What Does the Bible Say about Music in Worship?
As New Testament Christians, we seek to worship God in a way that is pleasing to Him. Jesus spoke of God seeking a specific type of worshiper to worship Him. “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23,24). The kind of worshiper God wants is a “true worshiper.” If there are true worshipers than there must be false or untrue or erroneous worshipers. In other words, there are those who are the right kind of worshipers whom God is looking for and those who are the wrong kind of worshipers.
How does one worship God with the kind of music pleasing to Him? Two passages outline the type of music and the role it plays in worship to God. “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:16,17).
First, Christians are to sing not play. Instrumental music is excluded from worship, because God specified that He wants vocal music. The heart is to be the instrument that makes the melody (Eph. 5:19). While Christians are singing, they praise God and teach and admonish fellow saints in song. All singing is to be done in truth and with the understanding of what is being sung (1 Cor. 14:15). The purpose of singing is multifaceted: to praise God (Acts 16:24); teach men (Col. 3:16); and express our emotions (Js. 5:15). Playing an instrument cannot fulfill the commands of God which singing can. A worshiper cannot “speak” by playing an instrument (Eph. 5:19). An organ cannot teach Bible truths or admonish another, only singing can do this (Col. 3:16). A worshiper is to sing with the spirit and with understanding, but he cannot play with the spirit and with understanding (1 Cor 14:15). God wants true worshipers to make melody in their heart not on a harp (Eph. 5:19).
Reasons Why the Church Does Not Use Instrumental Music in Worship
There is absolutely no evidence that the early church used any instruments of music in the worship of God. Why is that? It is not because they did not like it or could not afford it or just wanted to be different. Use of instruments in worship was common among the pagan religions. Again, the real issue is over the Will of God and authority from His Word for the inclusion of instrumental music. Since God has given no authority for its use, then New Testament churches do not utilize it in worship because:
It Is Lawlessness
In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus condemned those who practice things in religious service to Him which are not part of His law. He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Thayer says that “lawlessness” is “the condition of one without law, either because ignorant of it, or because violating it” (Thayer 48). Mechanical music in worship is not found in the law of Christ. Therefore, it is lawlessness. “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn. 3:4).
It Violates the Law of Worship
As stated above, worship must be expressed in spirit and truth to be pleasing to God (Jn. 4:23,24). The Word of God is truth (Jn. 17:17) Instrumental music is not included in the Word of truth. Therefore, it is not worshiping in truth.
God has always required obedient worship: Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:2-8); Aaron’s Golden Calf (Ex. 32); Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-3); King Saul (1 Sam. 15); sin of Jeroboam (1 Kgs. 12:28-32); King Uzziah (2 Chr. 26:4; 16-21); Snake Worship (2 Kgs. 18:4); and the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:20-29).
The use of instrumental music in worship is not obedient, but vain worship (Matt. 15:1-9) and will worship (Col. 2:23).
It Violates the Law of Unity
The use of instrumental music in worship has caused great religious division for many years. Religious division is condemned (1 Cor. 1:10). Christ’s body of believers is not to be divided (1 Cor. 12:28).
Romans 15:5 teaches that the law of unity demands that we be of the same mind: “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus.” If one practices vocal music and one practices instrumental music, they are not “of the same mind.” Vocal is authorized. Instrumental music is not. Therefore, instrumental music causes destruction of the law of unity.
It Violates the Law of Faith
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). We walk by faith, (2 Cor. 5:7). We walk by faith not by opinion. What music do we use in worship? Opinion says instrumental music. Faith says vocal or sing in Eph. 5:19. We must have faith in order to please God, (Heb. 11:6). Furthermore, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). God’s Word does not include instrumental music; therefore, it is not of faith or walking by faith or pleasing to God, but sin.
It Violates the Law of Exclusion
Music includes two specific kinds: mechanical and vocal. The Bible does not use the general term “music” but uses “sing.” The New Testament scriptures always teach us to sing in worship: Mt. 26:30; Ac. 16:25; Rom. 15:9; 1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12; Js. 5:13. For example, the elements of the Lord’s Supper are specified as fruit of the vine and unleavened bread. The general terms of “food” and “drink” are never used to identify the elements of the Lord’s Supper. If the general command “to make music” had been used then and only then would we be authorized to sing, play, or sing and play. When God specifies the one thing He wants, He excludes everything else. Again, for example when Christ specified He wanted the fruit of the vine to drink and the food (unleavened bread) to eat at the Lord’s Supper, He excluded Dr. Pepper and hotdogs or Coffee and donuts.
It Is an Addition to God’s Word
The Bible abounds with warnings not to add to the Word of God (Dt. 4:2; etc.). “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18,19). Those who use mechanical music in worship have added to God’s Word.
It Is a Presumptuous Sin
Those who advocate something God has not commanded are guilty of presumptuous sin. “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die’ (Deut. 18:20). David prayed to be kept form presumptuous sin. “Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression” (Ps. 19:13). Mechanical music is not commanded by God. Therefore, mechanical music is a presumptuous sin.
It Is Not a Part of God’s Revelation
The apostles were guided into all truth. “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (Jn. 16:13). The Holy Spirit was to bring all things to the apostles’ remembrance. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (Jn. 14:26). The apostles declared the whole counsel of God to us (Acts. 20:27). The Holy Spirit did not bring to their remembrance the use of mechanical music or guide them to use it or to declare it as part of the whole counsel of God.
It Is Going Beyond God’s Word
Christians are commanded “not to think beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). They are to abide in the doctrine or teachings of Christ. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 Jn. 9). To “abide in” is to remain in, continue in. Mechanical Music in worship is not a part of the doctrine of Christ. Therefore, to use it is not to abide in the doctrine of Christ but to go beyond what is written.
It Violates the Law of Silence
One of the most popular defenses used for instrumental music in worship is: “God didn’t say ‘Thou shalt not have instrumental music in worship'” Martin Luther, during the reformation movement contended that “we are at liberty to do anything which is not expressly forbidden by the scriptures.”
To say that God permits something by saying nothing about it, would be giving us the right to put words in His mouth. Instead, we are commanded speak only where the Bible speaks and thus be silent where it is silent (1 Peter 4:11; Num. 22:25).
Any one of these ten reasons would be good enough to excluded musical instruments from worship. Perhaps you can think of other reasons why they should not be used.
– Daniel R. Vess