recently read an article entitled, "Instrumental Music in the Worship Outside the Assembly". The author's name is not important because his conclusions are those held by a considerable segment of the church of Christ. His concern was that honest, well meaning, children of G6d might be living in sin because they sing spiritual songs, accompanied by instruments, outside the assembly "worship service". His argument was that if it is wrong to worship with a piano in the assembly, it is equally as wrong at home or anywhere else. I must say that I do agree with his argument for consistency. Yes, if it is wrong in the assembly, it is equally wrong at home. What troubles me is his major premise; that praising God with instruments is sinful. I'm sure that this brother would deny that instruments of music are sinful when used for purposes other than praising God. Yet, he firmly believes that when they are used to glorify Him, they become instruments of the devil.
I was brought up in a very "conservative'' religious environment believing exactly what this brother expressed in his article. I was told that it is permissible to play musical instruments, but not as a part of worship, either in or out of the building. Although I firmly believed this teaching and even defended it, there was always something within me that said, "this is not consistent"! I didn't dare question whether or not this teaching was right because I was "Church of Christ" and we had the truth on everything! Right? We need to learn that infallibility is not one of the spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3). As I studied and researched on my own, I began to realize why our position on this subject seemed so inconsistent. It's because it is inconsistent! Biblically inconsistent! There are many things that could be said about the "musical instrument issue" that time and space will not permit. The purpose of this article is not to defend pianos and guitars in the "worship service" (If there is such a thing), but to simply share some of the things I have learned from the scriptures which have helped me see things a little clearer.
Let's begin with some very familiar scriptures:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ -(Eph. 5:18-21).
If you're like me, you have heard dozens of sermons on this text. They all sound about the same. They go something like this:
"The Bible says sing; not clap, not whistle, not play, ESPECIALLY NOT PLAY! When you come to worship, you had better sing like you are commanded! Don't just look at the words but SING. And you better not be humming either) You better do it exactly the way you are told or ZAP! No eternal life for you."
Yes, that may be exaggerated just a little, but the spirit is the same. Is that really what this passage is teaching? NO! In this passage, Paul is not giving specific instructions on how to sing in a "worship service" (I use quotations because scripture does not refer to an assembly of the saints as a "worship service"). Instead he is expressing the kind of music that should be sung by those children of God who are "filled with the Spirit" (Verse 18). How do I know this? Consider:
(1) The whole context of Ephesians 4-6 deals with the Christian walk (Eph. 4:1). The word "walk" is used six times in these three chapters. In other words, Paul is describing how children of God should live their daily lives and not how to conduct a formal "worship service''.
(2) The phase "singing to one another" does not imply a corporate assembly. Verse 21 (which is part of the same sentence as verse 19) says, "and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ". Is Paul saying, "Now when you come together to worship I want you to be subject to one another?'' No! He is talking about an attitude that should always be present in the hearts of saints. In Eph. 4::32, Paul said, "be kind to one another.., and forgive each other". Do you really think that because he uses the phrase "one another" that he is referring to a "worship service"? I think not. Although it would certainly apply in an assembly of the saints, it is not restricted to such by any means. Besides, in Eph. 5:20, he says to "always give thanks", which suggests a daily attitude. Remember, Paul is giving instructions on how to walk (Eph. 4:1).
Perhaps you are thinking, "So, what's the point?" Here it is. Eph. 5:19 was not written to exclude instrumental music in an assembly, but to exclude worldly, secular music from our daily lives. Let's take a closer look at this verse, remembering that verses 18 through 21 are all part of the same sentence. "Do not get drunk with wine for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit". Do you see the contrast? Don't be filled with wine! On the contrary, be filled with the spirit. Throughout chapters 4 and 5 one can see a very obvious contrast between the "walk" of the saint and the "walk" of the sinner. Notice:
Eph. 4: I - "walk in a manner worthy of your calling"
:17 - "walk no longer as the Gentiles also walk"
4:22 - "lay aside the old self"
:24 - "put on the new self"
5:1 - "therefore be imitators of God"
:3 - "do not let immorality or any impurity even be named among you"
5:8 - "you were formerly darkness"
:8- "now you are children of light, walk as children of light"
Do you see the contrast between worldliness and godliness? Look again at verse 5:18: "Do not get drunk with wine.., be filled with the Spirit". Paul is making a comparison of wine and the Spirit. What do they have in common? Influence! Being filled with wine will influence one to do ungodly and wicked things (just ask the wife of an alcoholic). The Holy Spirit will influence one to do the kind of things that bring glory and honor to God's name. Actually, the command is not to sing but to be filled with the Spirit (When was the last time you heard a sermon on that command?). When a person is truly filled with the Spirit, his heart will be bubbling over with the fruits of the Spirit like love, joy, and peace (Gal. 5:22-23). How are we to express this overflowing love and joy in our hearts prompted by the Holy Spirit? The answer is in Eph. 4:19-21: By singing to one another and to God (verse 19), by always giving thanks to God (verse 20), and by being subject to one another (verse 21).
