About Instruments

November 30, 2008
For everything Christ’s church does in worship, it does only as authorized by God in the New Testament. Often the church is accused of not believing the Old Testament, however, “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” Rom. 15:4, and “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. … … … In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away,” Heb. 8:7-13. Certainly we believe the Old Testament, because without it, how would those of the first century be able to identify Jesus as the Christ?

What is commanded?

We make music as commanded in Eph. 5:15-21 and Col. 3:16-17 (cf. Jam. 5:13, Acts 16:25). Notice that is says “one another,” indicating everyone is to participate in the singing. It is for this reason we have no choir with certain select individuals. Of course there may be those physically unable to sing, nevertheless, they can still make melody in their heart. As for instruments, since this deviates from what God has specified, this is not practiced by the church. … Now, to answer why.

Can we Justify Instruments?

Many people will turn to Psalms to justify the use of instruments, but this was a command to the Jews under the OT. People will also say the Bible “doesn’t say not to,” but O, the gray hair one could grow by reading a list of “Though shalt not,” and O the things one could justify. People often go to the OT to justify things such as tithing and instruments in the worship, but why not other OT commands such as sacrifice, burning incense, the feasts, and stoning those found working on the Sabbath? This is nothing new, however, as those who had been under the OT law of Moses, when the NT arrived, tried to apply circumcision to those in the NT (Acts 15), which would be an example of someone trying to add to God’s word. Later, Paul made a declaration to those trying to obey things in Moses’ law in Gal. 5:1-6.

Look at Old Testament Examples

Looking at Cain and Abel before Moses as an example for our learning, we read in Heb. 11:4 (cf. Gen. 4:1-5) that “… Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice ….” Both made offerings, but only Abel’s was accepted. Why? Because Abel offered it by faith, and “… faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Rom. 10:14-17. From this we can infer there was a command by God to sacrifice. Well, one could sacrifice just about anything, including children which God had not commanded (Jer. 32:35, et al). Since Abel did so according to the faith which came through the hearing of God’s word, and his sacrifice was accepted, we can conclude that God specified “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat” as opposed to “the fruit of the ground.” So God likely didn’t say to not offer the fruit of the ground, but specified the firstborn of one’s flock and of their fat. Certainly Cain was wanting to serve God just as sincerely as Paul (Acts 26:9-11), but he deviated from God’s word. In king Saul’s situation, “…to obey is better than sacrifice…,” 1 Sam. 15:22.

Another OT example of deviating from God’s word is from Nadab and Abihu in Lev. 10:1-3. What made the fire profane, or unauthorized? The fire needed to be holy and come from the altar according to Ex. 30:22-30 and Lev. 16:12-13, though God did not say it couldn’t come elsewhere, yet we see the result.

Look at the Greek

There is no small dissension among the use of instruments being used in the worship. Nevertheless, despite the examples written for our learning in the OT, people continue to try justifying instruments by saying the Greek word for psalm, psallo, means to sing with instruments, but it also can mean simply to sing. (Greek interlinear: Eph. 5, Col. 5, Jam. 5, Acts 16) However, what most people tend to overlook is how words change over time. Initially in the ancient Greek during the first century, when the NT was written, the word was used almost exclusively for vocal singing. (In the same way, the Greek word for wine can be either alcoholic or non-alcoholic, but of course people try to justify their drinking by the latter.) An example from today–two incompatible phrases through a short time span of 50- years:

1950s: “I’m gay.”
2000s: “I’m gay.”

Besides this, the actual command found in Eph. 5:15-21 and Col. 3:16-17 is adontes, which is simply “to sing.” But from Eph. 5:15-21, without even looking at the Greek, it says “speaking” in songs. There is also no example of instruments in the early church. According to history, instruments were first introduced by men centuries later after the establishment of the church in Acts 2. If God had asked just for music, any music would likely be acceptable, but He specified singing. If God had asked the Patriarchs just for sacrifice, any sacrifice would likely be acceptable, but He obviously must’ve specified the firstborn of one’s flock.

How is it condemned?

Concerning instruments in the worship, the Bible does not directly condemn it nor does it make mention of then in the New Testament. However, there are many things the Bible does not condemn in word, but in principle. In like manner, the Bible does not directly condemn the concept of a select few people partaking of the cup of grape juice mixed with apple juice, meeting in a bar for fellowship, or even arson. What is the real problem though? Many people are not satisfied with what God has specified (concerning many things) and instead want to do what God has not commanded (Leviticus 10:1, Deuteronomy 18:15-22). Rather than deny themselves (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23) and follow the OT principles written for our learning, man would rather amend or remove (to something that is already perfect and cannot be improved) what they feel appropriate. If I think something is okay, how does this justify my thinking unless I compare it to Scripture, as it has been said “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Who are we trying to please?

The question is, are we seeking to please God or ourselves, or are we singing to God or ourselves? If we were indeed seeking to please God, we would simply do as he has commanded without trying to manipulate around what has been specified. Truly actions speak louder than words, and if one seeks to amend what is already specified and perfect concerning any issue, are they not showing a dissatisfaction to that which is perfect? Indeed, throughout the Bible, man is often rejecting that which is perfect, even rejecting Christ, the chief cornerstone (Psalm 118:22, 1 Peter 2:4-8, et al.). … Along with this, there is a sharp contrast between the old and new testaments concerning instruments. Had the idea of instruments in the worship been of any virtue, surely those from the OT covenant (who were commanded in many numerous ways to use instruments in the OT in Psalms) could take over their instruments into the NT covenant. Are not instruments merely part of that which has passed away?

