Musical Instruments in Worship

Is it proper for New Testament Christians to worship God with musical instruments? Everyone agrees that Old Testament saints were allowed to worship God through the use of instruments. The question is whether or not the Old Testament pattern is still valid for Christians today. It is true that there is no explicit evidence in the New Testament for the use of musical instruments, but is that a valid reason to forbid their use when there was an established precedent for them under the Old Covenant? The debate over musical instruments in worship is really a debate on the relationship between the two testaments and whether Christians are obligated to observe the forms of worship prescribed to our forefathers in the faith.

The Church of Christ does not include the use of musical instruments in their worship of God as well as many modern Presbyterians because of the silence of the New Testament. The irony of these two groups not including musical instruments in worship is that they have two radically different understandings of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. The Church of Christ sees radical discontinuity between the two testaments going so far as to say that Old Testament saints were saved in a way that is different from New Testament ones because baptism was not a requirement for salvation then. They therefore have a kind of logical justification for their practice since the church and Israel are two different groups of people with different sets of laws and Old Testament laws are not binding on Christians today. On the other hand, Presbyterians see a great deal of continuity between the Testaments. They sprinkle water on their infant children in the place of circumcision and believe that Old Testament laws are binding on Christians today unless they are repealed by the New Testament. I do not see how Presbyterians can consistently forbid the use of musical instruments in worship because the New Testament nowhere forbids or abrogates their use in worship. An argument from silence is not sufficient when God has already established the legitimacy of their use. While the New Testament does abrogate those laws that separated Jews from Gentiles, it never does so with musical instruments.

The acceptable use of musical instruments in worship is grounded in the immutability of God. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New. Because God has once commanded people to worship him with musical instruments and has never taken back that command, it is still binding on Christians today. God may not be worshiped with animal sacrifices today because Christ has abolished the Old Testament sacrificial system that was designed to point to him. Now that Christ has come, we do not need to go back to the shadows that were fulfilled in him (Col 2:17). But musical instruments are never identified as having been abolished or done away with by God. On the contrary, we are commanded to sing psalms to God (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). And it is in the book of Psalms that the warrant for musical instruments is given. Consider Psalm 150:3-5: “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” There are many references throughout the book of Psalms to the use of instruments in worship. The Psalms were designed to be sung with musical instruments and each song has a unique melody for musical accompaniment. Why shouldn’t musicians be allowed to use their gifts to worship and serve God?

Another closely related debate is that of exclusive psalmody or whether or not the book of Psalms is the only proper book of hymns for Christians today. While that debate goes beyond the scope of this article, I recommend Robert Morey’s helpful article on the subject. The irony of exclusive psalmody is that the book of Psalms commands us to worship God with musical instruments and most churches that practice exclusive psalmody do not allow instruments in worship. We need more singing from the book of Psalms in our worship services. We are commanded to sing psalms in the very same verses that allow for the singing of songs not found explicitly in the pages of Scripture (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). We should not have to choose between only singing modern worship songs or only singing the book of Psalms.

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