Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 9, 1967
NUMBER 39, PAGE 6b-8a

Why We Do Not Use Instrumental Music In Worship

Jack Meyer, Sr.

In this article we are answering the question so often asked: "Why Does the Church of Christ not use mechanical instruments of music in worship?" People naturally are surprised, upon entering worship services of churches of Christ, to find congregational singing as the only music in the worship. When the overwhelming majority of people have instrumental music, those who do not have it are frequently considered as fanatics, cranky, etc. But we can assure you that there are definite Bible reasons why we do not have instrumental music in worship, and your fair, full and thorough examination of this answer to the question is asked.

First, because most people pursue a certain course does not prove that such a course is acceptable to God. You will certainly agree that the average man in religious matters takes things for granted, and because he finds religious groups teaching and practicing certain things, decides that whatever everyone does must be acceptable to God. He shrinks from inquiring into or challenging the scripturalness of a practice, lest he have to oppose the will of the vast majority. In fact, the average man does not take the time to ask if anything is scriptural--it never seems to cross his mind that all religious practices must be such as are "well pleasing to Him. (Heb. 12: 28-29) So, we may as well dismiss the contention that so many make, that a thing must be acceptable to God since most of the people do that.

That simply means, then, that a question in religion is not settled unless and until it is settled right, and it is not settled right until it is established by what the Lord plainly says. In this question, therefore, the matter is not to be determined by what you or I think, but by what the God of heaven says. The pulpits of the land ring with what the speakers think and believe. The audiences form their judgments from what appears to them to be reasonable. But the church of Christ simply urges that we conform to what God has expressly stated as a pattern for us. Universal unity can be had only upon that basis. God's Word, therefore, is to be the law governing us in the study of this tract, with love for the souls of men and a desire to see those souls saved as the spirit of the study.

First, let us look into the Old Testament. Of course, the Lord's Church was not in existence back in the Old Testament. In Matt. 16:18, centuries after the Old Testament record was completed, Jesus predicted, "Upon this rock I will build my church. In Mark 9:1 He also told a group of people that some of them would "not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God come with power." That power came on the first Pentecost day after Christ's ascension, in Acts 2, and the kingdom, or church, was then and there established. So, we cannot find the worship of the church in practice, or fact, in the Old Testament, since the Church was not established until Acts 2. However, we look back to the Old Testament because men tell us that instrumental music was introduced into the worship of God's people (the Israelites, not the Church) and even urged by David, according to Psalms 150.

But, if God commanded instrumental music on every page of the Old Testament, that would not within itself authorize it in the New Testament for us. Why not? Because in the Old Testament period the people of God were under the law of Moses, and the Church recorded in the New Testament was and is under the new covenant, the old one having been abolished on the cross. (Heb. 7:11-12; 10:9; Col. 2:14) Hence, we "are not under the law but under grace." (Rom. 6:14) That means that we are not under the Old Testament law but under that of the New Testament. Christ promised to send to the apostles the Holy Spirit, who would guide them into all truth. (Jno. 16: 13) That Holy Spirit came upon them on that Pentecost day of Acts 2, when they preached the gospel of salvation through Christ and the church was established. From then on they nurtured, spread and instructed the church exactly as Christ ordered, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. In building the church they not only built it exactly as the Divine pattern called for, but even put all of the furniture in it that the Lord ordered. They gave the specifications for the organization, doctrine, government, names, worship, life and work. They spoke in words "which the spirit teacheth. (1 Cor. 2:12-13) They were "ambassadors on behalf of Christ." (2 Cor. 5:20) As such they told people exactly what God wanted told. It was always true--as it is now — that "He that hearth you heareth me; he that rejecteth you rejecteth me and he that rejecteth me, rejecteth him that sent me." (Lk. 10:16)

When the Spirit-guided apostles came to the question of music in the worship of the Church, no one can possibly misunderstand what they said. "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing, and making melody with your heart to the Lord;" (Eph. 5:19) "Teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God;" (Col. 3:16) "I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also." (1 Cor. 14:15) Vs. 23 of 1 Cor. 14 says: "If therefore the whole church be assembled together," showing that he was giving orders for the conduct of the assembly worship, and the music that he orders upon such occasions is singing. It must, therefore, be honestly admitted that the Holy Spirit specified singing as the music for church worship. It is in respect for the will of God, the reign of Christ, and the authority of the Holy Spirit's direction that we as a people have singing, and only that, as the music for our worship to God.

The advocates of mechanical instruments of music in worship make this argument, it being one very frequently heard: "In Eph. 5:19 we read 'speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.'The psalms were songs accompanied by mechanical instruments. The New Testament was written in Greek, and 'psallo,' which means 'to play on a stringed instrument, to sing to music.' Thus, when Eph.5:19 tells us to sing 'psalms,' it tells us to sing psalms and play on a stringed instrument. The original language, therefore, includes the use of instrumental music with singing." This states the argument fairly and in full.

Two replies are made to this. First, if the original Greek for "psalms" in Eph. 5:19 includes the mechanical instruments, then we could not worship without them, for the passage demands the psalms and would necessarily demand anything included therein. So, in "psallo" we would have to sing AND play. But the instrumental music people claim that we can do either, and that the instruments are non-essential. So, they are not consistent in claiming something is non-essential that they claim God included in "psalms."

