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the Bible authorize Christian worship with
Excerpted from the Evangelism
Handbook of New Testament Christianity
by Phil Sanders
The Scriptures of Christian worship in Song:
We are living in a time in which the concepts
of "worship" and "entertainment" have been blended.
Our religious world has instituted the "gospel music"
business; religious "stars" entertain. In some cases worship
becomes a performance, so some churches get the best singers and
the best instrumentalists. One must wonder where God is in all this.
He is to be the focus of our worship and not us. The purpose of
worship is to please God (John
8:28,29). We have sometimes left the true
notion of worship. Worship is the expression of an individual's
devotion. It comes from the inside. Through time this has changed
to the idea of performing and attempting to make an impression on
the individual by stimulating his emotions. Too often men have cheapened
the music of the church by making it entertainment. We sometimes
feel as if we have been cheated by having no performance and miss
the excitement of an orchestra, while not realizing the beauty of
a spiritual feast in our own hearts filled with praise.
The Basic Arguments for the Instrument
Over time psallo
has gradually changed in meaning. It first meant "to touch,
twang, strike strings." Next it meant "to touch or play
strings of harp." Later it meant, "to sing with the harp."
At last it meant, "to sing praises" (without any thought
of any instrument of music). The only time in the LXX [Greek translation
of the Hebrew scriptures begun in the third century B.C. in Alexandria,
Egypt and called the "Septuagint"] that psallo
meant play was when the instrument was specified in the context;
otherwise it meant to sing (LXX 150 B.C.). In the New Testament
psallo is used four times. It meant
Everett Ferguson said of psallo, "If the
precise meaning of certain verses may be in doubt, what is clear
is that an instrument did not inhere in the word psallo in the Septuagint.
Psallo could translate a word meaning 'play' (nagan), or a general
word (zamar). The meaning which would cover all occurrences is 'make
melody'. This could include making melody on an instrument, but
in the preponderance of occurrences it clearly refers to making
melody with the voice."1
F.F. Bruce said of psallo in Ephesians 5:19,
"Nor should the etymological force of the terms be pressed,
as though psalmos inevitably
meant a song sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument...while
such plucking of the strings is the original sense of
psallo...it is used in the NT [New Testament]
with the meaning 'to sing psalms.'"2
In confirmation of this view, the Greek Orthodox Church (who knows
Greek better than anyone) has never used instruments of music in
150 and 2 Chronicles 29:25-27 show that
the use of instruments in Jewish worship is a command from God.
However, Christians are not obligated to the Old Covenant that God
made with the Jews. We are under a new covenant ratified by the
blood of Christ and taught in the New Testament. For this reason,
we don't offer incense, dance, or make animal sacrifices. The New
Testament is a better covenant than the old and is spiritual
(Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:1-10). The Old Testament
had a temple building; in the New Testament we Christians are the
temple of God. Our laws are written on our hearts, not on tablets
of stone. Our worship is not outward and showy but inward and spiritual
Each of these passages refers to a vision John
had of the throne of God, not Christian worship. Each reflects Old
Testament literature where the worship of the temple is considered
ideal. But Christians do not worship in the Jerusalem temple; instead
they are the temple of God. Incense is burned in heaven as well;
are we to burn incense? Saints in heaven wear crowns and cast them
toward God. Are we to do the same? Our task is not to imitate what
is done in heaven but to be obedient to Jesus and His teachings
for us. If Christians should play harps, why didn't the church do
it in the New Testament? Why didn't they understand they were to
imitate what is done in heaven? Heaven is heaven and earth is earth.
Some say, "Instrumental Music in worship
is justified in Christian worship as an aid to worship in song in
the same way a song book is an aid. What is the difference in having
a song book aiding in following the words of the song and a piano
aiding in following the music of the song?"
or aids must first be lawful; expedients aid in doing that which
is instructed. Nothing more than singing is done when a songbook
is used, but a piano involves something more than singing, speaking,
teaching, or admonishing. Song books aid in accomplishing the purpose
of singing. Pianos make a different kind of music. Expedients must
truly aid. Organs, bands often hinder the singing, which must compete
to be heard. Expedients must edify. Pianos produce musical sounds
that are meaningless to the mind. The songbook does not. Organs
may stimulate the emotions, but they do not instruct the mind. Expedients
must not divide, but the instrument has been a source of division
everywhere it is used.
