As I study scripture, I often find myself focused on the trivial—details, numbers, literary devices, and such. These aspects of Bible study can be fun and, sometimes, enlightening. But we all understand the danger of focusing on the tress so much that we miss the forest. We cannot allow our Bible study to be a purely academic exercise.
In Bible class at church we are going through a three-year study of the Biblical story. There are several things we are striving to keep at the front of our study. First, obviously we want to understand what the text/story says. Second, we want to see how this small section fits into the larger whole. How does the story of Noah, David, or Elijah fit into the larger Biblical narrative? Thirdly, we want to recognize that this applies to us today. In many ways, the Bible is less a theoretical textbook and more a user’s manual.
If the Bible is going to make an impact in our lives and the lives of others, then we must practice what we read and study. The Bible is a practical book. This is most clearly seen in the book of Proverbs. The book begins with a father’s lectures to his son(s) about what is right and the need to find wisdom and heed the advice of those who are wiser. In chapter 10, the wise man lays out practical, everyday advice about everything in life; from controlling your temper to how you spend your money to how much you talk.
In our society, one need not look very hard to find someone lacking common sense. In fact, I’ve seen this phrase a lot lately, “Common sense isn’t very common.” I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that we aren’t reading and studying our Bibles and then putting it into practice.
With these things in mind, I plan to begin a series on the book of Proverbs. There is so much into which we can dig and appreciate on an academic level, but the practical application is what stares into our faces. Remember the words of James, the brother of Jesus, “Pure and undefiled religion is this: to visit widows and orphans and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Serving God is not something we theorize about. Serving God is something we do!
As I wrap up this series on instrumental music, I wanted to quickly deal with some arguments that have been offered in defense of the use of mechanic instruments in public worship. Some of these are simply weak, and some are downright silly. Before we begin, please notice that you cannot find a verse in the New Testament that authorizes instruments of music in our worship assemblies.
- “Jesus never deals with instrumental music”
- “It is a non-issue in the book of Acts”
- I will deal with these two together. Jesus and Acts did not deal with pornography, drug abuse, or homosexuality either. This is a “fallacy of ignorance” – if we don’t know, it must be ok. You cannot quote someone on something they never said. This is a dishonest argument which strives to put Jesus (and Luke) on their side of the argument.
- “Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are addressed to the individual.”
- No. This is wrong. Both passages say singing is directed at “one another.”
- “The only mention of singing in the assemblies is 1 Corinthians 14:26 and that is a reference to solos.”
- That this is a reference to solos is an assumption.
- This also ignores 14:15 which mentions “sing” twice.
- Further, it is a non sequitur; so what?
- “A first-time reader would never conclude that instrumental praise is unacceptable to God.”
- Except they did, for a thousand years.
- Since when do we take advice on doctrine and practice from first time bible readers?
- “Hebrews 1 quotes Psalm 45.”
- This is silly. Psalm 45 mentions instruments, but that is not the verse the Hebrew author quotes.
- Let’s just simplify the argument: the New Testament quotes the Old Testament therefore we can use instruments.
- “We are wasting the talents of gifted musicians.”
- This is an emotional argument, not a Biblical argument.
- Taken to its logical conclusion, this is a ridiculous argument. Matthew is a great wrestler, let’s have a wrestling match to praise God. Joe can make balloon animals, let’s worship God with balloon animals.
- “The Gospel is barrier enough. Why make it more difficult to reach the lost?”
- This is emotional pleading.
- I could argue that adding instruments add an unneeded complexity and disunity.
- “The shift of music is in one direction. No one is changing to a cappella only.”
- Are we really appealing to the majority?
- “I can’t believe in a God who would send me to hell because I did not correctly infer His implication or interpret His silence.”
- This is a subjective and emotional
- We don’t like what is said so we use this phraseology to make God say what we want
- This is the same language atheist use when they don’t like something
- Logically, this is a red herring
- And maybe worse, in the absence of clear evidence, you presume that God will be ok with instruments
- “Miriam, Saul, and David used instruments.”
- All were related to prophets or prophecy
- These were not in congregational settings
- “I can open my bible and show you why we immerse for baptism. I can show you why we partake of the Lord’s Supper. I can show you why we give. But I can’t do that with a cappella singing.”
- I can.
- Can you open your Bible and show why we should use instrumental music from the New Testament?
- The first Christians still attended the sacrifices and worshipped in the Jerusalem temple
- Did the first century Christians go to the temple as a part of New Testament worship or was is because of their Jewish background?
- This is a localized argument. Show me the temple and we will go!
- “New Testament documents are not a literature that regulates assemblies in particulars but calls those assemblies to reflect cruciformity.”
- Can we really say this about 1 Corinthians 14?
- This is a slippery slope – is whatever I think is in accord with the gospel acceptable?
- Where is this principle found in scripture?
- This is the use of “prestige jargon.”
Some of these arguments are laughable. Some are simply weak. And none have the same solid, authoritative, scriptural footing that a cappella singing has. These arguments are not even from denominational friends who use instruments. These arguments are from men whose churches used to be a cappella. You can tell when an argument is on shaky ground. The one who holds the weak position begins to appeal to the emotions instead of scripture. May we never be guilty of going anywhere but the word of God for our beliefs and arguments.
Yesterday we noted a few ways Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. Today we want to note how, as God’s people, we fulfill various symbols and roles in the Old Testament. We use these images so frequently we may not even think about the fact that they are based in the Old Testament and find their fulfillment in us as Christians.
One of the major classes of God’s people in the Old Testament is the priesthood. We know that priests came from the tribe of Levi, specifically from the line of Aaron. But we understand what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Under the new law, in Christ, there is no special priestly class. We are all priests and we can all approach the throne of God (cf. Hebrews 4:16).
