Differences and divisions exist over the use of instrumental music in worship to God. These differences will not be resolved by appealing to traditional customs, creedal dictums, current practices or personal preferences. In religious matters, differences are resolved and unity is achieved by mutual adherence to law of Christ (1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 3:16).
Where Do We Turn For Our Standard?
True servants of God do not look to themselves for their religious authority. They accept their place in relation to omniscient God. They know their limitations. They understand that the pottery has no right to say to the potter, “Why did you make me like this?” (Rom. 9:20). They recognize that “the way of man is not in himself, nor is it in a man to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). Neither do they seek to justify their practice by appealing to their own feelings or to the concept that “the ends justify the means.” Wisdom accepts the fact that “there is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7), while “a man of understanding will acquire wise council” (Prov. 1:5).
Those who are truly interested in discovering religious truth will look to God’s holy word, for that word constitutes truth (Jn. 17:17). Unlike the fool, wise men and women will make their appeal to the wisdom that descends from above and to Jesus, in Whom “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” reside (Jas. 3:17; Col. 2:3). How is this appeal made? 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 tells us that “we have (access to, t.h.) the mind of Christ.” This access is the result of God’s will being revealed in the format of recordable human language. God’s thoughts were expressed in human words. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 therefore states that “all Scripture is inspired of God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Thus we make our appeal to Scripture. We turn to these Scriptures for our authority in all matters pertaining to “life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). We must not validate any belief, doctrine or practice except that which is “inscribed in the Scripture of Truth” (Dan. 10:21). Furthermore, we are strictly forbidden to go beyond this realm in all matters of faith and practice (2 Jn. 9; Gal. 1:8-9). “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of (“by the authority of,” t.h.) Jesus Christ, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17).
Applying Principles of Authority
Once we accept the above to be true, our love for God will impel us to look to God’s word for religious authority. But how do we decipher its demands? How do we apply its principles? These questions are vital, for we are under divine obligation to “handle right the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), and avoid handling it wrongly (2 Cor. 4:2). We are thus faced with the responsibility of properly applying biblical principles to our beliefs, doctrine and practices to determine whether or not they are “of Heaven or of men” (Matt. 21:23-27). This certainly includes the practice of instrumental music in worship to God.
I shall not here elaborate on all of the particular facets and implications of Bible authority, but there is one area that must be addressed before we can answer the instrumental music question.
Two Kinds of Authority
Throughout God’s many dealings with man, He has employed the use of two different kinds of authority. He sometimes authorizes practices under a heading of generic authority, and at other times He is much more specific. For example, the great commission says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Note that God was silent in regard to how we “go.” This is an example of generic authority. Because God employed the general command to “GO,” various methods may then be used to travel from one place to another in performing the work of evangelism. These methods are called “expedients,” and it must be understood that all expedients must first be “lawful” within themselves in order for them to be acceptable to God (1 Cor. 6:12). First century teachers used various methods of travel including walking, riding on animals, riding in chariots and sailing on ships. Today we may choose to drive a car or fly on an airplane. Either way, we are still “going” to do what God tells us to do.
However, God’s authority is not always this general. He sometimes gives specific requirements or details intended to regulate man’s actions. This specific authority always limits man to what God has said, and excludes every other practice within that realm of possible activity. Thus, when God is specific with regard to a particular kind of action, every other kind in that class is necessarily excluded. For example, back to Mark 16:15 where Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” This time let us focus on what is to be preached. Jesus specifically commanded us to preach the gospel! Not history, chemistry or geometry, but “the gospel.” By specifying the kind of information Jesus excluded everything else in that class. We are to preach the gospel – not the Law of Moses. We are to preach the gospel – not our opinions. We are to preach the gospel – not human creeds. I am confident that the reader can understand this simple principle.
