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Music in the Church

Music in the Church
Nov 24 Tags: music | 6 Responses Print Save as PDF

Recently after our evening meeting a few of us got onto the subject of praise and the use of instruments. It was an interesting discussion and I was pleased to see balanced and thoughtful views on the subject. Since this is a contentious issue among many local churches I want to make it clear that the views expressed in this article are not to stir the pot or create controversy but merely to discuss the topic.

Some background – In my early years I was brought up in meetings where no instruments were ever used inside the local church. Growing up I always found it strange that after the meetings we would often go back to someone’s home where lively singing was done with sometimes numerous instruments. I found this disconnect odd. In my later childhood (and since) I have fellowshipped at assemblies where there has been at least a piano, usually an organ and most recently piano, guitar and flutes. These last 2 instruments have only been in regular use for about 7 years. One of my elders mentioned how he would never like to go back to just the piano and I thought that was a telling statement.

Let me state right here that I am in no way suggesting that every local church follow a specific structure in praise and worship. If an assembly (the whole assembly) decides before the Lord to sing without instruments then they are 100% free to do so and no one should condemn it. What I do find disturbing is when the opposite occurs and there is condemnation poured out on those churches that do use instruments.

Music in the Old Testament

Let’s take a closer look at the topic at hand. It would be very hard to pose an argument that the children of God in the Old Testament did not use instruments in worship. Even the very simplest overview of OT scripture would leave the reader to understand that the Israelites used many instruments in their worship. Here are but a few references: 2 Sam 6:5; Neh 12:27; Ps 33:1-3; Ps 150; Is 38:20; Hab 3:17. The first mention of instruments is all the way back in Genesis 4:21, “His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute.” It’s clear then that God not only allowed the use of instruments but actually commanded it.

Is there a change in the New Testament?

Now let’s come to the Gospels. The Messiah is born and for about 30 years the nation of Israel is unaware of His coming (apart from the short scurry of activity around His birth). Then comes John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord. The nation is starting to stir as the Lamb of God is proclaimed. Because we have no other scriptural reason to believe differently, it is logical to conclude that during the time leading up to John’s announcement the nation of Israel carried on in worship as they had always done. Instruments would have continued to be a major part of that worship. Luke 15:25 is an example of celebration with music. There is absolutely no mention of instruments or music in the NT beyond this verse.

New Testament teaching on singing

As we come into Acts and the rest of the New Testament, we see the church established and tremendous growth take place. We have some basic and clear directions for the church in the areas of leadership and practice, but we have no guidance on the subject of music and instruments. The Lord is silent as to their use.

Let’s consider the verses we do have in connection with singing. Ephesians 5:19 says, “Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts”. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Here we are given instruction as to the type of songs to sing and the purpose. It is very significant to notice the inclusion of the Psalms here. In a general sense this means any Scripture, but think for a moment of what Paul is saying by including Psalms. For any Jew reading this it would automatically imply the use of instruments because the nation would have always sung Psalms using them. They would have had no instruction to stop using them from this verse or any other passage we read of in the NT so it would not have been an issue to the readers. Unfortunately singing Scripture has faded away from our meetings. While there are a few hymns that include Scripture, we have lost this practice which needs to find a new place in our praise and worship again.

The purpose of singing

We are also taught to use hymns and spiritual songs. While we can’t give an exact definition of these two types, it is clear that there is to be a variety of songs sung that lead us to the purpose of singing which has 4 main goals.

  • Teaching should be a part of our singing. This is instruction to the believer by the believer. We can certainly use Scripture (Psalms) to do this, as well as hymns and spiritual songs.
  • Admonishing one another is not something that we find too often in our collection of hymns and songs and should be considered again.
  • Thanksgiving is a key component of Biblical singing. This is when we pour out our hearts in praise for what the Lord has done and give him thanks for his blessings to us.
  • Worship is simply the expression of our hearts to God. This is the fundamental purpose of singing. It is a moving and very uplifting practice to sing to the Lord from our hearts and make melody to Him.

