Bible Class Curricula - First Principles - Lesson #10 - Music In New Testament Worship
The Holy Spirit taught the Christians at Ephesus to sing when He said, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). In view of the type of singing God commands in New Testament worship, even Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said, "I would as soon attempt to pray to God with machinery as to sing to Him with machinery." Spurgeon understood the New Testament
authorizes a person to pray using a mechanical instrument just as much as it authorizes a person to sing using an instrument. Neither is authorized by God. Why then is there so much confusion in the religious world over instrumental music? Just what does the New Testament say about singing? Let us see what the New Testament teaches on this very important subject.
A Matter of Bible Authority
As it relates to Bible authority the Scripture teaches we are only to do that which God has authorized. Paul said, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). Both in the Old and New Testament God’s people are taught not to add to, subtract from or make any changes to what God has specified in His Word (Revelation 22:18-19; Deuteronomy 4:2). One of the premiere passages relating to Bible authority is 1 Corinthians 4:6. In this passage, Paul told Christians not to go beyond what is written. When it comes to matters of faith (that is, spiritual matters that can affect our salvation, such as, acceptable worship to God, John 4:23-24), if God authorizes or specifies it, then we are to do it. If God does not authorize or specify it and it is not written, we need to avoid it. Man’s opinions, ideas and what makes him feel good are not the authority. Men’s traditions only get in the way of pleasing God. For example, Jesus said “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:7-9). Authority demands that we “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11) and that we not “go beyond the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 1:9). With these principles of Scripture in mind, let’s turn our attention to what God has authorized for singing in the New Testament.
God Has Specified Vocal Music
The primary passages in the New Testament on congregational singing are Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Paul commands the church to, “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). The emphasis in this verse is the speaking and singing to one another. Can an instrument speak? Absolutely not! Where is the mention of an instrument in this verse? There is none. In the letter to the Colossians Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). From this passage, we learn that our singing is also an action involving teaching. Again, can an instrument teach anyone anything? Absolutely not! There is no mention in the New Testament of mechanical instruments of music. Christians are to make melody in their heart! We make melody in our heart when we “sing with the spirit and the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15). Every New Testament passage that relates directly or indirectly to the worship of the church or to individual Christians on earth teaches that it is accomplished with the voice and without the addition of instrumental music.
Take just a moment and look at all the passages on music:
- Matthew 26:30, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (See also Mark 14:26)
- Acts 16:25, “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
- Romans 15:9, “and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: For this reason, I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.” (See Psalm 18:49)
- 1 Corinthians 14:15, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.”
- Ephesians 5:19, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
- Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
- Hebrews 2:12, “saying: I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” (See Psalms 22:22)
- Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
- James 5:13, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.”
Thus, in the New Testament God has specified vocal singing and there is no authority for the use of instrumental music.
While the New Testament does not authorize instrumental music in worship, there are many who still use it. Why is this? Many will say, “The New Testament doesn’t say we can’t use it.” This statement gets to the heart and core of the problem with modern religion. The Bible teaches we can only do that which we are authorized or told to do. Paul said, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Colossians 3:17). To do something in the name of another means that we do it by their authority (Acts 4:7). As was previously noted, the Bible teaches that we must not go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6; Revelation 22:18-19). Too many people have their argument backward. Just imagine how big the Bible would be if God had to tell us not only what to do - but everything we are not to do. Biblically speaking, Christians only do what they are authorized to do (Proverbs 30:6).
Under What Law Are Christians Held Accountable?
In the Scriptures, there are two main laws or covenants we must understand to rightly divide the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). To the Israelites, at Mount Sinai, God gave the Old Covenant (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:2-3). This covenant was never intended to be the permanent covenant binding on all men for all ages. In fact, Jeremiah prophesied under the Old Covenant that a “new” covenant was coming that promised greater blessings and benefits (Jeremiah 31:31-34). In view of that prophecy, the writer of Hebrews affirms, “In that, He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now, what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). The Scripture teaches that the Old Covenant has been taken away and that we are accountable to the New Testament (Romans 3:19; Ephesians 2:14- 18; Colossians 2:14-16; Hebrews 7-10; etc.). Hebrews 10:9 says that Jesus “took away the first that He may establish the second.” If Jesus nailed the Old Testament to the cross and took it out of the way, then it is not the pattern for how we worship God today. There are many things the Israelites did under the Old Testament that are not acceptable today. The offerings of animal sacrifices, burning incense, going to the temple were all practices that have ceased for Christians. Just as these practices are not our pattern today, we cannot use the Old Testament to sanction mechanical instruments of music in worship today.
The Voice of History on Instrumental Music
Although these men do not serve as the authority, it is worth noting that many denominational founders and leaders have even affirmed that mechanical instruments of music are without Bible authority. Notice what some of these men say:
- The Voice of Catholicism: "... the first Christians were of too spiritual fiber to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice." –CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA
- The Voice of Orthodox: "The execution of Byzantine church music by instruments, or even the accompaniment of sacred chanting by instruments was ruled out by the Eastern Fathers as being incompatible with the pure, solemn, spiritual character of the religion of Christ." -- Constantine Cavarnos, BYZANTINE SACRED MUSIC
- John Calvin: "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. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise, but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to Him." - Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Vol. I, p. 539 (Presbyterian, founder of Calvinism)
- John Wesley: "I have no objection to instruments of music, in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen." - METHODIST (founder)
- Adam Clarke: "Music as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music, and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity." - METHODIST (commentator)
- Martin Luther: - "Martin Luther called the organ an 'ensign of Baal'." – MCCLINTOCK & STRONG'S ENCYCLOPEDIA
- Charles H. Spurgeon: "I would as soon attempt to pray to God with machinery as to sing to Him with machinery." –Baptist Preacher
- J. H. Garrison: "There is no command in the New Testament, Greek or English, commanding the use of the instrument. Such a command would be entirely out of harmony with the New Testament." (Christian Church)
- Professor John Girardeau, Presbyterian Professor in the Columbia Theological Seminary in Music in the Church, page 179, makes the following statement: "The church, although lapsing more and more into defection from the truth and into a corruption of apostolic practice, had no instrumental music for 1200 years" (that is, it was not in general use until that time).
- Does Colossians 3:17 teach we are to have God’s authority for whatever we do in word or deed?Under which law are we accountable today?
- Why is it important to understand under what law we are accountable?
- Is the Old Testament a pattern of how we are to worship God today? If not, why not?What kind of music does God authorize in New Covenant worship?
- What do all the passages on music in the worship of the church have in common?
- Discuss the importance of 1 Corinthians 4:6. How does this apply to Christian worship in song?Must we prove all things we do?
- Although not the authority, what do we learn from the voice of history concerning mechanical instruments of music?
- Discuss this statement "There is no command in the New Testament, Greek or English, commanding the use of the instrument. Such a command would be entirely out of harmony with the New Testament." Why is this such a hard principle to understand for so many?
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