Analyzing Arguments in Favor of Instrumental Music

by Mark Mayberry
via Guardian of Truth, January 18, 1990

 

Christianity is a religion of faith. To walk by faith means that we live in harmony with God's Word. This has special application to our expression of worship: It must be according to God's will! Our faith, practice and worship must be grounded in the teachings of the Bible. The New Testament furnishes us with a pattern for worship. Sadly, many people are content to follow manmade systems of religion without ever determining whether or not they are pleasing to the Lord.

Let's consider one specific issue: What kind of music should we use in worship? Every so often one of our neighbors will ask, "Why is it that churches of Christ do not use instrumental music in worship?" The answer is simple. We do not use mechanical instruments of music in worship because there is no New Testament authority for such a practice. Vocal music is all that God ever authorized. Of those passages in the New Testament that speak of music in worship, without exception the focus is on singing (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; I Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13). The New Testament teaches that God desires us to worship him in song, and we must be content with that divine decree. Ephesians 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 in your heart to the Lord." Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."

In spite of the plain teaching of Scripture, many still try to justify the use of mechanical instruments of music. Let us examine some of the arguments made in favor of instrumental music. A diligent study of each point will show that these arguments do not hold water.

"It Is an Expedient"

Some try to justify instrumental music by saying, "It is an expedient." Webster defines an expedient as something "useful for effecting a desired result; suited to the circumstances or the occasion; advantageous, convenient." Certain things in religion can be justified as expedients, but there are biblical principles that must be respected.

In order for a thing to be an expedient, it must first be lawful. It must fall within the bounds of that which God has authorized. If there is no command, approved example, or necessary inference in the New Testament to justify a practice, then we should avoid it (Matthew 15:7-9; Colossians 3:17; II John 9).

Consider the tragic example of Uzzah in the Old Testament (II Samuel 6:6-7). He surely thought he was justified when he reached out to steady the ark when the oxen stumbled, but he sadly discovered that an act cannot be an expedient if it is unlawful (Numbers 4:15).

Furthermore, an expediency has to do with a best choice among various options. Certain things may fall within the realm of God's commandments, and assist us in obeying his will. For example, communion plates and cups help in serving the Lord's Supper. A church building is often the most expedient way of carrying out God's command to assemble. When Jesus gave the great commission, he said, "Go teach." Since the Lord did not specify how they were to go, the apostles were free to choose the most expedient method of travel.

However, man has no options when the Lord specifies exactly what he wants done. In such cases we are not free to do something else and call it an expedient. If we go beyond what is specified, and offer a substitute, we are guilty of adding to God's Word (Deuteronomy 4:2; Leviticus 10:1-2).

In giving the great commission, Jesus said, "Preach the gospel." He specified what they were to preach. No one is at liberty to preach anything other than the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:8-9). This principle is also illustrated through the Bible's teaching on baptism. The New Testament repeatedly pictures baptism as a "burial" (Acts 8:38-39; Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12), and the Greek word itself means "to dip, plunge, or immerse." Some would claim that sprinkling is simply one way to carry out God's command regarding baptism. Not true! Sprinkling is a substitute. God has specified the "mode" of baptism he desires, and no other will do.

When God commanded us to make music in worship, he specified what kind of music he desired: "singing" (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Thus we cannot justify instrumental music as an expedient. It is not merely an aid, but is in fact an addition to God's commandment. The use of instrumental music is unauthorized and cannot be practiced "by faith."

"It Was Used In the Old Testament"

Many would defend the use of instrumental music by saying, "It was used in the Old Testament" (II Chronicles 29:25; Psalms 150). True, but we are no longer under the Old Testament! The Law of Moses served its purpose and it has now been abolished (Galatians 3:22-25; Ephesians 2:13-16; Colossians 2:14-16). Those who are living today are under law to Christ (I Corinthians 9:21). As a result, no one can seek to be justified by the Law of Moses (Galatians 5:14). The Old Testament called for animal sacrifices, burning incense, circumcision, a distinction between clean and unclean meats, etc. You can't take one and leave the rest. Paul warned the Judaizing teachers, saying, "I testify to every man that is circumcised that he is a debtor to the whole law" (Galatians 5:3). The same statement could be made to those who would reach back to the Law of Moses in an effort to justify instrumental music.

