The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were well aware that every religious practice must be authorized. They viewed it as a challenge to their authority when Jesus went into the temple and cast out the money changers, which it was. They said to Jesus: “By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority?” (Matt 21:23 ). Jesus promised to tell them where He got his authority if they would answer only one question: “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” (Matt 21:25). Now the questioners were trapped in a dilemma. If they said John’s baptism was from heaven, that is, authorized of God, they knew that Jesus would ask them why they had not received it. On the other hand, if they said that John’s baptism was from men, they feared the people, so they said, “We cannot tell” (Matt 21:27). They knew there were only two sources of authority for religious practices– God or men. That is true with our religious practices. It is fatal to simply have the authority of men for religious practices, for Jesus said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matt 15:13).
SINGING–FROM HEAVEN OR OF MEN?
Is “singing and making melody in your heart” from heaven or of men? The way to determine the correct answer to that question is to appeal to the scriptures. It is easy to establish authority for singing, because we can read commands and examples of singing in connection with worship under the New Testament economy. Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn at the close of the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26). Paul and Silas sang praises to God in prison (Acts 16:25 ). In connection with the worship of the church, Paul said, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (I Cor 14:15 ). The apostle Paul commanded: “But be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:18 ,19). Also: “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” (Col 3:16). Other passages are James 5:13, Rom 15:9 and Heb 2:12.
PLAYING AN INSTRUMENT–FROM HEAVEN OR OF MEN?
Is playing on an instrument in worship from heaven or of men? To ask that question is to answer it, because it must be obvious to all that there is no biblical authority for the use of instruments of music in worship under the New Testament economy. There is no command to play on an instrument, no example of anyone doing it in Christian worship, and no place where it may be necessarily inferred that instruments of music were used in worship. Yet the apostle Paul commanded, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father “by him” (Col 3:17 ). “In the name of” means “by the authority of.” When the sheriff bangs on a door, and says, “Open up in the name of the law,” he means “by the authority of the law.” Our worship to God, as well as other religious activity, must be authorized by God. It is not enough for people to say, “Oh, I like instrumental music!” What we like does not necessarily meet the approval of God. The question we should be asking about instrumental music is: “Has God authorized it?” If the question is answered affirmatively, I ask: “Where has God authorized it?” It is obvious that God has not authorized it in the New Testament.
THE OLD TESTAMENT
Sometimes people acknowledge that there is no New Testament authority for instrumental music, but cite various passages in the Old Testament in which instrumental music was used, apparently with God’s approval. But surely we recognize that the Old Testament is not our authority. It was nailed to the cross (Col 2:14), and “we are delivered from the law,” (Rom 7:6). Yes, Psalms is included in the law, for Jesus said, “Is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods?” (John 10:34). The only place you will find that quotation is in Psalms 82:6 , so Jesus identified Psalms as part of the law. If the law is our authority, then it opens the door for many practices, including infant membership, burning of incense, animal sacrifices and polygamy.
But some argue, “Why did God change his mind?” We might ask, “Why did God change his mind about infant membership, incense, and polygamy? I don’t profess to know the answer to that question, but I do know that the Old Testament is not our authority for New Testament worship. I want a religious practice that IS approved, not one that USED TO BE approved.
Recently, it has been argued that there is no authority for congregational singing and that all of the passages which mention singing in the New Testament involves individual singing. I submit that even if that were true, it would not authorize and justify instrumental music in worship. Those who make such an argument practice congregational singing, therefore, they are condemned by their own practice. A little consideration of Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19 will show that the command to sing involves reciprocal action. Eph 5:19 commands “speaking to yourselves”- reciprocal action. Col 3:16 commands “teaching and admonishing one another,” so this is not solo singing or simply individual singing- it is something we are to do to each other. There is no validity to the contention that all the passages in the New Testament on singing refer to individual singing.
It is also argued that the Greek term for “make melody” in the original text means to sing to the accompaniment of a harp. Some who know only enough about lexicons to be dangerous have looked up the original word and noticed “harp” in its ancient etymology and have jumped to the conclusion that the etymology is the meaning. But the etymology of a word is not its meaning. James D. Bales gives an example showing that the word “lyric” once meant “adapted to the lyre or harp,” but that is not its did not think it meant “sing to accompaniment,” because they rendered it “make melody,” as did the 47 scholars of the KJV.
There is no New Testament authority for playing on an instrument in worship. We cannot “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it is silent” and use instrumental music. We cannot “walk by the same rule” and “mind the same thing” if we refuse to be governed by the authority of the New Testament.
Published in the July 1, 1991 issue of the OPA.