Is Paul saying no to instruments?

Some have used these verses to suggest that because Paul refers to the hearts it is a stand against using instruments and that he is stating we should only use our voices. This view has a couple of problems with it. Firstly, if Paul was addressing an error in the church he would not have used such vague language without directly addressing the error. It’s very difficult to believe that he would be stopping the use of a practice that had been carried out for centuries by this statement and nowhere else address the issue.

Secondly, Ephesians and Colossians were written near the end of Paul’s life and it would not make sense that after all his journeys and letters to other churches that he would start now to correct a practice without mentioning it before. Finally the language used here does not relate to instruments at all. We have to add that to the context to come to that conclusion and that is a dangerous practice. The connection with the heart is clearly spiritual (thanksgiving, melody to the Lord) and not practical.

What should we sing?

Another related question to this topic is what Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs we ought to be singing? Some have suggested that we do not find any modern songs worth singing and that we should stick to the good old hymns we have been using for decades. Before I go any further let me say right here that I LOVE some of the hymns we sing and would never want to get rid of them. They are uplifting and exalting. Many were written out of very real and close experiences with the Lord and we identify with those experiences in our own lives.

However, to suggest that the Holy Spirit no longer uses people to write new songs is absurd. The Spirit still speaks to men and women through the experiences of life and music has always been a way in which they can be expressed. When Paul wrote those words all the hymns we sing today had not been written, yet he was encouraging the saints to sing songs unto the Lord.

So much more could be said on this topic. I have heard arguments against the use of instruments and new songs but none have been applied satisfactorily with Scripture. I pray these few thoughts will challenge our hearts to consider the truth of scripture concerning this important subject.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any other author or an official position of the assemblyHUB team.

Crawford Paul

Crawford is an elder at Rolling Meadows Bible Chapel in Ontario and has a passion for the assemblies. He and his wife Beth serve in various ways within the assembly to build up and encourage the believers. He is president of Legacy Ministries Canada, an organization focused on helping individual Christians, local churches and Christian organizations with financial, legal and governance matters. Check it out at legacycanada.org

6 Responses to Music in the Church

  1. Avatar
    Don Huntington

    Just two small comments:
    With respect to instruments, it seems to me that adding to the piano and/or organ with other instruments directs people’s attention to the players and away from the hymn or music. One rarely sees the pianist or organist in a meeting attract attention and we never have the audience break out in applause for them but so often they do so for drummers, guitarist, etc. which is indicative as to where their attention lay.

    With respect to worship, we seem (generally) to have lost the ability to worship in prayer. How I remember (and in places it is still applicable) men who could take everyone with them into the Throne Room as they poured out their hearts while presenting the Lord Jesus to His Father – His works, His worth. That worship has little to do with music. Our brother Willie Burnett once pointed to what Joseph said to his brothers before they returned to Jacob their father as a good rule to use; “thou shalt tell my father of all my glories”.

    • Avatar
      Crawford Paul

      Thanks for the comments Don. It is true that instruments can be distracting but that has more to do with how things are handled than the instruments. We have guitars, flutes and sometimes a hand drum along with the piano and we have never once had applause for the musicians. They are not distracting during the singing either.

      I also attended an assembly where there was a very skilled piano player. He drew more attention to himself than anything else. Those are issues beyond the concept of what instruments are to be used. If musicians are up there to show off or glorify themselves then it needs to be dealt with. The answer isn’t to get rid of instruments but to select musicians who want to glorify the Lord.

      Worship is definitely something we should be teaching more of and I agree prayer is part of it. Worship is all that we do in pouring out our hearts and lives to the Lord. Worship can come in the form of service, prayer, sacrifice, singing and many other ways.

