TGOC Bible Class Curricula - The Church of Christ - Lesson 11 - God's Pattern For Worship (Part 3): Music In The Church

Lesson 11

God's Pattern For Worship (Part 3): Music In The Church


Is there one kind of music that God prefers for His people to use when they worship Him? Or, will God accept any kind of music we choose so long as our intent is good? God accepted instruments in Old Testament worship, so why can we not use them today in church worship? These are questions that have been asked many times over the years and which we will answer in this chapter.

I. Mosaic Dispensation:

Instrumental music was used in worship to God in the Old Testament. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, one of the first things Miriam, the sister of Moses, did was to play on an instrument and dance in praise and thanksgiving to God. (Exodus 15:20-21)

In 2 Chronicles 29:25-29 after the priests had cleared the temple of all that was unclean and consecrated the temple to God, King Hezekiah ordered a burnt offering and a sin offering to be made for all the people. Instruments of music were part of this event.

Instruments continued to be used in temple worship, although they were apparently restricted to the outer court, until the time of Amos (about 700 B.C. Amos 5:23 & 6:1-6) when God took them away. 

From the time the temple was destroyed and rebuilt by King Herod (about twenty years or so before the birth of Christ), reliable historians indicate that no musical instruments were used in temple worship. Before the time of King David (about 1000 B.C.), there is not one mention of the use of instrumental music in worship to God. God authorized its use through David (2 Chron. 29:25). So, historically, musical instruments were used in worship to God for about 300 years. There is no record that instruments were used in worship to God after Amos.

II. Christian Dispensation:

Music was an important part of the worship of the first-century church. When Christians gathered on the first day of the week to worship, one of the things they did was sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in praise to God. When Jesus gathered with His disciples before His death, they ate the unleavened bread and drank the fruit of the vine (Lord’s Supper) and then they sang a hymn. (Matthew 26:30) This was typical of the events which took place when Christians assembled.

A. What kind of music did they use? What was the common practice, with regard to music in the church, just before and after the establishment of the Lord’s church?

1. The Jewish Synagogue: The wor­ship of the first-century church was similar to the wor­ship of the Jewish Synagogue. The music of the synagogue was a cappella(voice only) in nature.

Carl Kraeling:

The contrast between the rich usage of the instrument in the temple and their silence in the synagogue has evoked considerable attention.”

The rites of the synagogue consisted of readings from the scriptures, discourses, prayers, and the singing of psalms.” (Quoted in Wellesz’s book Ancient and Oriental Music, Oxford University Press, 1957, p. 303)

The Jewish Encyclopedia:

It was not until the 19th century that some Jewish synagogues began to use the instrument of music.” (IX, p. 432)

2. Music in early church worship was also vocal in nature. From every example, we have in the New Testament and from the writings of the so-called Church Fathers and other historians, the early church never employed the use of mechanical instruments in their worship to God. Later in this lesson, we will look at biblical examples and instruction. For now, let us consider what some individuals have written about the practices of the early church.

James William McKinnon did an exhaustive study of the “Church Fathers.” He concluded the following in his study, as it relates to the music of the early church:

The fathers of the early church were virtually unanimous in their hos­tility toward musical instru­ments.” (James William McKinnon, “The Church Fathers and Instru-men­tal Music”, Abstract, pp. 1-2)

Egon Wellesz, in his work Ancient and Oriental Music, wrote,

So far as we can tell the music of the early church was almost en­tirely vocal, Christian usage follow­ing in this particular practice of the Synago­gue…” (Ancient and Orien­tal Music, London: Oxford Univer­sity Press, 1957, pp. 302,303, Quote from Carl Kraeling and Lucetta Mowry)

When we read these excerpts and other historical documents relating to beliefs and practices of the church from its beginning around 30-33 A.D. up to the 13th and 14thcenturies, one thing that becomes strikingly obvious is the near absence of the instrument of music in church worship. One can see, however, many other changes that managed to make their way into the church. Men were able to change its organization, its creed, and many of its doctrines, but only a small number of churches were successful in changing its music. The first instrument, according to reliable historians, did not make its way into the majority of local churches, officially, until 500 plus years after the death of the last apostle (by this time, they were divisions/departures and not the true New Testament church, Romans 16:17-18; 1 Timothy 4:1-5).

III. What does God authorize?

It is not that we must choose NOT to use the musical instruments in church worship; instead, we must choose to obey the commands of God without addition or subtraction (Revelation 22:18-19). Singing is the only music authorized by the word of God or used by the first-century church. Notice the following:

Ephesians 5:19, “19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”

Colossians 3:16, “16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (See also Romans 15:9; 1Corinthians 14:15; Acts 16:25; Matthew 26:27-30; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13)

In each of these passages (which is every passage in which the word sing or one of its variations appear), the command is “SING”. Not one single passage in the New Testament commands or authorizes the Christian or New Testament church to play an instru­ment in worship to God (Colossians 3:17; Matthew 28:18).

IV. How does God authorize?

Broadly speaking, God commands us in two ways in His word. Firstly, He gives us “specific com­mands”. This is where God tells us exactly what He wants done. When God does this it automatically ex­cludes everything else. This is called the “Law of Exclusion”. For example, when God told Noah to build the ark out of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14) this ex­cluded all other kinds of wood. Had he made the ark of oak it would not have floated and he and his family would not have been saved.

In Exodus 29:39 God commanded the Israelites to kill a lamb and offer it as a sacrifice. This is another example of a specific command. They were not authorized to kill and offer any other animal to God except a lamb.

