|by Dave Root
"My friends say that musical instruments are forbidden in church. Is that Scriptural?"
Several years ago I briefly attended a church which does not use musical instruments for praise and worship. I found that they made up for the lack of instruments with wonderful harmonies coming from all over the sanctuary. It was quite beautiful to hear!
Since some people believe that instruments are allowed in church, and other people believe that instruments are forbidden in church, I wanted to find out what the Bible says about this. After all, these two views are mutually exclusive, and therefore only one of them can be right.
It turns out that the New Testament never commands us to use instruments in church, so I see nothing wrong with singing in church without using musical instruments. On the other hand, the New Testament neither forbids nor condemns using instruments in church, so I also see nothing wrong with using musical instruments (or recorded music) to assist in worship.
"The New Testament is silent concerning musical instruments"
One of the main arguments against using musical instruments in church goes something like this:
"The New Testament is silent about using musical instruments in church, and therefore musical instruments are forbidden in church."
Those who use this argument are usually not against musical instruments in general, they are simply trying to be true to the Scriptural principles that they see in the New Testament. But we should be careful about assuming that something is forbidden just because it is not directly mentioned in the New Testament. For example, if you visit churches where they believe that musical instruments must not be used to assist in worship (because of the above argument), you will find that they usually use microphones, hymnbooks, song leaders, and so on, to assist in worship. There's nothing wrong with any of that, but the irony is that we can use their own argument to "prove" that these things are forbidden in church:
"The New Testament is silent about using microphones in church, and therefore microphones are forbidden in church."
People who use the above argument against playing musical instruments in church are sincerely trying to do what they believe is right, but they might not recognize that they are often being inconsistent in their application of this argument. Notice that when we selectively apply this argument in one area (such as musical instruments) while ignoring other areas where this argument also applies (such as hymnbooks, song leaders, etc.), it shows that we really don't believe that this is a valid argument after all. For example, at the church I attended which does not use musical instruments, they did use pitch pipes to get the right key for singing, they had a song leader who used arm movements to direct the singing, the song leader used a microphone, and so on. I totally support their right to do these things because I don't see anything unScriptural about them. But notice that these things are done for the purpose of assisting in worship by helping people find the proper key and maintain the proper timing, the proper rhythm, and the proper melody. Yet those are the very same purposes for using musical instruments to assist in worship. The argument that instruments are not allowed in church (because the New Testament is "silent" about instruments) also applies to pitch pipes, microphones, hymnbooks, song leaders, etc. (because the New Testament is "silent" about these things as well). So people are sometimes inconsistently applying their own argument against using musical instruments in worship.
"The New Testament is silent about using hymnbooks in church, and therefore hymnbooks are forbidden in church."
"The New Testament is silent about using song leaders in church, and therefore song leaders are forbidden in church."
The point is that if the New Testament does not directly mention a particular activity, that's not a proof that the activity is forbidden in church. By using microphones, pitch pipes, song leaders, hymnbooks, and so on in church, people are implicitly agreeing with this point, even while they argue that musical instruments are forbidden in church.
As we have seen, some people argue that since the New Testament is silent concerning musical instruments in church, this means that instruments are forbidden in church. However, they also tend to argue that song leaders, pitch pipes, hymnbooks, and so on are acceptable in church, even though the New Testament is silent about these things as well. Since the New Testament is silent about all of these things, then why aren't song leaders, pitch pipes, hymnbooks, etc. considered to be forbidden in church if musical instruments are considered to be forbidden?
The answer is that when people believe that musical instruments are forbidden in church, they usually feel that song leaders, pitch pipes, hymnbooks, etc., are "expediencies" which are allowed according to the following passages:
"All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." (1 Corinthians 6:12, KJV)
The argument I have seen is that these passages give us the authority to use "expediencies" in church, as long as these "expediencies" are only used to assist in fulfilling a command of God, and as long as they are lawful first (because the above passages say, "All things are lawful for me").
