Music in Worship
Can we Sing and Play? by Bryan Gibson
Why Don't You Use Instruments of Music? Author Unknown
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Can We Sing and Play?
by Bryan Gibson
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).
The above passage gives a command: sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. And we are told what to sing: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. But consider this question: When we sing these psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the Lord, can we use an instrument of music to accompany us, like a piano, organ, guitar, etc.? Would it be pleasing to God for us to play on these instruments while singing these songs?
First, we need to figure out where to go to find the answer to this question. Obviously, to find out whether or not something is pleasing to God, we need to look in God’s word—the Bible. From reading passages like Psalms 150 and 2 Chronicles 29:25, it would appear that God does want us to play as well as sing. But not so fast. The problem with these two passages is that they are in the Old Testament and have to do with Old Testament worship. Are we prepared to restore Old Testament worship, with the daily animal sacrifices, the burning of incense, the separate priesthood, etc.? Of course, the reason we can’t restore any of this is that the Old Law, or the Law of Moses, has been taken out of the way. While we can certainly benefit from the many lessons taught in it, it is no longer a source of authority for us today. Please read Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:13-14, 16-17; Hebrews 9:16-17. So to find out whether or not we can use instruments in our worship today, we must look to the New Testament.
When we look through the New Testament, we do find at least four different instruments mentioned: the trumpet, the flute, the harp, and the cymbal (see 1 Corinthians 13:1; 14:7-9, 15; 15:51-52; Revelation 8:2, 6, 13; 9:14; and others). But here’s what else we find. There is nothing said in any of these passages about the use of these instruments in the worship we are to offer to God. We are not asking whether or not it is right to ever play these instruments. We are concerned with whether or not we can use them in worship to God, whether or not we can use them when we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the Lord.
When we look at the passages in the New Testament that have something to say about the worship we are to offer to God today, specifically the music we offer in worship, we find no mention of an instrument. Read the following passages for yourself: Acts 16:25; Romans 15:8-9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:11-12; Hebrews 13:15; James 5:13. We’ve already seen that instruments are mentioned throughout the New Testament, so they were readily available. But in the passages that have to do with what we are to offer to God, we are simply taught to sing. To use an instrument, we would have to go beyond God’s word, or add to it, and we cannot do that (2 John 1:9; Revelation 22:18-19). Jesus said, “Follow Me,” not, “Run ahead of Me.”
“Why Don’t You Use Instrumental Music?”
Frequently we are asked about our practice of observing a cappella music in our worship services. Folks are curious. They want to know why we don’t have instrumental music. Our practice is different—we’re not like the majority of other religious groups. What is the reason? People really want to know. So they ask, “Why don’t you use instrumental music?”
With no intention to be flippant, we might very well respond with a counter-question: “Why should we?” That’s fair, isn’t it? Those who think that instrumental music is right and proper ought to be able to tell us why they think so. When we ask this question, the typical responses are:
“We really like instrumental music.” Be careful here—remember that our goal is to please God, not men, not even ourselves (Gal.1:10).
“Well, everyone else is doing it.” Anyone who thinks that this proves the acceptability of a thing needs to be reminded that Jesus said the majority of people (even the majority of “religious” people) will be condemned in the day of judgment. Read Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23.
“God gave certain people musical talent, and they ought to be able to use it.” If this logic works, then the fella who is a talented auto mechanic would be justified in rebuilding a car engine during the worship services, too. And the surgeon who wants to glorify God could do an appendectomy before the assembled congregation. Surely we can see the flawed thinking behind this argument.
“They used instruments in the Old Testament.” True, but we are no longer under that law (Col. 2:14-16). We need to find our authority in the New Testament—and there is none.
In the final analysis, everything we do religiously must be based on the authority of the Lord (Col. 3:17). If we cannot defend a practice by appealing to the Scriptures, then we ought not to do it. There is simply no New Testament authority for the use of instrumental music in our worship. That should settle it!
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