by Raymond Elliott
Article from Prattville church of Christ in Prattville, AL
There are many individuals who think that the churches of Christ do not have music in our periods of worship to God. That is a misconception. Christians do in fact have music always in doing homage to the Heavenly Father. But, please understand that the word "music" is generic. The specifics of music are "instrumental" and "vocal." Vocal music is an integral part of acceptable worship. Hebrews 13:15 reads, "Through him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name."
Also, the general populace might be surprised to learn that the churches of Christ use an instrument in their worship to God. This will, of course, be rather difficult to believe since those individuals who have visited our assemblies have never seen an instrument. The New Testament clearly demands that an instrument be used in the praising of God in our songs. Christians must use an instrument in church music. In short, the New Testament requires the use of an instrument ... and the instrument is specified in the Word of God.
The word 'sing' in the New Testament comes from the Greek word "psallo" which basically means to 'twang', 'twitch' and 'touch the strings'. The New Testament requires an instrument in making music. Eph 5:18-19 says, "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody (psallein - a form of Psallo - meaning to twang, twitch, touch the string, metaphorically speaking) in your heart to the Lord."
We are told to "sing: (psallo) and "make melody" (psallein), and also told upon what instrument. Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, answers that question: "...singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). The human heart is the God-made instrument to be used in praising the Lord in our songs.
Saints following this teaching relative to acceptable music in worship are not on the defensive. Rather, those churches that used mechanical instruments of music in their worship must prove by the Holy Scriptures the authority to do so. They must defend their usage of the instrument in their assemblies. The burden of proof is on them.
Have you ever wondered why you never read about the first century church using mechanical instruments in singing praises to God? It is interesting to note of the nine (9) times music is mentioned in the books of the New Testament that it is always in the specific, that is, to sing. Let us now read the passages of scriptures in the New Testament wherein this is the case.
1. Matthew 26:30: - "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives."
Acts 16:25 - "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises..."
Romans 15:9 - "...I will praise unto thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name."
Heb 2:12 - I Will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise."
1 Corinthians 14:15 - "I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also."
Eph 5:19 - "Be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be ye filled with the Spirit, speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."
Col 3:16 - "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God."
Hebrews 13:15 - "Through Him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips, which make confession to His name."
James 5:13 - "Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise."
The command to make music in worship of God is always to sing - or use the lips - and to do so while plucking on the unseen instrument of the human heart - that is, sing with the spirit and with the understanding.
When the King James Version was translated (1611) and the American Standard Version some years later (1901), one hundred forty-eight Hebrew and Greek scholars were used these words. Each time that these scholars came to the word "psallo" and its derivatives; they translated it into the English word "sing," or the equivalent of sing
You might also be interested in knowing that the early church did not in fact use an instrument such as an organ in their song service.
Pope Vitalian is related to have first introduced organs into some of the churches in Western Europe about 670; but the earliest trustworthy account is that of one sent as a present by the Greek Emperor Constantine Copronymus to Pepin, king of Franks in 755 (The American Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, p.688).
The organ is said to have been introduced into church music by Pope Vitalian in 666 A.D (Chambers Encyclopedia, Vol.7, p. 112).
The use of instrumental music in worship of God did not originate with the first century church.
The introduction of such caused division among members of the Roman Catholic Church and was discarded until about the first part of the fourteenth century. Along with other digressive practices, the use of instrumental music caused a major schism between the Roman Catholic and the Greek Catholic Churches (1311). The Greek Catholic Church rejected the use of the instrument, along with the selling of indulgences, the authority of the pope, and sprinkling babies.
Martin Luther rejected the use of the organ. He said, "The organ in the worship of God is an ensign of Baal."
John Calvin said of the organ in worship, "It is no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of tapers or revival of the other shadows of the Law. The Roman Catholics borrowed it from the Jews."
When John Wesley was asked about the use of the organ, he replied, "I have no objection to the organ in our chapels provided it is neither heard or seen"
Charles H. Spurgeon, when asked why he did not use the organ in worship, gave 1 Corinthians
14:15 as his answer: "I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery."
Adam Clark said, "...And 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...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 here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity" (Comments on Amos 6:5 in his commentary).
Here are some arguments that many use to justify the using of mechanical instruments of music in their worship.
