In a recent post we looked at some interesting quotes from various theologians through the ages concerning instrumental music. Until recently, a cappella music was the norm and most had harsh reactions to the idea of instruments of music in public worship. Why is this? Why did the first Christians (and those to follow for almost two millennia) not use instruments of music in their worship to God?
The simple answer to this question is because the New Testament says absolutely nothing about instrumental music, but it does talk about singing. However, it is not just silence. It is deafening silence. Steve Wolfgang, in a recent lecture at Florida College on this subject, refers to a “wall of silence.” What makes this such a strong argument is seen in how much the Old Testament does talk about instruments of music in worship. Let’s explore this concept together.
The Old Testament explicitly commanded the use of instruments. We see this early in Numbers 10:1-10 as Moses is told about the silver trumpets. He is told how to make them and from what kind of material. He is told when to use them, for what purposes, and even how to play them. And it was to be the sons of Aaron who used them. Notice the specificity of this text. I want to look at a number of passages in succession to add to this point:
1 Chronicles 16:4–7 – “Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel. Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the Lord by Asaph and his brothers.”
1 Chronicles 23:2–6 – “David assembled all the leaders of Israel and the priests and the Levites. The Levites, thirty years old and upward, were numbered, and the total was 38,000 men. “Twenty-four thousand of these,” David said, “shall have charge of the work in the house of the Lord, 6,000 shall be officers and judges, 4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 shall offer praises to the Lord with the instruments that I have made for praise.” And David organized them in divisions corresponding to the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.”
1 Chronicles 28:11–13 – “Then David gave Solomon his son the plan of the vestibule of the temple, and of its houses, its treasuries, its upper rooms, and its inner chambers, and of the room for the mercy seat; and the plan of all that he had in mind for the courts of the house of the Lord, all the surrounding chambers, the treasuries of the house of God, and the treasuries for dedicated gifts; for the divisions of the priests and of the Levites, and all the work of the service in the house of the Lord; for all the vessels for the service in the house of the Lord,” and just a few verses later…
1 Chronicles 28:19 – “All this he made clear to me in writing from the hand of the Lord, all the work to be done according to the plan.”
Notice that these things were not done just because David thought they were good ideas or that he really enjoyed music and was talented with instruments. These things were specifically commanded by God.
We know that the majority of the kings of Judah were wicked and did not follow the Lord as David did. But occasionally, a good king arose and worked to reinstitute worship according to the Law of Moses and the word of God.
When young Joash became king, Jehoiada the priest followed the pattern that had been laid out by David. 2 Chronicles 23:18: “And Jehoiada posted watchmen for the house of the Lord under the direction of the Levitical priests and the Levites whom David had organized to be in charge of the house of the Lord, to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, as it is written in the Law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, according to the order of David.”
When Hezekiah began his reforms, he also when back to the pattern given to David. 2 Chronicles 29:25-28: “And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the Lord through his prophets. The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. Then Hezekiah commanded that the burnt offering be offered on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song to the Lord began also, and the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David king of Israel. The whole assembly worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded. All this continued until the burnt offering was finished.”
And when good king Josiah worked to bring the nation into conformity with God’s word by going back to the prescription of David. 2 Chronicles 35:4: “Prepare yourselves according to your fathers’ houses by your divisions, as prescribed in the writing of David king of Israel and the document of Solomon his son.”
Again, we must understand that these things were not authorized just because they were pleasing or wise in David’s sight. Read again 2 Chronicles 29:25: “And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the Lord through his prophets.”
We read similar statements in Ezra (3:10) and Nehemiah (12:24, 35-36, 45-46) when they rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity and reinstitute monotheistic worship according to the word of God.
We need to appreciate the text that is devoted to the use of instruments (their make, the users, their purpose, etc.) all the way through the Old Testament. But when you get to the New Testament…
As much as the Old Testament talks about instruments, you would expect something in the New Testament. But it is not there. This is the “wall of silence.” If the Old Testament never really mentioned instruments, then we might think, “Well, it’s not a big deal.” But the Old Testament progresses headlong, instruments blaring until BAM! Nothing.
As we continue to discuss the subject of instrumental music, what we find is that there are serious reasons why the first Christians did not use them. And a main reason is because they are simply not mentioned in the New Testament.
