Singing is Worship
The New Testament is quite clear and very specific regarding the authorized form of music to be used in church worship. There are only two major categories of music available – vocal and mechanical. The question for the sincere worshipper seeking only to worship in spirit and in truth is: what kind of music is authorized for the church in worship? All passages in the New Testament relating to Christian worship authorize the act of singing (Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; I Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:18, 19; Colossians 3:16, 17; Hebrews 2:12; 13:15; James 5:13). There are no exceptions to this inspired teaching.
Absolutely no support exists for the introduction of instruments of music into the worship of the church. No apostle ever taught the use of instruments, no New Testament church is depicted as using any instruments, and furthermore, even history reveals that instrumental music was unknown in Christian worship until after the sixth century. In the year 139 A.D., Justin Martyr wrote: “The use of singing with instrumental music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jews in their infant state, but only the use of plain song.” This was written only a few decades after the apostolic age had ended, yet this historical statement by an unbiased writer reveals that Christian worship was conducted without the use of instrumental music. According to The American Cyclopedia, Vol. 12, p. 688, “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 Copronymus to Pepin, king of the Franks, in 755.” And from the Chamber’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, p. 112, “The organ is said to have been first introduced into church music by Pope Vitalian I in 666. In 757 a great organ was sent as a present to Pepin by the Byzantine emperor, Constantine Copronymus, and placed in the church of St. Corneille at Compiegne. Soon after Charlemagne’s time organs became common.”
If the instrument was not used in Christian worship until the year 755 A.D., it goes without saying that previously it was unknown in the church of Christ. The question then begs to be asked: who brought the instrument into the worship - God or man? Since God promised the apostles “all truth” in the 1st century, we may conclude that the introduction of the instrument in the 8th century to be the innovation of man, and its continued use to be after the tradition of men and thus vain worship (Mark 7:7). Sincere Bible students are aware that God did not accept innovations in worship by Cain (Genesis 4) or Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). The New Testament declares He will not accept innovations in Christian worship either (I Corinthians 4:6; II John 9; Revelation 22:18-19).
Many of the notable reformers cried out against the use of instrumental music, including John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Adam Clarke, John Knox, etc. The arguments such men offered in support of their rejection of instruments were accurate, convincing, and clearly in harmony with inspired instructions. While the scriptures are the sole authority for guidance in worship, it is very interesting to read the opinions of these men who were the leading voices within their respective fellowships. The much heralded Baptist preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, preached to 20,000 people every Sunday for 20 years in the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle and mechanical instruments were never used in the services. When asked why, he quoted I 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.”
Notice a few lines from the renowned Methodist scholar, Adam Clarke: “I believe that David was not authorized by the Lord to introduce that multitude of musical instruments into the Divine worship of which we read; and I am satisfied that His conduct in this respect is most solemnly reprehended by this prophet; and I further believe that the use of such instruments of music in the Christian church is without the sanction and against the will of God” (Adam Clarke Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. IV, p. 686, concerning the prophet Amos).
Even the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, stated, “I have no objections to instruments of music in our worship, provided they are neither seen nor heard.” These men would be shocked, even appalled, to witness the modern-day digression that has taken place within the very fellowships in which they once served, standing firmly opposed to the unauthorized use of mechanical instruments of music in worship.
The very term by which singing without the accompaniment of instrumental music is known – acappella – further demonstrates the absence of instruments in the early worship of the church. According to the The American Heritage College Dictionary, fourth edition, the term acappella is of Italian origin meaning “in the manner of the chapel [church].”
Carefully consider one brief example from the scriptures. Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus, “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” (Ephesians 5:18, 19). This verse specifically commands the church to sing. Singing is the conveyance of spiritual thoughts by means of words set to music. This is how the church is able to speak “to one another” in song, indicating that the entire congregation is to participate in the singing. The pronoun heautois rendered “one to another” is a reciprocal, reflexive term, used to indicate the interchange of action between all worshippers.
