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Church of Christ
100 Rena Road Van Buren Arkansas 72956

Mechanical Instruments of Music in New Testament Worship

Many times I have been asked why the Church of Christ does not use musical instruments in their worship. Some people think that it is just Church of Christ tradition. Some think we don’t use instruments just so that we can be different. Some think it is because we think that we are better and purer than other religious people. Some think that we just don’t like music. Some have visited our worship services and did not hear a word of the sermon because they couldn’t get past the fact that we didn’t have an instrument. Some have never visited again and are not interested in learning anything about what we believe and why because they like the instrument. We have been criticized and accused of being old fashioned and judgmental and out of touch with modern reality, and so on. We have endured all of this because we do not use mechanical instruments of music to accompany our singing in our worship to God. Sadly, after all the years of criticism and accusation some members of the church of Christ are abandoning sound Biblical thinking and giving in to the pressure of worldliness. Let us not forget that we must seek to please God and not man. We must follow strictly the commandments of God, maturing in His Word without being tossed about by the winds of false doctrine.

In the New Testament, the Law of Christ to which all men are now being held accountable, there are no commands authorizing the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship. That is not to say that the New Testament writers did not give instruction about how to worship God musically. For example, to the church in Ephesus the apostle Paul wrote, “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19). This, along with other New Testament passages, commands us to worship God musically by singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord. We know that we can safely obey this direct command by simply singing without the addition of any mechanical instruments. We acknowledge and strongly believe that adding a manmade musical instrument to this command is dangerous and displeasing to God. We will therefore offer to God what He requires nothing added and nothing subtracted.

People have employed several justifications for using instrumental music in New Testament worship. Some say that since God authorized the use of instrumental music in the Old Testament then we can safely conclude that He authorizes its use in the New Testament. If that were the case, then should we not assume that God still authorizes other Old Testament laws as well? First of all, we need to understand that when we are talking about authorization from God we are not talking about allowance but rather about requirement. What God authorizes He requires. In the Old Testament God authorized animal sacrifices. Does God still authorize animal sacrifices today? God commanded that unruly and disobedient children be stoned to death. Does God still authorize this practice today? God authorized circumcision as the sign of the Old Covenant. There were many things that God authorized then that He strictly forbids now. Paul wrote, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:1-4). We cannot pick and choose what we want from Old Testament authority to justify what we want to do now. James wrote, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all…So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:9-12). Jesus, comparing the physical worship of the Old Testament to the spiritual worship of the New Testament, said to the woman at the well, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24).

Another justification that has been used for the use of instrumental music is that it is an expedience to worship, the same way as are microphones, speakers, songbooks, etc. Without taking liberties against the specifics of God’s word it must be said that much of what we do in religion is expedient. For example, Jesus said, “Go into all the world…” (Mark 16:15). He didn’t say how we should go – by foot, horseback, automobiles, etc. We therefore infer that we can use any means of transportation available to obey this command. An automobile is not a necessity it is an expedience to the command, “Go into all the world.” Microphones, speakers and songbooks are modern conveniences that make it easier for congregations to sing together, hear the preachers and teachers better, etc. Jesus stood up on a mountainside or in a boat on occasion so that He could be more easily seen and His voice more easily heard. We use these modern devices for the same reasons. A manmade musical instrument however is a different matter. The apostle Paul specifically commanded the Christians in Ephesus to “sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord…” (Ephesians 5:19). We can obey this command by using our voices. The use of manmade musical instruments, adds to the worship something not authorized by this verse or by any other New Testament passage – Why take the unnecessary risk?

Another justification that has frequently been employed is what might be called the “God-given talent argument.” People have said, “I don’t believe that God would give such wonderful musical talent to people and then not allow them to use them in worship to Him.” I agree that some people are wonderfully talented musically and I would not deny that that talent is God-given. Furthermore, I believe that those God-given talents should be used to bring glory and honor to God. They certainly should not be used to bring shame and dishonor to God. Therefore, if a Christian with these God-given talents can use them in such a way that they are a blessing to themselves and to others and bring honor and glory to God then they should and they should give God credit. That does not change the fact, however, that the use of mechanical musical instruments in worship to God is not authorized in the New Testament. For that matter, there are many talents that God gives to individuals that are unauthorized and inappropriate to use in worship. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” (1Corinthians 10:23-24). If God has given to an individual a talent then that individual has the ability to use that talent, either for good or for evil, however he or she chooses. If we are to be pleasing to God, however, we must not insist on using our God-given talents in ways that God does not authorize.

Musical instruments in New Testament worship today have become almost the equivalent of first century idolatry. People cling to these lifeless instruments, made by men’s hands, made of costly materials, as though without them they could not worship God effectively. They claim that worship without the aid of musical instruments is dull and without feeling. The apostle Paul, speaking to the Athenians about their idolatrous worship, said, “Since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold of silver or stone, something shaped by the art of man’s devising. Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:29-30). True Joy and fulfillment (even emotional fulfillment) should come from obeying the will of God, not by seeking our own pleasure. Worship that is pleasing to God is that which follows the teaching of His word. Notice carefully what Paul wrote, “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-20). Our singing in worship is an offering we make to God. Pure, voice only, a’ cappella music, is beautiful. If we are singing and making melody in our hearts in obedience to God’s word, then we should sing enthusiastically with feeling and with understanding, but ultimately we should not be seeking the noise that is appealing to our ears, but that which pleases God.

David Banks