Faith consists of many things as elaborated in the NT (and OT examples), but some people say it’s “faith only” wanting to throw out the fidelity aspect and also despite being directly told it’s not faith only (James 2:24, cf. Galatians 5:6). Yet when the Bible only specifies singing, never mentioning or implying an instrument of any kind in the worship and no example, instruments are okay and it’s not “singing only.” Clearly men are looking for their own way seeking the things that work in their favor which indeed result in the confusion of many. The Bible does not say “faith only” in the same way it doesn’t say “singing only,” so why is it not faith only, but it is singing only? Faith is elaborated to include many things (dissatisfying men who don’t want all those extra things) and singing is simply left at singing (dissatisfying men who do want all those extra things).

What if it was spelled out?

Now suppose if God did specify “singing only”. Would this stop men from trying to use an instrument? Certainly not. Man throughout history choose to directly disobey God. In 1 Samuel 15:1-5 Saul was commanded to “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them.” Certainly this is easy enough to understand, “destroy all that they have,” nevertheless God elaborated further by saying “But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” But what happened in verse 8 and 9? “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them.” Despite an elaborated direct command from God, Saul, set up as king by God for Israel, still disobeyed God, and man likewise does it all around today. … I submit to you that if God had directly forbidden instruments in worship, man would still use them, though certainly not as many.

How far would you go?

Now suppose if we take the side that most do and say instruments are okay. Would there be any problem with using a Solid State Tesla Coil (SSTC)? Why of course not, yet why do I have a funny feeling that there would be objections from the farthest parts of the globe-“That’s going too far!,” “That’s crazy!” But if instruments are permitted since they are not forbidden, who is man to say this one shouldn’t be used to glorify God? Does not lightning remind someone of the power of God, so how much more this particular instrument? No, the problem is people go too far starting with any instrument, simply going beyond what is written (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6). … I submit to you that if God had elaborated a specific list of instruments to be used in NT worship to Him, man would want to take some out and put others in, possibly including an SSTC.

In fact, as far as the imagination of man can go, it would not surprise me to actually see an SSTC used in the worship by some denomination somewhere within my lifetime. This would not surprise me because according to some information I found, “In a message delivered in St. Louis on April 22nd, [1969,] Methodist Bishop James Thomas of Des Moines, Iowa advocated the use of hamburgers and a soft drink for the Lord’s supper,” (Searching the Scriptures, Vol. X, July, 1969, No. 7, page 4).

The concept of an earthly headquarters could also be one of those things devised by men since it is not mentioned in the Bible, but why is it to be excluded? Because Christ has already been specified as the divine head. God did not elaborate on any headquarters run by men, but it isn’t directly condemned by the Bible and it is not mentioned at all. I have heard of the concept of someone people juggling in praise to God. Why not burn incense to God? What is the result of such manipulative reasoning and compromises? I would have to say one result is the “United Church of Christ,” who go as far as advocating homosexuality.

Consider the “law of exclusion”

If someone orders “a salad” from a restaurant menu, certainly any kind would be acceptable. Salads take very many forms. If someone orders a fish salad, then should they expect to see it along with chicken? Salad with chicken is very popular, nevertheless, why would someone have to specify fish only? The law of exclusion necessitates fish only. But what of this so-called “law of exclusion?” Someone makes the argument “the Bible does not tell me to put on clothes when I go to church. God must therefore want us to worship in the nude,” (despite Matthew 6:25-34/Luke 12:22-34). It also doesn’t mention microphones or PA systems. In the same way, the Bible doesn’t say to worship with air, but then no form of music could exist. So when does this “law of exclusion” take effect? It takes effect when something in a category has already been mentioned. Thus specifying “music” for praise would exclude juggling, dancing, etc., etc. … An interior designer specifying “lights” could include neon, florescent, incandescent, and LEDs. Specifying “lights of florescences and diodes” would exclude neon and incandescent. Specifying “lights of incandescents” would exclude other lighting types. Several methods exist for powering all these lighting types, some with more special needs than others, but if they do not change the lighting type, it doesn’t matter because a method for powering has not been mentioned.

Let’s say a conductor has told certain individuals to sing and other individuals to play specified instruments. If one of his singers, who was not told singing only, got out a cymbal and clashed at high notes, would the conductor not be confused? Are they justified in this? Likewise if someone on a bass guitar started singing, would this not confuse the conductor?

Consider Historical Context

What about the importance of historical context? Since we’ve already looked at the historical context of instruments in the worship, let’s look at the Lord’s supper. In partaking of the cup, “fruit of the vine” is specified, (Matthew 26:27-29, Mark 14:23-25, Luke 22:17-20), so why would this exclude cucumber juice or passion juice? They are under that category, but even today “fruit of the vine” is clearly understood to be grape juice. Now, white grape or purple grape? Most humans can actually reason well enough to understand and narrow down that the common purple grape would best represent Christ’s blood because of it’s red color, yet they try to broaden singing to include many more things, and not just instruments.

Why did God specify singing?

Okay, so why did God specify singing? Who am I to answer? However, I think a great part lies in the fact that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” (Matthew 12:33-37, cf. Matthew 15:17-20, Luke 6:43-45). “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name,” (Hebrews 13:15). It is for all the reasons above why we do not use instruments in worship to God.