Singing or Instruments in Worship?

The subject of incorporating musical instruments into worship is a topic that has been debated and contended by religious minded people for more than 1,500 years! Yet, people today are still just as confused as to what is, or isn’t, allowed in worship. I frequently find this as a top subject to have to work through during evangelistic Bible studies and religious conversations I have with precious souls searching for truth. Why is it so hard to understand? What is the truth in this matter?

The best way to approach this subject is by first establishing a mutually-agreed-upon authority. Since, we’re all talking about worship to God, wouldn’t it make sense that God’s word should be the deciding, authoritative factor? Indeed, it should! Without it, then it’s really just one person’s opinion over another. This is often revealed in the words people use. For example, when someone says, “I just like the way it sounds,” or, “I prefer to go to a church with a band,” we should recognize that those comments are nothing more than personal, subjective preferences.

This is probably the main reason why people cannot agree on the topic. It is because they mix personal preference with “Thus saith the Lord.” However, those two approaches are completely incompatible! Do you see why one has to establish where the final authority is found, then submit to that? It boils down to asking yourself, “What is more important: my will, or God’s will?” (cf. Deut. 5:29; John 14:15)

So, if we can agree to submit to the Bible, then does it tell us what we are supposed to be doing during worship? The answer is, “Yes and no.” Let’s be brutally honest! Yes, there are several verses that make some specific statements about music, but there is no verse that says, “Thou shall not use musical instruments in worship.” However, before jumping to any conclusions, understand that there is also no verse that says, “Musical instruments are permitted in worship.” So, then how do we decide? There are two points of discernment to consider that can help us draw a sound conclusion: (1) discerning the difference between the Old and New Testaments; and (2) discerning what is God’s will.

Considering the first point, people often like to appeal to passages where instruments were used in the Temple in Jerusalem (the place of worship) such as Psalms 98, 144, and 149. However, if we are going to use these Old Testament verses as our authority for musical instruments, then this implies we must keep the entire Old Testament law, not just one aspect of that law (James 2:10). Accordingly, we would also need to offer animal sacrifices, have special clothing for priests (which are only Levites – how do we identify who is a Levite?) and use incense, as the Law of Moses commanded. In addition, ALL worshipers must play an instrument, because only priests were allowed in the temple. Doesn’t that seem absurd for today’s worship? So, not only can we not appeal to the Old Testament to justify musical instruments in worship, but we are no longer under that Old Law, nor can we consider it as obligatory in worship under the Christian dispensation (Rom. 7:1-14; Col. 2:14; Hebrews 7:22, 8:6).

Now, concerning God’s will and the argument of no prohibitive verses for instruments; we could also just easily say that the Bible does not specifically prohibit the use of cake or milk in the Lord’s Supper. Yet, how do we know that we should not change those elements? Because we have commands and examples to teach us otherwise. Here’s the point, if God tells us what He wants, then He doesn’t need to list everything He doesn’t want. What the Bible does say and demonstrate is “singing” (Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15). In fact, there is not one single example of musical instruments being used in Christian worship in the entire New Testament. Every reference points only to one form of music – singing. (The references in Revelation 14:2 and 15:2 are figurative language of heavenly visions – not commands or examples for church worship). Also, according to several historians, apostolic, and church father’s writings, there is no example of musical instruments being used in worship during Christianity’s early years. The first indication of musical instruments being added to worship happened around the 7th century! The fact is, incorporating musical instruments in worship is a more modern development – not part of the original pattern of worship within the church.

Therefore, if we are truly concerned about worshiping God according to His will, then it makes perfect sense to follow the examples and commandments for worship that are found only in His Holy Word. This means submitting to His authority. It is not a matter of personal preference, nor a question of ambiguity, nor some development in the name of progress. It is also incorrect to say, “It’s not a salvation issue,” because it actually is directly related to one’s salvation (cf. Acts 2:41-47; Matt 7:21). Let’s make wise choices when it comes to worshiping our God!