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. Passages in the New Testament that speak of music in worship, without exception, focus on singing (Matt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:9; 1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12; Jas. 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 5:19 says, “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.
It’s An Expedient
Some try to justify instrumental music by saying, “It is an expedient.” Expedient means: useful for effecting a desired result; suited to the circumstances or the occasion; advantageous, convenient__This according to Websters. 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 (Matt. 15:7-9; Col. 3:17; 2 Jn. 9). Secondly, if the scriptures already give us the means of carrying out a commandment, example, or inference, then we must yield to the biblical solution. Example of this is the Lord’s Supper. The scriptures give us the day to partake of the communion. Another example of this is giving. We can’t created another day to give of our means when the bible already gave us the first day of the week. 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 (Deut. 4:2; Lev. 10:1-2).
Consider the tragic example of Uzzah in the Old Testament (2 Sam. 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 can’t be an expedient if it is unlawful (Num. 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. 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.
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 (Gal. 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; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12), 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” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Thus we can’t 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 can’t 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” (2 Chron. 29:25; Psa. 150). True, but we are no longer under the Old Testament! The Law of Moses served its purpose and it has now been abolished, nailed to the cross of Jesus (Gal. 3:22-25; Eph. 2:13-16; Col. 2:14-16). Those who are living today are under law to Christ (1 Cor. 9:21). As a result, no one can seek to be justified by the Law of Moses (Gal. 5:14). The only part of the old testament we can do today are the things brought over by Jesus and his apostles. Instrumental music was never brought over for us to abide. If so, the instrumental music would not be a choice but a commandment. Not even denominations teach such. Paul warned the Judaizing teachers, saying, “I testify to every man that is circumcised that he is a debtor to the whole law” (Gal. 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. Those who are justified by the Law of Moses has “Fallen from grace (Gal 5:4).
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 (Rom. 10: 17; 2 Cor. 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, etc; 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 the playing of any instrument of music.
It Is Used In Our Homes
Many would support the use of instrumental music by saying, “It is used in our homes.” We have many things in our homes, but does that prove anything? We do many things in our private lives which have no part in the public worship (Mk. 7:1-8; 1 Cor. 11:20-22). The new testament instructs us what to have in worship to God, but gives us nothing what to have in our homes.
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” (Rev. 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 make literal what was obviously symbolized. 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 (1 Cor. 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. It has always been my contention that the bible is to be trusted for the truth on its own merits. Consider this, 47 scholars worked to produce the KJV and 101 scholars translated the ASV. Every time psallo appeared, it was translated “sing” (Rom. 15:9; 1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Jas. 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!
It is essential that we have Bible authority for everything that we do or practice (Col. 3:17; 1 Pet. 4:11). Which New Testament passage justifies the use of instrumental music? Where is the commandment? Where is the example? There is none! We must learn “not to go beyond the things that are written” (1 Cor. 4:6). Christians are commanded to sing, and the instrument we worship God with is the heart! Paul said, “Make melody (music) in your heart to the Lord.” If we worship according to the doctrines of men, instrumental music is acceptable, but is in vain to the Lord (Mt 15:7-9) If we worship in Spirit and in Truth, then we will sing with our voices and make music in our hearts to the Lord (Jn 4:23,24)