"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." (1 Corinthians 10:23, KJV)
I see a couple of problems with this "expediencies" argument, however. For one thing, this is quite a legalistic viewpoint which contradicts the spirit and intent of the passages above. Notice in those passages that the apostle Paul did not say that "expediencies" must only be used to assist in fulfilling a command of God, and Paul did not say that "expediencies" must first be lawful before they can be used. This is an inaccurate interpretation of what Paul said. In order to understand Paul's point, it is helpful to look at some Bible commentaries to get an idea of the context of the above passages:
"The words, Everything is permissible for me, had apparently become a slogan to cloak the immorality of some in Corinth. The statement was true but it required qualification. Paul qualified liberty with the principle of love applied to both neighbor and self (cf. Mark 12:31). Liberty which was not beneficial but detrimental to someone else was not loving (1 Cor. 8:1; 10:23) and was to be avoided." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.516)
"Lawful (exestin). Apparently this proverb may have been used by Paul in Corinth (repeated in Matthew 10:23), but not in the sense now used by Paul's opponents. The "all things" do not include such matters as those condemned in chapter 1 Corinthians 5; 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. Paul limits the proverb to things not immoral, things not wrong per se. But even here liberty is not license. But not all things are expedient (all ou panta sumperei). Old word sumperei, bears together for good and so worthwhile. Many things, harmless in themselves in the abstract, do harm to others in the concrete. We live in a world of social relations that circumscribe personal rights and liberties." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament)
Notice Paul's intended meaning as described by these and other Bible commentators. The Corinthians were using the idea of "freedom in Christ" as an excuse for indulging in sexual sins and other improper activities. Paul's response in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23 (above) was that we do indeed have freedom in Christ, but Paul explained that we should be careful not to use this freedom as an excuse for sinning. This is exactly the same point which Paul (and Peter) made in other places:
"12. All things are lawful unto me--These, which were Paul's own words on a former occasion (to the Corinthians, compare 1 Corinthians 10:23, and Galatians 5:23), were made a pretext for excusing the eating of meats offered to idols, and so of what was generally connected with idolatry (Acts 15:29), "fornication" (perhaps in the letter of the Corinthians to Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:1). Paul's remark had referred only to things indifferent: but they wished to treat fornication as such, on the ground that the existence of bodily appetites proved the lawfulness of their gratification." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, verse 12)
"All things - Which are lawful for you. Are lawful for me, but all things are not always expedient - Particularly when anything would offend my weak brother; or when it would enslave my own soul. For though all things are lawful for me, yet I will not be brought under the power of any - So as to be uneasy when I abstain from it; for, if so, then I am under the power of it." (Wesley's Explanatory Notes, verse 12)
"Even should we admit that the practices under discussion are lawful, yet there are many things which are not expedient; that is, which do not profit, for so the word sumpherei? sumpherei properly signifies; they are injurious and hurtful. They might injure the body; produce scandal; lead others to offend or to sin. Such was the case with regard to the use of certain meats, and even with regard to the use of wine. Paul's rule on this subject is stated in 1Corinthians 8:13
. That if these things did injury to others, he would abandon them forever; even though they were in themselves lawful" (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html, 1 Corinthians 6:12)
"All things are lawful unto me - It is likely that some of the Corinthians had pleaded that the offense of the man who had his father's wife, as well as the eating the things offered to idols, was not contrary to the law, as it then stood. To this the apostle answers: Though such a thing be lawful, yet the case of fornication, mentioned 1 Corinthians 5:1, is not expedient, sumpherei - it is not agreeable to propriety, decency, order, and purity. It is contrary to the established usages of the best and most enlightened nations, and should not be tolerated in the Church of Christ. They might also be led to argue in favor of their eating things offered to idols, and attending idol feasts, thus: - that an idol was nothing in the world; and as food was provided by the bounty of God, a man might partake of it any where without defiling his conscience, or committing sin against the Creator. This excuse also the apostle refers to. All these things are lawful, taken up merely in the light that none of your laws is against the first; and that, on the ground that an idol is nothing in the world, there can be no reason against the last;
But I will not be brought under the power of any - Allowing that they are all lawful, or at least that there is no law against them, yet they are not expedient; there is no necessity for them; and some of them are abominable, and forbidden by the law of God and nature" (Clarke, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html, 1 Corinthians 6:12)
"All things are lawful unto me… That is, which are of an indifferent nature; otherwise everything is not lawful to be done:
but all things are not expedient; when the doing of them destroys the peace, comfort, and edification of others" (Gill's Exposition of the Bible)
"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." (1 Corinthians 8:9)
With that in mind, let's look again at Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 6:12 in its proper context:
"You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature" (Galatians 5:13)
"Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil" (1 Peter 2:16)
1 Corinthians 6:12: ""Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything."
As we can see, in 1 Corinthians 6:12 (above) Paul emphasized the freedom that we have in Christ, while cautioning against indulging our sinful nature (by the way, notice that this freedom which we have is actually an argument in favor of using musical instruments in worship!). We can see that Paul was not giving us legalistic instructions about things called "expediencies" which must only be used to assist in fulfilling a command of God, and which must first be lawful before they can be used (as some people claim). That is an inaccurate interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:12 (above) which is actually the opposite of Paul's intended meaning.
