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Looking at the contemporary religious scene in the United States, you would probably conclude that the use of musical instruments in worship was universally accepted because it is so wide spread and in many quarters unquestionably accepted. But if you look closer you will find that there is a small minority who does not. And if you take time to historically research the issue you might be surprised to find, there was a time when none of the Christian churches used musical instruments in worship. This paper is an attempt to deal with the question, "why do some use musical instruments and others do not"?

Did the apostolic church use instrumental music?

The early church that existed during the first century, under the direct supervision of the apostles, chosen by Jesus, did not use instrumental music.

When were musical instruments introduced into the worship services?

The church divided into what was known as the Eastern Church and the Western Church. The Eastern Church was Greek speaking and recognized the Bishop of Constantinople while the Western Church was Latin speaking and recognized the Bishop of Rome. The Eastern Church does not, to this day, use instrumental music. The Western Church began to use instrumental music in the fifth century, five hundred years later, but did not commonly use instrumental music until the seventh century, seven hundred years later.

Why did the early church use vocal music?

There is example and instruction to sing and make melody in the heart for the purpose of praising God and the edification of one another.

Is instrumental music specifically authorized or forbidden in the New Testament?

No, there is not a specific commandment either authorizing or forbidding instrumental music in the New Testament. Of course there is no specific commandment forbidding the use of "twinkies" at the Lord’s table, but we would all consider their presence as inappropriate.

On what basis do we decide the appropriateness of our actions when there is not a specific commandment?

Decisions such as this are made on the basis of principle. The Lord’s table is a table of remembrance, a time to remember our Lord and the sacrifice He made for us. It is not a time to assuage our hunger or thirst; we have houses in which to take care of these needs. By the same token we must decide whether to use instrumental music on the basis of principle.

What are the principles we should consider in making this decision?

Love-is it necessary to be pleasing to God or is it primary to please man

Faith- is it required by our faith in God, if the instrument is not used would I be remiss in my responsibility to God

Edify-does it instruct, encourage, build up

Expedient- does it promote godliness

Add or subtract- does it add or subtract from God’s word

Stumbling block, divisive- has it led to division in the body of Christ

What are some of the reasons cited for use of the instrument?

1. Whatever is not specifically forbidden is allowed

2. We like it

3. Instruments were used in the OT

4. Instruments are mentioned in heaven

5. Argument from "psallo"

6. Argument from sing and make melody

7. Temple argument

8. Instruments edify

9. I don’t see any thing wrong with the use of instruments.

10. Instruments are an aid

11. Instruments are spoken of prophetically in the OT

Responses to reasons cited for using the instrument:

1. "Whatever not specifically forbidden, is allowed" This is an assumption, not a categorical statement in the Scriptures. No where is this sentiment found in the Scriptures. This assumption would invalidate the authority of Christ and the principles given by the Holy Spirit in the word, This line of reasoning is equivalent to making a law where there are no laws. The adherents are contending that which is not forbidden is allowed simply because it is not forbidden. We call this circular reasoning. As has already been noted we would surely reject this assumption in regard to the items to be used on the Lord’s table.

2. "We like it, therefore it is OK." This sentiment violates the "love principle." Who are we trying to please? Certainly we are trying to please God and not ourselves. Again this sentiment denies the authority of Christ and makes us the authority.

3. "Musical instruments were used in the Old Testament worship." This is true, but the real question is were they approved by God or merely tolerated. The "woe" pronounced by the prophet Amos has led many to question their use. This reasoning would authorize animal sacrifices, incense and many other items in the church.

4. "Musical instruments are mentioned in heaven." This is true. Does this authorize everything mentioned in heaven for the use of the church today. I think not. But the apostles knew about these references to instruments in heaven and still led a church that did not use them.

5. "Argument from psallo" It has been argued that the word, "psallo," carries with it the connotation of singing to the instrument. This may have been true at one time, but words do change in meaning over time. The Eastern Church, which was Greek speaking, never used the instrument; but more importantly the instrument alluded to in these passages was "the heart" of the singer.

