Excerpts From the Christian Legacy of A cappella Music in Divine Worship

By Harlan Sorrell

Instrumental music was not introduced into so-called Christian worship until late in the Roman Catholic apostasy, and even then, the Catholic Church accepted it reluctantly. The Greek Orthodox Church never accepted mechanical instruments into their worship at all, and it is evident that the Protestant reformers removed them from worship.

The word a cappella is an Italian word, coming from two Latin words, a meaning “according to,” and cappella meaning “chapel.” Webster defines a cappella thus: “In the style of church or chapel music; especially in the old style, without accompaniment.” It is a fact of history that this was the style of church music from apostolic times.

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Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness

Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. —Psalm 29:2

This quarter we once again build upon the foundation of Issue 18 concerning the two covenants that God established. No longer do God’s people serve Him after the flesh but after the spirit. The use of musical instruments was absent from formal worship in the New Testament church. The sound from spiritless instruments brings no more glory to God in worship than does the lighting of candles in worship service. God is praised with that which comes out of the mouth from a holy and pure heart. Many people say that this issue is unimportant and optional. Should we then also burn incense and follow the other examples of worship in the Old Testament? New Testament teaching neither condoned nor commended these practices because they were superseded by spiritual worship. At best, the use of musical instruments in worship is inadvisable.Read more

Music in Worship

Scripture Reading:

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. —John 4:23-24

Summary:

Musical instruments were used in the Old Testament when service to God was based on ritual and ceremony after the flesh. Worship in the New Testament dispensation is to be in spirit and God instructs His people to sing not to play. A cappella singing is the biblical pattern and practice for God’s church.

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Types & Symbols of Musical Instruments

There is great beauty in reflecting upon musical instruments as types and symbols of the unity brought by the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people. When Solomon’s temple was dedicated, 120 priests sounded trumpets as one with the singers to praise and thank God (2 Chronicles 5:12-14). The glory of the Lord came down and filled the temple. In the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost, 120 followers of Christ were in the upper room in one accord. The Holy Spirit descended and filled them with His glory. They then became instruments of righteousness doing the will of God.

Music in Worship

“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23). Thus spoke Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well. The words of Christ clearly intonated that a change had come and that the manner and condition of true worship would be different.


True Worship Desired

In the dispensation before Christ, worship was ritualistic and ceremonial in nature. God’s people kept certain days holy, offered sacrifices, burned incense, observed ritualist washing, played musical instruments in worship, and the list goes on. With the coming of Christ, God was no longer satisfied with worship of the flesh by the flesh but was interested in the spiritual communion of man’s heart through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. While false worship continues today, God is still looking for true worshippers.Read more

Biblical Instruction

Worship in Spirit and Truth. —John 4:23-24

Speak to Yourselves in Song. —Ephesians 5:19

Teach & Admonish One Another. —Colossians 3:16

Sing with Grace in the Heart. —Colossians 3:16

Sing with the Spirit & Understanding. —1 Corinthians 14:15

Make Melody in the Heart. —Ephesians 5:19

Is It a Sin to Use Musical Instruments in Worship Service?

Why shouldn’t we follow the commands of David to worship God with musical instruments, especially since David was a “man after God’s own heart”?

All Scripture must be interpreted and applied according to its dispensational context. In Psalm 144:1, David says, “Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.” It is true that God blessed David in all his wars and fighting, and helped him to kill and destroy his enemies but that is foreign to the Gospel dispensation. God now requires us to cease from wars and fighting, to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us and despitefully use us, and to “resist not evil” (Matt. 5:38-45). God also allowed David to have multiple wives and blessed him and the offspring he brought forth by those wives. God condemns such a practice in the present dispensation and will never bless any man who should follow David’s example. Therefore, all Scripture must be interpreted and applied according to its dispensational context. This holds true relative to Psalm 150:3-8 and other Psalms that command the use of musical instruments or dancing in worship to God. No Old Testament text can annul any New Testament doctrine or principle. The New Testament is the “better testament,” and is the one God requires us to live by today.Read more

Harps in Heaven

And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. —Revelation 5:8

The book of Revelation is symbolic in nature and paints a beautiful picture of the saints gathered around the throne with harps in their hands, singing the song of redemption. These harps in heaven are not literal but symbolic of the praise being given to God. They typify the unity and oneness that come from being in harmony with the Spirit.

Tune Your Harps

“Tune your harps ye ransomed throng, and extol the Christ.
Sing the name that opened mercy’s door;
Oh, ‘tis music, sweetest music to sinners lost,
Sweetest to the saints forevermore.”
—Warner, Daniel. The Music of His Name.

Before a symphony begins to play, musicians tune their instruments to the concert pitch so they can blend in one accord. The sound would be discordant when the symphony began to play if each member had tuned his instrument to a different standard. When they measure to the leader, the harmonious sound is beautiful.
When people gather to worship the Lord, it is vital that each person has prepared his heart and is in tune with the Holy Spirit; thus the author said, “tune your harps.” Worship service is a time to leave the pressures and cares of life to collectively glorify and learn of Christ. If the congregation is out of tune with the Spirit, there will likewise be a discordant sound. Read more

The Lord’s Day

John, the beloved disciple, was banished on the Isle of Patmos when he wrote, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet” (Revelation 1:10). The Revelation was given to John on this wonderful occasion. The “Lord’s day” specifically referred to the first day of the week, or Sunday.Read more