The apostle herein authorizes only congregational singing. There is no reciprocity of action when only a soloist or a small group or choir are involved in the singing while the remainder of the church remains silent, viewing the singers as mere forms of entertainment. Unfortunately, although faithful congregations of the Lord’s church continue to stand opposed to the use of instruments, too many Christians within those congregations may be witnessed sitting silent, completely idle during the song service. The failure to sing as commanded is no less a violation of the prescribed worship than is the addition of the instrument. Both are equal acts of disobedience resulting in vain worship. The entire congregation is to participate in the singing of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” In his work on church history, Joseph Bingham wrote: “…from the first and apostolic age singing was always a part of Divine service, in which the whole body of the church joined together” (1865, 1:3:7).
Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are to be sung by the church while melody is made in the heart. The heart is the only instrument named which accompanies the singing, and this simply refers to the hidden seat of emotion and intellect acting in concert with the voice of the worshipper as honor is bestowed upon the Lord through the exercise of singing. The question must be asked of this verse: who is the “Lord” to whom Paul commands the church to sing? It is sad and truly distressing to hear of brethren in the church today banning the singing of songs which address Jesus Christ in praise and adoration. Songs such as “Tell it to Jesus,” “Jesus, Wonderful Thou Art,” and “Praise Him! Praise Him!” are banned by some because they encourage Christians to pray to Jesus or actually address Christ directly in worship.
Too many are dangerously aligned with the position held by the self-styled Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim only the Father is deity and worthy of worship. No such attitude characterized the apostle Paul. When he commands the church to sing and make “melody with your heart to the Lord,” he continued by confirming who the Lord is to whom we sing, saying, “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). The most common use of the term “Lord” in the New Testament is in reference to Jesus Christ. In the Ephesians’ letter, the term “Lord” is found 23 times. In 8 of those instances it is used specifically with reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. There is not one direct reference of this term being used to denote the Father in all of Ephesians.
The language used by Paul specifically identifies Christ as the Lord to whom we sing, and since these verses are in the form of a command, not only is it permissible to sing to Christ, such is actually required! As with prayer, the fullness of the Godhead is addressed in the songs arising from the church in worship (cf. Revelation 5:9-14). This is why Paul, writing to the Colossians, commands the church, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
That the apostles taught the church to sing to Christ in worship is attested even by the enemies of Christianity. Pliny (c. A.D. 62-113), Governor of Bithynia, wrote a letter to the Roman emperor Trajan, inquiring as to what should be done with the “Christians” who “had met regularly before dawn on a certain fixed day to chant verses antiphonally amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god” (Epistle X, 96). This letter was written c. A.D. 110, only a few years subsequent to the apostolic age of the church, but Christians were arrested, charged and punished by pagans because of their worship to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Acquiring a true knowledge of the God of the Bible will remedy any problem one may have with prayer and song being addressed to the three Persons of the Godhead. The songs of the church must arise from pure and honest hearts, issuing from unspeakable love and devotion for the holy God of heaven and earth who made salvation possible for sinful man through the self-less sacrifice of the Word becoming flesh that He might die for mankind, taking the burden of man’s sin, paying the penalty for those sins, and then washing all penitent believers in baptism, cleansing them in His own precious blood which He shed on the cross (Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5). Does the church have reason to sing? If any suppose not, it may be time for a spiritual check-up on the condition of the heart.
The church of Christ must sing in worship. We must make every effort to learn to sing so that we may actively participate in that glorious feature of worship where the great body of the saints lift up their many voices in unison, singing with unbridled passion and enthusiasm, giving praise and honor to the God of our salvation. If you have never experienced the pure joy and elation which fills the soul at the sound of the unaccompanied voice of the church singing with thankfulness in their hearts unto the Lord, we encourage you to cast off the willful innovations and traditions of men, and return to the simplicity and honesty of New Testament worship in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given every Christian the eternal reason to lift up the voice and sing!
Bingham, Joseph (1865), Antiquities, Vol. 1 (London: Henry Bohn)
Chamber’s W & R (1860), Chamber’s Encyclopaedia [on-line]URL: http://en.wikipedia.org
(1873), The American Cyclopedia, Vol. 12 (New York: D. Appleton & Company).
(2004), The American Heritage College Dictionary, Fourth Edition (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin