Do Musical Instruments In Worship Really Make That Much of a Difference?
By: Stafford North
One of the first things that strikes the guest at a church of Christ is that there is no piano or organ. I recall one visitor who said, "With this many people coming, you should soon be able to afford a piano."
While most people realize it is not for a lack of money, they do wonder just why we do not have a piano. And they wonder, too, just why we are so firm in opposing the introduction of instruments into our worship. To them it appears a rather small matter to be concerned about.
May I assure you that we have no desire to be "hard to get along with," nor do we seek merely to be "different." With us it is a matter of principle and of conviction, and you will soon understand why.
Since there are many tracts, books, and sermons containing reasons why we do not choose to use musical instruments in worship, it is not the primary purpose of this study to present these reasons again. They will only be summarized in order to provide a background for answering the question, "Do musical instruments in worship really make that much difference?
A Summary of Reasons Why We Do Not Use Instrumental Music in the Worship
- We do not use instrumental music in the worship because there is no command to use it. For Christian worship we are commanded:
- To Give (1 Corinthians 16:1,2)
- To Partake of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20-29)
- To stir each other to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25)
- To pray (1 Corinthians 14:14-15; Matthew 18:19-20)T
- To sing (1 Corinthians 14:15 ; Colossians 3:16 ; Ephesians 5:19 ; James 5:13).
- The four verses listed with singing are the only verses in the New Testament that make any commandment about music of any kind in Christian worship, and, in each case, singing only is commanded. there is no mention of playing a musical instrument.
- We do not use instrumental music in the worship because there is no example of it in Christian worship during the period when the church received direct divine guidance.
- We have a description in the Bible of many occasions when Christians met for worship, but there is not even a hint that their singing was ever accompanied by instruments of music.
- The scriptures are clear that the music in Christian worship was vocal only.
- We do not use instrumental music in the worship because the word of history is unanimous that musical instruments in Christian worship were not used during the period of direct divine direction of the church.
- One quotation from a recognized authority will indicate the type of comments by all reputable music and church historians. Dr. Frederic Ritter, one-time Director of the School of Music at Vassar College, wrote in his History of Music from the Christian Era to the Present Time (p.28):
- "We have no real knowledge of the exact character of the music which formed a part of the religious devotion of the first Christian congregations. It was, however, purely vocal. Instrumental music was excluded, as first, as having been used by the Romans at their depraved festivities; and everything reminding them of heathen worship could not be endured by the new religionists." [Quoted in Kurgees, Instrumental Music, p. 144]
- In fact, there is no record that instruments were used in church worship any earlier than about 650 A.D. when, over opposition, a pope allowed an organ installed. Even as late as 1250, however, the noted Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas commented that "Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaiz" [Quoted in Kurgees, Instrumental Music, p. 153].
- With most churches using them, we may tend to forget that instruments were not generally accepted in churches until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
- We do not use instrumental music in worship because Bible scholars of all ages and from many different churches have believed it out of harmony with the scriptures.
- The list of those who did not use instruments and who opposed their introduction into Christian worship includes leaders in many religious groups:
- John Calvin (the well-known reformer whose doctrine formed the base of much in Presbyterian and Baptist teaching)
- John Wesley (founder of the Methodist church)
- Adam Clarke (the Methodist commentator)
- Charles H. Spurgeon (the famous Baptist preacher in London)
- Theodore Beza (scholar and friend of John Calvin)
- Alexander Campbell (leader in the Restoration Movement of the nineteenth century)
- Until mid-way through the twentieth century, the Greek Orthodox Church never permitted the use of musical instruments in their services.
Very briefly, then, these four points summarize why we do not believe we should use instrumental music in Christian worship.
The facts upon which these reasons are based are clearly established. Many however, are inclined to say, "But does it really make any difference?" "So," they say, "instruments were not used in the early church. If we like them and they seem to help establish a good mood for worship, can't we use them anyway?" This is probably the sentiment of most who use instruments in worship today. To these it appears a small matter and not worthy of the attention given it by members of the churches of Christ. "Why can't you go ahead and use them," they say to us, "or at least, not oppose their use since they ae now common in most churches.
This brings us to the basic question of this study:
Do Musical Instruments in Worship Really Make That Much Difference?
I am sure you are expecting me to say "yes," for otherwise I would not have gone to the trouble of this study; and I will not disappoint you. I do hope, however, that you will consider carefully the reasons why.
- We believe using instrumental music in Christian worship makes a difference because God has never permitted man to devise the plans or means for his own worship.
- Old Testament Examples:
- Cain's sin was that he did not worship as God directed (Genesis 4; Hebrews 11:4). Cain, it appears, wished to choose what he would submit to God for worship rather than doing as God asked.
- During the Mosaical Age, God was very specific about the worship, and no variation was permitted. Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, were consumed by fire because they obtained fire to use from a source other than that which God directed (Leviticus 10:1,2).
