Musical instruments in the New Testament Church

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: I believe that using musical instruments in church is wrong because we have no examples of using them for worship in the New Testament, and I believe the NT to be the only authority on how we should worship God the Father and Jesus. We cannot use Old Testament Scripture to guide us in New Testament worship, because, if we did, we'd still be doing animal sacrifices. The old law ended when Jesus died on the cross. Since the NT is silent about using instruments in worship, we should not use them. But so many people try to use Psalm 150 to justify using instruments in worship...or even dancing! Should we ban musical instruments from our church services? Shouldn't we let the Bible be our guide?

Answer: I've never dealt with an issue that draws so much lightning as does music in the local church. I've joked for years that if our enemies really wanted to get rid of Christianity, all they'd have to do is put every Christian in the same room for a few weeks. Although we'd shake hands at the outset, we'd eventually destroy ourselves, fighting over issues that are of second or third importance compared to the foundational doctrines of our faith. So, just be aware that this music issue is not of primary importance, and that the reputation of Jesus Christ is sullied with every rift that it causes.

It's also not lost on me that Satan loves and he works hard to accomplish Christian division. I'm among the interpreters who believe that Ezekiel 28:13 shows that Satan was in charge of heavenly music before his fall. Since he seeks to wreck and skew everything that is good and holy, and having experienced the purity of musical praise (thereby knowing its power), he works specifically against it as an agent of division. Unfortunately, you and I part ways on this issue, so I'll be using some direct language. I pray that you'll not be offended, but rather take the following comments in the spirit of brotherly discourse.

You asserted that "Since the NT is silent about using instruments in worship, we should not use them." I'm sorry, but that's plain old wrong. The principle is this: Just because a practice is not specifically mentioned or modeled in the NT (New Testament) does not mean that it is a forbidden behavior for Christians. In logic, such assertions are known as "arguments from silence." Again, by logic, all that "silence" means is that the issue is not addressed in the NT. You cannot build something from nothing, which is just what is done when you make a "doctrine" out of silence.

Forbidding anything is a positive action, not the absence of action. If God wanted to restrict the use of musical instruments in the NT church, He would have laid that out clearly in one of its books—possibly in a Pauline trouble-shooting letter like 1 Corinthians. In fact, look at 1 Corinthians 5:1. That's a perfect example of positive forbidding. We are very sure that God does not want a Christian sleeping with his step-mother. If God did not want musical instruments used in Christian worship, it would have been stated that clearly.

As it relates to both behaviors-of-silence and Christian behavior in general, the Apostle Paul taught just the opposite of your position.

Believers are free to pursue any activities that are not contraindicated in the Bible. A mature believer, however, will approach every activity with prayerful consideration on how that activity might advance (or retard) the Kingdom of God.

In way of personal testimony, I've ministered within and without the local church, joining with any number of musicians playing guitars, drums, keyboards, brass, woodwinds and strings. In the course of this ministry I have given and received of music's purest blessings... and I have seen its abuses. But the abuses do not come from the use of the physical instruments. They come from the heart of a person. Every time a musician takes up an instrument, he may choose to bless God or choose to take the glory for himself. It's an issue of the heart, not of the instrument.

Psalm 150 shows us that God loves it when his people worship him in music and in dance. How sour must be the heart that takes such a joyous psalm and turns it into either license or restriction — because, it is neither! It is a window on pure praise! And the NT believer is free...make that encouraged — to worship God in this way or any way that does not violate God's holiness or his specific instructions.

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6, ESV).

Since God accepted the musical worship of Psalm 150, do you think it reasonable, based upon a list of instruments not repeating in the NT, that one of God's attributes, namely, his immutability, has changed by the mere act of his creatures advancing in time? Does God no longer accept praise… except where specifically codified in the NT? If that's true, then why not toss away the OT all together? I mean... all that extra Scripture would kind of a be a bother at that point.

The many qualifying statements within your question point to your overarching problem: You believe that the OT is less of God's Word than is the NT. For instance, you said, "The old law ended when Jesus died on the cross." That's simply not true, and that notion has poisoned the other issues. Let's look at a good old (NT) verse, one spoken by the NT's most important character, Jesus Christ.

“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, ESV).

Yes, we Christians no longer have to sacrifice animals for our atonement, but the Old Testament is not over for us. It is better defined in Jesus Christ. the New Testament reveals the fullness of the Old Testament to us for our continued growth. When the Apostle Paul was teaching his star pupil Timothy about God's Word, he was speaking most directly about the OT Scriptures, for those were the Scriptures that they had on hand. (The NT had not yet been completed and collected.) With that in view, look at this NT teaching about the OT scriptures.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV).

Apparently, God must think that his OT scriptures have some value for his NT Christians.

Concerning your assertion that "We cannot use Old Testament scripture to guide us in New Testament worship," let us consider the value of the OT Scriptures to the NT believer.

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself...” (Hebrews 9:24, ESV).

Every — and I mean every — OT Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The entire book of Hebrews is a Rosetta Stone of sorts, making connections between the OT symbols and their NT counterparts. The very fact that the two testaments are in this way connected means that the OT still has a role in the lives of NT believers. We are not under its laws in the same way that the OT saints were, but we are always under its influence — even we who have been freed from the necessity of sacrificing bulls and goats, those of us who are free from its condemnation (Romans 8:1). There is no biblical justification for Christians restricting themselves to the worship activities found in the NT, especially when such a restriction discounts God's OT revelation. The NT explains the OT. It does not replace it. That was Jesus' view, too.

“For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18, ESV).

All this is not to say that we should continue practicing the sacerdotal activities of the OT, things of the ceremonial law, etc. But since these things were our schoolmaster, we cannot discard them, but rather keep them in kind regard and consider their lessons, since all the OT points to the Messiah, the person of Jesus Christ.

“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” 
(Galatians 3:24, KJV).

I agree with you that the Bible should be our guide, but a guide is not as you purport one to be. What you are describing is more like a technical drawing, where the manufacturer must follow each detail with precision, adding nothing. A guide is not that at all. A guide gives us all the information we need to accomplish our tasks, yet it gives us operational latitude in all areas that are not specifically excepted. God's NT revelation of the Church's worship particulars is sufficient, of course, but it is not expansive. That he left up to the Church's members.

Every local church has the right to run its own affairs in the name of God, under the headship of Jesus Christ, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and under the guidance of Scripture. As such, all churches are free to either include or not include musical instruments in worship as a matter of their personal tastes. What churches are not free to do, however, is to add to Scripture—and that's exactly what happens when we start plugging our preferences into Scripture's silence. We may keep our preferences, but we may not make them Scripture.

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