1 Corinthians 6:13: ""Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"--but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."
1 Corinthians 6:14: "By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also."
1 Corinthians 6:15: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!"
Consider that song leaders, pitch pipes, etc., are used for the purpose of assisting the congregation in maintaining the proper rhythm, pitch, melody, timing, and so on during worship. These are the very same purposes for which musical instruments are used in various churches. Keep in mind that the New Testament never tells us that song leaders, pitch pipes, and so on are "good," or that musical instruments are "bad," in church. Therefore, let's ask ourselves why anyone would categorize song leaders, pitch pipes, and such things as being acceptable "expediencies," and why they would categorize musical instruments as being unacceptable? The only possible reason for making this distinction is due to someone's personal biases, because such a distinction is never made in Scripture.
"Music drowns out singing"
Another argument that people sometimes make against using musical instruments in church is that instruments can drown out the worship. But is this really a valid argument against using instruments in church? After all, God can still hear us no matter how loud the music might be.
When I attended a church that does not use musical instruments, my voice was drowned out by the voices of the song leader and the rest of the congregation (which was fine with me, since I'm not much of a singer!). That's no different than if my voice is drowned out by musical instruments, which shows that this argument is flawed. Also, musical instruments can be played very softly (so that no voices are being drowned out), which invalidates this argument.
Another problem with this argument is that the Bible tells us that God likes a lot of noisy worship, because heaven is a very noisy place! (See my article called Loving and Praising Jesus: He Is Worthy).
"Make music in your heart"
Sometimes people argue that the New Testament specifically tells us to make music in our hearts:
"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19)
What happens is that people sometimes want to turn Ephesians 5:19 (above) into a law, as if the only proper way to make music for worship is in our hearts, and never with musical instruments. But this verse doesn't say that "in our hearts" is the only way to make music in worshiping God. For example, imagine that I say to a friend, "Call me on your cell phone in your car when you are on your way to my house." Obviously I'm not saying that he must only call me on his cell phone, or that he must only call me when he is in his car, or that he must only call me when he is on his way to my house. My friend wouldn't assume that I was forbidding him from calling me any other way or any other time. Yet that's how some people want to interpret Paul's statement (above). Paul told us to sing and make music in our heart, but that doesn't mean he was forbidding any other ways of making music while worshiping the Lord.
Some people are focusing on the phrase "make music in your heart" in Ephesians 5:19 (above), but they are overlooking the fact that Paul actually said for us to "sing and make music in your heart" (Ephesians 5:19, above). In other words, that verse tells us to make music in our hearts, but it also tells us to sing in our hearts as well. So if we're going to interpret Ephesians 5:19 as a command which tells us how we must make music (i.e. only in our hearts), then consistency requires us to also interpret that verse as a command which tells us how we must sing (i.e. only in our hearts). We can demonstrate this point even further by looking at a literal translation of another verse:
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing each other, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, in grace singing in your hearts to the Lord;" (Colossians 3:16, Young's Literal Translation)
So again, the New Testament tells us to sing in our hearts, as this well-known Bible commentary points out:
"with grace --Greek, "IN grace," the element in which your singing is to be: "the grace" of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This clause expresses the seat and source of true psalmody, whether in private or public, namely, the heart as well as the voice; singing (compare Col_3:15, "peace . . . rule in your hearts"), the psalm of love and praise being in the heart before it finds vent by the lips, and even when it is not actually expressed by the voice, as in closet-worship. The Greek order forbids English Version, "with grace in your hearts"; rather, "singing in your hearts."" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, verse 16, emphasis added)
So both Ephesians 5:19 (above) and Colossians 3:16 (above) tell us to sing in our hearts. Therefore, if we are supposed to interpret Ephesians 5:19 as a command that we must only "make music" in our hearts (as some people claim), then we would also have to interpret Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 as commands that we must only "sing" in our hearts as well (and not sing in any other way). Otherwise we would be using an inconsistent method of interpreting the Bible, which leads to error.
In addition, take a look at the first part of that same Ephesians 5:19 verse: "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs." Once again, if Ephesians 5:19 is commanding us how we must do certain things (such as make music, as some people claim), then it would also mean that this verse is commanding us that we must only speak to one another using nothing but psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. In other words, when people interpret Ephesians 5:19 as an absolute command about how we must "make music," it is interesting that they do not interpret the other parts of Ephesians 5:19 as commands about how we must "speak" and "sing." This inconsistency in interpreting the Bible leads to erroneous views.
