A STUDY OF MUSIC IN WORSHIP: THE NEW TESTAMENT

 

When we come to the New Testament, we see a change of worship taking place. Under the Old Law, worship had centered around the Temple, the Levitical Priesthood and animal sacrifices. The New Testament paints a completely different picture of worship for Christians. Jesus began first talking about this during His encounter with the woman at the well.

“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. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 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).

Jesus taught the woman at the well that worship was going to be different for Christians. The Temple worship and sacrificial system, which once permeated worship, was going to be fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:1-18). When Jesus died on the cross, He became our sacrifice for sins (1 Pet. 2:24). The writer of Hebrews put it this way:

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:19-25).

As Christians, our lives are to be a continual living sacrifice of worship as we constantly meet together and encourage one another (Col. 3:17; 1 Cor. 10:31; Acts 2:42, 46; Heb. 3:13; etc.). Paul, when writing to the church in Rome, emphasized what a Christian’s worship truly is:

“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” (Romans 12:1).

When writing to the Colossians, Paul reminded the Christians they had freedom when it came to worship and praising God:

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?” (Colossians 2:20-22).

INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC

When it comes to worship, the condemnation of the traditions of men always had to do with binding something God has not bound (Mt. 15:1-9; Mk. 7:1-22; Col. 2:8, 20-22). While it is certainly within the realm of freedom to not use instrumental music when worshiping God, there is nothing presented in the New Testament that would condemn it’s use in worship to God.

In fact, one can read their New Testament as many times as they would like and they will never find any type of proclamation against instruments in worship or praise to God. There is not even a hint of any kind of negative connotation to instruments in worship in the New Testament.

For example, John’s vision symbolically presents instrumental worship to God in a positive light (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2). Realizing this is symbolic, I do not want to overstate this point. However, I do find it interesting that the times that instrumental praise is seen in the New Testament in connection with worship, it is spoken of positively and never negatively.

It is agreed upon by all Bible students that God never gave a direct law against the use of instruments in New Testament worship. Admittedly, God does not have to directly condemn something in order for there to be a law against it. Certainly, that is one way to show that a practice is wrong, but there is also another way. When God is specific about what He wants in such a way that would forbid anything else, He doesn’t have to give an exhaustive list of what He doesn’t want. Sometimes this is called the law of specificity or the law of exclusion.

To demonstrate this point, I use an example that I call the “Subway Sandwich” example. If I go to Subway for lunch and order a sandwich and specify the kind of meat, cheese and vegetables I want, I wouldn’t have to tell the worker every kind of meat, cheese and vegetable that I don’t want. We would call this common sense. When God specifies what we need to do in a way that forbids other practices, we need to do it without adding to or taking away. To illustrate this point, let’s consider Hebrews 7:14:

“For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.”

In proving that Jesus couldn’t be a priest under the order of the Old Law, the writer of Hebrews utilizes the exclusion principle. Since Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, He couldn’t have been a priest under the Old Law because God specified only those from the tribe of Levi could be priests under the Old Law (Leviticus; Deut. 18:1ff; etc.). Specifying Levi forbade all other tribes.

Since God never explicitly condemned instrumental praise under New Testament worship, then why do so many members of the Church of Christ believe it to be sinful? The answer is because they believe that the command to sing forbids instrumental music. It is argued that since God has commanded us to sing, we should only sing to the exclusion of instrumental praise. In order for this argument and conclusion to be correct, it must be proven that the word(s) used for sing in the New Testament forbids instrumental praise and worship. When analyzing this argument, one will find this is simply not true.

NO LAW GIVEN

When one studies the word(s) used for sing in the New Testament, they will find that these words do not forbid (nor have they ever) instrumental music. The Greek words used for sing in the New Testament (“psallo,” “ado” and “humneo”) are not specific words that were ever used to forbid instruments. For an in-depth study of the word “psallo,” click here. In fact, there is no language where the word(s) translated sing intrinsically means “sing only” or “sing to the exclusion of instruments.” Singing does not forbid playing.

Since none of the words used for “sing” in the New Testament means “sing only,” God could have forbidden instruments when using these words if He had wanted to by adding the word “only” to “sing.”  The word translated “only” is used some 47 times in the New Testament (http://biblehub.com/greek/3441.htm). If God wanted to make “sing” mean “sing only,” He certainly could have. Yet, He never did. Therefore, when summarizing the evidence found in the New Testament, we find:

  • There is no condemnation against the use of mechanical instruments (No explicit condemnation).
  • The words translated as “sing” don’t forbid instrumental music or mean “sing only” (No implicit condemnation).

Instrumental praise was used continuously throughout the Old Testament, used symbolically in the book of Revelation, and no condemnation (either explicit or implicit) is given in the New Testament against its use. In order to know if God sanctions a practice, we need to first see if there is a law against it. Paul writes in Romans 4:15:

“Where there is no law, there is no sin.”

Paul is stating a universal principle. 1 John 3:4 specifically teaches that sin is violation of law. Sin was brought into this world through a violation of law (Gen. 3:1-7). If Adam and Eve had never broken God’s law, sin would have not entered into the world (At least not at that time). The Bible repeatedly teaches that there has to be a law violated in order for sin to occur. Since the Bible teaches that authority or approval for a practice is intrinsically granted in the absence of a law, those who believe that it is a sin to use instruments in worship are obligated to provide the New Testament law in which they feel is being violated.

Since Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28:18), this means that neither you nor I have the authority to make laws God never made. We need to be careful that we do not bind our own beliefs and make laws where God “gave no such commandment” (Acts 15:24). If mechanical instruments in worship are sinful, it is because either God directly gave a law against their use (explicit condemnation) or because God gave a law which would forbid the use of mechanical instruments (implicit condemnation). Neither is found in the New Testament. Therefore, one should conclude that instrumental praise is authorized by God in New Testament worship.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to kevin@kevinpendergrass.com.