The Basic Arguments Against the Instrument
The history of the
church conclusively shows that instrumental music was an innovation.
For many centuries no church used instruments of music. The use
of the instrument is of human origin and not of Divine instruction.
"The general introduction of
instrumental music can certainly not be assigned to a date earlier
than the fifth or sixth centuries; yea, even Gregory the Great,
who towards the end of the sixth century added greatly to the existing
Church music, absolutely prohibited the use of instruments. Several
centuries later the introduction of the organ in sacred service
gave place to instruments as accompaniments for Christian song,
and from that time to this they have been freely used with few exceptions.
The first organ is believed to have been used in Church service
in the 13th century. Organs were, however, in use before this in
the theatre. They were never regarded with favor in the Eastern
Church, and were vehemently opposed in some of the Western churches."3
Ferguson noted: "It is quite late before there is evidence
of instrumental music, first the organ, employed in the public worship
of the church. Recent studies put the introduction of instrumental
music even later than the dates found in reference books. It was
perhaps as late as the tenth century when the organ was played as
part of the service. This makes instrumental music one of the late
innovations of the medieval Catholic church. When introduced in
the Middle Ages, the organ was still not part of the liturgy proper.
That is, it did not initially accompany the hymn service, but was
a separate item in the service. The type of chant employed left
no place for instrumental accompaniment until new styles of music
Christians employed no instrumental music in their religious worship",
says Lyman Coleman.5
singing, however, and no playing of instruments, was permitted in
the early Christian church."6
can be no doubt that originally the music of the divine service
was everywhere entirely of vocal nature."7
all evidence points to the chant and music of the primitive church
as practically identical with the customs and traditions of the
W. McKinnon, in his 1965 doctoral dissertation at Columbia University,
shows that the early church music was wholly vocal, and that the
opposition of the church fathers to instrumental music in worship
was both monolithic and vehement.
Early Church Fathers opposed instruments of music
in Christian worship.
Justin Martyr (ca. 150 A.D.) condemned
any association with musical instruments as worldly.
Tertullian (150-222 A.D.) mentions
only vocal music in worship.
Clement of Alexandria (200 A.D.) severely
denounced the use of instruments among Christians even
Augustine (354-430 A.D.) displays
the general attitude of the early church against instruments
of music for any purpose. "Let no one's heart revert
to the instruments of the theatre."
Gregory of Nazianus (330-390 A.D.)
mentions instruments but not in any way to approve them.
He believed their only use was the arousement of sensuousness.
Jerome (347-420 A.D.) speaks only
of vocal music and emphasizes that the heart is the
source of songs.
Theodoret (ca. 400 A.D.) says the
use of the instrument is a "childish" relic
of the Old Testament and is excluded from the worship
of the church.
Chrysostom (4th century A.D.) says
the instruments of the Old Testament allegorically look
forward to the pure worship of the lips.9
What Various Men Have Said through the Centuries
Thomas Aquinas (1250): "Our church
does not use instruments, as harps and psalteries, to
praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize."
Martin Luther: "The organ in
the worship to God is an ensign of Baal."
John Calvin: "It is no more suitable
than the burning of incense, the lighting of tapers,
or revival of other shadows of the law. The Roman Catholics
borrowed it from the Jews."
John Wesley: "I have no objection
to the organ in our chapels provided it is neither seen
Adam Clark: "I am an old man
and an old minister, and I here declare that I have
never known instrumental music to be productive of any
good in the worship to God, and have reason to believe
that it has been productive of much evil. Music as a
science I esteem and admire, but instruments of music
in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the
abuse of music and I here register my protest against
all such corruptions in the worship of that infinite
Spirit who requires his followers to worship Him in
spirit and truth."
