Music in Worship

music in worship

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.

A large part of the modern-day Christian worship service revolves around the use of musical instruments. It should be the desire of children of God to be “true worshippers” and to conduct themselves in a way that becometh holiness and brings the greatest honor, reverence, and adoration to God. Worship service should be a time to give glory to God and should be for the spiritual edification of the body of believers. With that purpose in mind and heart, can God be worshipped acceptably with musical instruments?

There are many things that God did not mention by name in the Bible, but He left principles of truth to follow. Coupled with historical evidence and practical observance, it is clear through the Word and Spirit that the use of musical instruments is not edifying to spiritual worship in this dispensation of grace.

Origin of Musical Instruments

Genesis 4:21 informs us that Jubal, an ancestor of Cain, was the “father of all such as handle the harp and organ.” The descendants of Cain were referred to in the Scripture as the “sons of men” because they did not follow God as did some of the descendants of Seth, “the sons of God.” It is interesting that the invention of musical instruments came from an ungodly people who had no interest in pleasing God. While musical instruments are not wrong to use for some purposes and in some settings, the enemy has used them throughout the generations to draw people away from the one who can truly minister to the heart and give real soul peace. Solomon testified to gathering gold and silver, singers, and “the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts” (Ecclesiastes 2:8); and yet he confessed that all was “vanity and vexation of spirit” (2:11). While the sound of instruments can entertain, soothe, and placate the mind temporarily, it has never been capable of bringing about righteousness.

Old Testament Use of Instruments

Musical instruments were used in the Old Testament by God’s people to varying degrees. After crossing the Red Sea, Miriam, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand and danced with the other women (Exodus 15:20-21) in a fleshly display of their rejoicing and praise to the Lord. Instruments were used after military victories (2 Chronicles 20:27-28) and trumpets were used among God’s people for signals and calls to worship. Saul met a group of prophets accompanied by musical instruments coming from the hills (1 Samuel 10:5). The prophet Elisha called for a minstrel to play for him (likely to calm his mind) before prophesying under the influence of the Lord (2 Kings 3:14-15). While musical instruments were used, it is noteworthy that they were never used in tabernacle worship. With all of the specificity from God concerning the tabernacle architecture, furniture, and protocol for sacrifice and worship, musical instruments were not used in the actual worship.

David—Lover of Music

King David, even as a young man, was a skilled harp player. When King Saul was overtaken by an evil spirit, David would play for him, Saul would be refreshed, and the spirit would depart (1 Samuel 16:15-23). This is a testament to the power of music. Music can touch the spirit of man in a way that words cannot. While the use of mechanical instruments may displace the trouble and problems in the mind, it is of the flesh and will not bring about lasting change.

David was a man who loved music and the instruments upon which it was made. When the ark of the covenant was moved, they did so as “Moses commanded according to the word of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 15:15-16); however, David had the chief of the Levites appoint people to be singers with instruments of music. While this was not necessarily ordered of God, it was indicative of David’s propensity to music. The Psalms are full of David’s expressions of praise and they laud the use of instruments upon which to praise the Lord (Psalm 150:1-6). “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise” (Psalm 33:3).

King David Appoints Instruments

King David made instruments for the house of God (1 Chronicles 23:5). While instruments were not used in the tabernacle, the Scripture clearly states that singers and players were appointed for temple worship “according to the king’s order” (1 Chronicles 25:6). Levites were set in the temple with instruments “according to the commandment of David” and the instruments were “ordained by David king of Israel”
(2 Chronicles 29:25-28). After Solomon’s temple was destroyed and the new temple was being erected after the Babylonian captivity, Ezra 3:10 tells of the Levites using instruments to praise the LORD “after the ordinance of David king of Israel.” While worship during this time was more ceremonial and not as spiritual, it is at minimum noteworthy, if not significant, that instruments were not used in active worship until David; and then the Scripture always clarifies that it was ordained or commanded by the king.

Prophetic Woe Pronounced

The prophet Isaiah pronounced a woe upon those that were inflamed with strong drink, feasted, and had musical instruments at their feasts and yet regarded not the Lord. The prophet Amos even more directly reproves God’s people: “Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria….that chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David” (Amos 6:1-5). God despised the feast days and no longer accepted the sacrifices. “Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (Amos 5:21-24). With all of the beauty and melody of David’s instruments which were able to touch the human emotions, they never brought the children of Israel into a spiritual relationship with God. One author penned the question: “If man’s inventions failed to produce spiritual fruits under the old law, how can we expect they will produce spirituality under the new dispensation?”

New Covenant Introduces Spiritual Worship

The law was fulfilled (Matthew 5:17) and the way of true righteousness and holiness was made available through Christ. The first covenant was taken away that Jesus might “establish the second” (Hebrews 10:1-9) and perfect that of which the law was incapable. This new life through Christ completely changed the daily conduct and worship of God’s true children. No longer were the mandates of fleshly worship imposed but there was liberating, spiritual communion unhindered by the things of the flesh. Paul preached to the Athenians on Mars’ hill and boldly declared that God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing” (Acts 17:22-25). God was neither worshipped nor glorified by the work and skill of men’s hands nor did He dwell in the beautiful temples made for Himself or for false gods. God is a spirit and is only truly worshipped by those to whom He gave life and breath. Man came fully equipped to worship God and needs nothing more than life and breath to offer himself as an instrument of righteousness.