How often should we sing? As often as our Spirit-filled hearts prompt us. Hopefully that is more than a few hours each week. What should we sing? Songs that "the Gentiles" sing (Eph. 4:17)? NO! Songs that radiate sensuality, impurity, and greediness (Eph. 4:19)? NO! Songs that are created from the hearts and minds of the ungodly children of darkness (Eph. 5:8)? NO! The kind of music some listen to on the way to the cafeteria after "pleasing" God with our "scriptural acappella worship music"? NO! The Spirit-filled child of God should be singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 4:19)! This verse was not written to exclude spiritual music accompanied by an instrument but ungodly music written and sung by Gentiles (i.e., worldly people).
Is it wrong to play a piano and sing to God? If it is, then it is equally wrong to use a piano for any reason. 1 Cor. 10:31 says, "Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God". If you can't use mechanical instruments to praise God then how can you justify their use at all?
I know that hypothetical examples don't always prove the point, but they do sometimes benefit by offering a little different perspective. Consider this one. David was a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). The kind of music he wrote in his book of Psalms proves this is true. Most, if not all, of his music was accompanied by musical instruments, with God's approval I might add (2 Chron. 29:25-28, Psalms 150). We argue, "Yes, but that was under the old covenant. Now we're under the new covenant and instruments are forbidden because there is no mention of them in the New Testament! And Revelation 5:8-9; 15:2-3 don't count!" Can you imagine one of our brothers talking to David on this side of the cross?
"David, you can't play your harp to praise God any more because that would be sin! It was permissible under the Old Law, but now, under the new law, the "law of liberty" (James 1:25) it is forbidden! Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't sing and play your harp at all, you just can't glorify God with it. You can sing with your harp about the beautiful trees and lakes and mountains so long as you don't make any mention of who created them. You can play as you sing about your freedom as an American, but you'd better not mention your spiritual freedom in Christ because that would be worship and then, POW! Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-7)! And, about all those beautiful psalms you wrote. Don't sing those with your harp. Why? Because you have absolutely no scriptural authority. You see, the word "psalm" doesn't mean to sing with an instrument any more. I suggest you forget about singing any kind of praises to God with your harp and go down to the local music store and get some good stuff. Willie Nelson, Alabama, or Hank Williams, Jr. are some of my favorites. Now there is some music you can sing with your harp that won't be so offensive to God."
Now I ask you, is that consistent? I think what bothers me the most is the judgmental attitude. We will openly condemn the use of instrumental music to praise God, based on Eph. 5:19 and then turn right around and put our stamp of approval on their use in the worldly sense. In so doing, we violate the very scripture we use to condemn those who fulfill it! What a tragedy! If my brethren could convince David that singing praises to God with his harp was wrong, I'm sure the first thing he would do would be to march to the nearest trash can and deposit his harp. David's heart was so overflowing with the love of God that songs of praise were all he could sing. He says in Psalms 23:5, "My cup runneth over". Runneth over with what? The goodness and loving kindness of God (Psalms 23:6). If our hearts are truly filled with the Spirit, how can we do any different from David? Show me just one worldly song written by David. Yes, David lived under the old covenant, but I believe he fulfilled 1 Cor. 10:31 in a more perfect way than we do in regard to music.
I want to make it clear that I do not advocate bringing mechanical music into our assemblies. Why? 1 Cor. 10:32 says, "Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God". If we are to be governed by love (2 Cot. 4:16), we will not want to do anything that causes offense or division (1 Cor. 1:10), even if it means waiving personal freedoms (Rom. 14:21-22). However, in order to be consistent, my conclusion is this: Concerning musical instruments, if you can't use your piano or guitar to glorify God, don't use it at all.