Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 11, 1955

Music In Christian Worship

W. Wallace Layton, Houston, Texas

Mankind is so constituted that he must and will worship something. He is inherently a worshipful being. But it is not enough to just worship, we are obligated to worship God. Not only must we worship God we must worship Him only. "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve." (Matt. 4:10.) Further we observe that it is not enough to worship God only, for the prescribed way of worshipping God is given. "They that worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23, 24.) We conclude therefore that the way we worship God is as important as the worship itself.

There are two clauses in John 4:23, 24 that must be observed if the worshipper is to have the approval of heaven upon him. Jesus said "in spirit" meaning the right motive; and "in truth" meaning the right act. Neither of these items without the other can in any sense constitute acceptable worship. Cain worshipped God. He had the right motive, "in spirit." But his worship was rejected of God because it was not expressed in the right act "in truth." Paul said "By faith Abel offered unto God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain." (Heb. 11:4.) Paul does not question the spirit of these brother worshippers, but the act. Abel's worship was "by faith." Faith comes of hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17); therefore God's word had defined to both Cain and Abel the act through which and by which their spirits were to express themselves to God. Jesus said, "Sanctify them in truth thy word is truth." (John 17:17.) To worship God in truth then demands that we have a thus saith the Lord for every item of worship offered.

In the New Testament we have both the command and the example of worshipping God in song. Note the following scriptures: Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:19; I Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:18, 19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13.

You will note in these scriptures that we have all that God said on the question of the right act in rendering praise to God. All of these denote a vocal expression of praise, accompanied by the Spirit or heart of man. "Let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to His name." (Heb. 13:15.)

In two of these passages you will note that Paul quoted Psalm prophecies regarding the praise worship to be rendered to God when the church should appear. Romans 15:9 is from Psalms 18:49. Hebrews 2:12 is from Psalms 22:22. Why did not Inspiration lead Paul to quote from such Psalms as those that suggested the use of instruments? Why indeed is it that in the Psalms when the future worship was forecast no mention of the instruments?

The use of instruments was never included in the divine arrangements for worship in the Old Testament. David introduced them of his own initiative and accord. (I Chron. 16:4,7;) (I Chron. 23:5.) God tolerated them as seasonally as He tolerated their kings and their polygamy. But ultimately condemned their use, and plainly indicated that the use made of instruments which he disfavored was as David used them. No condemnation of the instruments was made until after they had been introduced into the worship of the Old Testament. "Take away from the noise of thy songs, for I will not hear the melody of your viols." (Amos 5:23.) "Woe unto them that invent to themselves instruments of music like David." (Amos 6:5.) That will suffice to show God's attitude toward their use in Old Testament times.

But even if their use had been one of the ten commandments, God's silence on the use of them would forbid their use in the new. If it be argued that God did not say not to use them in the New Testament, it may be as forcefully argued that God did not say not to remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. The fact that God did specify the day for us to keep excludes all others. Likewise God specified the kind of music we must make, and that excludes all other music. God did not say not to beat your wife. But the command He gave for us to love our wives as our own selves excludes any authority for wife-beaters. God did not say not to use roast beef on the Lord's table, but he did specify what to use, and that excludes the beef.

We do not have license to act on the silence of the scriptures. Authority to do so would lead to such chaos as could not here be described. For example Jesus said to the apostles, "Tarry in Jerusalem." Now imagine John making this argument. "Well I'll just tarry in Antioch. After all Jesus did not say not to tarry in Antioch." But the fact that the Lord did specify the town wherein they were to tarry excluded every other town in the world. If it did not so exclude all others then it follows that in order for Jesus to have made himself clear as to which city they were to tarry in he would have been forced to say, "Tarry in Jerusalem; not in Antioch, not Lystra, not Derbe, not Bethlehem, not Damascus, etc. etc. until he would have excluded all cities of earth by a special prohibition. In the like manner the Lord said, "make melody with your hearts." Is it necessary for him to have said, not the piano, not the lyre, not the harp, not the stringed instruments, not the orchestra, etc. etc.? God's law of specification excludes all that is not specified. In no other way could we "walk by faith and not by sight." (II Cor. 5:7.)

But it is urged that the instruments are an aid to the singing. This is however an impossibility. The digressives have contended that it is as much an aid as the song book, the meeting house, the lights, the pews, a crutch, spectacles etc. etc. No objection is made in the use of any aid so long as it lies within the scope of God's command. We are commanded to "Go into all the world." One may fly in a plane, ride in an automobile, and in so doing he is still doing the one thing God said do — go. But if God commanded that we "walk into all the world," could we ride as an aid? God commanded that we "see with our eyes," but in the use of spectacles we are doing no more than the one thing God said do, seeing. We are commanded to sing, and in using the song book we are still doing only the thing God said do — sing. A song book lies within the scope of God's command. God said "assemble." A house in which this is done lies within the scope because we are still doing the one thing God said do — assemble. But instruments of music do not lie within the scope of God's command to sing, for they are two distinct and specific kinds of melody. When God says sing, we cannot therefore play as an aid. Playing does not lie within the scope of the thing God specified. In the use of instruments we are doing two things — "singing and playing." Hence we are doing what God said do, plus the addition of another type of music that God did not authorize.

