Music has always been an essential part of Christian worship. Since the beginning of the church, Christians sang hymns of praise to God, as directed by the apostles & the Scriptures (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). As time progressed, music in the church began to evolve also, in order to adapt to the musical influences of the era. In modern times, many churches have incorporated various musical instruments in their worship services. However, the churches of Christ continue to sing hymns of praise without the use of any musical instruments. Is there a valid reason for excluding musical instruments? More importantly, what is God’s view towards the use of musical instruments?
1. Instruments & Divine Worship
As we discuss about worship towards God, we need to understand that God expects worship to be conducted His way. We cannot worship God in any way that we like, and expect God to accept it. Since the time when Cain and Abel offered the first recorded sacrifices to God, we see that God accepted Abel’s offering; however, He did not accept Cain’s offering (Genesis 4:3-5). Cain's offering was simply not according to God's standard. During the time of Moses, God also gave specific instructions on how the tabernacle should be constructed, and how the tabernacle worship should be conducted: there was a “pattern” to follow (Hebrews 8:5). Whenever this pattern was not followed, God’s wrath was meted out (1 Samuel 13:8-12; 2 Samuel 6:6-8).
In the Christian age, we no longer offer animal sacrifices, nor do we worship in the tabernacle. Nevertheless, Jesus taught that worship must continue to be conducted “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). “In spirit” refers to the attitude and disposition: when we worship, we need to do so wholeheartedly and sincerely. “In truth” refers to God’s truth: our worship must be in accordance to God’s truth, as set out in His Word (John 17:17). What does God’s Word say about music in Christian worship? God simply instructs us to “sing” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
2. Instruments & Different Testaments
Those who defend musical instruments in Christian worship often quote from the Old Testament Scriptures to support this practice. Indeed, there are many Old Testament passages that call for the use of musical instruments to praise God (Psalm 150:3-5). However, we need to understand that today, Christians are no longer under the Old Testament law, which found its end with Jesus’ death (Colossians 2:14). For this reason, we no longer offer animals sacrifices, nor do we go to Jerusalem to worship. Instead, we need to go to the New Testament to find instructions on how we can worship God acceptably today.
Under the Old Testament, God gave instructions to David to include musical instruments in the temple worship (2 Chronicles 29:25). Musical instruments were part of God’s pattern for temple worship. However, today we are concerned about the pattern for Christian worship. There is not a single reference in the New Testament that calls for Christians to use musical instruments to praise God. Instead, Christians are commanded only to “sing” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
3. Instruments & Deliberate Silence
As we have seen, under the New Testament, God is silent about the use of musical instruments in worship. Instead, we only find instructions to “sing.” However, some have argued that God’s silence concerning musical instruments is permissive. After all, there are many objects that we use in worship which God is silent about e.g. hymnbooks, chairs, TV screens etc. We use these objects to aid in our worship to God. It is argued that musical instruments aid the singing, in the same way that the former objects aid in Christian worship.
However, we need to understand that there is a difference between an aid and an addition. For example, a plate may aid in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29). However, having a double-cheese burger is surely an addition to the Lord’s Supper. To understand the difference, we need to apply the principle of the Silence of the Scriptures. The principle is as follows: When God makes a specific command, all other alternatives are prohibited. Since God has specified unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper, alternative forms of food are implicitly excluded. Since God has specified “singing,” then alternative forms of music are implicitly excluded.
The principle of the Silence of the Scriptures has been applied since the beginning. When God instructed Noah to build an ark, He specified "gopher wood" (Genesis 6:14). We understand then that other types are wood are implicitly excluded, because God only said “gopher wood." When God instituted the priesthood from among the Israelites, only those from the tribe of Levi (more specifically, the line of Aaron) could partake in the priesthood (Exodus 30:30). In fact, the Hebrews writer noted that Moses said “nothing” about the tribe of Judah being priests (Hebrews 7:14). If God did not say anything about the tribe of Judah being priests, then obviously they are prohibited from doing so, because God already specified the tribe of Levi!
When we think about God’s silence concerning musical instruments in the New Testament, we see a huge contrast to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, there are plentiful references concerning praising God with the use of musical instruments. Why then are we not able to find a single reference to musical instruments in Christian worship within the New Testament Scriptures? I submit to you that God’s silence on this matter is deliberate, and it is deafening! God's silence tells us that musical instruments have no place in Christian worship today.
May all Christians worship God in the way that He desires: in spirit and in truth. May all Christians sing to the Lord, not with musical instruments, but with grace and melody in the heart.
“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19)
“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” (Colossians 3:16)