Music in Worship of God


      One of man's chief designs is to worship his Creator. The Psalmist declared, "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee" (Ps. 22: 27). God seeks man's worship (Jn. 4: 23). However, He does not seek just worship, but structured and "in spirit and truth" worship (directed by His word, Jn. 4: 23, 24). W. E. Vine comments thusly on the five verbs translated worship in the New Testament:

     "The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture. A consideration of the above verbs shows that it is not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgement to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgment. (2) In Acts 17:25 therapeuo, "to serve, do service to" (so RV), is rendered "is worshiped." (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

     The fact that God desires man to worship him in music is made evident in many verses. "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," Paul wrote, "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5: 19).

     There are basically two situations or circumstances of acceptable worship revealed in the scriptures, public and private. It is evident from a study of the scriptures that the early Christians participated in public worship (Acts 4: 23 ff.). Public worship on the Lord's Day was very important to the early Christians and was presented as a requisite (Heb. 10: 25). They came together in "formal worship" to celebrate the Lord's Supper (see "The Lord's Supper" in Great Truths, accessed from the home page), to pray, sing praise to God, give of their means, and to hear the word proclaimed (Acts 20: 7; 2: 42; Eph. 5: 19; I Cor. 16: 1, 2; Acts 20: 7, 2 Tim. 4: 1 ff.). These five public acts on the Lord's Day involved the Christian in praising and adoring God.

     One learns from a study of biblical authority that God demands that we have authority or book, chapter, and verse for our religious beliefs and practices (Acts 3: 22, 23). In fact, after commanding music in worship, Paul wrote in the very next verse: "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and Father by him" (Col. 3: 16, 17). We understand that authority is practically established by express command or statement, approved example, and necessary inference (Acts 2: 38; 20: 7; Matt. 22: 32). In view of man's need and God's desire for worship and the matter of authority, what does the Bible teach about music in praise and worship of God?

     The kind of music authorized or specified. It is indisputable and generally conceded that there are two kinds of music: vocal and mechanical. The Hebrew scriptures abound with references to mechanical music in praise of God. Mechanical instruments such as the trumpet, harp, and timbrel were commonly used (Ps. 150). Just because a matter is mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures and practiced by the Jews, however, does not mean such a practice is to be performed by Christians in the gospel age. Psalms also mentioned animal sacrifices (Ps. 51: 19). The Hebrew scriptures contain many types, the antitypes (fulfillment, if you will) being found in the New Testament. For instance, Christians do not offer animal sacrifice today because Jesus gave himself as the ultimate sacrifice (Heb. 9: 11-28, 10: 1-20). The New Covenant itself is shown to be antitypical to the Old Covenant, God's system through Moses to the Jews (Deut. 5: 1-3; Heb. 10: 16-31).

     It is interesting how we find many references in the Hebrew scriptures to mechanical instruments in worship; however, when we come to the New Testament, only vocal music with the human heart as the instrument is taught (more later).

     Many today have become so accustomed to mechanical musical performances in worship that they never question or think about the origin of such devices in worship.  After a similar fashion, most present day religions (theologies) do not study or challenge the matter of mechanical instruments in worship, whether public ("formal") or private ("individual"). Consider the comments of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, regarding music and types and antitypes:

     "Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to Him" (Commentary on Psalms 33 and on I Samuel 18: 1-9).

In this same vein, please consider the words of the famous and respected Bible scholar Charles Spurgeon:

     "Praise the Lord with harp. Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her to learn; but in these days when Jesus gives us spiritual food, one can make melody without strings and pipes….We do not need them. That would hinder rather than help our praise. Sing unto him. This is the sweetest and best music. No instrument like the human voice" (Commentary on Psalms 42).

     Vocal music in worship of God is seen in the New Testament. When we examine the New Testament with an aim to ascertain the kind of music, vocal or mechanical, used to praise God, we clearly find vocal music. The individual is taught thus: "Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms" (Jas. 5: 13). As far as the assembly or public worship is concerned, we read: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3: 16, see also Acts 16: 25, I Cor. 14: 15, and Heb. 13: 15). In view of the lack of authorization of mechanical music in the New Testament, Adam Clark (acclaimed Methodist scholar) wrote:

     "I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity. The late and venerable John Wesley, who was a lover of music, and an elegant poet, when asked his opinion on instruments of music being introduced into the chapels of the Methodists, said in his terse and powerful manner, 'I have no objections to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen' I say the same" (Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 4, pg. 684).

     The purpose of singing. Having established that the kind of music God desires in this final age is vocal, what is the purpose of singing (see links to additional material at the end of this article)? Man needs to understand that he is worshipping God (Jn. 4: 24). God, then, not man, has the right to specify the type of desired worship. God's word says singing praise to God is "an expression of the heart" (Jas. 5: 13). Singing in worship is "praise and thanksgiving" and constitutes "teaching and admonishing" (Heb. 13: 15; Col. 3: 16).

     The manner of rendition. Our songs are to be rendered "unto God" (Acts 16: 25). Therefore, such singing is not to be viewed as entertainment, as such. Singing is "in spirit," and "with the understanding" (Jn. 4: 24; I Cor. 14: 15). Notice that the word of God specifies the actual kinds of songs God desires in his worship. There are "psalms" (praise of God), "hymns" (songs that teach), and "spiritual songs" (songs that inspire devotion, Eph. 5: 19).

     The origin of mechanical music in this dispensation. For a number of centuries after Acts 2 (the beginning of the church and the final age), only vocal music was found in the worship of God. One source relative to the origin of mechanical music reads as follows:

     "Question 6. Is there any authority for instrumental music in the worship of God under the present dispensation? Answer. Not the least; only the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs was appointed by the apostles; not a syllable is said in the New Testament in favor of instrumental music nor was it ever introduced into the church until after the eighth century (on a large scale, dm), after the Catholics had corrupted the simplicity of the gospel by their carnal inventions…" (Questions on the Confession of Faith and Form of Government of The Presbyterian Church in the United States of American, published by the Presbyterian Board of Publications, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1842, pg. 55).

Regarding the origin of mechanical music in this age, please consider the following quotations:

     "Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments (Jewish worship, dm), the first Christians were of too spiritual a fiber to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice. Clement of Alexandria severely condemns the use of instruments even at Christian banquets. St. Chrysostum sharply contrasts the customs of the Christians when they had full freedom with those of the Jews of the Old Testament" (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, pg. 652). Also, "Pope Vitalian is related to have first introduced organs into some of the churches of western Europe about 670; but the earliest trustworthy account is that of the one sent as a present by the Greek Emperor Constantine Copronymos, to Pepin, King of the Franks, in 775 (A.D., dm.)" (American Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, 688).

     In closing, in the former system of worship that incorporated the physical, material, and types we read, "Praise him with the …harp" (Ps. 150: 3). However, in the system that constitutes the ultimate as far as the spiritual, we read, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord" (Eph. 5: 19). Instead of plucking the material strings of a harp, the Christian is to pluck the spiritual strings of his heart! To have mechanical music in our worship, we must add to the word of God (Rev. 22: 18, 19, Gal. 1: 6-9). To use the Hebrew scriptures for our authority would consistently necessitate the restoration of animal sacrifice, burning of incense, and the other Jewish typical observances (Gal. 5: 1-4).  (Be sure to also read, "Choirs, Solos, and Vocal Bands" and "Arguments Used to Justify Mechanical Music in Worship," click on to visit.)