  2. Avatar

    Good article! The very fact however that this topic of “Are instruments allowed in the local church” setting is being asked and addressed in 2014 is very telling as to where the assemblies are, relative to the world and the church universal. This of course dates back to decades of “dogma” where a lack of instruments or as you say “no instruments” was taught as a distinguishing characteristic of a genuine local church.

  3. Avatar
    Joel Clark

    One of the problems I’ve seen with instrumentation is that it sometimes drowns out the human voice rather than be an accompaniment. The passages mentioned are in the context of being filled with the Spirit who should give inspiration to the singing, but often in Christendom it seems like a crutch for the lack of it.

  4. Avatar
    Sam Plett

    I will not reiterate what Crawford has said both in his article and his responses. Just a couple of observations and comments for further reflection. Much of the reaction against instrumentation (or against particular instruments) appears to be motivated by a reaction against the perceived “emotionalism” in “contemporary” “praise and worship” songs. (As an aside, it should be noted that the “traditional” “hymns” we sing were “contemporary” at the time they were written and first sung – and it is also not clear why the reverential term “hymn” is only applied to those songs written before the first half of the 20th Century.) However, in our reaction against emotionalISM (shallow expressions based on and driven by emotion alone) we have failed into a pattern of emotionLESS “worship”. I use quotations because I believe worship is first and foremost and expression of the heart. Music is a beautiful tool God has given us to engage our heart in worship. It is not the only tool – and certainly not the primary tool. As has been pointed out, we have lost the ability to worship in prayer and silent reflection on God’s person. However, music in the Scripture emerges as a distinct ‘tool’ of worship from prayer and silent reflection, and one that manifestly engages our emotions in a special way. Note the reference in Ephesians 5 to making music “in our hearts” – a reading of the context shows this cannot be referring to the fact that music ought to be SILENTLY made in our hearts. Music and people’s connection to it varies from society to society (compare the music of the African church to that with which we are familiar) and from generation to generation (I suspect the hymns of the 19th and 20th Century would have been quite foreign to the sensibilities of the Apostles). Emotions must be controlled and manifested in such a manner as befits being in the presence of a Holy God. That said, I would respectfully ask how it is that some suggest that those of us who have “boldness” to access God’s very presence (in the freedom of grace) ought to be any less free with our emotions than those who were forbidden from drawing near (under the law). That is not to say that we should be more free. As Crawford rightly noted it is about balance. While certain themes and songs rightly cause us to be sober and reflective in God’s presence, reverence does mean impassiveness. I cannot fathom how God could derive pleasure and honour from His children singing about the joy of the Lord and the unfathomable love of His Son with a detached demeanour (as though we were chanting empty religious formulae). There is nothing more irreverent, in my respectful opinion, than treating the incredible truths about God and His salvation as though they were a drudgery (Malachi 1:13). These thoughts do not imply that “contemporary” music is “better” or “more” worshipful. Younger believers need to be sensitive to the fact that the songs that engage their heart may not similarly engage the heart of other believers (young and old). Once again, it is about balance.
    I will close my long-winded pontification with this: we have more than enough clear commandments in the Word of God without needing to go out of our way to “deduce” or “infer” additional commands. In fact, we fall far short of even obeying the two that the Lord Jesus told us were the foundation of all others.

  5. Avatar

    Crawford, you and I have talked about this a good bit. Via our conversations and this post, I have come to understand that music is very important to you. And I trust that music of many kinds are a blessing to you. I trust the Lord is using it to encourage and teach you.

    I have studied music a good bit. I was one of my majors in school, and I use it a great deal in my work. So, I have come to see it as a tool of sorts. Music has a couple of characteristics that make it powerful.

    First, it is inherently mnemonic, which is to say it helps to activate the memory. That’s why, for example, a vast majority of English speaking kids have a hard time saying the alphabet without humming the tune (at least in their heads). I think it was A.P Gibbs who set the books of the Bible to a tune, providing a great help for kids to learn them (except, of course, that he collapses Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Timothy into single books for the convenience of meter).

