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“Why don’t the churches of Christ use musical instruments?”
“The Church of Christ doesn’t have music. Why not?”
These are excellent and fair questions which deserve an answer. One of the things many people know about the churches of Christ is our insistence on Acapella music, that is, simple vocal music without a mechanical instrument.(1)
Now I know that some of you reading this will be surprised to learn that there is a church which does not use instruments in worship. You may be tempted to roll your eyes and think “that’s crazy.” Can I just ask for your open minded reading for a few minutes?
I am only talking about music in the worship to God. This isn’t about any other kind of music. Just music in the Christian worship. Most everyone I know enjoys music of some kind, from country to opera. It’s not about music generally but just about worship music.
Church of Christ Music: The Principle of Bible Authority
The churches of Christ strive to follow a Biblical model for worship. In other words, we look to the Scriptures to try and understand how God wants us to worship him. Jesus said that God wants people to worship him in “in truth” (). Our desire is to do just that. Since God’s word is truth () it makes sense to look to his word for any direction or guidance on how God desires to be worshiped.
That’s an easy concept to state but quite difficult to put into practice sometimes. We tend to want to do things our way and chaff against authority. But if we are going to worship God we should worship him in a way that he desires, not what we desire.
In the 18th century a religious movement began to coalesce around the churches of Christ. Men and women began to leave denominations and sought to be added, by God only, to the church (). This movement, known as the American Restoration Movement, developed an informal slogan that we should “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.” This is still an excellent foundation.
So, as it relates to music in worship, we ask, “what does the Bible say?”
The Old Testament and Church Music
Mechanical music is found throughout the Old Testament. It’s on page, after page, after page. Trumpets. Cymbals. Harps. Lyres. The worship of God in the Tabernacle and Temple was full of instruments. They were there because God ordered their use.
) “Praise him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise him with the psaltery and harp; Praise him with the timbrel and dance; Praise him with stringed instruments and organs; Praise him upon the loud cymbals; Praise him upon the high sounding cymbals” ()
There is no question that instruments were used, to worship God, in the Old Testament. They were used with the approval of God. Temple worship in Jesus’ time used instruments. Edershem speaks of the Temple services,
“It was the duty of the priests, who stood on the right and the left of the marble table on which the fat of the sacrifices was laid, at the proper time, to blow the blasts on their silver trumpets…On a signal given by the president, the priests moved forward to each side of him who struck the cymbals. Immediately the choir of the Levites, accompanied by instrumental music, began the Psalm of the day.(2)
Any Jewish person, from youth to old age, was accustomed to seeing and hearing the playing of instrumental music in service to God. Despite all these mentions we no longer live under the law of Moses or Old Testament.
The New Testament and Church Music
Despite the many Old Testament references to worship music, there are precious few mentions in the New Testament and none of them mention instruments. There are some references in Revelation but these are clearly not references to the church but to Heaven and these are obviously not material, physical instruments.
That’s it. Again, there are a few verses in Revelation which speak of music but not in the church. The Revelation passages are of a new place and new time far different from the world and covenant under which we live now.
Notice that every occurrence of music is of singing, not playing. Just make that note for now, I will come back to it shortly.
Church of Christ Music & Worship
Remember, our purpose is to stimulate your thinking and Bible study.
Consider our worship. The target or object is God. God has always told people how he desires to be worshiped. Even as early as Cain and Abel () God had specified what he expected. When men went their own way they were punished (; ).
Likewise, we want to worship God His way.
Church of Christ Music & Silence
We conclude that there is no example of the New Testament church worshiping with an instrument. There is no command to do so nor is there any inference that such was used. But is that sufficient to say that we should not use the instrument?
At the very least, if there is no authorization to use instrumental music then it must be affirmed that we must presume that it is acceptable if we wish to play. Presumptuousness is not good (; ; ). It puts us in the position of assuming a thing is good even though we have no such word from God.
The lack of any endorsement of instrumental music in the church is a deafening silence. Many would say that an argument from silence is weak. But if we expect some comment or endorsement and yet do not find it that silence becomes very loud. Dozens and dozens of time we read of the instrument in worship in the Old Testament but not one single occasion in the New. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? If we open our worship to anything not specifically prohibited then we have services that serve the creature and not the Creator.
Personally, I love music. Music has been a major part of my life from a very young age. I have studied trombone, baritone, piano and guitar and I am an excellent “shower singer.” Music is a gift from God. It was God who created the laws of physics which govern things like frequency waveforms which give us music. I cannot imagine what life would be like without it. But worship to God is not about what I like it is about what God desires.
The Old Testament was about things. The Temple/Tabernacle, sacrifices, altars and such. But in Christ it is about the inner man. It is about the heart. And it is with the heart that we make our music (, et al).
I am certainly not your judge. But I would ask you to consider prayerfully what the Scriptures say and what they do not say. As for me, the lack of any mention or authority in the New Testament, even though expected, is enough for me to sing only with my mouth and heart.
As I mentioned at the very beginning, this is new to some people. I suspect that many readers will disagree or have questions. I certainly welcome those questions. I would ask that you make your comments here on the blog itself so that all people can read and evaluate our thinking._____
- I am being very broad in describing what the churches of Christ do. I am well aware that some do in fact use the instrument. I disagree with them but am nonetheless aware of their thinking. While the churches of Christ do not have any earthly headquarters and there is no official book of doctrine other than the Bible, I do think I am making case that those within the “mainline” churches of Christ would agree.(↩)
- Alfred Edershem, The Temple: It’s Ministry and Services, Hendrickson, 1994, pg. 131(↩)
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23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (ESV)
17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (ESV)
41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV)
5 And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. (ESV)
3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. (ESV)
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals! (ESV)
9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.” (ESV)
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. (ESV)
19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (ESV)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (ESV)
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” (ESV)
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. (ESV)
4:1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech. 19 And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20 Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. 22 Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
23 Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
24 If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”
25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord. (ESV)
5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. (ESV)
10:1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (ESV)
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— (ESV)
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
1 Corinthians 14:40
40 But all things should be done decently and in order. (ESV)
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (ESV)
10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, (ESV)
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression. (ESV)
16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments.
29 And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. (ESV)
19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (ESV)