I saw something at Chick-fil-a this morning that bothered me. It bothered me because I didn’t think it was right and because I am afraid I have done it before. This little boy was asking his mother for a kid’s meal. She responded, “No. I bought this. It is the same food. I’m not paying for a kid’s meal.” So far, no problem. My wife and I often do the same with our children. The little boy, however, was not happy with that answer and continued to ask (and whine) for a kid’s meal. For the next ten minutes he asked her repeatedly for a kid’s meal and she would not respond to him. She didn’t get him one, she didn’t tell him to stop, and, as he got louder, she did not discipline him. She simply ignored him. This sparked a couple thoughts.
First, don’t ignore your children. It is frustrating to be ignored. I don’t like being ignored as an adult. Why would a child, who is totally dependent on you, be okay with it? And yet, I know I have ignored my children. There is nothing wrong with them. They are asking for something inconsequential. My head hurts or I’m reading something. What kind of message am I sending to them? And what kind of message am I sending to others who may see this? Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger” and Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” I can’t think of a quicker way to discourage a child than by ignoring them. I do not want to judge this mother too harshly. I don’t know everything going on in her life. But I did see how I don’t want to treat my children.
Second, and on a positive note, aren’t you glad we don’t have to beg our God to pay attention to us? A couple parables make this point – the friend at midnight and the unjust judge. If you bug the friend and the judge enough, they will eventually give in and give you what you want. The comparison is that God is not like that. We don’t have to bug Him. In fact, He wants us to come to Him. He encourages it. There were times that God said He didn’t want to hear about an issue anymore (i.e. Moses and the Promised Land; Paul and the thorn in the flesh). But God does not ignore His children. That’s the kind of father I want to be and it’s the kind of father I’m thankful we have.
One of the first things people notice when they visit a church of Christ is the lack of musical instruments which accompany the singing. This is a frequent topic of discussion and, often times, those who are not use to a capella music will comment on its beauty. Interestingly, the phrase a capella means “in the manner of the chapel.” The discussion of whether we should have instruments in our worship is a relatively recent debate. It was not until the mid-seventh century that the Catholic church introduced mechanical instruments into the worship service of some of its churches. It would be another millennium before protestant churches began adding them to their worship assemblies. And yet, today, the idea of singing without instruments of worship is seen as odd.
I heard someone say, “A first time reader of the Bible would never come away from scripture thinking they could only sing and not play an instrument in worship.” Except people did for centuries. I want to share some quotes from men of various backgrounds who all agreed on this one thing: there is no New Testament authority for instrumental music in our worship assemblies.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) – “The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them. Men run to the church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled.”
Martin Luther – “The organ in the worship is the ensign of Baal.”
John Calvin (1509-1564) – “Musical instruments celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in the noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to him.”
John Calvin – “Does anyone object, that music is very useful for awakening the minds of men and moving their hearts? I own it; but we should always take care that no corruption creep in, which might both defile the pure worship of God and involve men in superstition. Moreover, since the Holy Spirit expressly warns us of this danger by the mouth of Paul, to proceed beyond what we are there warranted by him is not only, I must say, unadvised zeal, but wicked and perverse obstinacy.”
John Wesley (1703-1791) – “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels provided they are neither heard nor seen.”
Adam Clarke (1760-1832) – “I am an old man, and an old minister, and I here declare that I never knew them productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music as a science, I esteem and admire; but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the author of Christianity.”
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), according to Baptists of the 19th century, “the Prince of Preachers” – “David appears to have had a peculiarly tender remembrance of the singing of the pilgrims, and assuredly it is the most delightful part of worship and that which comes nearest to the adoration of heaven. What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettiness of a quartet, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.”
Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 – “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.”
I do not provide these quotations as the final authority over the issue; that would be the Bible alone. I provide them to show that for 1,800 years mechanical instruments were seen not only as contrary to God’s revealed will but also as a corruption of it.
So why did the first Christians (and those to follow for almost two millennia) not use instruments of music in their worship to God? That is the question for our next article.
Sarcasm has become a constant in our everyday conversations. In literature, sarcasm is called irony and is used to point out or exaggerate what should be obvious. In our everyday conversations, however, sarcasm is used to mock, make fun, and show contempt. Too often we are directing that sarcasm at the individual we are talking to not just what we are talking about. I understand that it can provide humor, but if we are looking for a laugh more than looking out for our brethren’s feelings, then we have a serious problem. And sarcasm is only one example of ways we can mistreat our brethren and fellow man.