But, say some, there is music in heaven, why not in the church? The passages relied upon for this argument are Revelation 5:8; 14:1-4; 15:2. Let us examine these passages.

Revelation is a book of symbols. No symbol can symbolize itself. If the symbol is a beast with ten heads, the thing symbolized cannot be a beast with ten heads. The ten-headed beast stands for something else. We cannot know what a symbol symbolizes unless God indicated it clearly. So note in the above passages the symbol is a harp. In Revelation 5:8 he saw the four and twenty elders each having a bowl of incense and a harp. But the symbols are explained in this same passage "which are the prayers of the saints." No guess work here, no wild speculation. John says the harps of God and the incense symbolizes praise to God. Then in verse 9 he said "and they sing a new song." This scene then clearly says they sang. The harps are representative of the praise. But if we are going to take this passage as authority for the use of instruments in Christian worship, why leave off the incense?

In Revelation 15:2 the harps of God are again mentioned. But they have already been explained that they symbolize praise. So in the next verse John says "and they sing the song of Moses and the lamb." No mechanical instruments here.

In Revelation 14:1-4 John said he heard a "voice" from heaven. Now follows the description of that voice. It was "as the voice of many waters." Did John hear waters in heaven? No, he heard a voice that was AS waters. The word "as" is simply an adverb of manner — hence he compares the voice to water. Likewise the voice that he heard "was as the voice of thunder." He did not hear thunder, but a voice comparable to thunder. Further he heard a voice that "was as the voice of harpers harping with their harps." Did he hear harps in heaven? No, but a voice that was AS harpers. Then what did this voice do? "And they sing as it were a new song." The voice sang. The song was not known, hence he said as it were a new song. But was able to know that the voice sang. There is no comfort in these scriptures for those who have set themselves to use instruments in the Christian worship in spite of God's teaching to the contrary. Men are certainly grasping at a straw who will run to a figurative and highly symbolic book like Revelation to justify in the worship that which they cannot find in those scriptures that too plainly define our worship.

Some who are wedded to their idol of instrumental music seek to justify it on the ground that the apostles went into the temple where music was probably used. But they ignore the reason why the apostles went into the temple and into the synagogues. It was certainly not to worship, but to teach the people who were gathered there. And too, let us not forget that animal sacrifices, sabbath, etc. etc. were observed in the temple. Did their going into the temple mean that they were participating in animal sacrifices? Paul said if one kept part of the law he was debtor to keep it all (Gal. 5:3); moreover he continued that they who would be justified by the law are severed from Christ and are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:4.) If instruments of music were a part of the law (which they were not), then to keep them in Christian worship would obligate us to keep the entire law of Moses — and to keep it would mean that we are fallen from the race of God. If you think it doesn't make any difference whether we sing with or without the instrument, then let the above argument by the Apostle Paul soak in.

But as a last resort men have brought up the Greek language. It contended that psallo, which is used five times in the New Testament, and translated "make melody" in Ephesians 5:19, carries in its definition the authority to use instruments. And let it be observed that if this were true, then one would be condemned to sing without using the instrument, and since the obligation of rendering this praise is to all Christians alike, each Christian would have to learn to be a musician before he could be saved. But to the Greek. Psallo is defined thus:

"to touch, to feel to put in motion"

"to touch, to feel to twitch"

"to pluck the hair"

"to pull and let go again"

"to send a shaft twanging from a bow"

"a carpenter's line twitched and let go again"

"to play a stringed instrument with the fingers."

Now in Ephesians 5:19 does God mean to sing and shoot an arrow? Or does He mean to sing and pull your hair ? Or to sing and twang a carpenter's line ? I suggest that it could mean this as easily as it could mean to sing and play on a stringed instrument. God simply says to sing and "psallo" with your heart. Hence while you sing you are to set in motion, feel, twang in or with your heart." So God specified conclusively the divine accompaniment — your heart. And why this? Because "God is Spirit and they that worship God must worship Him in spirit and truth." (John 4:23, 24.) Again God dwelleth not in temples made with hands, neither is He served by men's hands." (Acts 17:24, 25.)

My friends we are admonished that the scripture inspired of God will thoroughly furnish us unto every good work. (II Tim. 3:16, 17.) That we are not to go beyond what is written. (I Cor. 4:6.) That the things learned and received, heard and seen in the inspired examples are to be done as our assurance that God will be with us (Phil. 4:9), and last of all that we are not to add to what God said. (Rev. 22:18, 19.) Surely we ought to be willing to cast down our imaginations and every high thing that we exalt against the knowledge of Christ, and bring our every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (II Cor. 10:5.) In the writings of the apostles we are expected to know all things that pertain to life and Godliness (Eph. 3:3-5), and that what the apostles taught by their writings as exactly the same as should they be present with us in person. (II Cor. 10:11.)

Let us then "contend earnestly for the faith which once for all has been delivered" (Jude 3), and remember that "he that goeth onward and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God." (II John 9.)