Charles Spurgeon: " I would as
soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with
John Knox called the organ "a
kist (chest) of whistles."
Alexander Campbell: "To the really
spiritually minded, it (using instruments in worship)
would be like a cowbell in a concert."
J.W. McGarvey:"And if any man
who is a preacher believes that the apostle teaches
the use of instrumental music in the church, by enjoining
the singing of psalms, he is one of those smatterers
in Greek who can believe anything he wishes to believe.
When the wish is father to the thought, correct exegesis
is like water on a duck's back."10
Our purpose is to
restore the New Testament church, which never used and greatly opposed
the use of instruments of music in worship.
B. The lack of authority, the absence of
instruments in New Testament worship.
Jesus never taught the disciples to use them. They were long in
existence but ignored in the teaching and the practice of the entire
New Testament. The New Testament contains God's complete will for
our time, from Pentecost till the Second Coming. Had God wished
that we use it, He would have said so. Where is the Bible authority
for instrumental music? Where is the instruction? Approved Example?
says, "The Bible doesn't say we can't play the organ! Therefore,
it must be all right." But neither does the Bible specifically
condemn the following: burning incense, praying to Mary, roast lamb
with communion, sprinkling for baptism, infant baptism, or a mourner's
bench. How can we justify organs and reject these?
The instrument is not merely an aid but was itself
a means of praising God in the Old Testament but is unauthorized
in the New Testament. (2
Chronicles 5:13; 29:25) Playing lyres
and psalteries were themselves forms of worship not merely aids.
An expediency aids in the performance of an instruction, but an
expediency does not change the instruction. An addition changes
the instruction so that people do something different than the instructions
required. Expedients are lawful, whereas additions are not lawful.
The Difference Between Expedients
Expedients Help Fulfill
the Instruction, but Additions Change the Instruction.
Lawful and Authorized
Unlawful and Unauthorized
Tools to cut, join, and to
Larger size, additional windows,
25:9,40; 26:30; 39:32,42,43
Tools to work silver, gold,
and wood in making the tabernacle and its furniture
Making ark of covenant out
of both acacia and pine wood
Fruit of the Vine
Trays and Cups
Baptize, Be Baptized
Baptistery, pool, river, lake,
Sprinkling and pouring are
Songbook, pitch pipe
kind of music
Different means of praise
To perform any action without divine authority
is sinful. Will God approve our offerings of praise if we act without
authority in our singing?
E. Instruments cannot speak, teach, admonish,
give thanks, praise, proclaim, confess, or make melody on your
These are the things God wants us to accomplish in our singing.
Instruments of music fail to do any one of them. This is what makes
them additions; they do something different from the instruction.
Jesus taught us in Matthew
7:24-27 that Christians are to do what
He says in order to obey His will and enter heaven. The burden of
proof for pianos and organs must be on the one who introduces it
to show where Jesus has instructed this form of worship. There has
never been any evidence from the Bible, language, or history to
show that instrumental music in Christian worship has won God's
1 Everett Ferguson,
A Cappella Music in the Public Worship
of the Church (Abilene, Tex.: Biblical
Research Press, 1972), 6-7.
Bruce, NICNT on Ephesians and Colossians,
Music," John McClintock and James Strong, Cyclopedia
of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1876, reprint, 1969), VI:759.
Ferguson, A Cappella Music in the Public
Worship of the Church (Abilene, Tex.:
Biblical Research Press, 1972), 81.
Coleman, The Primitive Church,
Leichtenrtitt, Music, History, and Ideas,
Nauman, The History of Music,
Werner, Interpreter's Dictionary of the
Bible, III: 466.
detailed accounts see Everett Ferguson, A
Cappella Music, 47-84. See also James
D. Bales, Instrumental Music and New Testament
William McGarvey, Short Essays in Biblical
Criticism (Nashville, Tenn.: Gospel Advocate,
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