Archive for May, 2007

Music In Worship

May 11, 2007

Music has always been an integral part of the lives of God’s people.  When the children of Israel were freed from Egyptian captivity they sang praises to God on the banks of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1).  When King David was confronted with his sin with Bathsheba he composed a psalm to express his repentance to God(Psalms 51).  Throughout Biblical history God’s people have always used song to express the depth of their feelings for God. 

Today God’s people still honor and praise him with song.  However, there are differing beliefs on how music should be used in service to God.  Some believe that both singing and musical instruments should be used in the worship.  Others believe that no musical instruments should be used in the assembly and some even go so far as to say they are not permissible in praise to God at any time in or out of the assembly.  None of this, however, is up to men.  What matters is what God has said about the issue.  Has God given us instruction on how we are to use music in his service?

A Review of Biblical Authority

It is important that we understand the way the bible authorizes things to be done before we can even begin to answer questions such as this one.  The Bible contains many passages emphasizing that we are to obey the direct commands of God (Leviticus 22:31, 1 John 2:3).  Likewise, there are many passages that command that the examples set by the Christ, the apostles and the early church are to be followed (Philippians 3:17, 1 Peter 2:21).  There are also passages where Christ and the apostles came to conclusions about God’s will based on necessary inferences (Mark 12:18-27, Hebrews 7:1-10). 

Thus we see through the means of commands, examples and necessary inferences God provides authority for the things we are to believe and practice.  This authority comes in two forms, generic authority and specific authority.  An example of generic authority is contained in Matthew 28:19 when Jesus commanded the disciples to go teach all nations.  He did not specify what type of transportation they were to take but only said go teach.  An commonly used example of specific authority is found in Genesis 6:14 where Noah was commanded to build an ark of gopherwood.  Here by direct command Noah is given authority to build an ark but that it must be built of gopherwood.  All other forms of wood were excluded when God specified the type of wood that Noah was to use.

We must keep these concepts in mind as we look at the authority for worshipping God musically.  Has God given any commands regarding our musical worship toward him.  Do we have any examples in scripture of the early church worshipping God musically?  Are there any necessary inferences that can be drawn from scripture regarding our musical worship to God?  Is any authority governing our musical worship generic or specific in nature?

Music in the Old Testament

As already noted men and women in the Old Testament often praised and worshipped God with music.  When the children of Israel sang and praised God on the banks of the Red Sea we find that Miriam and all the women went out with tambourines and danced as they sang.  From this we can certainly conclude that God was not displeased with the playing of the tambourines and dancing.  In fact we see no instruction from God on how musical worship was to be carried out until David, with God’s approval, appointed musicians in the temple (1 Chronicles 16:4-6, 2 Chronicles 19:25-27).  Here we see that four types of instruments were now specifically authorized to be used in the temple worship; psalteries (also called lyres), harps, trumpets and cymbals.  Would it have been acceptable then, at that point, to continue to use the tambourine since God had not specifically ordered them not to be used?  Could one of the Levite musicians have made the argument that since it Miriam had used a tambourine and was obviously pleasing to God that it must still be acceptable to use?  We easily see in both cases that since God had now specified the instruments he wanted to be used in the temple worship that the tambourine was then forbidden as was any other instrument other than the psaltery, harp, trumpet and cymbal.  Likewise we today cannot continue to use the musical instruments allowed under the Old Testament if they have since been forbidden or excluded by a specific command.

Music in the New Testament

There are also examples of musical worship in the New Testament as well.   We find that shortly before his betrayal Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn (Matthew 26:30).  We are not told whether or not there was instrumental accompaniment.  We also see that Paul and Silans sang praises to God while imprisoned for preaching the gospel (Acts 16:25).  Because they were in prison we can assume that they had no musical instruments available but this says nothing toward whether or not musical instruments would have been acceptable.  So the example that has been set by Christ and the apostles is that we are to worship God with music.  So has God given us instruction on how this is to be carried out?

When giving instruction on how the worship assembly is to be conducted Paul commanded that singing be done with spirit and understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15).  When we sing in the worship assembly we should certainly sing with heartfelt emotion but also we should understand what we are singing.  In this same chapter Paul instructs that whether it be singing, teaching or anything else in the assembly it is to be done for the purpose of edification or teaching the gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:26).  Thus our musical worship to God should be done for the purpose of edifying our brethren.  Notice that Paul here is specifically addressing practice of  multiple speakers or singers acting at the same time.  He admonishes that all things are to be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).  So our musical worship to God is to be orderly and decently.  This necessarily infers some means or system for keeping things this way.  An example of one way to achieve this is by using a songbook so that everyone knows what song to sing and is able to follow along with the song.  As with any thing we do we must first determine if the Bible expressly forbids their use or if it would be excluded by a specific command.  Nowhere in the Bible are songbooks forbidden and we find that there is no command given that would exclude their use and so we find that we are authorized to use them in fulfilling this command to keep our singing decent and orderly.

In writing to the Ephesians Paul commanded that they were to speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; singing and making melody in their hearts to God (Ephesians 5:19).  This coincides perfectly with what Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 14 that our singing is to be done for the purpose of edifying.  Here he instructs he instructs that Christians are to be speaking, or teaching, one another in song.  It is clear that Paul is here giving instructions for when Christians are gathered together in worship.   A lot has been made of the Greek word psallontes which is translated as “make melody”.  It is often argued the word carries the meaning of playing an instrument.  It should be noticed that Paul here is addressing all Christians and is giving them two commands, to sing and psallontes.  These are not options that we can choose to do or not.  Thus, if the word psallontes means to play an instrument then all Christians are obligated to do so.   Also we must note that the the action of psallontes is taking place on the heart not.   So not only does the use of musical instruments violate the command that everything done should be for teaching one another but also the command that every Christian is to be making music in our hearts not on an external instrument.

Similarly Paul also instructs the Colossians that they are to teach one another through their singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16).  Here  again we see that he is speaking to Christians who are assembled and thus are to edify one another.  This is not a command for the individual in his car or home.  Once again we note that this a command to all Christians.  Note that this time he commands that he singing is to be accompanied by grace, or favour, in your heart to the Lord.  We have no trouble recognizing that having grace in our hearts is not something that we do outwardly but is an inward action.   This helps us to understand that in Ephesians 5:19 where we are told psallontes in our hearts to the Lord that this is not an action performed outwardly but inwardly.

Instruments in Heaven

Some have used the fact that in the book of Revelation there are scenes where instruments of music are used in heaven as proof that musical instruments are acceptable in our worship services today (Revelation 5:8, Revelation 14:2, Revelation 15:2).  First we must realize that the book of Revelation is symbolic in nature and thus is not proof that there will be real and literal musical instruments in heaven.  We also must remember that just as tambourines were acceptable for Miriam and the Hebrew women but were not for those living after the time of David we cannot take something that is acceptable in another age and apply it to our worship today.  So even if there will be literal musical instruments in heaven that does not give us reason to violate the command of God concerning our musical worship today.

Our Musical Worship

When we look at the teaching of the Bible on this matter God has made his wishes perfectly clear.  When we gather for our worship assemblies our musical worship should consist of singing without physical instrumental accompaniment but rather be accompanied by music made within our hearts.  Outside of the worship assembly God has given no command on how we are to praise and honor him through our music and thus we are free to include instruments of music at that time.