My Thoughts on Singing (3): The Instrumental Music Question

Last week’s article cited Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah in Matthew 15:7-9a: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship Me…”  We focused on the need to keep our minds centered on Christ while worshiping.  This is part of what “worship in spirit” means (John 4:24).  You might remember from what I wrote a couple of weeks ago that worshiping “in spirit” also refers to offering spiritual worship as opposed to physical worship.  I had mentioned Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4:19-23.  She had focused on the Samaritans worshiping at a mountain in Samaria as opposed to Jerusalem where the Jews worshiped.  Jesus replied that the time had now come when physical matters such as the place of worship would not matter.  What would matter is that true worshipers of God offer Him spiritual worship, worship “in spirit.”  In other words, New Testament worship would not center around physical matters.  It would not be done solely in a physical way as was done in the Old Testament.  New Testament worship would be spiritual in nature.

Keeping this in mind, let us also examine the rest of Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah: “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:9).  Teaching and promoting the traditions of men instead of God’s will also makes our worship vain or meaningless to God.  Doing solely what He has commanded in Scripture is what it means to worship “in truth” (John 4:24; cf. 17:17).

Both of these scriptural principles are relevant when we answer the questions many visitors ask when they visit our worship assemblies: “Where’s the piano?”  “How come the church of Christ doesn’t use instrumental accompaniment in worship?  Are you against music?  All the other churches do it, so why not you?  What’s the big deal?”  Let’s consider these important questions.

Worship “in truth” means to worship according to God’s Word.  All we do in worship must have scriptural authority.  Remembering this, notice that the Bible teaches that the Old Law and its ordinances were taken out of the way at the cross (Col. 2:14).  Thus, we are under the authority of the New Testament today.  In the New Testament, unlike the Old, the only music commanded and exemplified in worship is vocal in nature, singing (Matt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:9; 1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12; James 5:13).  Thus, if we are to worship “in truth,” solely under biblical authority, we will simply sing.  There is no scriptural authority for instrumental accompaniment in New Testament worship.  To illustrate with an analogy, is there scriptural authority to sing the song “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen in worship to God?  No, because that song, while not inherently sinful, is not classified among the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” we are commanded to sing in worship (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).  In like manner, we sing without instrumental accompaniment because all we are told to do musically is sing in the New Testament.

Worship “in spirit” means to offer spiritual worship to God.  The music commanded in the New Testament emphasizes the spiritual, not the physical.  We see this when Paul commanded that we sing and “make melody with your heart” to God (Eph. 5:19).  “Making melody” comes from the Greek term psallo, which literally means to play an instrument.  Yet the instrument God specifies we use to make that melody, i.e., play, is our hearts.  In the Old Testament, the psalms of David and the historical record of the worship offered to God by the Israelites included songs sung by choirs with instrumental accompaniment from a band (cf. Ps. 150:3-5; 1 Chr. 13:8; 15:16, 28; 2 Chr. 29:25-30).  That’s appropriate because the Old Testament emphasized the physical in worship.  New Testament music in worship, in comparison, emphasizes the spiritual.  Thus, God wants all Christians in the assembly to sing, and He wants us all to play the instrument of our hearts while we sing.

Keep these principles in mind the next time you’re asked, “Where’s the piano?” (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).  Next week, Lord willing, we will study the act of worship which is prayer.

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