Many from Church of Christ backgrounds have been taught that instruments are unacceptable to God. Some take this to an extreme and try to suggest that the Bible condemns them outright. Others take a more moderate approach, and apply their prohibition only to church. Which is it? Can a Christian listen to contemporary Christian music? Are they in danger of hell fire for doing so? Are there good reasons to listen to Christian music, or to stay away from it?
After giving serious thought to this subject from a scriptural standpoint, I came to the realization that there is nothing intrinsically or Biblically wrong with Christian music, and there is a lot of positive in it, in any setting (at home, in church, etc.). Each person is free to hold whatever opinion they want on this, but I address it here because most readers are from the acappella wing of the Church of Christ. For them, this can be a troubling question.
There are several avenues of thought I want to explore on this topic:
- What does the Bible say about instrumental music?
- Did the early church use instruments, and is that important?
- What are the benefits of listening to contemporary Christian music?
- Should Christians learn to play an instrument?
- Isn’t the contemporary Christian music scene filled with hypocrites, shallow theology, and people seeking to monetize the gospel? Is that important?
What does the Bible say about instrumental music?
Genesis 4:20-21 – Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes.
1 Chronicles 23:5 – Moreover four thousand were porters; and four thousand praised the LORD with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith.
2 Chronicles 7:6 – And the priests waited on their offices: the Levites also with instruments of music of the LORD, which David the king had made to praise the LORD, because his mercy endures for ever, when David praised by their ministry; and the priests sounded trumpets before them, and all Israel stood.
2 Chronicles 29:26 – And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.
Amos 6:5 – That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David;
2 Chronicles 29:25 – He stationed the Levites in the temple of the Lord with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king’s seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the Lord through his prophets.
It also turns out that the psalms of David, written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, were written and arranged to be accompanied by instruments:
Psalm 33:2 – Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.
Psalm 43:4 – Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.
Psalm 49:4 – I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
Psalm 57:8 – Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.
Psalm 71:22 – I will also praise thee with the psaltery, even thy truth, O my God: unto thee will I sing with the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel.
Psalm 81:2 – Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery.
Psalm 92:1-4 – It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most high: To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night, Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery; upon the harp with a solemn sound. For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands.
Psalm 98:5 – Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.
Psalm 108:2 – Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.
Psalm 137:2 – We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
Psalm 147:7 – Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God:
Psalm 149:3 – Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.
Psalm 150:3 – Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
The unmistakably clear fact that God commanded instruments in Old Testament worship and clearly approved of them in worship and praise is a devastating blow to the claim that instruments are in any way looked down upon by God. God commanded them, and he doesn’t change.
But what about the New Testament, you say? Consider these scriptures:
Ephesians 5:19 – speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord…
Colossians 3:16 – Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Notice something very important things about these verses. The word psalms is used, in addition to hymns and spiritual songs. These different words are choses for a reason. What does the word psalm mean? It literally means to pluck the strings of an instrument. This is perhaps the last nail in the coffin of the theory that instruments are prohibited in the OT or NT scriptures.
psalmos: primarily denoted “a striking or twitching with the fingers (on musical strings);” then, “a sacred song, sung to musical accompaniment, a psalm.”
The book of Psalms itself, along with definition of psalmos indicate that the term has always implied musical accompaniment. So when Paul used the word in reference to Christian music, I believe he very clearly is authorizing musical instruments in praise and worship, whether the first century church ever had the opportunity to use them or not.
So did the first century church actually use instruments? Note that this is a separate question from whether instruments are allowed. I may allow my kids to have three pieces of cake at every meal. But if there’s no cake in the house, they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of that liberty. It is quite possible, I would even say certain, that a host of things are allowed by God—even good and honorable—which are not required.This is where we’re at with musical instruments in the first century. I believe Paul makes it clear by use of the word psalmos and psallo that musical instruments are perfectly acceptable in worship and praise of God. The word itself means to pluck the strings of a musical instrument. So this is not even debatable that Paul had in mind an instrumental accompaniment when he wrote those letters to the Ephesian and Colossian churches.We honestly don’t know whether first century believers used instruments. It’s certainly possible some did. We do know that instruments are implied as being OK because of Paul’s choice of words, and we know they were clearly approved by God in OT scripture. We have no reason to think that changed.First century believers, particularly Christians trying to meet under the radar of a hostile Roman and Jewish society, may not have had the financial luxury of owning an instrument at that time, or the skill to play one. But that is a different matter altogether. The most important question for modern believers is whether instruments are allowed, not whether they were used in the first century.
