by Steven Chan
Someone posed this question: “Playing music instruments is not mentioned in the New Testament but it was mentioned in the Old Testament. Since it did not say cannot, do you think that we can worship God with music instruments and it is nothing wrong, right?”
Let’s consider what the Bible has to say about this question:-
1) Whether an act or attitude is right or not is to be decided by what God has to say about it and NOT how one feels about it.
Prov 3:5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” – and that’s because:-
i. Man cannot direct his own steps; he needs God’s guidance:
Prov 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” and the prophet said in Jer 10:23: “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”
ii. God’s way is higher than man’s way:
Isa 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
So, it is important to have the attitude exhibited by young Samuel when the Lord called him: 1 Sam 3:10: “Speak; for thy servant heareth.”
2) God has given us ample examples of what He expects from us when it comes to doing that which is acceptable to Him.
i. God has shown very early in human history that not everything is acceptable to God even though it was intended for His glory or to worship Him:
Gen 4:2-6: “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.”
God accepted Abel’s offering but He did not accept Cain’s offering. But both of them offered what they possessed, to the Lord. Yet, God had preference for one as against the other.
Later in the New Testament, the writer of the book of Hebrews, by inspiration explained why God accepted Abel’s offering:-
Heb 11:4: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.”
How does one act by faith?
Rom 10:17: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
So, Heb 11:4 states that by faith Abel offered to God, it implied that Abel offered what God had asked of him – for faith comes from hearing God’s Word.
ii. Merely feeling that it was the right thing to do, does not make it acceptable to God:
When King Saul allowed the people to spare the best of the spoils of war from the Amalekites for the worship or sacrifice to God, he thought that he was doing the right thing:
1 Sam 15:13-15: “Saul said to him (Samuel), “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” 15 And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
But God said: 1 Sam 15:18-19; 22-23:
”Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19 “Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?” ….”Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”
iii. Offering to God something that He had NOT commanded is also regarded as unacceptable to God:
Lev 10:1-3: “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3 And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ”
The point was that they did something that God had NOT authorized or commanded them. Somehow the fire was unauthorized as it was profane or unholy. One would have thought that “fire” was “fire” – how different could it be? Yet, not all fire is the same – as far as God was concerned! The absence of authority from God was the issue here. They offered fire that was not authorised or commanded by God.
iv. If God has specified what He expects or requires, then He has necessarily implied that all others are not authorised unless they are expedient incidentals to meeting/fulfilling what He has specified or required.
If you were given some money by your mother and she told you to buy 1kg of sugar, then that’s what she is expecting from you. She does not have to specify all the other things that you are not to buy. If you were to buy 1 kg of salt instead, would she be pleased with what you have done? Would it be reasonable to argue that because she did not say “don’t buy this” or “cannot buy this”, that you may buy them with her approval?
Likewise, in John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus has specifically stated that “no one can come to the Father except through Him” – that implies that there is salvation in no other name. Jesus does not have to specifically state that no one can come to the Father through Tom, Dick or Harry, etc.
In 2 Kings 5:10-11, 12, the prophet Elisha sent a messenger to Naaman the Syrian commander, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became furious…and he said, “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” Naaman understood that when Elisha specified that Naaman should wash in the Jordan River, he necessarily implied that washing in other rivers would not result in him being cleansed. Naaman also argued that the other rivers such as Pharpar and Damascus should be equally acceptable. Imagine if Naaman were to say, since Elisha did not say that he cannot wash in other rivers, it should be okay to and wash in the other rivers, would he have been cleansed?
1 Sam 15:3, the Bible records that King Saul was commanded by God to “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” In 1 Sam 15:7-9, the Bible tells us that “Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” When Samuel went to meet King Saul, Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”(1 Sam 15:13). Saul felt that he had obeyed God’s command to utterly destroy the Amalekites.
However, listen to what God said to Saul through the prophet Samuel in 1 Sam 15:19-21: “Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?” And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”
Saul obeyed substantially God’s command to destroy the Amalekites but he failed to do exactly what God had required in that he permitted the people to spare King Agag and the best of the things in order to offer them as sacrifice to the Lord. He probably thought that since God did not say that he could not spare King Agag or the best of the things for sacrifice to God, then it was alright or okay or him to do so.
Listen to what God said to King Saul through the prophet Samuel in 1 Sam 15:22-23:-
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”
Through the account of the disobedience of King Saul as discussed above, God wants us to learn that we must follow closely what God requires and not be lackadaisical in doing what God requires of us.
Good intention is not good enough. In Numbers 4:15 God had said that no one other than the priests is to touch the holy things (including the ark of God) lest they die. In 2 Sam 6:6-8, we read the unfortunate incident where “when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.” Uzzah’s death teaches us that we should take God’s Word seriously and we should seek to keep His Word faithfully. Uzzah’s good intention of trying to keep the ark from falling was not a good justification for disobeying God’s explicit command.