The Flesh vs. the Spirit

Worship in the Old Testament was physical and literal, but now all true acceptable worship is that of the Spirit. True spiritual worship dictates the eradication of the fleshly worship by sacrifices, incense, and music from lifeless instruments. The New Testament Scripture prescribes a new and better way of worship and was exemplified by Christ and the early morning church. After the Passover feast, Jesus and His disciples “sang an hymn” (Matthew 26:30). Gone are the instruments of Jubal and David in the New Testament church. No longer is God worshipped by the sound that emanates from a mechanical instrument, but rather He is worshipped in the beauty of genuine holiness—that which human talent cannot manufacture. Romans 15:9 says “sing unto thy name.” Paul instructs the congregation at Corinth to sing with the spirit and sing with the understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15). There is no understanding in the sound from the instrument but from the heart and mouth of the justified. The early morning church was never instructed to play an instrument in praise to the Lord; Rather, they were repeatedly told to “sing praise” (Hebrews 2:12). “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). The Colossians were encouraged to teach and admonish one another in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16).

Only Vocal Music Authorized in the New Testament

The New Testament does not directly forbid the use of instrumental music in worship, but there is clearly no authorization given to use instrumental music just as there was not authorization to burn incense and light candles. The contrast between the Old and New Testament teaching and practice is very evident, and approval cannot be assumed for something when it was not given. The Word of God is not only silent on the use of musical instruments in the New Testament, it clearly instructs the saints to sing and make melody in their hearts. They are to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15). Vocal music is the only music authorized by God for Christian worship.

Early Church Practices

History verifies that the early morning church worshipped by singing as taught by the Scripture and did not use musical instruments.

Consider the following quotes:

“The use of music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jew, in their infant state, but only the use of plain song” (Justin Martyr. A.D. 139).

“The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honor God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute” (Clement of Alexandria. A.D. 153-217).

“Musical concerts with viol and lute belong to Apollo, to the Muses, to Minerva and Mercury who invented them; ye who are Christians, hate and abhor these things whose very authors themselves must be the object of loathing and aversion” (Tertullian. c. A.D. 200).

“Instruments appertain not to Christians” (John Chrysostom. A.D. 345-407).

“Music in churches is as ancient as the apostles, but instrumental music not so” (Joseph Bingham. Works. Vol. III, p. 137).

“There can be no doubt that originally the music of the divine service was everywhere entirely of a vocal nature” (Emil Nauman. The History of Music. Vol. I, p. 177).

“The Christian community held the same view, as we know from the apostolic and post-apostolic literature: instrumental music was thought unfit for religious services; the Christian sources are quite outspoken in their condemnation of instrumental performances. Originally, only song was considered worthy of direct approach to Divinity” (New Oxford History of Music. Vol I, p. 135).

“Only singing, however, and no playing of instruments was permitted in the early church” (Hugo Leichtentritt).

“The music they used, reproduced the spirit of their religion—an inward quietude. All the music employed in their early services was vocal” (F. L. Humphrey. Evolution of Church Music).

“I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels
provided they are neither heard nor seen.”
—John Wesley (1703-1791)

Introduction of Instruments in the Catholic Church

It was not until the 5th or 6th century that musical instruments were reintroduced on a small scale in the Catholic church. It did not make a major inroad in the church until the 16th century. There were enough people protesting their use that the Counsel of Trent (1545) came very close to abolishing their use (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia. II, 1702). Years later, most of the protestant reformers did not use musical instruments in worship. While it may seem strange to people today for the saints to sing a cappella, the use of musical instruments in worship was taught against in most major denominations for many years.

Modern Church Embraces Musical Instruments

As recent as the 19th century, most Christian leaders refused to use musical instruments in worship service, believing they were unworthy of divine worship. After the Civil War ended in the United States in 1865, a minister, Benjamin Franklin, noted that there were approximately 10,000 Christian congregations in America and not over 50 used instruments in worship. The widespread use of musical instruments has taken hold since that time. Churches seem to be more interested in gaining a large crowd and ministering to the flesh rather than the spirit. The compromise started with using the organ and piano and has grown to bands and groups using all kinds of instruments. The music of the world has become the music of professing Christian churches. This modern era of performance-based praise and worship is after the flesh. While musical instruments can draw on the emotions and spirit of man, it is a fleshly power and is not an element of true spiritual worship.

From the Reformers…

“The organ in the worship is the insignia of Baal. The Roman Catholics borrowed it from the Jews.” —Martin Luther (1483-1546)

“Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to Him.”— John Calvin (1509-1564) 

Commentary on the 33rd Psalm“He (D.S. Warner) taught plainly and forcibly against the use of musical instruments in the worship of God. None of the congregations [of the Church of God] used them in his day.” —C. E. Orr (1844-1933)

Not a New Movement

“I [further] believe that the use of such instruments of music, in the Christian church, is without the sanction and against the will of God; that they are subversive of the spirit of true devotion and that they are sinful….I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were 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 register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity.”—Adam Clarke (1762-1832) Commentary on Amos 6:5

Spiritual Worship Desired

Regardless of cultural practices and traditions, from the beating of the drums in Africa, to the organs of Asia, to the orchestras of Europe, to the bands of America, the simplicity of spiritual worship must supersede societal norms and preferences. These fleshly modes of worship are of the world and draw on the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). Many congregations, loving the world, have left the simple mode of spiritual worship that was taught in the Scripture and was exemplified by the early morning church. The apostle Paul warned Timothy that in the last days “perilous times shall come. For men shall be….lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

Holy Spirit Led Worship

God’s people are still called today to let their lives be a holy, living sacrifice. “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). Spiritual worship is not just the absence of musical instruments but it is the presence of the Holy Spirit flowing from a holy life. May our spirits be in tune with the music of Heaven and may the harmony flow from hearts full of the grace of God. Let us ever be lively stones, a spiritual house, and an holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).