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Musical Instruments in the Church

For two thousand years, churches that have aligned themselves with Jesus Christ and his Gospel have incorporated musical instruments in their worship. During the last century, however, some out-of-the-mainstream groups (sects/cults) started to eschew musical instruments, citing the New Testament (NT) absence of any specific guidelines regarding their usage.

So heretics like Alexander Campbell, who split off from the Baptist church, and other ‘Church of Christ’ derivatives, took up the refrain: “Speak where the Bible speaks; be silent where the Bible is silent!” Since the NT is silent on the subject of musical instruments in corporate worship, these groups assume, and falsely so, that God somehow forbids or bans their usage. Since God doesn’t specifically ‘authorize’ them in his Word, the Church that uses them is in disobedience.

A few exercises in biblical logic will dismantle this argument. First, the Old Testament (OT) clearly sanctions the use of musical instruments in worship. In 1 Chronicles 15:16, we read: “And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of musick, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the voice with joy.” So we see that the Levites were ‘appointed’ to be the singers and instrument players.

In 1 Chronicles 16:42, the Bible says: “And with them Heman and Jeduthun with trumpets and cymbals for those that should make a sound, and with musical instruments of God. And the sons of Jeduthun were porters.” Note that (1) the sounds of trumpets and cymbals ‘should’ be made, and (2) the instruments became God’s instruments when so dedicated for that purpose. In other words, God was pleased when HIS instruments that HE authorized were played unto HIM in the corporate worship.

This text in 2 Chronicles 5:13 needs little commentary: “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD….” Here we see that God’s glory (cloud) filled the house of worship as God’s people offered praise and thanksgiving accompanied by musical instruments.

There are other references, such as “musical instruments” (Nehemiah 12:36), and the classic text from Psalm 150:4: “Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.” The bottom line is musical instruments were both appointed and authorized in the OT scriptures. The opponents of musical instruments say the central issue is whether there is any biblical ‘authorization’ for using them. That argument has no legs on which to stand. Neither is there any biblical authorization for church carpeting, paving church parking lots with asphalt, et al!

With OT authorization firmly established, we are obliged to ask a few questions and make a few observations. First, is there ANY scripture wherein God told his Church to discontinue the use of musical instruments as he had authorized in the OT? No, that biblical reference does not exist! The apostle Paul, who penned the majority of church epistles, made no mention of musical instruments. That’s because his focus was on the big issues of the Gospel and apostolic doctrine (such as justification by faith, redemption, reconciliation, election, adoption and predestination) and not on things that were ancillary or optional. Those who argue against musical instruments in our church worship are therefore obligated to cite the specific point in time when God changed his mind and ceased to be pleased with the sound of musical instrument accompaniment as part of corporate worship. Such empirical evidence does NOT exist either in scripture or in history! Therefore NT silence does NOT make the argument for their cessation!

Secondly, are God’s people forbidden from playing musical instruments outside of corporate worship (i.e., in their homes or as part of a musical group)? Absolutely not! In fact, development of one’s musical talent (playing an instrument) as a good steward of God’s gifts is pleasing unto the Lord that gave them. Can a child of God use musical instruments in his/her private devotions in a manner that pleases the Lord? Absolutely! I know of no intellectually honest individual who would argue that God is OK with his people playing a musical instrument as long as they are NOT used in the context of worship. Such argumentation would be absurd on its face!

Thirdly, musical instruments can be used to honor God or abused in a manner that brings him displeasure. The overriding guideline for the use of musical instruments is found in Colossians 3:17: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” See also Colossians 3:23: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.”

Fourthly, it’s clear that God has little interest in musical instruments for the instruments’ sakes. Whether a church decides to use musical instruments or not as part of their worship is optional. Yes, it’s optional. The Lord neither requires them nor forbids them. God’s churches are not the BETTER for their absence. Nor are they the WORSE for their presence. Musical instruments are NOT a major issue, but a minor one. That is the reason for NT silence.

Fifthly, what God desires are “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” that come from the hearts of his people (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). It’s all about the heart with God! Regimented and routine worship, even when offered without the use of instruments, is displeasing to God. So for one to reason that God bestows favor on our worship simply because we avoid instrumental accompaniment is biblically ignorant and foolish. Equally foolish are those who believe that the introduction of a musical instrument into corporate worship is somehow met with displeasure from the Almighty.

In closing, two observations are in order:

  1. Church historians, over two millennia, have documented and attested to many movements of Holy Ghost power, conversions to Christ and spiritual renewal within various denominations and congregations that incorporated musical instruments in worship. How do the Johnny-come-lately opponents of musical instruments explain this heavenly phenomenon?

  2. The opposition to musical instruments is seldom if ever a standalone issue. In other words, opponents are usually part of a theological thought system that has several false doctrines in the mix, such as baptismal regeneration, denial of grace alone through faith alone, et al.

When ANY church or group of churches attempts to argue against musical instruments as an accompaniment to worship, they have wandered off the biblical reservation into the swamp of humanistic rationalism and twisted logic. The argument against musical instruments in church worship, when God authorized it and found pleasure therein in OT times, is futile, and CANNOT be made from biblical truth!


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