Now let's examine that same Ephesians 5:19 verse in its proper context so that we can understand it properly:
"Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:15-25)
Notice that this passage does not contain any commands which forbid using musical instruments in church. In fact, notice that this passage does not even describe church services at all. It is referring to our fellowship with one another and with God. Since this passage does not forbid using instruments for worship, and since the context of this passage does not involve church services, we can't use Ephesians 5:19 (in the middle of this passage) to "prove" that musical instruments are forbidden in church.
In fact, if we want to be dogmatic and legalistic about "make music in your heart" (as some people want to do), then it would be wise to check how accurate this English translation is. In Ephesians 5:19, the Greek word for "make music" is psallo, as you can verify in any Greek Bible dictionary or Greek version of the New Testament (check your local library or Christian bookstore). Here are all of the passages in the New Testament which use some form of psallo (according to Strong's):
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music [psallo] in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19)
These are all of the places where that Greek word is used in the New Testament (according to Strong's). Some people want to be dogmatic that we must only "psallo" in our hearts (based on Ephesians 5:19, above). But that view contradicts the uses of psallo in the other passages above. In Romans 15:9 (above), psallo is used in the context of praising God among the Gentiles, which indicates that psallo is being done verbally. In 1 Corinthians 14:15 (above), Paul was making a distinction between psallo in the mind and psallo in the spirit. In James 5:13 (above), the natural understanding of that verse is that psallo should be done out loud (although psallo might also be done in the heart or in the mind in this verse). So if we try to make a law out of "make music [psallo] in your heart" (Ephesians 5:19, above), then we would be contradicting the other passages (above) in which psallo is not done in the heart. There is no Scriptural command that psallo must always be done in our hearts and that it can never be done any other way.
"so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns [psallo] to your name."" (Romans 15:9)
"So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing [psallo] with my spirit, but I will also sing [psallo] with my mind." (1 Corinthians 14:15)
"Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise [psallo]." (James 5:13)
What it boils down to is that some people have taken a single verse of Scripture (Ephesians 5:19) and created an entire doctrine or law out of it by saying that it only allows us to make music in our hearts (and that it forbids us from making music for worship in any other way). Bible scholars, Bible teachers, preachers, pastors, and ministers often point out how dangerous it is to base a doctrine on a single verse of Scripture, yet that's what some people have done with Ephesians 5:19. However, we have seen a number of reasons why that verse does not forbid using musical instruments in worship.
Sometimes people will argue that Amos 6:5 forbids the playing of musical instruments in the manner of David:
""For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. ... I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. ... You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god -- which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus," says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty. "...You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end. The Sovereign LORD has sworn by himself--the LORD God Almighty declares: "I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it."" (Amos 5:12-6:8)
Amos 6:5 says, "You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments," and some people claim that this means that God was forbidding musical instruments. However, that argument misses the whole point of this passage. For example, notice that verse 5:23 (above) says "Away with the noise of your songs." Therefore, if we use the above passage to argue that musical instruments are forbidden in church, then we must also argue that singing is forbidden in church as well! In other words, we can't just pluck one verse out of context and use that verse to "prove" that musical instruments are forbidden. When we look at Amos 6:5 (above) in context, we can see that God was angry at the Jews for their idolatry and other offenses and sins. God was chastising them for their hypocrisy in doing the outward forms of worship while continuing their sinful ways. That's the point of this passage, not that musical instruments are forbidden for praise and worship.
"The Law has been abolished"
Another argument which some people make is that the Old Testament was canceled at the cross, so we can't appeal to the Psalms or any other Old Testament passages as our justification for using musical instruments in worship. According to this argument, musical instruments for worship are a feature of the Old Testament (just like animal sacrifices), so if we bring back animal sacrifices or musical instruments then we are placing ourselves under the Law of Moses again.
The problem with this argument is in a misunderstanding of the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses is recorded in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), written by Moses. It contained 613 rules and regulations that the Israelites were commanded to follow, which included the Ten Commandments. It was not the entire Old Testament that was canceled at the cross, it was only the Law of Moses that was canceled (see my article called Christians and the Ten Commandments). Jesus certainly fulfilled the Law and the prophets and the Psalms (see Matthew 5:17 and Luke 24:44), but it was specifically the 613 rules and regulations in the Law of Moses which were abolished at the cross. For example, notice that there are still many prophecies in the Old Testament which have not yet been fulfilled, and these Old Testament prophecies have never been canceled (see my articles called The Signs of the Times, The Second Coming, and Beyond the Second Coming).