"It Is Not Explicitly Forbidden"

Others would argue for the use of instrumental music by saying, "God didn't say not to use it!" However, such a premium on silence could justify almost anything. The Bible does not have to specifically condemn something for it to be wrong. Faith is based upon the Word of God (Romans 10: 17; II Corinthians 5:7). Our Father has clearly and positively stated that he wants us to worship him in song. When God specifies what he wants, unauthorized alternatives are excluded.

There is a maxim of law, which states that the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another. It must be so, for otherwise legal contracts would not be definite, and there would be no precise understanding of law. In the Patriarchal dispensation, God commanded Noah to make an ark of gopher-wood. This positive command disallowed the use of any other kind of wood. In the Mosaic dispensation when the Passover was instituted, God specified that a lamb was to be killed - not a heifer or a goat; it was to be one year old - not two or three; it was to be without blemish - not with a blemish; it was to be offered on the fourteenth day of the month - not some other day; the blood was to be applied to the door-posts and lintels - not elsewhere. The same principle applies here! In the Christian dispensation, God told us to worship him in song, and this eliminates playing an instrument.

"It Is Used In Our Homes"

Many would support the use of instrumental music by saying, "It is used in our homes." We also have lawn mowers, hair dryers and washing machines at home, but does that prove anything? We do many things in our private lives which have no part in the public worship (Mark 7:1-8; I Corinthians 11:20-22).

"It Will Be Found In Heaven"

Others would advocate the use of instrumental music by saying, "The Book of Revelation speaks of it in heaven" (Revelation 5:8; 14:1-2; 15:1-2). First, let us realize that the Book of Revelation is filled with symbolic imagery, and it is a perversion of the text to literalize those symbols. Revelation describes various colored horses, bowls of wrath, burning incense, four-headed beasts, a sea of glass, etc. Heaven is described in physical terms which we can understand, but we must never forget it is a spiritual realm. Nothing material will be found there (I Corinthians 15:50). Revelation 14:2 describes the majestic chorus of 144,000 voices as they sing praises to God. The heavenly chorus was characterized by great volume (as the voice of many waters and great thunder), and beautiful harmony (the voice of harpers).

Furthermore, we must understand that Revelation is picturing a different realm or dispensation. Those who lived under the Mosaic dispensation will be judged by the Law of Moses. Those of us who live under the Christian dispensation will be judged by the Gospel of Christ. Our focus should be upon what is required of us during this Christian age. Whatever God chooses to do in the future is his business.

"It Is Supported By The Greek"

Some would defend the use of instrumental music by saying, "The use of instrumental music is justified by the Greek." Such a statement shows a great deal of ignorance concerning the Greek. The expression translated "make melody" in Ephesians 5:19 is from the Greek word psallo. Its root meaning is "to pull, rub, strike, pluck, or vibrate." In Classical Greek, the word did in fact describe the playing of a mechanical instrument. However, words change over time and in the Koine Greek of the New Testament this word applied exclusively to singing. Forty-seven scholars worked to produce the KJV and 101 scholars translated the ASV. Every time psallo appeared, it was translated "sing" (Romans 15:9; I Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; James 5:13). Were all these scholars wrong? Of course not! It is interesting to note that many of these translators were members of churches which used instrumental music. They could have tried to justify their practice, yet they remained true to their scholarship!

Conclusion

It is essential that we have Bible authority for everything that we do or practice (Colossians 3:17; I Peter 4:11). Which New Testament passage justifies the use of instrumental music? There is none! We must learn "not to go beyond the things that are written" (I Corinthians 4:6, ASV). Christians are commanded to sing, and the instrument we worship God with is the heart! Paul said, "Make melody in your heart to the Lord."