A STUDY OF MUSIC IN WORSHIP: THE INCONSISTENCY

I once had a conversation with a man who loved to listen to gospel music with instruments. He would listen to worship songs in his car while he was driving and he would listen to worship songs while at home. He would even go to gospel music concerts and festivals. All of these instances involved instrumental music. However, when it came time for Sunday morning worship, he told me that he believed it was sinful to use instrumental music to worship God.

This same type of belief is prominent inside the Churches of Christ when it comes to Christian choirs and choruses. Many Church of Christ members condemn praise teams, choirs and choruses during “corporate worship.” Yet, many of those same individuals have no problem with choirs singing worship songs at funerals, weddings, lectureships and other church gatherings as long as it is “after corporate worship.”

I have been to a Church of Christ worship assembly with members who believed it was wrong for a choir to sing worship songs during the assembly. Yet, after the closing prayer, a visiting choir from Freed Hardeman University (a Church of Christ affiliate) stood before the same assembly singing worship songs while claiming it “wasn’t worship.”

This belief stems from the idea that worshipping God “inside a worship assembly” has a different set of “rules” and “guidelines” than worshipping God “outside a worship assembly.” Depending on whom you ask, you will get different answers.

Some will reason that God has a specific way to worship inside the assembly, but outside the assembly, God has given no regulation. Others will reason that their use of praise songs outside of the assembly is acceptable because their intent isn’t to actually worship God. Therefore, they would argue they are not held to the same restrictions as those who are claiming to worship God. In this sense, it doesn’t have as much to do with “the assembly,” but the purpose for the assembly.

The line of reasoning used in either response is highly flawed because God did not give different regulations and restrictions to Christians when it comes to singing worship songs inside the assembly versus singing worship songs outside the assembly (see: Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:15; Ja. 5:13; etc.). In fact, the majority of the passages in the New Testament which reference worship songs are instances “outside the assembly.”

Culturally speaking, we typically think of worship being at a certain place and starting and ending at a certain time. However, contrary to Jewish temple worship, Jesus said that our worship is no longer restricted to a place or time.

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship. Jesus said to her, Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father… But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:20-24).

Regardless of the place or setting, when someone is praising God with their mouth while intentionally failing to acknowledge God in their heart, then their actions are done in vain. In Mark 7:6-7, Jesus said:

“This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me…”

Whatever arguments one may choose to make about worship songs, they must apply those arguments consistently across the board. If someone believes that it is sinful to have worship songs accompanied with mechanical instruments inside a corporate assembly, then it would also be wrong to have worship songs accompanied with mechanical instruments outside the assembly since the Bible never makes a distinction. If someone believes that it is wrong to have choirs, praise teams or choruses sing worship songs inside the assembly, then it would be equally wrong to have those same choirs, praise teams or choruses sing worship songs at funerals, weddings or other church gatherings.

Granted, some have seen this inconsistency and oppose instrumental music in worship songs in any setting. However, it has been my experience that most do not apply the same discipline and condemnation towards these brethren. In other words, they are more aggressive towards those who have it in their “public assembly” while giving a pass to those who use it outside the assembly.

Many Churches of Christ have shown great inconsistency overall in the way they approach instrumental music and choirs, especially when it comes to where they draw the line. Admittedly, an inconsistent application of a belief does not, in and of itself, prove the belief wrong, but it should cause us to examine our disposition towards the belief.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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