    This characteristic is, I believe, hardwired by our creator, to knit us together and allow us to communicate across generations. Colossians 3:16 tells us to TEACH and ADMONISH one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. This, it seems to me, is an example of the Spirit’s use of the mnemonic quality of music.

    Secondly, music sets mood. This makes it a powerful tool for brands. Just think about the way retailers turn shoppers’ moods to “Christmas,” as if by flipping a switch in their collective minds, just by turning on the Christmas music. In Ephesians 5:18-19, the Spirit of God again makes use of the mood-setting quality of music, telling us not to indulge in the silly excesses of mood that come with wine, but to “speak to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord.” As an introvert and a musician, I love that this “mood” application has to do with my speaking to myself (to establish the mood the Father desires), encouraging myself (as David encouraged himself in the Lord), and then turning an appropriately cheerful heart toward to Lord.

    Unlike many similarly conservative brethren, I believe that ALL music is man made. So to me, there is no “Lord’s music” and “world’s music.” There is only music. Having said that, it is important to remember something that everyone knows who works with music—appropriate choices. While no music is inherently sinful (I’m talking about musical styles, not lyrics), there is such a thing as appropriate music for an occasion. I would suggest a couple of guidelines:

    1. Mnemonic. Since music is mnemonic, it is appropriate to ask what THIS particular music is placing into memory, or what associations with ideas (and moods) already in memory is this particular music connecting. This is the potential problem with…say…setting great hymn lyrics (Amazing Grace, for example) to a tune associates with a song about prostitution (House of the Rising Sun, for example). If I am not familiar with the tune’s original lyrics, then it is a fine tune providing a change of pace that may provide a more nuanced understanding of these excellent lyrics. But, if I am familiar with the song (perhaps from darker days), then associating these lyrics with this tune could cause confusion, offense (in the technical sense), or discouragement. This is not to say that we should not do this sort of thing. But we should always be aware of the implications of what we decide regarding music.

    2. Mood. Again, it is appropriate to ask ourselves, what mood are we setting with this music. Is it a mood that fits the intent of the lyrics? Is it a mood that is appropriate for the occasion? For me, some tunes are perfectly appropriate for a gospel meeting or youth work, that may not be appropriate for the Lord’s Supper. Typologically, I see a connection between the Lord’s Supper and the offerings of Leviticus. It is serious business. We should be joyful, grateful, but conscious of the Lord, his work, and his place. So, music that sets an inappropriately emotional tone would tempt the young to offer strange fire.

    3. Instruments. Instruments are good. Singing without instruments is good. Personally, I have a hard time getting my head out of the “performance” quality of the music when there are instruments. So, I enjoy singing with just the voices of the brethren at the Lord’s Supper. Every accompaniment-quality musician I know (and that would be quite a few) finds it difficult not to be self-conscious (at least a bit). And self should be the furthest thing from our consciousness at the Lord’s Supper. That said, if one chooses to have accompaniment at that meeting, one should do so with the understanding that it is a preference. We are not told to use instruments. We are not told not to use instruments. On other occasions, the use of and choice of instruments is a matter of appropriateness as well. It would be awkward to bring a string section to a camp fire (;.

    3. Fellowship. Music is one area where it is easy to offend one another. I would suggest that my musical preferences should be secondary to happy fellowship with my brethren. So, if there is a dear, Godly sister who is grieved by guitars at the family Bible hour, then we should be conscious of that sister’s sensibilities. Of course, this opens us to the whole discussion of whether we should be governed by the sensibilities of the old, conservative, and easily offended? I don’t have a good answer for that. I do know that leaving my harmonica at home does not sever the bond between myself and the Lord. So, if it strengthens my bond between myself and my brethren, then I should at least leave it in my pocket.

    Sorry to go on. I have given this topic a great deal of thought. And, in all these words, we are back to where we started. Blessings to all.

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