There is a religious controversy among some Christians over the use of musical instruments in worship to God, particularly in corporate worship or church assemblies. Here, I present some aspects of this controversy and my perspective.

Many believe that instrumental worship is good and pleases God. Others believe it is contrary to the scriptures, is a violation of Godís will, and is therefore sin. Some believe it is a salvation issue. This is the most important aspect of the controversy and the reason for this writing. If it isnít a salvation issue, then the controversy is of little importance. If on the other hand it is a salvation issue, then the controversy is crucial. (There is also debate as to whether there are any salvation issues for Christians, but that is the topic for another article. Here, the assumption is that there are salvation issues, and that there are ways to lose salvation.)

So, what is the truth? Can using instruments to worship God please Him, or can it do the opposite and even bring condemnation on the unwitting participants?

As has often been verbalized by instrumental supporters, the Bible does not expressly forbid the use of musical instruments in worship. There is no "Thou shalt not" covering that. What then are the arguments against it? Two of the major ones follow.

The two key texts regarding musical worship are Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, which are as follows. (Verses 20 and 17, respectively, are included for completeness.)

Eph. 5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, (20) always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Col. 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. (17) And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Since then it says to sing and make music in your heart, rather than play and make music on an instrument, the latter is considered rejected as an unauthorized form of worship. Making an appointment on Tuesday at 8:00 am excludes other days and other times. As in the communion example where fruit of the vine excludes other drinks and bread excludes other foods, so is anything other than singing considered excluded.

So that is one major argument, perhaps the foremost - that the Bible specifies singing and is silent about using instruments; they are therefore not authorized.

Particularly after the Roman emperor Constantine accepted Christianity, church practices and structure evolved to a form that more closely reflected Roman government and Roman courts. Changes continued until eventually Martin Luther began the reformation movement, apparently identifying a number of inconsistencies between this evolved form of church and scripture, as he nailed a list of them to the doors of a church building. Subsequently, other notable church leaders began the restoration movement, which instead of attempting to reform what the church had become, attempts to return church practices to a form like that of the first century church.

Reportedly, instruments werenít used in early church worship until around the 6th century. Supposedly then it was strongly resisted by some of the renowned church leaders. The Old Testament clearly indicates that instruments were used in worship. In contrast, according to these historical accounts, the church, established after Jesusí resurrection, did not use them. The inference then is that this change must be what God wanted and thus, given the commands to sing, instruments were no longer authorized.

Those arguing for instrumental music in worship often accurately note that there is no scripture that condemns it and they point out its use, particularly by David, in the Old Testament. These are valid arguments, but do not address the objections above. At the same time, the objections, which are compelling and cannot be ignored, fall short of the proof that many long for. If God leaves it to human preference, we do not want to make it His command, but if it His command, we certainly donít want to violate it or leave it to preference. (This is another reason some suggest leaving out instruments - to be on the safe side.)

Can this issue be resolved? Here is my perspective.

- "The Bible is insufficient as a resource to get to heaven."

- "A careful study of secular history is required to get to heaven."

The Christian community in which I grew up would tend to summarily reject those statements. Many would counter with 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

I would agree with that reaction. However, the arguments against instrumental music citing the practices of the early church are in peril unless you agree with those two statements - that the Bible is insufficient for salvation and that knowledge of history is required. Without the non-Biblical accounts of the early church, one cannot know whether instruments were used in early New Testament church worship.

If we are to speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent, and define Bible things in Bible ways; and if we do not assert that knowledge of history is required with the Bible for citizenship in heaven, then we must conclude that secular history is inadmissable as a proof on the matter.

The very scripture used to support the claim of Bible sufficiency may actually erode the case against musical instruments. In his second letter to Timothy, would Paul have intended the word "Scripture" to apply to his own letters? If not, then the man of God could be thoroughly equipped even without the letters to Galatians and Colossians. The canonized collection we know as the Holy Bible was not yet complete. So apparently this thorough equipping doesnít actually require every book we have in the Bible today. If thorough equipping, and thus salvation, doesnít necessarily require the books of Galatians and Colossians, then the two references they contain about singing wouldnít be required for salvation either. This perspective applies unless Paulís use of the word "Scripture" included to his own writings at the time and/or future canonized writings.