Uzzah probably reasoned that since God did not say that one cannot hold on to the ark if it is about to fall off, then it should be okay. God struck Uzzah dead to show us that we should not take His commandments lightly and make our own assumptions based on what we think God did not say.
3) Jesus Christ taught in John 4:23-24 that worship must be done in a way that is acceptable to Him: i.e. “in spirit and in truth”:
”But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
We all understand that worshipping “in spirit” means worshipping “from the heart and not merely with our lips” (Matt 15:8,9). But what about worshipping “in truth”? The writer John explained it later in John 17:17 when he recorded the prayer of Jesus who prayed to the Father: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” God’s word is truth. So then, worshipping God in truth would necessarily mean worshipping in accordance with His Word (and not any which way that man may choose) – and that really is similar to how Abel was able to offer a better sacrifice as it was offered by faith (Heb 11:4) – i.e. in accordance with God’s Word as faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom 10:17).
4) The apostles in the New Testament showed us what constituted acceptable acts of worship to God: Acts 2:42: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine (teaching) and fellowship (sharing or contributing or offering towards the needs of the church – I Cor 16:2), in the breaking of bread (partaking of the Lord’s Supper – I Cor 11:23-30), and in prayers.” In 1 Cor 14:15, the apostle Paul wrote thus: “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.”
So, we are commanded to “sing” with understanding. Why do we need to sing with understanding? The reason is because besides singing being addressed to the Lord, it is also a form of “teaching and admonishing one another” Col 3:16-17: “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.”
So, an integral purpose of the Bible instruction to “sing” is “to teach and admonish one another”. So, “singing” is not for entertainment. Singing that is focused on “teaching and admonishing one another” is one that is done “with grace in your hearts to the Lord”. We are to be engaged in “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,”(Eph 5:19). The singing is to be done such that we “make melody in our hearts to the Lord.” In James 5:13, the Bible exhorts the one who is cheerful to sing psalms to praise and thank God: “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.”
5) Jesus and His disciples sung hymns: Matt 26:30: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
It is noteworthy that the Bible does not say that Jesus & His disciples “sung and played a hymn”; it merely states that they “sung” a hymn – there was no musical accompaniment to their signing although the Jews by that time had musical instruments such as “cymbals, psalteries (stringed instruments), and harps” (2 Chron 29:25).
Singing, being “the fruit of our lips”, is specifically authorised as a “sacrifice of praise” in the New Testament: Heb 13:15: “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
Playing instrumental music as an act of worship is not authorized in the New Testament. When we act without the authority of God in worship, then our worship would not be in spirit and in truth and therefore would not be acceptable to God (Col 3:16-17; John 4:24)
6) Does the use of instrumental music in the Old Testament authorise Christians to use instrumental music in worship in the New Testament?
i. The Old Testament or Old Covenant was specifically made between God and the nation of Israel (not with anyone else).
Deut 5:2-3: “The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive”
ii. The Old Testament or Old Covenant has been taken away or removed by Jesus Christ when He fulfilled the requirements of the Law by keeping it faithfully (Matt 5:17,18) and paying the price for the penalty of our sins on the cross (thereby redeeming us from sin):-
Col 2:14: “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross”
Heb 8:13: “In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
Heb 10:9-10: “He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
iii. After the death of Jesus on the Cross, the Old Covenant or Law has been taken away, and man today is no longer subject to the Law of the Old Testament
Rom 6:14: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
Gal 3:11: “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”
iv. After the Cross, the Law has been taken away and man lived under the Covenant of Grace and not the Law of the Old Covenant.
Gal 3:23-25: “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
v. Given that man today is no longer under the Law (i.e. the tutor) but are under Grace & Faith, no one is to try to go back to seek to obey the old Law in order to be justified – and if one does that, then one has fallen from Grace:
Gal 5:1-5: “Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”
Circumcision was a requirement of the Old Law or Old Testament. However, the apostle Paul warned that if anyone now seeks to be circumcised in obedience to the Old Law, then Christ is of no profit to him – such a person has fallen from Grace! Circumcision is no longer a requirement under the New Testament. No one is authorised by the New Testament to be circumcised today as a requirement of God even though it was authorized under the Old Covenant.
Similarly, there are many practices in the Old Testament that are no longer to be practised in the New Testament such as “keeping the Sabbath” (Col 2:16-17), “offering the sacrifices of the blood of bulls and goats” (Heb 10:1-4), the Aaronic priesthood system (Heb 7:12), “burning of incense”, etc…
We are no longer under the Old Testament and so, we should not be doing the things as may have been required by the Old Testament.
Noah in the Old Testament was asked by God to build an ark. That was a command that was specific to Noah. It was not to be done by anyone else. So, no one else was authorised to build an ark.
