Most every major denomination has a piano or an instrument of music in it. However, such is absent from the churches of Christ. Why? It is not because we can’t afford it, or because we can’t play instruments, or don’t like the sound of instruments. Why then do we not have instrumental music in our worship?
Since our Lord has commanded us to “make things according to the pattern” (Heb. 8:5), and warned us that “whosoever goes onward and abides not in the teachings of Christ hath not God: he that abides in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son” (2 Jn 9), we are forced to face the fact we must not add to, or take from the word of God. Paul said that if we try to alter the gospel in any way, shape, or form, we are condemned (Gal. 1:6-10). Again, he says we are to “learn not to go beyond the things which are written” (I Cor. 4:6-A.S.V.). The Bible contains all we need to know for doctrine, for worship, for work, for organization, etc. (2 Tim. 3:16-17 f; 2 Pet. 1:3), and whatever man adds to God’s plans are but vain efforts to worship Him (Matt. 15:7-9).
In view of these facts, it is wise to consider just what the apostles have taught on this topic. Turning to Eph. 5:19, we find: “Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord” (Col. 3:16). Nowhere do the apostles command, provide us with an example, or necessarily imply that they used the instrument in worship to God. If we want to do as the Lord desired then, what should we do now? We would follow their example, and be content to “sing” our praises.Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Christ says (Jn 14:15).
Take note of three arguments made for the use of instrumental music in the church by denominations and a few ultra liberal minded brethren.
Instruments Were Used By David
One of the first arguments usually advanced by those using the instrument is that it was used in the Old Testament, so therefore we can use it in worship today. To this we might ask, Are we under the Old Testament today? Paul says, “But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:23-26). Again, he adds in Gal. 5:4, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you are fallen away from grace.” It was the commandment (613 of them) of the Old Testament that were abolished on the cross (Col. 2:14-16). Hebrews shows that the New Testament is a new law given by God and that the Old Testament has been done away (Heb. 8:6-13 cf; 9:15, 7:12 f; Jer. 31:31-34). We cannot get our authority from the Old Testament. Christ established the church (Matt. 16:18), and he is the law giver today (Acts 3:22-23 f; Heb. 1:1-2; Matt. 28:18). If we seek justification by the Old Testament, we are then “fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
Is the Old Testament then worthless? No, for in I Cor. 10:1-12, Paul shows it was given that we would learn God fulfilled his word and warnings. Paul said it was to prepare us (Jews) for Christ (Gal. 3:23-26). Also, it is the only account of the origin and history of man, as well as the prophecy of Christ, necessary to prove Him to be the Redeemer of mankind. Certainly, we are not to minimize the value of the Old Testament, but we are not to seek to be under a law that has been abolished either. They were written for our learning not to do the same mistakes as did Israel (Rom 15:4 f; 1 Cor 10:11,12). It cannot be the authority for us today for the acts of worship any more than burnt offerings can remove our sins (Heb. 10:3-4), or tithing be bound upon Christians (2 Cor. 9:7). David cannot be authority; he didn’t establish the church, he didn’t die for it, and he isn’t our mediator today (Acts 20:28 f; 1 Tim2:5). This position can only be fulfilled by Christ and the New Testament, and that is silent on this topic.
Instruments Were Used in Heaven
Even if the instrument were used in heaven and in the Old Testament, that wouldn’t establish the authority for us to use it today. They would have it before and after the New Testament age, but would have nothing dealing with the New Testament age.
However, are they really using instruments for worship in heaven? There are two main passages advanced in defense of this view. The first is Rev. 14:2, where John says, “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers with their harps.” (Although the word “as” is not included in the King James version, it is in the American Standard). What did you hear, John? Voices. What kind of voices? As harpers with their harps. But, did you hear harpers? No. Well, did you hear voices or harps? I heard voices. This is too plain for anyone to be able to misunderstand it.
The second scripture advanced is Rev. 5:8-9, where the elders are mentioned as having harps, and they “sang a new song, saying.” However, in verse 8, it’s to be noted that the prayers are symbolized by a bowl of incense, and in the context, the harps symbolize the praise of the saints. If this passage were to be taken literally, why are the prayers symbolized, and the praise is not? Even if it were taken literally, let us note that they “sang”but nothing is said about “playing.”
With these two passages lost, there is no support for this contention to be found. It is not in heaven (and hence okay for the church), as they claim. Nor can we justify it on this basis, any more than we could justify incense, horses, etc. in worship today because they are in heaven. That which proves too much, proves nothing.
The Bible Didn’t Say Not To Use Instruments Of Music
This argument seeks to make the Bible a book of “thou shalt nots” but God doesn’t deal that way. To list all the “thou shalt nots” would require a book so big the world couldn’t contain it. God has told His people what He expect of them, and that excludes what he doesn’t want them to do. A good example of this is found in Lev. 10:1-2, where Nadab and Abihu offered up fire on the altar of God, “WHICH HE HAD NOT COMMANDED THEM” and lost their lives as a result. They could have argued God hadn’t said not to, but the facts were He hadn’t told them to do it. This same principle is followed in the New Testament as well (2 Jn 9 f; 1 Cor. 4:6).
There are two kinds of music: vocal and instrumental. God has commanded the former (Eph. 5:19 f; Col. 3:16), and since His word is silent concerning instruments, we know we must not “go beyond” that which was written and use them.
God has told us what He demands of us, and that excludes all other things. God has said he wants vocal music in the church and that excludes the use of instrumental music. If we want to please God we will do as he has commanded us to do, and nothing more. It was true in the old testament, it is true in the new testament, and it will be true come the day of judgment (Deut 4:2 ff; Eccl 3:14; Acts 4:19,20; Acts 5:29; 1 Cor 2:13; 1 Pet 4:11; Rev 22:18,19; Jn 12:48)!