What does the Bible teach about instrumental music in worship?
The question of instrumental music in worship fundamentally boils down to divine authority (Col. 3:16-17). Acceptable worship is worship which is “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Truth is defined as God’s Word (John 17:17). God’s Word says not to add to it or take away from it (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; 1 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:6-10; Rev. 22:18-19). Thus, worship in truth is worship which is according to nothing more or less than God’s Word.
In order to rightly divide God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15), one must recognize the differences between the Old and New Testaments. The laws and practices of the Old Testament were replaced with the laws and practices of the New Testament when Christ died (Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15-17; Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:14-16). Singing praises with instrumental accompaniment was done in the Old Testament (Ps. 150:3-5; 2 Chr. 29:25). Yet in the New Testament, singing is the only thing mentioned when it comes to musical worship of God (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; 13:15; James 5:13).
Thus, the only type of music authorized in New Testament worship of God is singing, a capella (“the way of the church”). Since we are under the New Testament rather than the Old, musical worship of God which is “in truth” (John 4:24) – according to God’s Word – will be the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
If I’m not in church, can I praise God with instrumental music?
The New Testament speaks of Christians worshiping together in a church assembly (1 Cor. 14:26ff; Heb. 2:12), and also speaks of Christians worshiping outside of the assembly (James 5:13; Acts 16:25). In both situations, worship which is acceptable to God will be worship done “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) – worship done solely according to the precepts of God’s Word.
The New Testament never commands or shows Christians worshiping with instrumental accompaniment. In both worship assemblies and private situations, singing praises is all that’s mentioned (cf. James 5:13; Acts 16:25). Worship is something that is done with intent (cf. Gen. 22:5). Thus, if you’re outside of church and your intention is to worship God in a musical fashion, do so “in truth”: according to His revealed will in the New Testament, via singing. Otherwise, your worship will be in vain (Matt. 15:7-9).