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    Q: #339. Is it ok to use musical instruments in church worship?

By: Steve Shirley

    A: While nearly every church today uses musical instruments in some form in their worship, there are a few out there (i.e. some Church of Christ) who do not. Those who do not generally justify their position by saying that since the New Testament does not mention using instruments in worship, they believe it is wrong to do so. Are they right? Let's examine this.

     First off, those who teach that using musical instruments in worship today is wrong cannot, nor do not, deny that the Old Testament is FILLED with examples of God's people worshipping Him with musical instruments. See: (Ps 33:2-3)(Ps 81:1-3)(Ps 98:5-6)(Ps 150:1-6)(2 Sam 6:5)(1 Chr 15:16,19-24,28-29)(1 Chr 16:5-6,42)(1 Chr 23:5)(2 Chr 5:11-14)(2 Chr 7:6)(2 Chr 29:25-30)(Neh 12:27-37)(Isa 38:20). God even commanded this: (2 Chr 29:25)

     However, they use various reasons to explain why this should no longer be the practice today. I am not going to go into these reasons, nor refute each of them individually (which can be done). The primary reason being, I believe it is WRONG to condemn the way any person or church chooses to worship God. I do not believe for one minute that God cares if a person is worshipping Him by singing alone (A cappella) without instruments or with instruments. I do not believe God cares if one is worshipping Him with hymns or contemporary music. I do not believe God cares if one raises their hands in worship or keeps them by their side.

     What He DOES care about is if a person is TRULY worshipping Him with all of their heart (Ps 111:1)(Ps 9:1)(Isa 29:13)(Mt 15:8-9), with  "a broken and contrite heart" (Ps 51:17)(Isa 57:15), with "reverence and awe" (Heb 12:28). He is looking for those who first and foremost follow what Jesus called the most important commandment, "... thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength" (Mk 12:30)(Also see: Mt 22:37, Lk 10:27).

*** Note: It is worth noting in (2 Sam 6:20-23) that when David's wife Michal criticized David for the way he worshipped God, God made her childless for her whole life.

     But, because some churches believe that using musical instruments in worship is actually "sinful," I must continue. Incredibly, some of these churches even go so far as to teach such things as it is: "disrespecting God," "worshipping in vain," or "displaying a lack of faith." Some compare it to Nadab and Abihu in (Lev 10:1-3) offering God "strange fire" (for which God killed them). A few even make it a salvation issue.... For this reason, I must defend a position of using instruments.

     First off, saying that because the New Testament doesn't show musical instruments being used in worship, it is wrong, is a flimsy argument. A term for this is an "argument of silence." In other words, if the Bible is silent on something, we don't believe it is right. When we start to make doctrine based on what the Bible "doesn't say" we can run into all kinds of problems. Here are some examples of the abuses we have in this today:

The New Testament doesn't say Jesus wasn't married, so maybe He was.
Jesus didn't condemn homosexuality, so He must have condoned it. (He might even have been gay.)
The Bible doesn't talk about smoking, tattoos, pornography, etc... so I guess they are ok.

     Of course, one can make a Biblical case for why each of these is wrong (i.e. Jesus being married or the homosexual issue), or why some may possibly be permissible (i.e. tattoos). The same can be said for instrumental worship today. A case could be made why it is right OR wrong. But, to teach one position is wrong without compromise is going beyond good exegesis.

     There are generally 8 verses that are used to defend a no-instrument position" (Mt 26:30)(Acts 16:25)(Rom 15:9)(1 Cor 14:15)(Eph 5:19)(Col 3:16)(Heb 2:12)(James 5:13). Perhaps the most often used one is (Mt 26:30) which says: "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." (Acts 16:25) also says: "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them." To use these as two examples seems a bit silly to me.... Would we really expect Jesus and the disciples to have instruments with them in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, or for Paul and Silas to have instruments with them in prison??

     It is also interesting to look what Paul says in (Eph 5:19) "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." Two Greek words in this verse point to musical instruments. First, the Greek word for "psalms" in this is "psalmos" which according to Strong's means "a sacred ode (accompanied with the voice, harp, or other instrument; a "psalm") . Psalmos primarily denoted "a striking or twitching with the fingers (on musical strings)" then , "a sacred song, sung to musical accompaniment."" Second, the Greek word for "melody" in this verse is "psallo" from which psalmos" comes. Its definition is almost the same as "psalmos," being "to play on a stringed instrument." This word is also used in for "sing," in (Rom 15:9)(1 Cor 14:15: twice)(James 5:13), meaning of course that the "singing" could be accompanied by musical instruments. (James 5:13 says "sing psalms.)

      Isn't it also reasonable to expect that since using musical instruments for worship was the norm in the Old Testament, this may be why it wasn't mentioned in the New Testament? In other words, why reiterate a practice that was already commonplace? But, even if the early church did not use musical instruments in worship, as some scholars defending this practice teach, does this make using them today wrong?

     Finally, the Bible also shows us in three places that there will be harps (stringed instruments) used to accompany singing in Heaven (Rev 5:8-14)(Rev 14:2-3)(Rev 15:2-4).

     To me, it stretches credibility to say that the Old Testament is filled with examples of instrumental worship to God, and there are examples of instrumental worship for eternity in Heaven, but between the Old Testament and eternity in Heaven, God suddenly wants us to stop using instruments in worship....

*** Note: Let me also add this. Some believe that Lucifer (now Satan), before God threw him out of Heaven, was one of three archangels, or leaders of all the other angels (Michael and Gabriel being the other two). Michael is the chief guardian angel, Gabriel is the chief messenger angel, and Lucifer was the chief worship angel. This hypothesis about Lucifer is based on (Ezek 28:13) which says tabrets (tambourines) and pipes were prepared in him (or a part of his body). If this is the case, then we have even more evidence for instrumental worship in Heaven. (See: Q: #90 for more on Lucifer.)

P.S. Based on a personal encounter I had with God in 2009, I believe there are musical instruments in Heaven as well.

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