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Instrumental Music in Worship

What was the issue in the first century and what are the issues now?

By Terry Benton

The Purpose of This Article:

1. Look At the History of Music

  1. Investigate Why The Early Converts To Christ Dropped Instrumental Music And Other Earthly Types And Shadows of The Old Testament
  2. Determine The Pattern of Sound Words For Christians Seeking The Will of God

The History

In The Old Testament

  • First Introduced In Temple Worship By David
  • 2 Chron 29:25-29

 And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets. 26 The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.

27 Then Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD also began, with the trumpets and with the instruments of David king of Israel. 28 So all the assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. NKJV

David Acted By Authority of The Lord

By New Testament Times

  1. The Instruments of Old Had Found Typical Fulfillment In The Spiritual Heart-Strings
  2. Melody On The Instruments Were Abandoned For "Melody In The Heart" – Eph.5:19
  3. The Strings of Joy, Love, Peace, Hope, Thanksgiving, etc., Could Be Played From The Heart Like Never Before.

The Early Church Abandoned All The Types For The Substance In Christ

Col 2:16-17

 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.   NKJV

1 Peter 2:5

 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.   NKJV

Heb 13:10

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.   NKJV

Heb 12:18

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched …NKJV

Heb 12:22-24

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. NKJV

Heb 13:10-11

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.   NKJV

Heb 13:15-16

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.  NKJV

This Spiritual "Time of Reformation" Was Long Recognized And Honored

In the church, as well as in the synagogue, the whole congregation joined in the singing; but instrumental music was never brought into requisition. The early Christians believed that the organs of the human voice are the most appropriate vehicles for giving utterance to the feelings of devotion; and viewing the lute and the harp as the carnal ordinances of a superannuated dispensation, they rejected their aid in the service of the sanctuary. Long after this period one of the most eminent of the ancient fathers describes the music of flutes, sackbuts, and psalteries of the temple worship as only befitting the childhood of the Church. —W. D. Killen (minister, Irish Presbyterian Church), The Ancient Church: Its History, Doctrine, Worship, and Constitution, Traced for the First Three Hundred Years (1859).

Our modern advocates for instrumental music in God’s worship, to be consistent, must associate with the "harps," the "incense-cups" and the "golden altar:" for all belonged alike to the service of the temple. —David Steele (minister, Reformed Presbyterian Church, Covenanted), Notes on the Apocalypse (1870).

The ministers who are opposed to the unscriptural movement are, many of them at least, indisposed to throw themselves into opposition to its onward rush. They are unwilling to make an issue with their people upon this question. They are reluctant to characterize the employment of instrumental music in public worship as a sin. But a sin it is, if there be any force in the argument which opposes it. The people ought to be taught that in using it they rebel against the law of Christ, their King.John L. Girardeau (minister, Presbyterian Church, US [Southern]/professor, Columbia Theological Seminary), Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church (1888).

John 4:24: "God [is] a Spirit; and they that worship him, must worship [him] in spirit and in truth." See also Phil. 3:3; Gal. 3:3,9; Col. 2:8,20-23. This is the great rubric given by the Lord Himself. Worship acceptable to Almighty God is to be rendered solely in a genuine spiritual manner.... With these Scriptures before us, it might be well to enquire where we can find Scriptural use for organs, choirs, anthems, and the various decorations so much in vogue at the present time. Instrumental music is nowhere alluded to in the New Testament as any help whatever to public worship, neither is it mentioned as being used in the first three centuries of the Christian era. —William Sykes (Vicar, Church of England; first president of the Sovereign Grace Union), The Salt of the Covenant (1908).

The logical skeleton of the case which is raised against the practice of instrumental music can be stated briefly, as follows:
     (1) Instrumental music considered as an element in religious worship was:
          (a) instituted by divine commandment;
          (b) practiced as a branch of Levitical service in tabernacle and temple;
          (c) performed by the Levitical order exclusively.
     (2) But the distinctive features of the Levitical system, the type giving place in Gospel times to the correlative anti-type, have been abolished.
     (3) Instrumental music, being strictly a part of the self-same system of worship, has also, therefore, now been abolished.
     (4) No New Testament prescription, effectively restoring instrumental music again to the church’s worship, can be distinguished.
     (5) The practice has no legitimate place, accordingly, in the worship of the Christian Church.
—Hector Cameron
(minister, Free Church of Scotland), "Purity of Worship," in Hold Fast Your Confession: Studies in Church Principles (1978).

"I have no objection to instruments of music in our worship, provided they are neither seen nor heard." 

-- John Wesley, founder of Methodism, quoted in Adam Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 685

"We have no real knowledge of the exact character of the music which formed a part of the religious devotion of the first Christian congregations. It was, however, purely vocal." 

-- Frederic Louis Ritter, History of Music from the Christian Era to the Present Time, p. 28

"For years the Baptists fought the introduction of instrumental music into the churches...Installation of the organ brought serious difficulties in many churches."  

-- Wm. B. Posey, Baptist, The Baptist Church In The Lower Mississippi Valley

Staunch old Baptists in former times would as soon have tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ in their galleries, and yet the instrument has gradually found its way among them, and their successors in church management, with nothing like the jars and difficulties which arose of old concerning the bass viol and smaller instruments of music.David Benedict (historian, Baptist), Fifty Years Among the Baptists (1859).

The Evidence of History

  • Shows an early abandonment of instrumental music in Christian music.
  • Shows early recognition that they stood or fell with the things of the early tabernacle and temple.
  • That most leaders among Protestant churches saw their absence in the New Testament period of reformation.
  • That they were brought in when the will of man was stronger than the desire for the will of God.

The Pattern of Sound Words

  1. Instrumental Music Was Long Recognized As Absent From The New Testament System
  2. Incense, Instrumental Music, Animal Sacrifices Were Not Employed
  3. Singing With Melody In Heart,  With Grace In The Heart,  Is Right And Cannot Be Wrong

Do You Know WHY You Should Sing?

  1. Hear The Great Story – Rom.10:17
  2. Believe The Evidence – Mk.16:15,16
  3. Repent of Sin – Acts 17:30,31
  4. Confess Faith In Jesus – Rom.10:9
  5. Be Baptized Into Christ – Acts 2:38

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