What type of music has God authorized in worship?
Question 1: "I go to the Church of Christ, we do not have instrumental music but some churches do. Is one right and the other wrong?"
Question 2: "Where in the Bible does it say that we should not use musical instruments in worship?"
These two questions address the same issue – the type of music that God has authorized in worship unto Him – and will be answered together. If God has not authorized a particular type of music, then any and all types are acceptable. If God has authorized a specific type of music, then any and all types other than that authorized type are wrong (sinful). It is that simple. Thus, the question is “What type of music, if any, has God authorized in scripture to be used in worship unto Him?”
First, there must be agreement on the source of authority. If there are competing sources of authority then there may be different answers, all of which comport with authority. If there is only one source of authority, then that authority, and that authority alone, controls and settles the issue. The answer given below assumes that only the Scripture is accepted as authority. Thus, all of the preferences (likes and dislikes) of men must be set aside. Likewise, all of the “think-so’s” (one type is just as good as another) must be set aside. All must be governed by a “thus saith the Lord.” The assumption that Scripture is the sole authority is based on a prior underlying assumption – Scripture is inspired by God.
Having established authority, we turn to the Scripture and the practice of the early church under the direction of inspired men. While the practice of the early church is not conclusive, it at least gives us some insight into that which they understood the New Testament to teach on the subject. After reviewing the writings of the patristic fathers (men who wrote in the first four centuries after the establishment of the church), Dr. Everett Ferguson (Ph.D., Harvard) concluded in his work, Instrumental Music in Worship, that mechanical instruments of music were not used in the patristic period. Lest Dr. Ferguson be rejected because he is a member of the church of Christ, the same conclusion was reach by Dr. James W. McKinnon in his doctoral dissertation, The Church Fathers and Musical Instruments, Columbia University, Ph.D., 1965. Dr. McKinnon is not a member of the church of Christ. He is a Catholic. However, he did not write his dissertation as a Catholic; he wrote it as a church historian. All honest scholars agree with Dr. McKinnon and Dr. Ferguson.
This verified historical fact is significant for two reasons. First, it was done in the first of these four centuries with apostolic approval. The apostles, of course, were, in part, the writers of the Scripture to which we look for authority. Second, it establishes that the second question wrongly places the burden of proof. It is well established that the burden of proof rests on the one who advocates change. Thus, the question should be, “Where in the Bible does it say that we should use musical instruments in worship?” (the “not” is excluded). This question properly places the burden of proof on the one who advocates change from the practice of the early church.
Most likely the inquirer has concluded that Scripture does not say in those exact or similar words that musical instruments are not to be used in worship. However, the fact that scripture does not preclude the use of mechanical instruments in worship in those exact or similar words does not mean that mechanical instruments are authorized by Scripture. Scripture contains both generic (general) and specific commands. A generic command authorizes the performance of an act without commanding the manner or method of its performance. The Great Commission is a classic example of a generic command. Scripture commands that Christians “go” into all of the world and preach the gospel. “Go” is a general term that does not specify or command a particular method of going. “Going” may be accomplished by everything from a beast of burden to a jet aircraft, and all have been utilized. In fact, one can stay at home and “go” at the same time by means of air waves or the Internet. It is the “going” and not the method that is bound on the Christian. When one goes, the command to “go” is obeyed by whatever means is used. Any method or means of “going” can be chosen, and, when done by whatever means, the “goer” has faithfully discharged the command of God.
A specific command authorizes not only the performance of an act, it also commands or authorizes how the act is to be performed. A classic example of a specific command is God’s command to Noah to build an ark. Not only did God command the ark’s building (generic command), He specified the type of wood (specific command) that was to be used in its construction – gopher wood. Because God specified the type of wood, Noah was not at liberty to use any other type of wood. The use of any other type of wood would have been sin. This principle is still true – no specific command of God can be changed (added to or taken away from) without committing sin. Those who reject this principle would have had great difficulty in objecting to the Jews’ sacrificing a Passover pig instead of the Passover lamb that God had specified.
What then does the scripture say about music in worship? There are two primary passages:
(Eph. 5:18-21) "And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ."
(Col. 3:16) "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God."
Both of these passages command a specific type of music – singing. When God by inspiration commanded a specific type of music, all other types, including mechanical instruments, were excluded. Mechanical instruments are no more appropriate in worship under the New Testament than a sacrificial pig in the Passover would have been under the Old Testament.
Even our language supports this conclusion. “A capella” means “as in the chapel.” The music of the church was a capella for centuries. The first organ was introduced in worship by Pope Vitalian I some 670 years after Christ. When it threatened the division of the Catholic church it was removed. However some 130 years later it was again introduced, this time successfully though there was still some opposition. The Greek Catholic Church refused it and still refuses it.
It did not make its way into the Reformation without opposition. Martin Luther rejected the organ as an “ensign of Baal.” John Calvin said of the organ in worship (things had not yet reached the orchestra stage), “It is no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of tapers or revival of the other shadows of the law. The Roman Catholics borrowed it from the Jews.” John Wesley, when asked about the use of the organ in worship, brusquely replied, “I have no objection to the organ in our chapels provided it is neither seen nor heard.” Adam Clarke, a great Methodist commentator and a contemporary of John Wesley, said, “I am an old man and an old minister, and I here declare that I have never known instrumental music to be productive of any good in the worship of God, and have reason to believe that it has been productive of much evil. 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 I here register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of that Infinite Spirit who requires His followers to worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Charles Spurgeon was perhaps the greatest Baptist preacher who ever lived. He preached for twenty years in the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle of London, England to 10,000 people every Sunday. The mechanical instrument never entered the tabernacle of Spurgeon. When asked why he did not use the organ in worship, he cited 1 Cor. 14:15: “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also.” He added, “I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery.”
Over the years several arguments have been advanced to justify the use of mechanical instruments in the worship of God. Given the clear teaching of scripture and the practice of the early church, such arguments should not be and are not persuasive. They will be addressed only as specific questions are raised concerning them.
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)