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Should We Use Instruments in Our Worship?

by David Walker

So, what "scripture" is Paul referring to in this letter to Timothy? Obviously the Old Testament, since the New Testament had not been compiled yet. The Old Testament was the only scripture from our Bible that the apostles were able to study. Keep in mind that this verse says all scripture is given by inspiration of God. I'll come back to this a little later.

Occasionally, I come across a doctrine that just doesn't make sense to me. I simply cannot understand how anyone can believe it or justify it scripturally. One such doctrine is the belief by some Christians that we are not supposed to use musical instruments in our worship. No matter how hard I try, I just can't find anything that supports this in the Bible.

Some use John 4:23 to prove their point. In it, Christ says, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship Him." They claim that since nothing is said about using instruments, we should not use them in our praise, but to only worship "in spirit and in truth." But they miss the meaning of this verse. What Christ was saying was that when we worship, we must be worshipping truthfully and with our hearts, not just with our lips. Anyone can sing a song of praise, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they are singing it with their hearts. I've known people who went to church regularly, and sang the praise and worship songs with as much or more enthusiasm than anyone there. But why were they in church? Because (and I know of at least one businessman who actually said this) "It's good for business." Was this person worshipping in spirit and in truth? I don't think so. Would instruments (or lack thereof) have changed his reason for being at church? I doubt it.

We are told to truly mean it when we praise God. Mark 7:6 states, "He (Christ) answered and said unto them, 'Well hath Esaias (Isaiah) prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.'" This is a two-part condemnation, the first part of which is the condemnation of "going through the motions" when we worship instead of worshipping "in spirit and in truth." This is what Christ meant by His statement in John 4. God wants followers that will worship Him with their hearts, not just give Him "lip service." This has nothing to do with whether or not we use musical instruments in our praise.

Another argument against using instruments in our worship is two-fold. The first part is that even though instruments were used in the Old Testament, we are now under the "new covenant" and the teachings in the Old Testament do not apply any longer, only the New Testament. Secondly, when praise is mentioned in the New Testament, instruments are not mentioned, simply psalms and hymns, so that's all we should worship with, psalms and hymns, not instruments.

Let's do the second part first: When it says that they worshipped with psalms and hymns, which psalms were they talking about? There is only one book in the Old Testament named Psalms (remember, the Old Testament was the only part of our Bible they were able to study), and unless they were using psalms that we are not aware of, many of the psalms in this book do mention using instruments in the worship of the Lord. In Psalm 150, we see no less than seven different instruments used to praise the Lord. It's very possible that they were using psalms that are not recorded in the Bible, but since many of the psalms that are in the Bible mention using instruments, why should we assume that any other psalms they may have used didn't mention instruments? There's no way of knowing, because the only psalms we have to go by are in the Bible, and as I stated above, many of them do mention using instruments in praise of God.

O.K., now the first part: The new covenant of Christ's blood has nothing to do with changing the way we worship. The old covenant was the Law, which, being imperfect creatures, we could never hope to fulfill. The very purpose of the Law was to define sin and show us how impossible it is for us to live perfect lives and enter into heaven by our works. If it were possible for us to fulfill the Law and be saved by our own righteousness, then Christ would never have had to suffer and die on the cross for us. The new covenant redeems us to God through the shedding of Christ's blood at Calvary. It does not tell us anything about how we should or should not worship.

Christ did several things while He was on earth. The most important thing He did was to provide a means for our salvation through the cleansing power of His blood which was shed as a final, perfect sacrifice for all of our sins. Second, He gave us the Lord's Supper, or communion, by which we acknowledge and honor that same sacrifice. He also gave us the two "Great Commandments" which we are to live by, and the Great Commission to spread the gospel throughout the world. And He gave us a clearer definition of sin, by explaining to us that we can commit sin in our heart and our mind as well as in our actions. None of these has anything at all to do with the way we worship and praise God, other than, perhaps, to increase our joy in our praise because we now have a way to receive salvation!

Back to the beginning: Even though we are under the new covenant of Christ's blood, Paul states that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, (and) for instruction in righteousness." So, although we are not under the Law (old covenant and Old Testament), we are still told to study it for instructions on how to live godly lives. And instrumental worship was very important in the Old Testament.

Finally, one more thought: Since instruments were used in the Old Testament to worship God and were not forbidden, we can assume that using them in worship was pleasing to Him. (In the Old Testament, God was very clear in telling His people what displeased Him! If He had been displeased by the use of instruments in His worship, He would have told the people not to use them.) Now, in Malachi 3:6 God says, "For I am the Lord, I do not change . . ." So let's think about this, if instrumental worship pleased God in the Old Testament and He does not change, why do we assume that using instruments in our worship today is wrong? Is it forbidden by God, or just a man-made doctrine?

So far, I have not found a single verse in the New Testament that condemns the use of instruments in our worship, either directly or indirectly. However, I have found many verses in the Old Testament (which Paul tells us to study for doctrine and instruction) which talk about using instruments to praise God. Just because instruments are not mentioned in the New Testament as being used in worship, we should not teach that this means they are forbidden. This would be an unwise assumption on our part, and not based on anything stated in the Bible. This is the other part of Christ's condemnation in Mark 7:6-7. If we adhere to a certain doctrine, we need to be absolutely sure that it is solidly based on biblical teachings before we attempt to teach it to anyone else. We must test all doctrines in prayerful study of the Bible. Don't just take someone's word for it, not even mine in this paper! Test everything against what is clearly stated in the Bible. If a doctrine is not clearly supported by the Bible, don't accept it no matter who is teaching it! Otherwise, we may be guilty of "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

Questions, comments, criticisms, critiques?

Let me know!

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