The tabernacle (and temple) is a symbol of God’s presence among His people. Jesus fills this role, as we noted, in John 1:14. Let us consider how the temple worked. It was a dwelling place for God. We understand, that in a limited sense, God dwelt inside the temple. Paul says that we are now the temple, because God dwells in us. Collectively in 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Individually in 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.”
We also noted that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament symbol of a Passover Lamb. That fulfillment carries over into the other sacrifices discussed in Leviticus 1-6. Just as Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins, so we offer our lives as a sacrifice to Him. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1–2
There is another Old Testament symbol and shadow fulfilled in us that does not get as much notice – instruments of music. A close study of instrumental music in the Old Testament will show that instruments in worship were confined to the temple. So, within the temple, instruments were played to praise God. Consider these well-known passages:
- Ephesians 5:19 – “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”
- Colossians 3:16 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
- Hebrews 13:15 – “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”
If I am a temple of God, notice that the instrument to be played is my heart. If, as a congregation, we are a temple of God, notice that we are the instruments to be played. It is not the sound of trumpet or tambourine, but the sound of my voice put to song with words of praise and adoration to God. If we are the fulfillment of those Old Testament instruments, why would we return to the symbol and shadow? That would be as silly as returning to the burnt offering after Jesus offered Himself on the cross.
It was Doy Moyer who first introduced this concept to me. Lest you think I (or he) has invented some new and grand explanation, consider these statements:
- Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 3rd Century: “We want to honor God in truth and no longer in types, shadows, and examples even as the angels do not serve God in examples and the shadow of heavenly realities but in realities that belong to the spiritual and heavenly order.”
- John Chrysostom, Homily on Psalm 41, 4th Century: “David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument; but, if you like, you may yourself become a cithara, mortifying the members of the flesh and making a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh no longer lusts against the Spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable path, then will you create a spiritual melody.”
- Thomas Aquinas, 13th Century: “These instruments were figures of something else.”
So why do we not use instruments of music in our praise to God? Because He has not told us, shown us, or implied to us that we should. Because instruments of praise have grown old and have passed away. Because they are worthless as God wants our hearts and the fruit of our lips. We would never want to revert back to the imperfections of animal sacrifice, so why bring back the imperfections of instrumental music?
We know that the old covenant was done away with and the New Testament teaching on this is clear.
- “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” Hebrews 7:12
- “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Hebrews 8:13
- “Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.” 2 Corinthians 3:10f
However, it is important that God did not just wipe the old covenant from the table into the trash. Jesus Christ brought it to fulfillment; He brought it to completion. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17
This is a key in understanding the ideas of types and shadows in the Old Testament. Through out scripture we see bits and pieces of the spiritual whole. We see shadows of the true substance. We see types which point to the ultimate, the antitype. Jesus says that He brought these things to completion. Let’s consider some examples:
- We understand the important role of the Passover Lamb in the Old Testament, but consider John 1:29 – “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
- We are aware of the pivotal role the priest played in the Law of Moses, but consider the words of the Hebrew author, “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.” Hebrews 7:11–16
- We comprehend the importance of King David and the covenant God made with him but listen to the words of Peter on the day of Pentecost, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:36
- We can trace the meaning of the tabernacle and temple throughout scripture as it represents God’s presence among the people, but consider the prologue of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God…and the word became flesh and dwelt [literally, “tabernacled”] among us.” John 1:1, 14
The Passover lamb was a type of sacrifice which finds its meaning in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Aaronic priesthood was a shadow of the ultimate, high priesthood of Jesus Christ. David was merely a type of messiah while Jesus is “both Lord and Christ.” The tabernacle was a symbol of God’s presence among the people, but Jesus makes fellowship with God a reality. All these (and many more) are symbols and types which Jesus fulfills. And in fulfilling these things He brings them to their conclusion. When the reality is present, the image, shadow, and type is no longer needed.
Next time we will discuss how Christians also fulfill much of what we read about in the Old Testament. If we can take a minute to understand this concept of fulfillment, we may come to a powerful realization about the role of instrumental music in the Old Testament and its fulfillment today.
One of the most prevalent arguments given in support of instrumental music is that the Old Testament had instrumental music and the book of Revelation mentions harps in heaven, therefore, to retain continuity, God is accepting of instrumental music in worship today. This is the argument of continuity. However, it is a weak argument.
- It is easy to make a continuous line out of only two points. We know that the Old Testament commanded instrumental music. We see the presence of harps in heaven in the book of Revelation. Is that enough information to assume that God will be pleased with instrumental music in our worship today? For centuries, Christians did not think so.
- Let’s not forget that the book of Revelation is an Apocalyptic book composed of signs, symbols, and metaphors. Are we going to take one detail from one scene in such a book and base our collective worship to God on it? Since when do we take the difficult to explain the simple?
- Maybe we are missing the point that is continuous. Maybe it is not the use of instruments but the fact that God specifies what He wants in worship. As is often the problem, these arguments begin with man as opposed to what God has said.
There is a collection of arguments for the use of instruments in worship that stand and fall together:
- The New Testament doesn’t say NOT to
- There were instruments before the law
- Instruments are used in the Psalms
- Jesus went to the temple where instruments were used
- There are instruments in the book of Revelation
All these things are true. But they are also true of animal sacrifices, circumcision, and the Aaronic priesthood. Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 5:3, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” If we are going to accept one thing, why not another? And, yet, no one argues for the continuance of circumcision, animal sacrifices, the Aaronic priesthood, having fringes on the hems of our clothing, or making shirts with only one kind of material. Why is instrumental music singled out? Because it is something people want to do.
Instrumental music is not practiced because people think it is commanded. Instrumental music is not practiced because it creates a point of continuity with Old Testament worship. Instrumental music is practiced because man wants it.
Since when is worship about what man wants?