Paul commanded the Ephesians, “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (4:31). We have zero reason for treating anyone in a rude, ill-tempered, or ungodly manner, yet it happens on a regular basis. This is a sign that we haven’t truly put off the old man that Paul likes to talk about. Such hateful attitudes are seen in people of the world – people whose lives are horrible because of sin. When we start treating our brethren in odious, child-like ways we are disobeying the word of God and ignoring the example of Christ. When Christ dealt with people who were being repugnantly stubborn and causing others to sin, He would respond with a sharp word, rebuke, or even sarcasm. But when the Lord was dealing with those who were striving to learn and grow He was always gentle.
In the very next verse of Ephesians Paul said, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32). How simple is that command? Be kind! Isn’t that what we tell children? Yet, as adults we feel that we now have a right to be rude. And it seems that the older some get, they simply feel the need to be honest, even if it is just mean. Be kind!
Be tenderhearted! Tiffany says that I am the Grinch from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. She says my heart is three times too small – though she thinks it is growing with children! I am especially this way about certain holidays. I can only handle so much Christmas music and now they start Thanksgiving Day. It begins to get on my nerves. But I should never have that reaction to a brother or sister in Christ. Throughout the Bible, the heart is seen as the seat of the emotions. To be tenderhearted meant to have tender emotions toward someone, not tough, hard, or cruel emotions.
The last part of the verse explains the basis on which we should forgive one another – because God has forgiven us. But that rationale is not limited to forgiveness. We should be kind because God is kind. We should be tenderhearted because God is tenderhearted. Everything we do should be based on the characteristics of God.
I saved the best verse on this subject for last. In Ephesians 4:29 Paul says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” We have no right to speak rudely or sarcastically to someone just because we disagree with them or think we are somehow superior to them (that’s another subject for another article). And by the way, we don’t have to be speaking to be rude. We can express rude, bitter, and hateful feelings through our actions and body language.
This is something we all have to watch out for and possibly work on. Remember, just because it is culturally acceptable doesn’t mean it’s something Christians ought to be doing. And please know that I am not saying we can’t joke around and pick at one another. This is about the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” making hateful, condescending remarks to others and it should not happen.
Perspective is a word that is often used in the arts to describe the angle or view from which a drawing or painting is made. We can talk about people’s background and how that might give them a different perspective on things than we might have. This is often referred to as “point of view.” Someone who grew up in the denominational world will have a different perspective on a number of things than I would have. When it comes to death, it often feels as if there is only one way to view; and for the world, this is true.
But the way that we can better cope with death is by viewing it through the perspective of the dead. Obviously I am talking about those who were Christians. In Revelation you read, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” And please do not think I’m saying that having this perspective will take away all your pain and sorrow. But I think about Dad and I know he would not come back even if it were possible. The glories of heaven and communion with God the Father and Jesus Christ our savior – who would, in their right mind, give that up?
I miss dad fiercely. But that comes from my earthbound, physical perspective. When I think about it from dad’s point of view, I’m a little jealous. This is not an attitude we can adopt over night, but we have to mold ourselves to long for heaven. We have to set our hearts and minds on heaven to the point that when a Christian dies our first thought is not sorrow, but rejoicing for them! Of course we will experience sorrow being separated – even Jesus wept at the death of His friend Lazarus.
When dad died (almost four years ago) I remember thinking, “He’s not suffering anymore.” Do you see my perspective there? It’s still earthly. Yes, thank God he’s not suffering but there is more than that – HE IS IN HEAVEN! When we think of someone who has passed, allow our first thoughts to be, “Praise God! She’s home!” Obviously we are happy she is not suffering, but that is an earthly experience that the joys of heaven will help us soon to forget.
I still grieve for my father. You will grieve for your loved ones. But please remember to rejoice for them. They wouldn’t come back even if they had the opportunity. Remember in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus how the rich man, who was in torment, wanted to come back. You don’t read of Lazarus wanting to come back.
My only goal here is to remind us to keep our eye on the prize. The simple truth is that to get to our great reward, we must all die. So in some ways, maybe we shouldn’t fear death quite so much.