The lyrics of the music we listen to do have an effect on us. Stripping all of that out where possible, and replacing it with wholesome songs with positive lyrics that include teaching and encouragement about God and faith, was a huge blessing for my family. I believe the constant flow of positive music in our home played a positive role in my kids’ lives.If Christian music is not wrong, and is a healthy, positive replacement for something bad in our culture, why would someone not want to take advantage of contemporary Christian music? It makes absolutely no sense to me that some Christians will accept instrumental accompaniment in secular music, but reject it in songs of praise and worship. We should want to let our faith spill over into every area of our lives, including our music choices.
Should Christians learn to play an instrument?
The creativity and skill required to make music is actually a powerful argument for investing the time required to use it to worship and praise God. Music was created by God, and heaven itself is even described as having instruments. Think about the science of music and sound. Wave patterns hit our eardrums for our brains to interpret. God created this phenomenon. God is a creator and he made us in his image as creative beings. This is a trait that sets us apart from the animals.
Some sounds are unpleasant. Some sounds (words) can be used to communicate ideas and information. And some sounds are simply harmonious, and beautiful, and lift the spirit. Why not use our ability to create to edify each other and glorify God?
In fact, the appreciation of beauty, sometimes shunned by intellectuals who think it beneath them, is an idea that is unique to humans, and a gift from God meant as a blessing. Animals don’t understand beauty. They don’t intentionally create it for their enjoyment, and don’t appreciate it. Humans, on the other hand, were created in the image of the Master Creator to be creators themselves. Music is one of the things we create.
With these facts as a backdrop, consider what Solomon instructed:
Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
Now see how that meshes with what Paul wrote to the Colossian church:
Colossians 3:17 – And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
If a Christian is at liberty to listen to music, and to learn to play it, and he can also use it to edify; shouldn’t he do so with all his heart, as to the Lord? I think so.
Does listening to Christian music mean I’m endorsing the Christian artists?
But the contemporary Christian music scene seems to be filled with hypocrites, you say. The songs have shallow theology, and the artists and labels appear to be trying to monetize the gospel. Yes, that is sometimes the case. There are always going to be charlatans and hucksters preaching the gospel, some for money, some for power, some for fame. But we can’t judge everyone in the music industry with such a broad brush. God knows their heart. If the music they create is Biblically accurate and spiritually useful for encouragement and teaching, there is no need to judge the hearts of those who produce it. Companies make money off of printing Bibles as well. That shouldn’t stop us from buying them.Then we have this:
Philippians 1:15-18 – It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice….
That’s right. What’s important is that Christ be preached, not that everyone has pure motives doing it. We don’t need to know or judge motives. I’ve learned in life to always assume good motives, even when it seems obvious that someone’s motives aren’t as pure as we’d like them to be. That’s OK. Be patient with them. I think this is a good rule, because we can only accurately judge outward actions, not motives.
Let’s leave it to God to judge the inner thoughts and motives of the heart. In the meantime, if someone has a talent from God to put inspiring words to beautiful music, I’m happy to be a customer. I’d rather support them and get something useful and uplifting in return than to turn my nose up at the their talents provided to them by God.
1 Timothy 5:18 – For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”
If you’ve avoided contemporary Christian music until now, and want to explore it as an alternative to the often anti-Christian product the secular industry puts out, a good place to start is to look up your local Air 1 or KLOVE radio station. You can stream either of these on your phone. You can also probably find a local Christian radio station with its own format and choices of songs.