Secondly, God gives us “generic commands”. These are commands where God has left the what, when, where, and how up to us, so long as it does not change or alter His will. In Acts 20:7 we have an approved example of the disciples meeting together on the first day of the week to worship God. God did not tell them where they were to meet or at what time (John 4:20-24). We have the freedom to choose these things. However, the authorized time for the church to come together in one place to assemble and break bread (partake of the Lord’s Supper) is the first day of the week (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

In the example of Noah, had God simply told him to build an ark, Noah would have been free to choose any type of wood he thought best. But God was specific in His command.

God commanded Christians to SING in worship. This excludes all other forms of music. Had God merely said to make music, then we would be free to choose anything that qualifies as music in worship. However, God was very specific in the kind of music He wanted. To use any other kind of music is a violation of God’s command.

V. Reasons for Not Using Instru­mental Music:

A. We have no examples: There are many mentions of congregations of the Lord’s church in the New Testa­ment. There is not one single mention of the use of instru­mental music in church worship. Could it be that they used them and it was just not men­tioned? That is possible, but not likely (and if they did, they were violating God’s church worship law). William Woodson, co-au­thor of the book Sounding Brass and Clanging Cymbals: A History of Instrumental Music in the Restoration Movement, wrote the following statement in an article entitled “History of Instrumen­tal Music”.

It is crucially important to observe that although instrumental music of various types was readily available in contemporary society, no passage shows that the churches mentioned in the New Testament ever used instrumental music in worship. Did they not understand the true meaning of the Old Testament, particularly Psalms? Did they not understand the meaning of various words, such as psallo, etc., so often discussed pro and con in contemporary debates? Did they not know Jewish practices both in the temple and in the synagogues? Did they not know the mind of God? Most certainly, on all these questions and much more. Yet, there is not even a hint of the use of instrumental music in the worship of these churches.

The writers of the New Testament were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit guided them in ALL truth (John 16:13). SO! The Holy Spirit said, “Sing” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; etc.).

B. Musical instruments cannot fulfill the purpose for the Church music: All that we do in worship should be to praise God. The worshipper him­self/herself does the praising. An in­strument cannot praise. Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16 that two of the pur­poses of singing are to teach and admonish each other. An instrument can do neither of these. In Ephesians 5:19 he says we are to speak to one another with our singing. We instruct one another; we encourage one another; we edify one another with our singing. A musical instrument is incapable of doing any of these things. Only with the human voice can the purpose for our singing (praise to God) be fulfilled. (See the chart on the following page.)

C. The use of instrumental music is a presumptuous sin. “Presumptuous” is translated from the Hebrew word ZED. [From H2102; arro­gant:—presumptuous, proud.] (Strong’s Greek Dictionary)

To presume is to attempt to think and speak for another; to decide a matter for someone else without discussion with them.

There are several examples in the Scriptures where individuals pre­sumed the mind of God and made decisions and acted upon them. The following example will illustrate well the dangers of deciding for God:

Leviticus 10:1-2, “1 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his com­mand. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.”

Of what were they guilty? They were guilty of presuming that one fire was as good as another. Here is another example where God had given them a specific command about what kind of fire to offer. They decided that another fire would be acceptable. Nadab and Abihu were destroyed by God because of their presumptuous sin.

Instrumental music is a presump­tuous sin. Even though God has given a specific command for His children to SING praises to Him, we decide that it is acceptable to God for us to add an instru­ment to make our singing more effective. If we do this, like Nadab and Abihu, God is going to punish us with everlasting fire. Listen to the words of the Psalmist David as he wrote in Psalms 19:13.

13 Keep your servant also from will­ful sins (KJV says “presump­tuous”); may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.”

D. The purpose of worship is to please God, NOT the worshipper. So many of the changes people are making in the church today are changes that will make the worship more pleasing and more enjoyable to them. They say they are doing it for God, but in truth, they are doing it for themselves because they like it or want it. Humankind has always been seekers of pleasure. Solomon wrote, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) We like instrumental music because it makes us feel good. It tickles our ears; excites us; touches our emotions. However, how a thing makes us feel is not a safe barometer for the feelings of God. Just because we leave worship feeling better does not mean that we have worshipped God in truth! As we have seen, Jesus said our worship must be in truth for it to be acceptable to God. (John 4:24) “In truth” means as He has commanded. We do not come to worship to please ourselves, but to show God the praise and adoration He deserves. If we worship God as we should, we too are uplifted, but that is not the main purpose of worship. If God was pleased with the simple form of worship He placed in the first-century church (which included vocal praise only), which was practiced by them, why do we feel it needs to be changed?

E. Musical instruments divide the church. In many congregations of the Lord’s church, there are some individu­als who believe we should sing without the instruments when worshipping God, and there are other individuals who believe the instru­ments are “optional” and want to use them. They cannot agree, resulting in a divided church. When the church is not united, God is not pleased. Jesus prayed for it (John 17:20-21); died for it (Ephesians 2:16); and pleads for it. The apostle Paul exhorted Christians in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”Another thought to consider: if instrumental music really is “optional” (which it is NOT), then it should not be used because it causes brethren to stumble and divides the church. Why divide the church over something that does not really matter? Paul says, “if eating meat causes my brother to fall I won’t eat meat.” (1Corinthians 8:13) We should avoid any and everything that sits at odds with one another and divides the church.


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