Musical Worship in the New Testament Church and the Use of the Instrument

By Philip Sanders

Many people do not understand why anyone would discuss the use of instruments in the worship of the church. Most folks believe that churches have always used instruments of music in their worship. They are surprised to find that some churches today don’t use instruments, and they think them rather peculiar. Churches, however, did not always use instruments; and some churches have never used instruments. In fact, Christians for several centuries were adamantly opposed to using any instruments of music in worship. Not until the thirteenth century AD did churches begin using the instrument widely. Some might ask why one should return to the ancient practice and not adopt the musical instruments so popular today.

In asking this question we are not asking about personal preferences or heritage’s. We are not interested in opinions or feelings. What we are asking is, what does God desire. The New Testament is God’s written revelation to all, a faith once for all time delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The New Testament Scriptures provide for us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), and fulfill Jesus’ promise to guide the apostles into all truth (John 16:12-13). The Scriptures tell us what God desires in worship musically, but His instructions never include the use of instruments. Since we are charged to handle Scripture accurately (2 Tim. 2:15), we should review the relevant passages pertaining to musical worship among Christians:

  • And after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26)
  • But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).
  • And 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) 
  • What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also. (1 Cor. 14:15) 
  • What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Cor. 14:26) 
  • And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18,19). 
  • Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16) 
  • Saying, “I will proclaim Thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Thy praise.” (Heb. 2:12) 
  • Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Heb. 13:15) 
  • Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. (James 5:13)

In each and every instance, the music described emphasizes verbal communication: singing, speaking, teaching, making melody in your hearts, confessing, giving thanks, and the fruit of lips. The absence of a reference to instrumental music is startling. God desires music that is both of the mind and the spirit, not something irrational or nonverbal. God did not accidentally leave out instruments in these passages. There must have been a reason. When one considers the common use of instruments among pagans and in the Jewish temple, one is quite shocked to see Christian opposition to their use. Instruments cannot speak, teach, admonish, give thanks, praise, proclaim, confess or make melody on your heart.These are the things God wants us to accomplish in our singing. Instruments of music fail to do any of them. This is what makes them additions; they do something different from the instruction. They go beyond the instructions in the New Testament. Jesus taught us in Matt. 7:21-27 that Christians are to do what He says in order to obey His will and enter heaven. The burden of proof for pianos and organs must be on the one who introduces them to show where Jesus has instructed this form of worship. There has never been any evidence from the Bible, from the language, or from history to show that instrumental music in Christian worship has won God’s approval.

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