An Illustration of Specific Authority
The value of specific authority is probably best illustrated by one of the best known of all Bible stories – Noah and the flood. When giving Noah instructions for the building of the ark, God was specific with regard to the kind of wood Noah was to use. He told Noah to make an ark of gopher wood (Gen. 6:14). Gopher wood was a specific kind of wood among all other woods. Had God simply said, “Make an ark of wood,” Noah would have been authorized to make the ark from any kind of wood. In such a case Noah could have used his own judgment, using whatever wood he preferred. However, by specifying “gopher wood” God prohibited Noah from using any other kind of wood. Genesis 6:22 and 7:5 tell us that Noah did “everything” just as God commanded. Consequently, Noah’s name is included in the Hebrews 11 “hall of faith.” Why was he included in this distinguished list? Because he respected God’s will, even in areas of specific detail. The Bible calls this faith.
God Specified the Kind of Music He Wants
Just as there are different kinds of wood, there are different kinds of music – vocal and instrumental. Furthermore, beside these two kinds of music there is no other. Despite the differences in practice among the many churches of men, and the abundance of arguments that have been made over this issue, there are really only two simple questions that Bible believers must answer. First, is the authority for church music general or specific? And, secondly, if this authority is specific, did God specify vocal music or did He specify instrumental music? The answer to these questions is plainly revealed in the New Testament.
The New Testament on Music
Matthew 26:30 — “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Acts 16:25 — “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
Romans 15:9 — “so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name’.”
1 Corinthians 14:15 — “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”
Ephesians 5:19 — “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,”
Colossians 3:16 — “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
Hebrews 2:12 — “He says, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises’.”
Note that every passage specifies singing. Christ’s law is specific with regard to the kind of music that is to be used in worship to God. By adding the instrument, men add to the word of God and violate His specific instruction. Men will be barred from Heaven who add to God’s all sufficient revelation (Gal. 1:8-9; Rev. 22:18-19). Will you stand upon the solid ground of book, chapter and verse authority (1 Pet. 4:11), or will you venture onto the quicksand of human opinion and speculation? We plead with you to “search the scriptures” and accept only those things that are contained therein (Acts 17:11).
“But Didn’t They Use Instruments of Music in the Old Testament?”
Yes they did, and passages like Psalm 150:3-5 makes that very clear. However, that law also required regular animal sacrifices, diet restrictions, a separate priesthood, a high priest, worship in Jerusalem, Sabbath worship (including travel and labor restrictions), mandatory tithing, annual observance of the Passover (including the smearing of goat or lamb blood on the door posts), mandatory annual observance of many feast days, mandatory circumcision of all male boys, capital punishment even for ceremonial offenses, no intermarriage with other races and a host of other requirements.
So, for those making an authoritative appeal to the Old Testament, the question becomes “Which Old Testament practices do we roll forward and which ones do we leave behind?” The apostle Paul clearly answers this question in the book of Galatians. His argument is simple. If one wishes to return to the Law of Moses for religious authority, then he is bound and obligated to go there for all of his religious authority! According to Galatians 5:3, the man who uses the Old Law to bind circumcision is “a debtor to do the whole law.” Earlier, in Galatians 3:10, Paul stated, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” Thus, the person who returns to the Old Testament for his authority for one practice is scripturally obligated to live by all of its authority! Of course, herein lies the problem – No mere man ever lived the law perfectly. Galatians 3:22 says, “The scripture has concluded all under sin…,” and Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Truly indeed, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
By His sinless life, Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law and “took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14; Matt. 3:15; 5:17-18). He “abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:14-15). Those who look to the Old Testament for modern religious authority are “looking to the end of that which was abolished” (2 Cor. 3:13-15). We are now under the “New Covenant” (Heb. 8:7-12). God has made the first Covenant obsolete (Heb. 8:13).
Playing or listening to musical instruments can be a relaxing and enjoyable form of entertainment and God has not legislated against their use in this realm. However, God has legislated against the use of mechanical instruments of music, in worship to Him. His word has specifically decreed vocal (acappella) music as the kind of music by which He is to be praised. These specific dictates eliminate the use of any other kind of music in worship to God. The fact that the Old Testament allowed mechanical instruments of music in worship is irrelevant. With the change in the law came a change of God’s will. Whereas before, God allowed melody to be made on a “harp,” He now demands that the melody be made in the “heart” (Eph. 5:19). We are “under law to Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). He is the head and savior of the church (Eph. 5:23). Let us abide by His majestic and universal authority.