Q: Are musical instruments in Christian worship authorized by the New Testament? (This question was put in the questions box at the Wayne Young People’s conference, but time ran out before it could be answered)
A: There is one thing that we can say with certainty when looking at this subject: Although there is much written about musical instruments in the Old Testament, the New Testament is virtually silent about their use.
Do we find any passage where worship is connected with musical instrumentation? Let’s take a look. The following is a list of the references in the New Testament where singing as a direct form of worship is mentioned: Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:29; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13; Revelation 5:8–9; 14:2; 15:2. The first two references are not occasions in which musical instruments would normally be used in any event. We find that it is only in the last three references from the Book of Revelation that musical instruments are actually mentioned at all (harps in each case). But the Apocalypse is a highly symbolic book and the harps are very probably figurative and not literal…these three passages from Revelation are not looking at what has to do with present assembly order on earth, but are prophetic in character.
The remaining six passages are Romans 15:9, 1 Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 2:12, and James. 5:13; these have more directly to do with the assembly as it is now constituted in the Christian dispensation. A brief look at each of these will be helpful. They will show us that musical instruments were not used in the early Church’s worship.
Romans 15:9. This reference is a quotation from Psalms 18:9 to show prophetically that God would bring salvation to the Gentiles.
1 Corinthians 14:15. This passage is in view of an actual assembly meeting; the fact that there is no mention of instruments here is significant. But even more striking is that there are no musical instruments hinted at in the entire of the First Epistle to the Corinthians! This is especially important because Corinthians is the epistle that gives us New Testament Church order. Surely, if it had been God’s will for Christians to use musical instruments in our worship this would be the epistle in which to mention it! Certainly if they had been in use, there would have been some regulations laid down by Paul about their use just as he did with the operation of spiritual gifts. But the reason he is silent is because they were not there in the first place!
Ephesians 5:19. No mention whatever is made of making melody through the means of musical instrumentation but rather making melody from our hearts. Colossians 3:16. Again, as in Ephesians, the emphasis is on the heart—”with grace in your hearts.”
Hebrews 2:12. This is a quotation from Psalms 22:22 by the writer to the Hebrews to show the Lord Jesus leading the worship in the assembly. The Bible says Christ the Leader in the midst of the assembly worship, but today His role has been highjacked by a rock band led by a “worship leader.” Are we beginning to get the picture? James 5:13. This is the final passage but again there is silence with respect to musical instrumentation.
If we consider the huge emphasis put on music in the Church today, the silence of the New Testament on this ought to be a voice to us that somewhere along the line we have departed from God’s order in worship. Surely, if it were such an important part of worship, somewhere throughout the range of these twenty-seven books we would be given directions on the use of musical instruments for Christian worship, but there are none!
Outside the Camp
The use of musical instruments and more recently the rise of “worship teams” as an aide to congregational worship is nothing less than turning back to what God had originally established to be only a “shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). In many circles, the Lord’s Supper has been put in the shade and often is simply added to the end of the regular “service.” However, this feast ought to be central to the expression of Christian worship. Not only is the use of musical instruments drawn from the Old Testament, the whole worship team movement is modeled (perhaps unconsciously) upon the Levitical order of the Jewish system as well. We do not need a caste of people to “lead” the people in worship—we are all priests and are to be led by the Holy Spirit alone. Our responsibility then is to answer the call to “go forth to Him, without the camp” (Hebrews 13:13) in separation from all such developments. Brian Reynolds
The above article is a condensed extract from a booklet titled “Musical Instruments and the Rise of the New Levites” published by Believer’s Bookshelf Canada and also available through Believer’s bookshelf USA.