So only the Law of Moses was canceled at the cross, not the entire Old Testament. Since the Psalms have never been canceled, let's take a look at what they tell us about praising the Lord:
Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy." (Psalms 47:1)
"Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob! Begin the music, strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre." (Psalms 81:1-2)
These are just a few examples, but since these are recorded in the Bible (and since they have never been canceled), this is how the Lord wants to be praised! With music and singing and dancing and shouting and clapping and rejoicing and clashing cymbals and so on!
"Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn -- shout for joy before the LORD, the King." (Psalms 98:4-6)
"Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals." (Psalms 150:3-5)
New Testament Examples
The New Testament never forbids nor condemns any of the musical forms of praise and worship that are described in the Psalms. In fact, just the opposite! Notice that the apostle Paul told us to use the Psalms:
"Speak to one another with psalms [psalmos], hymns and spiritual songs." (Ephesians 5:19)
The Greek word for "psalms" in these verses is psalmos, and here is how Strong's Greek Dictionary defines this word:
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms [psalmos], hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16)
"a set piece of music, i.e. a sacred ode (accompanied with the voice, harp or other instrument; a "psalm"); collectively, the book of the Psalms: --psalm. Compare 5603." (emphasis added)
Paul specifically told us to use the Psalms in our praise and worship, and we saw a moment ago that the Psalms specifically tell us to praise the Lord with music and singing and dancing and shouting and clapping and rejoicing and clashing cymbals and so on!
In fact, notice that the 18th Psalm includes a note to the director of music:
Psalms 18:1: "For the director of music."
This is specifically a musical Psalm, and notice that Paul directly quoted from this Psalm:
Paul quoted a musical Psalm, and he never said that Christians must reject the musical aspect of this Psalm. The Psalms are quoted numerous times throughout the New Testament, and nowhere are we told to reject the musical aspect of any Psalms. The 22nd Psalm, for example, is another musical Psalm:
Psalms 18:49: "Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD; I will sing praises to your name."
Romans 15:9: "so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.""
Psalms 22:1: "For the director of music. To the tune of "The Doe of the Morning.""
Notice that the author of the letter to the Hebrews quoted from this Psalm:
Psalms 22:22: "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you."
Again, the New Testament contains numerous quotes from the musical Psalms, and we are told to use the Psalms in worship (as we saw a moment ago). The New Testament never tells us to ignore or reject the musical aspect of the Psalms.
Hebrews 2:12: "He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.""
Now let's consider the parable of the "prodigal son" (Luke 15:11-32). Jesus used this parable to illustrate our Father's mercy and great love for us. Notice what happens in this parable:
"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing." (Luke 15:21-25)
Here's what some Bible scholars say about this parable:
"Jesus then told the Parable of the Lost Son and His Older Brother to explain that God is inviting all people to enter the kingdom." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.244, emphasis added)
So Jesus told this story in order to teach us how much our Father loves us. Notice that there was music and dancing and rejoicing in the father's house in Jesus' parable. Consider that if music (or dancing) is forbidden in our Father's "house" (church) as some people believe, then it is strange that Jesus would include music and dancing in this parable about our Father. For example, we know that adultery is not acceptable behavior in a parable about our Father because adultery is a sin. But Jesus demonstrated that musical instruments and dancing are acceptable in a parable about our Father, and the implication is that playing instruments in our Father's "house" (church) is acceptable. Jesus never said that this would change after His death and resurrection, and nowhere does the New Testament say that it is a sin to play instruments (or to dance) in church.
"The forgiving love of the father symbolizes the divine mercy of God" (NIV Study Bible, p.1996, emphasis added)
In fact, here are some New Testament passages in which musical instruments are specifically associated with praising and worshiping God:
"And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped." (Revelation 5:8-14)
In these New Testament passages we see people holding harps, and we see that there was a sound like that of harpists playing their harps. If we try to argue that these passages don't describe people actually playing the harps, then we need to be careful about distorting the intent of these passages in order to justify our own biases. Consider that if the New Testament forbids musical instruments in the context of worshiping God (as some people believe), then musical instruments have no place in the above passages where people are worshiping God. For example, adultery is a sin, and therefore we never see righteous people in Scripture committing adultery while they are worshiping God. Adultery does not belong in the context of worshiping God. Yet according to the passages above, musical instruments and the sound of musical instruments do belong in the context of worshiping God!
"And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth." (Revelation 14:2-3)
"And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed."" (Revelation 15:2-4)
The weight of Scriptural evidence demonstrates that the New Testament never condemns nor forbids playing musical instruments (or recorded music) in church. In fact, we can see in the Psalms (which were never canceled) that the Lord wants to be praised with music and singing and dancing and shouting and clapping and rejoicing and clashing cymbals and so on!
I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
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