- Saul thought that since he was the King, he could vary from God's prescribed plan of worship by offering a sacrifice even though he was not a priest. A a result, Samuel told him, "Thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of Jehovah thy God" (1 Samuel 13:13). He also told Saul that because he had not followed exactly God's system of worship, God would raise up someone else to be King.
- Equal strictness was also applied to observing God's plan of worship in the New Testament.
- Christ condemned the Pharisees because they added their traditions to God's commandments. His words to them were, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).
- Paul, moreover, gave warnings about the departures from true pattern of Christian worship in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 11:17-34; 14:1-40).
- When man has attempted to develop his own system of worship, he has sometimes developed a degrading system of human sacrifice, drunkenness, fornication, and revelry as worship. The crimes society generally regards as the most repulsive--murder and immorality--have been chosen by men to express their worship to their gods. To prevent any such possibilities, and because as our Creator and the object of our worship He has the right, God has specified our plan of worship.
- To add to the plan God has commanded, then, by adding a new kind of music, which He has not commanded for Christian worship is to take a liberty which God has never allowed. It also, at the very least, is taking an unnecessary chance that could make all our worship unacceptable.
- Instrumental music in Christian Worship makes a difference because Christian worship is basically spiritual rather than physical, this making mechanical instruments inappropriate.
- Under the law of Moses, God permitted musical instruments as worship. Timbrels, harps, trumpets, pipes, and cymbals were actually used to praise God (Psalm 150). The Israelites actually used these things along with dancing, burnt offerings, and incense to offer their praise to God (2 Chronicles 15:11-15; 29:25-28). Yet, as we have seen, when the Christian era began, there was no such use of instruments of music, nor, indeed, of any other outward, ritualistic forms of worship.
- Why were these forms of worship which God approved under the Law of Moses not practiced by the church when it began under direct divine guidance? We should recognize that if these things were in use before and then they were not included in the Christian worship, God must have directed the early church away from such.
- Christ explained when He indicated that Christian worship was to be of a completely different nature than the Jewish. When the woman of Samaria asked Him whether Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem was the place to worship (John 4:20), He took the occasion to teach her and us about worship under His new covenant. No longer, He said in effect, will worship to God be confined to a certain place requiring special physical equipment and surroundings. Since "God is a Spirit," those who worship Him will worship "in spirit and in truth." While this passage includes the idea that we must have the proper "spirit" in the sense of "attitude," its meaning goes beyond this. Since God is a spirit being, and since each of us also has a spirit, Jesus' plan for worship is centered in getting our spirit in contact with God. Christian worship, thus, is concerned with the spiritual rather than the physical.
- The method of Christian worship, of course, is prescribed just as was the Mosaical but it is based primarily on the involvement of the spirit, inward mental activity, rather than on the outward physical activity. Under the Law, worship appealed to the physical: the priest wore special clothing and performed a ritual of sacrifice which appealed to the eye; incense appealed to the sense of smell; feasts appealed to the sense of taste, and the trumpets and harps appealed to the ear.
- But under Christ's plan of worship for Christians, the spirit or mental aspect of man is primarily engaged. Thus the ceremony and indirect approach through a priest is taken away, and in its place comes a plan in which each person participates directly himself, and that primarily in mental activity. No longer is public worship a sort of spectator arrangement in which the person watches, hears, tastes, and smells certain physically appealing rituals. Now worship to God through Christ involves every worshipper as a full participant as he expresses that he loves God with his "heart, mind, and soul" (Matthew 22:27). There is prayer and meditation in which all speak directly to God with no human priest. There is the giving, a personal matter with no ceremony attached. There is the observance of the Lord's Supper in which one "thinks" his way back to Calvary and forward to the second coming and personally "examines himself." Finally, there is the singing in which all participate. And, in keeping with this spiritual kind of worship, there is no mechanical music.
- This contrast is made in Ephesians 5:19 where Paul says, "singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." No longer do we accompany our singing with the harp or lyre or trumpet; now we accompany it with the heart. It was not out of harmony with the Old Testament form of worship which was filled with outward ritual to accompany singing with the sound of musical instruments. But under the new plan of Christ, the singing of the human voice is to be accompanied by the heart or inner man or spirit. Thus, mechanical accompaniment is out of harmony with the type of worship given for Christians under the New Covenant.
- Conybeare and Howsen, in their highly respected Life and Epistles of St. Paul (II, 503), give this explanation of Ephesians 5:19: "Throughout his whole passage there is a contrast implied between the Heathen and the Christian practice, q. d. When you meet, let your enjoyment consist not in fullness of wine, but fullness of the Spirit; let your songs be, not in the drinking-songs of heathen feasts, but psalms and hymns; and their accompaniment, not the music of the lyre, but the melody of the heart; which you sing them to the praise not of Bacchus or Venus, but of the Lord Jesus Christ."