6. "Argument from sing and make melody." It has been argued that in Ephesians 5: 19 we have the participles "singing" and "making melody" as two distinct and separate acts, one vocal and the other instrumental and that "with the heart" means that the heart accompanies the "making melody." If this is true the apostolic church misunderstood the passage because they did not use instruments. When we consider other passages with a similar construction, Matthew 13: 15 and Acts 28: 27, we find that "understand with the heart" is not two distinct actions but that the understanding is with the heart. Similarly in Ephesians 5: 19 "making melody with your heart," the heart is the instrument which makes melody.

7. "Temple argument." It has been argued that when Paul went to the temple to worship, he tacitly gave approval to instrumental music as such music was used in the temple. This argument is rather tenuous. If he did, then he gave approval to the Levitical priesthood, animal sacrifices, purification, etc. as these were all a part of the temple worship. In addition it can not be proved that these instruments were in the first century temple. It is only assumed that because instruments were used in Solomon’s temple they were present in the first century temple.

8. "Instruments edify." Some contend that they are edified by instrumental music. I agree that instrumental music can be inspiring. Who has not thrilled when they hear Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy"? But edified? I don’t think so, but more importantly neither does the Apostle Paul. He forbade the speaking in tongues in church (if no interpreter was present) because it does not edify those who hear.

9. "I don’t see anything wrong" argument. God has not left it to us to decide. His apostles were guided unto all truth, and they did not guide us to use instruments nor did they use instruments in the early church.

10. "Instruments are an aid" argument. This is a debatable point since sometimes instruments are used without vocal accompaniment and often they over power the singing. While it is a benefit to sing on key and keep the correct time, this can be done without an instrument. These are learned factors, and can be learned by a trained leader or those with a gift for singing.

11. "Instruments are spoken of prophetically in the Old Testament" argument. If they are, then the apostles failed to recognize it because they did not use instruments.

Objections:

There is no command to sing.

But we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. and one of the ways to do this is "singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of the Lord." Phillips translation

 

There is no command to sing in church.

Technically this is true. There is no specific command to sing in church, but shall we therefore not sing in church? Certainly not. This is a very legalistic approach. Clearly Ephesians 5: 19 anticipates some positive interaction as the result of singing. Thus singing "in church" would certainly be included in this interaction but other associations would not be excluded.

Freedom in Christ permits us to use musical instruments.

Freedom in Christ makes service to God and Christ a reality. We are not made free in Christ to serve ourselves or our own ideas.

Many use instrumental music in faith.

I feel sure that this is correct. Many who use instrumental music today, do so in all good conscience. Unfortunately that does not make it right. Paul said that he had lived in all good conscience before the Lord, but he had slaughtered the church of the Lord.

Is Christianity only defined by the keeping of commandments?

Certainly one who willfully fails to keep God’s commandments can not be pleasing to Him. God gives commandments to accomplish some greater good. He does not give us commandments simply to test us.

What is the purpose of singing to one another?

The purpose of singing is to encourage, build up, and instruct one another in the most holy faith. This is not to say that obedience, which proceeds from faith in God and motivated by love, is unimportant to God.

What is the purpose of singing in relation to God?

When we sing as God instructs us,this demonstrates that we are to that extent relying upon God. We are honoring and praising Him. This is important not because God vaingloriously needs or wants our praise but because when we do we are turned aside from ourselves to the greater good.

Will those who are in Christ, but use instruments, be condemned?

First: let me say that I have not been appointed to judge in these matters. I can only give you my opinion, for what it is worth. Second: at the earlier stages of my walk, I would have said "yes", unequivocally but my opinion has changed. Third: I note that there were some in Christ who felt it necessary to keep days, presumably including the Sabbath, and refrain from eating meats offered to idols. Those who did so in faith were apparently acceptable to the Lord (they were warned not to bind their scruples on others, however). Fourth: it seems to me that the same principle would apply to those who use instruments.

This concludes our comments concerning music. We pray they will be useful to some one.

 

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Last Update   09/26/12