Just because something was done in the Old Testament does not necessarily mean that it can be done today under the New Testament. We must do everything by the authority of Christ (hear Him and not someone else like Moses or Elijah: Matt 17:5): Col 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Since Jesus has not authorised us to “play musical instruments” in worship under the New Testament, then we cannot possibly “play musical instruments” in His name. There is NO authority from the New Testament for Christians to “play musical instruments” in worship to God today. Let’s remember that when Nadab & Abihu offered fire to God which was not authorised by Him, they perished (Lev 10:1-4).
7) The early Christians in the first few centuries understood the requirement of the New Testament and the lack of authority for the use of “musical instruments” in worship as they did not use instrumental music in their worship:-
i. James Hasting: “If instrumental music was not part of early Christian worship, when did it become acceptable? Several reference works will help us see the progression of this practice among churches: “Pope Vitalian introduced an organ in the church in the seventh century to aid the singing but it was opposed and was removed.” (James Hasting, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.) So, you will notice that it was introduced very late into the Catholic church.
ii. Frank Humphreys: “All the music employed in their early services was vocal.” (Frank Landon Humphreys, Evolution of Church Music, p. 42)
iii. W D Killen: “In the early church the whole congregation joined in the singing, but instrumental music did not accompany the praise” (W. D. Killen, The Ancient Church, pp. 193, 423).
It is important to note that mechanical instruments of music were not used by the early church in the first century. It was introduced later by man without God’s approval or authority.
8) The Bible is our sole authority in ascertaining whether one may use instrumental music in worship. As explained earlier above, there is no authority in the New Testament for the use of instrumental music in worship today.
It is noteworthy that many well known bible commentators and bible students also opposed the use of instrumental music in worship:-
i. John Calvin: “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting 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 apostles is far more pleasing to him. Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints, only in a known tongue (I Cor. 14:16)” (John Calvin, Commentary on Psalms 33)
ii. Adam Clarke: “But were it even evident, which it is not, either from this or any other place in the sacred writings, that instruments of music were prescribed by divine authority under the law, could this be adduced with any semblance of reason, that they ought to be used in Christian worship? No; the whole spirit, soul, and genius of the Christian religion are against this; and those who know the Church of God best, and what constitutes its genuine spiritual state, know that these things have been introduced as a substitute for the life and power of religion; and that where they prevail most, there is least of the power of Christianity. Away with such portentous baubles from the worship of that infinite Spirit who requires His followers to worship Him in spirit and truth, for to no such worship are these instruments friendly.” (Adam Clarke (Methodist), Clarke’s Commentary, Methodist, Vol. II, pp. 690-691.)
Adam Clarke: “Music as a science I esteem and admire, but instrumental music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music, and I here register my protest against all such corruption of 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 of 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.” (Adam Clark, Methodist)
iii. Charles Spurgeon “Sing unto him. This is the sweetest and best music. No instrument like the human voice.” (Commentary on Psalms 42:4) “We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.” (Spurgeon preached to 20,000 people every Sunday for 20 years in the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle and never were mechanical instruments of music used in his services. When asked why, he quoted 1st Corinthians 14:15. “I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” He then declared: “I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery.” (Charles H. Spurgeon, Baptist)
In summary: “Play music instruction is not mentioned in the New Testament but it was mentioned in the Old Testament. Since it did not say cannot, do you think that we can worship God with music instrument and it is nothing wrong right?” – the answer from the Scriptures is clear and unequivocal – that is, we are not to add to or take away from what God has said in the New Testament (Rev 22:18-19) as regards God’s Will for us today in our worship and in our conduct.
The New Testament does not authorise the use of instrumental music in worship today. It requires us to “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”(Heb 13:15). Let us offer to God what God expects from us – and nothing more nor less. It would be wrong to offer Him what He has not required nor permitted. Just because the New Testament did not state specifically, “cannot”, does not give us the liberty or freedom to give God anything we want. Cain offered God something that God did not say “cannot”; yet God rejected his offerings. Similarly, Nadab & Abihu offered fire to God, that the Scriptures said, God “had not commanded them”- and they were duly punished for offering what the Bible termed as “profane fire”. The fact that God did not say “cannot” to them did not spare them from their punishment for offering God something that He had not commanded them (Lev 10:1:they offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.”).
We cannot possibly please God by doing what He did not say “cannot” (for without faith we cannot please God – Heb 11:6, that faith can only come from the hearing of God’s Word: Rom 10:17 – and not in the absence of God’s Word- i.e. he did not say “cannot”); rather, we seek to please Him in all things by doing what He has told us or required of us.
The Bible says in Matt 4:4 that ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’, it did not say: man shall live by doing what God did not say ‘cannot’! How ought we to live our lives? By doing what God says – and not by doing what He did not say “cannot”.