Singing for the Master
Many Protestant reformers were opposed to instrumental music in worship. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, said, “I have no object to instruments of music, in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.” John Calvin said, “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law.” Adam Clarke, the Methodist commentator said, “Music as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor.” Charles H. Spurgeon, recognized as the greatest Baptist preacher that ever lived, preached for twenty years to thousands of people weekly in London, England, did not have musical instruments in worship.
Although instrumental music was used in the Catholic Church for centuries, only in the last 35 years at Vatican II did the instrument receive official sanction.
Cappella is Latin for chapel or church. In its literal meaning, the Italian a cappella means “in chapel style,” or “in the style of the church.”
Instrumental music is again becoming a problematic issue in our fellowship.
We need to examine what the New Testament teaches concerning the use of instrumental music in worship.
The New Testament is Silent Concerning Instrumental Music in Worship
Notice the New Testament texts which mention music in worship:
- Matthew 26:30: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
- Acts 16:25: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.”
- Romans 15:9: “I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name.”
- 1 Corinthians 14:15: “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.”
- Ephesians 5:19: “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.”
- Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
- Hebrews 2:12: “I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.”
- Hebrews 13:15: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips that acknowledge his name.”
- James 5:13: “Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise.”
Where is the authority for instrumental music? On what basis could one justify using instrumental music in worship?
Notice also that vocal music accomplishes the purposes for which Christians are required to sing. Ephesians 5:19 tells us to speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Colossians 3:16 tells us to teach and admonish one another through our song service. James 5:13 tells us to praise God by singing; this requires words. Hebrews 13:15 speaks of our “offering the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” How can an instrument aid in these commands? Where does an instrument fit in with these purposes?
The Term Psallo Does Not Involve Instrumental Music
The term psallo is one of the words used in the Greek New Testament for singing. A summary of the definitions of this term given in various Greek lexicons reads this way: (1) To pluck the hair, (2) To twang the bowstring; (3) To twitch a carpenter’s line; (4) To touch the chords of a musical instrument, that is, to make instrumental music; (5) To touch the chords of the human heart, i.e., to sing, to celebrate with human praise. Many justify the use of the instrument in worship based on the definitions of this term.
If that is the case, we are obligated to use instrumental music in worship. Too, if that is the case, we must each play an instrument, for in Ephesians 5:19 the term is plural, meaning it applies to all Christians. This, too, overlooks the truth that words change meaning—e.g., the word “gay” has radically changed meanings over the years.
Let’s examine Ephesians 5:19 to see how this term is used in the New Testament: “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19).
In Ephesians 5:19, “with the heart” (te kardia) is in the instrumental case. There are other passages were “the heart” is found in the instrumental case, meaning “with the heart.” Matthew 13:15 and Acts 28:27 have the phrase “and understand with the heart.” In Mark 12:30 the Lord commands “… and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul says, “Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart. . . .”
It is obvious what the instrumental case means in these passages. In Matthew 13:15 and Acts 28:27, the heart is the means or instrument by which the understanding is done. In Mark 13:20, the heart is the means or instrument by which the loving is done. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, the heart is the means or instrument by which the purposing is done.
The exact same thing holds true for Ephesians 5:19. The heart is the means or the instrument by which the making melody is to be done. If psallo still meant to “play” in the first century, which is quite doubtful, the meaning in the New Testament is to play the heart.
Biblical Silence is Prohibitive
This is an important principle throughout Scripture. “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deut 12:32). “Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Prov 30:6). Revelation 22:18-19.
Some claim that the instrument is like a pulpit, like individual communion cups, an aid. Yet, this is not so. Vocal and instrumental music are two different kinds of music. Had God simply said, “Make music,” we could have any kind of music we wanted. But, God said, “Sing,” and that’s exactly what he wants us to do.
When a sign at a flea market says, “Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” it does not need to say what days the flea market is closed.
“He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Juda, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (Heb 7:13-14). Notice that specific authority was for a man of the tribe of Levi. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. Concerning this tribe “Moses said nothing.” Thus, Jesus could not be a priest without a change in the law.
Did God have to say, “You can’t have a priest from the tribe of Judah.” No! Did God have to say, “You can’t have instrumental music in worship?” No!
When the Bible says, “Sing,” it excludes everything except vocal music. If that is not the case, I can take the Lord’s Supper on Wednesday night and use spaghetti and tea, because God did not say that I couldn’t do it that way. Instead of a sermon, I can have a dance concert, because God did not say I couldn’t do it that way.
Think of some examples from Scripture. Noah’s building the ark (Gen 6:14-22)—When God specified gopher wood, all other kinds were excluded. The Jews’ slaying of the Passover lamb (Ex 12:21)—When God said a lamb, all other animal blood was excluded
The Old Testament Does Not Give Authority for the Use of Instrumental Music
Instrumental music was commanded under the Old Testament. 2 Chronicles 29:25-28. Psalm 150.
However, the Old Testament is not the standard for worship today. “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law” (Heb 7:12). “In that he says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete” (Heb 8:13).
Those who use this argument seldom—if ever—use it consistently. They do not offer animal sacrifices, although that was commanded under the Old Testament. They do not burn incense, although that was commanded under the Old Testament. They do not make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a day, although that was commanded under the Old Testament.
The Early Church Did Not Use Instrumental Music
Music in Western Civilization: “All our sources deal amply with vocal music of the church. . . . The development of Western music was decisively influenced by the exclusion of musical instruments from the early Christian church.” Hugo Leichtentritt, Music and Ideas: “Only singing, however, and no playing of instruments, as permitted in the early Christian Church.” Emil Nauman, The History of Music: “There can be no doubt that originally the music of the divine service was everywhere entirely of a vocal nature.”
We do not want to base our practice upon the testimony of historians rather than the Word of quotes show that our practice is consistent with the practice of the early church.
Every Scripture is given that the man of God may be furnished unto every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). No Scripture authorizes music in the worship today. Therefore, instrumental music in the worship today is not a good work.
It is a violation of the Lord’s will to go beyond the things which are written (1 Cor 4:6). Musical instrumental in the New Testament worship have not been written. Therefore, those who use musical instruments in the worship today violate the Lord’s will.
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). The word of Christ does not give us musical instruments in the worship. Therefore, instrumental music in the worship is not an act of faith.
God has given us all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). What God has given does not mention instrumental music in New Testament worship. Therefore, instrumental music in the worship today does not pertain unto life and godliness.
We are to sing with our hearts unto the Lord.
Can you praise him with a pure heart, or do you need to come this morning and have your heart washed in the blood of Jesus?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Main Street church of Christ in Pikeville, Kentucky.