Some say that God did not say, "Thou shalt not use instrumental music in worship." Probably this argument is presented more than any other. But, if this reasoning is permissible, let us notice the final conclusion. God did not say, "Thou shalt not use cornbread and buttermilk in the Lord's Supper." But we do use unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine (Mt. 26:26-28). Why? Simply because that is what Jesus used. Neither did the Lord say, "Thou shalt not use images and burn incense in worship." But such is wrong because it is not authorized. We must understand that when God gives a positive command, only that which is commanded is included and all else is excluded. For example, God commanded Noah to use gopher wood in the building of the ark (Gen.6:14). That requirement excluded the use of any other kinds of woods like pine, maple, cedar, etc. Also note what is written in Hebrew 7:14, "For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests". Jesus could not be a Levitical Priest under the Mosaic Law because he was not from the tribe of Levi. Also, observe a positive directive was given regarding from which tribe (Levi) the priests should come; it is not found in the writings of Moses where God said, "thou shalt not select priests from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Dan, etc." When God said that the priest should come from the tribe of Levi that excluded men who belonged to the other tribes in Israel.
Another argument is: "You have mechanical instruments in your home." Perhaps, and enjoyment can come from good music played upon such instruments. We must understand that a moral law governs the home while a scriptural law governs the worship. There are some things that are morally right in the home that would be unscriptural in the worship of the church. For instance, the eating of a common meal is peculiar to the home life but would be out of place as an avenue of worship to God. Also, one could enjoy singing wholesome secular songs in the homes but singing the same in the worship would be wrong.
"There are harps in heaven" another contends, "so why not in the worship?" Well, yes, but there are also horses in heaven, but that is not a reason to bring horses into the assembly of saints as they worship the Almighty.
4. "You use song books, lights, pitch-pipes in your song service." True, but there is a difference in an aid and in an addition. The difference may be seen in the following example. Suppose that an individual was offered one hundred thousand dollars to walk from Montgomery to Dothan, and that all modes of transportation had to be excluded. And let's suppose that this person does walk to the city of Troy; but at that point, he buys a ticket to ride a bus the rest of the way to Dothan. Of course, we understand that by doing such, the one hundred thousand dollars will have to be forfeited. The reason being is that something more and different than walking was done by this individual. On the other hand, suppose that this person grows weary on the trip and stops and cuts a limb from a tree for a walking stick. The walking stick used as an aid for walking does not breach the agreement. Similarly, the use of songbooks, pitch pipes, etc. is aids in assisting us to fulfill the scriptural obligation to sing (Eph.5:19). Whenever we sing, none of these things is heard
5. Others will say, "David used the instrument in his worship to God." It is also true that David practiced polygamy. He offered animal sacrifices and burnt incense in his worship to God. If a person endeavors to justify the use of instrumental music in worship today by appealing to the Law of Moses, he must understand "that he is a debtor to do the whole law" (Gal. 5:3). "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4).
In discussing the matter of whether or not to include the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship, one will inevitably have to come to grips with this very important question, "What is the authority in religion?" There are some things that can be easily excluded from being the authority, namely the following:
1. Traditions and customs of men. Some assume that something should be included in worship simply because it has always been done that way. If this is valid, then mechanical instruments should be excluded because for 1500 years it was not "done that way," and has only been "done that way" for the last 500 years. But such is not the proper criterion in establishing religious authority. Human traditions are not acceptable in serving God (Matt 15:9); only divinely authorized traditions should be used in service to the Lord.
2. Doctrines of men. Since the completion of the New Testament before the end of the first century, multitudes of creeds written by men have been produced and bound upon people, the first one being written in A.D.325 at the Council of Nicea. Jesus spoke of the traditions and doctrines of men in Mat 15:7-9 when he said, "Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you saying, This people honoreth me with their lips; but in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men."
3. Personal likes and/or dislikes. If a person is not careful, he will include in worship to God what is sensual and carnal. "God is Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). God is the object of our worship and such must be from the heart and according to truth, that is, God's revealed word.
Most of the religious world has followed the philosophies of two great reformers of the 16th century, Martin Luther and his counter part, Ulrich Zwingli. Luther possessed the desire to retain in the church all that was not expressly condemned by the Word of God. Zwingli, on the other hand, was intent on abolishing all that could not be proven by the Holy Scriptures. There is a vast difference in these two attitudes toward the Bible. The former exclaims that all can be included in our worship if it is not expressly forbidden. The latter emphatically declares that only those things that are taught in the Word of God can be practiced in religious matters. Zwingli had the right concept and attitude toward biblical authority. Peter declared, "If any man speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God..." (1 Peter 4:11). Paul wrote, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). What we exclude in our worship today is a direct result of our attitude to biblical authority. In short, one must find authority by direct command or a binding example in the New Testament for the avenues of worship. Only that which can be found therein should be retained; all else should be excluded.
"When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey."