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Question #35

Five More Questions on Instrumental Music and Singing

Question: Does the fact that worship in song is to be a capella mean that I will have to give up all music? For example, I was hoping to buy some CDs that use instrumental music set to the tunes of the great old hymns. . . . I was going to listen to these in the peace and quiet of my room at home. Is this wrong? Also, is the worship set down for us in Ephesians and Colossians (without instruments) just for the coming together of the saints on Sunday or for all believers during their daily lives?

Question: I examined the section of your website which addresses problem songs. I fully appreciated it and the pertinence it has to the meaning of our worship services. I would like to point out to you another song which does not necessarily contradict scripture but may be untruthful for those who, like myself, were raised in the church. The first line of the song “At Calvary” states, “Years I spent in vanity and pride, caring not my Lord was crucified.” This is entirely untruthful for the number of us who were raised in the church. For those raised in the church, we have always cared that He died for us as long as we have been able to comprehend it! For this very reason I have never led this song. I just thought that you might mention on your web page that this song holds untrue if folks who were raised in the church are the ones singing it.

Question: I was browsing your website and noticed your section about singing the wrong songs, etc. etc. etc. during the worship service. I was just wondering one thing. . . . please point out to me anywhere in the Bible a “worship service” is mentioned. . . . I can’t seem to find it. I realize the saints assembled on the first day of the week and indeed did sing, worship and pray etc. etc. but if you are so dogmatic about songs, etc. etc. and the typical and strive to be “non denominational,” then explain to me your scriptural basis for using the term “worship service”. . . . which last time I checked is used by most all denominations. . .

Question: You have said in your question responses and articles that instruments are not to be used because God commands us in the New Testament to praise with voice. But what about Revelation 15:2[?] Revelation specifically says that God’s people were given harps. So is it ok to play instruments in the praise of God?

Question: When answering a question about music in "worship" from another questioner, you conveniently answer "the only scriptures concerning singing in worship" are the verses you site (sic) in Ephesians 5:17-20 and in Colossians 3:16-17. While I do agree that these verses do in fact mention "singing" have you ever considered the CONTEXT of these chapters? Paul is instructing the Christians on "how to live" and how to be "children of light". This is about our day to day LIVING!!! and has no meaning whatsoever in the context of a worship assembly!!!! Do you actually believe he was admonishing them in Eph 5:3-6 to not be doing any of that in Church???? (sexual immorality, obscenity, foolish talking etc ) of course not... he was telling them how to live the Christian life on a daily basis.... so how can you take verse 19 in Eph 5 and verse 16 and 17 in Colossians and conveniently lift them out of context and make them doctrine for only "singing" in the assembly??? I am fine with only singing as it was in the early church, but get so tired of these verses being taken out of context to "prove" a doctrine.... please explain your position on this and how you can justify this as a "command".

The Answer:

The answer given here should be supplemented by the answers already provided on music in the worship. These questions indicate that some questioners have in fact already read them. Please review them again as part of the answer given here.

First, the music that is in view here is the music of worship. It makes no difference whether the music is the corporate worship of the assembly or private worship in the home or elsewhere. Wherever there is worship, it must be acapella.

Second, not all singing of songs with religious themes is necessarily worship. Guy N. Woods made the following analogy. Certainly most Christians have listened to or read unscriptural teaching. That is not wrong as long as they are not persuaded to error by it. The same can be said of songs with religious themes – it is not sinful to listen to them, even well known hymns, as long as one is not persuaded to the error of using mechanical instruments in worship. It is difficult to understand why one would prefer much of the secular music of the day to songs with religious themes. Thomas Carlyle wrote, “Let me write a nation's songs and I care not who writes her laws.” These words were never truer.

Third, while the phrase “worship service” is not found in Scripture, the concept is surely there. The assembly of the saints is for the purpose of offering to God the service of worship. The concept applies to our daily lives as well. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service.” (ASV.) It is no more wrong to use a phrase that is in harmony with scripture because denominationalists use it, than it is to take up an “offering” (Paul calls it a “collection” or a “lay[ing] by him in store” (1 Cor. 16:1-2) because the denominationalists use the term “offering”. G.C. Brewer, a venerable preacher of two generations ago, when confronted in a church business meeting by a brother who opposed a proposal because a certain denomination engaged in the practice, responded, “Then we had better nail up the doors and start coming in and leaving through the windows because [that denomination] uses the doors.” A matter is not wrong because the denominational world does it; a matter is not right because we do it. A matter is right because it comports with Scripture; it is wrong if it does not. That said, please feel free to substitute “the assembly” for “worship service” if you desire. The only difference is that “the assembly” defines what it is and “worship service” describes what the assembly does – offers worship to Jehovah.

Fourth, in our worship the songs must comport with scripture. It is just as wrong to teach error in song as it is to teach error in word from the pulpit. Song leaders have a grave responsibility in this regard. NO SONG THAT TEACHES ERROR SHOULD EVER BE USED IN WORSHIP. There are others reasons for which songs should not be used in worship as well, but those reasons may be more in the realm of opinion. If a song contradicts Scripture, it is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of faith. While it is true that many who have been in the church since reaching the age of accountability for whom the song “At Calvary” may not strictly apply, the concept is not unscriptural. Further, we must remember that our public assembly is corporate worship, i.e, it involves the entire body of believers. For some, perhaps many, its words are true. Further, to the extent that we are all human and a part of humanity, it is true of us all.

Fifth, an old issue is raised that mechanical instruments are appropriate in the church on earth because harps are mentioned in Revelation 15:2. Additional passages could have been mentioned, i.e., Rev. 5:8-9 and 14:1-3. This argument has been addressed numerous times over the years and most have recognized that its logic will not bear examination. First, what is a “harp of God”? Whatever it is, most folks who use it to justify mechanical instruments in worship aren’t using the harp, but instead are using everything from guitar, piano or organ up to an entire orchestra. Since the earth and all things in it are to be destroyed, 2 Peter 3:10, what leads to the conclusion that God’s harp is an earthly harp? Clearly that which is described in Revelation is described in terms that we can understand. This requires the use of earthly words and phrases because that is all that we can understand. But more to the point, on what basis do we conclude that all that is described in heaven or that exists in heaven is appropriate for the worship of the church? Most likely those who so conclude pick out of Revelation only those things that they like, such as a harp, be it real or figurative, and leave the rest, such as the bowls of incense. Revelation 14 says that the voice from heaven was “as” several things, including “the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” That, however, is how they sounded. When it speaks of what they were doing it says that “they sing as it were a new song.” Maybe that is why Revelation 14 is not mentioned as often as Revelation 15. Those described in Revelation are not a church of Jesus Christ. They are not an assembly of Christians worshiping God here on earth during the Christian dispensation. Nothing that they do can properly be cited as an example governing the worship of such as assembly of Christians. The same argument used to be made concerning the use of mechanical instruments in the Old Testament, but folks ultimately learned that they can’t logically pluck the instruments from the Old Testament and leave behind the bloody sacrifices and the worship in Jerusalem. The issue is not what was done in the Old Testament or what will be done in heaven. The issue is what may be done now in the worship assembly of the church of Christ on earth. The answer to that question leaves mechanical instruments outside the door. Adam Clark, well-known Methodist commentator, summed it up will in his comments on Amos 6:5 (Commentary, Vol. IV, p. 686), “I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them [mechanical instruments] productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were 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.”

Finally, a writer rebukes “thywordistruth” for suggesting that Eph. 5:17-20 and Col. 3:16-17 apply to the worship assembly. Those passages, he asserts, are in the context of daily living, not worship. Among the issues discussed by Paul, however, is the matter of that with which the Christian is to be and not to be filled. The Christian is not filled with wine, but is filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit results in three things: 1). Speaking to yourselves in psalms, etc. . . . and singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 2). Giving thanks always . . . .; and 3). Submitting to one another in the fear of God. Being filled with the Spirit affects us in all our relationships – worship (1), our grateful attitude toward God for His goodness, both physically and spiritually (2), and our attitude toward one another (3). Although the discussion is not as complete in Colossians 3, the same result emanates from being filled with the word of Christ. If these verses do not include the worship through reference to singing, one must then answer where the Christian is to obey this injunction. Does our inquirer sing to his family at the dinner table? Does he sing to his fellow Christians in the parking lot? It will not do for him to say that he teaches and admonishes them in song in the worship service because, since the injunction does not apply to the worship service, he cannot obey it there. Of course, one of the inquirer’s difficulties is applying the word “command” to these two passages. Whether it is a command or not does not change the application. It governs all singing done in worship to God whether in the assembly or elsewhere. One could argue that if it does not apply to the assembly, the one who does not practice it elsewhere is not filled with the Spirit. After checking five commentators, none of whom was a member of the church of Christ and each of whom applied the passage to the worship assembly, no more were checked. This argument is made not only by those who seek to justify the use of mechanical instruments in worship, it is now being made also by some who, though they have no problem with acapella worship and may even prefer it, are seeking to justify error so they can fellowship it. This is the same open door through which those who became the modern Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) departed long ago. This rejection of the authority of Scripture led them to their present position in which they, at least in part, deny the deity of Christ and the inspiration of Scripture, among other things. Once again we learn that those who refuse to learn from history are bound to repeat it.

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) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

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)