If we define Bible things in Bible ways then Ephesians 5:19, used as a proof text against instrumental music actually becomes the best case for it. It says "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs..." The word psalm indicates a song accompanied by a plucked instrument. Some counter that in this verse it is the "strings" of the heart that are plucked, rather than a traditional musical instrument.

Batsell Barret Baxter was for many years the host of the television broadcast, "The Herald of Truth", and deservingly well respected among many Christians. He wrote a tract about instrumental music, in which he reported that there are at least two possible definitions of the Ephesian "psalm", a Greek definition that included instruments and another Greek definition that indicated praise, but not necessarily with instruments. He indicated that the question was which definition was correct for New Testament worship. He concluded in the tract that because the first century church did not use instruments, then the definition of "psalms" in Ephesians 5 must be Ďwithout instrumentsí. However, this elevates history to a dangerous importance contrary to the arguments laid out earlier.

Without secular history to contradict them, the many examples and directives regarding musical worship found in the Old Testament provide strong indication that it is an acceptable and good practice before God. Descriptions of heaven in the New Testament also include instrumental music. To favor the use of instruments in worship and then suddenly reverse this position without clarification seems misleading.

Those are relatively minor supporting positions however. If, again, we define Bible things in Bible ways, then in my opinion the answer becomes rather clear. The Bible itself contains the book of Psalms. Psalms contains a large number of the directives to use instruments in worship to God. Furthermore, the text itself indicates that the various psalms are to be sung to certain tunes and played with certain instruments. Ephesians says to speak in psalms, and the book of Psalms clearly defines these as accompanied by instruments.

The point could be argued that "Psalms" was arbitrarily applied as title to that particular book, and items within it, based on the Greek translation, and thus the contents do not necessarily define the term. The title could be "Praises" or "Prayers", which would be consistent with the Hebrew. However, the New Testament was not written in Hebrew, but in Greek. So Paulís use of the term "psalm" is more likely to have the same meaning as the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Thus "psalm" would include instruments.

 

To define the NT "psalms" differently than what seemingly is indicated by the book of Psalms and to dictate the issue of musical instruments on that basis is again to imply that something beyond the Bible is necessary to avoid Godís wrath. History and/or a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew would be required to even bring suspicion that the English versions of the two testaments entertained contradictory definitions.

God is God. He makes the rules and the definitions, but again it would seem misleading and questionable that a sovereign and omnipotent God would allow a translation error on a salvation issue, or reverse positions on a style of worship with no clarification. Specifically in this case the definition of the word "psalm", based on Bible references could be misinterpreted due to lack of additional clarifying information. This then could lead someone to unwittingly violate Godís will on using instruments in worship. If it were a salvation issue, it would thus condemn that unwitting person. (Discussion of surprise condemnation is a topic for another article.) In my opinion, it would be contrary to His purpose for God to leave us with tricky information about issues that would threaten our salvation or trick us out of it after He went to such great lengths to provide it.

I grew up in the culture and indoctrination that emphatically stated instrumental music in worship was wrong and that being wrong, whether you knew it or not, meant being condemned. (The Bible says that God once winked at ignorance, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.) Debating instrumental music, I learned and used all the arguments against it as described above. I knew scripture and I knew logic and knew about the history and I stubbornly stated the case (because I believed it was a salvation issue), sometimes alienating people and losing friends as a result. But the same logic and scripture combined with experience and relationships increased doubts that I had from the beginning and eventually convinced me that my position on this (among other things) was absolutely wrong.

For the reasons given above, logically I now conclude that instrumental music in worship is pleasing to God, is not a salvation issue, and is a matter of personal preference. This time, I have no doubts. That is some of my journey and conclusions, but I hope it will help you with yours.