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

a cappella music

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.

The old-time Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, spoke correctly and accurately when he said mechanical instruments “hinder rather than help our praise.” The sweetest music that has ever been heard on earth is the voices of saints blending in rich, harmonious tones as they sing in the Spirit. Such music has a heavenly ring that charms and thrills the pure in heart as well as draws the attention of sinners.

All who study the Scriptures and church history in-depth know why the apostolic church never used mechanical instruments and why the Anabaptists as well as reformers like Martin Luther, John Wesley, and many others, including D. S. Warner, rejected their use in spiritual worship. They used musical instruments to aid the composing of written music for their songs, or for personal or social enjoyment, but they rejected their use in worship because they understood the principles taught in John 4:23-24 and Acts 17:24-25, etc. To them, worship was the outpouring of the inner man, whether in prayer, preaching, or song. Mechanical instruments in spiritual worship were considered out of place. As history states concerning the primitive Christians, they “were of too spiritual a fiber to substitute lifeless instruments for, or use them to accompany, the human voice” (Catholic Encyclopedia. X, 651). There is no sweeter music on earth than the perfect blending of human voices in four-part harmony. Unfortunately, the majority of the populace of today’s world has never had the opportunity to hear this kind of superb, heavenly music. It touches and inspires the soul like no other.

In this dispensation, acceptable and true worship takes place when people are raised up to sit with Christ in heavenly places in the Spirit. This kind of worship can neither be ceremonially nor mechanically produced but only takes place by the interaction of the human spirit with the divine Spirit. We sing, pray, and prophesy (preach) in the Spirit, having New Testament authority to include all this in our worship. But we find no New Testament injunction for playing in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit only anoints the music that flows from the inner human spirit and soul. God has no interest or delight in the music we may produce by skillful hands. He desires to hear and smell the vibrations and incense of the melodies of our hearts.

There are those who feel that to remove the use of musical instruments from their worship services would negate the quality of their worship services. That is not the case at all if the services are led and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The quality of a worship service is actually enhanced when the mechanical element is removed from it and the service becomes the outflow of a spiritual communion between the spirits of the worshipers and the Spirit of God. It is then that we get to hear the sound that God is interested in hearing—the melody and harmony that pours forth from hearts tuned to His Spirit and vibrating with chords of divine life and glory. God didn’t remove the formality and ceremonialism of the Old Testament to leave us with something inferior. He gave us something much better!

A cappella music in divine worship should never be viewed as an imposition, but rather as a priceless legacy from the purest days of primitive Christianity.

“The Lord once dwelt in temples made with hands,
And had one people, Israel’s chosen bands;
And at Jerusalem, in formal ways,
Was worshiped by the just of olden days.”
But better things than these God had in store,
When ordinances of old should be no more [Heb. 9:10],
And He should dwell within man’s inward parts,
And worship be the incense of our hearts.
[D.O. Teasley]