- In his commentary on Ephesians, B.F. Westcott, the noted Greek scholar and professor in the University of Cambridge, explains the phrase: "making melody in your heart" in this way: "The outward music was to be accompanied by the inward music of the heart" (p.82).
- Some who wish to justify the instrument in worship, however, suggest that instruments are not a part of the worship itself, but are only aids to the worship, and that they are, therefore, acceptable. But there are several problems with this position. In the first place, the Jews used the instruments, not as an aid, but as an actual part of their worship. As shown in the passages referred to earlier, they offered the music of instruments as praise to God, not as merely an aid to worship. If instruments were so used along with animal sacrifices and incense under the law, it would be difficult for the same type of music today to be considered only an aid any more than incense or robed priests could be considered aids today.
- Moreover, the assertion that mechanical instruments aid the spiritual worship may be seriously questioned. The whole tone of Christian worship is away from that which appeals to the outward, to the eyes and ears. It is, rather, a spiritual response to God, expressed in the methods he has instructed. Mechanical music, then, is not only adding a new method not commanded, but it is both out of harmony with and a hindrance to the worship of the mind and heart that is to characterize Christian worship. While Christians should sing the best they can, it is not the quality of the musical sound which determines the acceptability of this singing to God; it is, rather, the harmony of the man's spirit with God that pleases Him. God listens more closely to the heart than to the voice. The use of instrumental music puts the emphasis on the wrong place--on the outward, rather than the inward. To say, then, that you want to use an organ because you like the beautiful sound is to attempt to justify something in worship on the basis of outward sound rather than inward devotion.
- Another reason why instrumental music in the Christian worship makes a great difference is that it is an element of division.
- If this were the only reason why it matters, this alone would be enough. For centuries the church existed without using instrumental music and whenever it has been introduced into various religious groups, it has always been a source of trouble and division. Case after case could be cited.
- In the Restoration Movement, particularly, has this been a problem. About 1800, when a number of persons from various denominations decided to attempt to go back beyond both the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic digression, they took as their guiding principle to do only what they found taught for the Christian age by scriptural command, example, or inference. Seeking to "rebuild" or "restore" the church in its essentials like it was in the beginning when it was under direct divine guidance, they wanted to find that core of fundamental truths upon which all Christians could unite. Since musical instruments in Christian worship were neither commanded nor used in the New Testament times, they believed it in keeping with their principles not to use them. Singing was their universal practice for half-a-century, but eventually, around 1870, instruments began to be introduced. They were strongly opposed and many said it would violate: (1) the scriptures, (2) the plea of the Restoration Movement, and (3) their conscience for them to be used. In some places they were taken out, but in others they were retained. While those who used the instrument did not believe they must be used, and often said one could worship with or without it, they still insisted on forcing those who opposed either to sing with the instruments or leave.
- The use of the instrument is and has been divisive and has been the cause of much strife and separation of fellowship. Since it is admittedly, a non-essential, using it is contrary to the spirit of both the love and the unity commanded in the scriptures as well as to the principles of the Restoration Movement.
- The use of instrumental music in the worship makes another important difference because it opens the door for other departures.
- In the eyes of some it seems a little thing whether one uses an organ or piano in a worship service. If we were to grant that it made no difference in itself, which we could not grant, it would still be unwise to use it. So long as we apply the principle that we will do only that which we find taught for us in the Scriptures, we can have both unity and consistency. Since one, obviously, cannot follow this principle and still justify the use of musical instruments in the church, he must move away from the stand of doing only what the Bible authorizes. And this is exactly what those in the Restoration Movement who used the instrument have done. Now, instead of standing on the principle of doing only that which the Bible specifically authorizes, they have moved to the position that a thing is not wrong unless the bible specifically condemns it. Thus the original position is weakened to get the instrument approved, and, at the same time, the new principle allows other departures. In fact, to follow a rule that one could do in worship anything not specifically forbidden would allow almost anything from coffee on the Lord's table to "bobbing" for apples.
- With this principle in operation to make room for instrumental music, other departures follow--missionary societies, conventions, human decision about what we believe. A candid look at the history of the Christian Church or Disciples of Christ since about 1900 will show how rapidly some have moved from doing only what is authorized in the Scriptures once the door is opened by the instrument. To do only what is authorized rather than anything which is not forbidden is a much safer course to follow.
In this brief study we have outlines some reasons why it is not wise to use musical instruments in Christian worship and some reasons why we believe it is a matter of considerable importance. Those who believe their souls will be the safest by walking as close to the Scriptures as possible must adopt the principle of doing in worship only what the Scriptures authorize. Once this position is surrendered, there is no suitable place to stop the retreat.
With this study before us, surely you can understand why this question is of importance to those trying to be Christians only. We hope you will agree that musical instruments should not be used in Christian worship. At the very least, we hope you will say there is enough truth in what we say that you will not risk either your soul or division among those seeking to follow Christ on this point by ever using musical instruments in worship.