Second, in their argument on "psallo" including the instrument they do not tell you all the truth. It is true that the Greek lexicons say that "psallo" means to sing with an instrument. But Greek authorities also tell you this: that the New Testament was written in a Greek which they call "the vernacular koine of the 1st century, A. D."--the commonly-spoken Greek, which differed from the classic Greek. Greek lexicons which make this distinction in defining NT words, such as Thayer's, reveal that psallo means, "in the N. T. to sing a hymn." (page 675) Others, such as Bagster's lexicon, make the same distinction. They define the word as used in New Testament Greek, and they certify that in NT Greek "psalms" had reference to songs without instrumental accompaniment. So, the Lord deliberately used a word which left out the instrumental music. Why don't the instrumental music people tell you that when they talk about "psallo"?

"But," it is objected, "it makes no difference if we add the instruments." Now, remember, any religious question is to be settled not by our preference or opinions, but by what God says. God's Book tells the church the kind of music to have in worship, and "we walk by faith. " (2 Cor. 5:7) Since "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," (Rom. 10: 17) you can see that we walk by faith only as we walk by what the word of God authorizes.

"And they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." (Jno. 4:24) Since "thy word is truth," (Jno. 17:17) we worship in truth only as we worship by the directions of the word, instead of by what we think. The truth orders singing in worship. If you worship in truth you will have to use the music-singing--the truth specifies, and none other. In Acts 20:27 Paul said that to the Ephesian church he "declared the whole counsel of God." His whole counsel on this subject was singing. If we add a form of music that he did not specify, we have gone beyond the whole counsel of God. If singing is the whole counsel of God on the subject of music in the worship, when we add the instruments, we thereby deny that we have the whole counsel of God.

In 1 Tim. 1:3 Paul told Timothy to "charge certain men not to teach a different doctrine." The doctrine that they had on the subject of church music was singing. If they added instruments and preached that such addition was permissible, that was a different doctrine, and Paul told Timothy to forbid men preaching anything different from what he had preached. We are told in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 that the scriptures furnish the man of God "completely unto every good work." The New Testament scriptures furnish us with singing in the worship. When we add instrumental music we add something which the scriptures did not furnish on the subject. We thereby say that in the matter of music the scriptures do not furnish us completely; that we need instrumental music. But God's Word says that the scriptures do furnish us completely. Hence, we are limited to singing as our church music, if we have any respect for what God said in 2 Tim. 3:16-17.

Again, advocates of instrumental music in worship urge this: "The mechanical instrument is only an aid to the worship in song. It is not really a part of the worship." They overlook the fact that the instrument furnishes music. There is vocal music, which is one kind. There is the music of mechanical instrumentation, which is another kind. Consider this parallel. In the Lord's supper, the elements are the bread, representing the offering of Christ's body in His death, and the fruit of the vine, representing His blood. (Matt. 26:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:23-26) The plate for the bread is an aid. The cup for the fruit of the vine is an aid. They are not elements of food and drink. They thus are no part of the actual worship. But steak would be another element of food, and could not be added. The Lord's specification of the two elements named forbids adding other elements. But in the music controversy, the mechanical instrument furnishes an added element of music, a music in addition to vocal music. Just as surely as the Lord's specification of bread and fruit of the vine as elements of the Lord's supper forbids additional elements in that supper, just that surely does the Lord's specification of singing forbid additional music in the worship. Christ did not have to say, in so many words: "Thou shalt not have instrumental music." His specifying the kind of music--singing--forbids other music. He tells us to "make all things according to the pattern." (Heb. 8:5) The pattern calls for singing as the music in worship. That is a specific term. A general term, such as music, would have allowed any type. But a specific term rules out any type other than that specified. The songbook is an aid to singing, but does not furnish music. The mechanical instrument is not merely an aid, but it furnishes music other than the kind the Lord specified--singing.

When the Lord tells us how to do a certain thing, we must do it that way and with no changes. Of course, when He leaves to our judgment matters such as song books, lights, meeting houses, etc., then we may use our judgment. But when He specifies how anything is to be done, we cannot worship Him in an acceptable manner unless we do exactly as He says. For example, in 1 Sam. 15 God told King Saul to destroy the Amalekites, and he did so, except that he spared one man, the king, and the best of the flocks. He thought it all right to change just a little what God had said, because they could offer the enemy king and the flocks as sacrifices to God. But Samuel, God's prophet, replied: "To obey is better than to sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams." (vs. 23)In other words, Saul's sacrifice and worship were vain and unacceptable, because he changed God's specifications for worship. So it has always been. He who "goeth onward, and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God." (2 Jno. 9) When you add instruments of music to the music Christ specified, singing, you go beyond the teachings of Christ, and the Book says that you do not have God. Adding to God's Word is not a little thing, and music is not one of the nonessentials; the issue is not what seems good to us, nor how we adore the music of certain large churches. The issue is: what does God say, and shall I respect His Word, or change it to suit myself? Slight symptoms sometimes show malignant diseases. And so, when you add to God's pattern for the worship, wherein He has spoken, you might think it a little matter, but it shows the fatal disease of changing God's will to suit yourself.

The church of Christ seeks to worship God just as Christ directs. Hence, we sing to worship, teach, and admonish, thus rejecting instrumental music with its choirs, paid and otherwise, etc. , to entertain and display, and everything that goes with matters of that sort. We urge that men return to the pattern that the Lord has given in His last will and testament (Heb. 9:15-17) that cannot be changed. Those who change the specifications of that will for worship, work, and everything in life, are will-breakers, and will suffer the penalty for the same.

-(From tract originally published in 1951)