will sing with the spirit, and 1 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 with 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 praise (Jas. 5:13).

No one can deny that there is Bible authority for the Lord’s people to lift their voices both individually and collectively in praise to God in song. Let us be content to follow the divine revelation and stay off the grounds of human opinion for offering worship.

Questions – Lesson VIII

  1. How can man offer a “sacrifice of praise” to God?
  2. Give scriptural authority for congregational singing.?
  3. Name some ways the pattern for singing in worship has been perverted.
  4. How would you answer those who say, “The Bible does not say not to use instrumental music in worship”?
  5. How would you answer those who say that mechanical instruments of music are just aids to worship like a song book?
  6. How would you answer those who say that the Greek word psallein (translated “make melody” in Eph. 5:19) means to use an instrument of music?
  7. When was instrumental music introduced in the wor ship of the church?
  8. What warnings are given in the Bible against depar ture from God’s divine revelation?
  9. What passages demonstrate the authority for wor shipping God through song?

Truth Magazine XXIII: 44, pp. 711-713
November 8, 1979