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.
Eph. 5:10 does not forbid musical instruments. Forbidding musical instruments was added to Paul’s words about singing thereby making something that is good sinful and unacceptable in worship and that became a tradition of men. Not unlike other corrupt doctrines in the sect. The Apostle John who had the Holy Spirit and wrote the book of Revelations under the authority of God speaks of musical instruments being used to worship God in Heaven. Not once but three times! If God authorizes the use of musical instruments to worship him in heaven it would appear the sect contradicts what God has… Read more »
Exactly. The problem stems from a misunderstanding about how to interpret scripture (hermeneutics). Many people think we are prohibited from doing things in worship that are not specifically commanded or authorized by an "approved example" or "necessary inference." That is a flawed premise, and has given us flawed conclusions. Nowhere are we told by the Bible to interpret it using this flawed rule. It is an impossible rule to follow consistently, and therefore introduces human reasoning into the equation to attempt to rationalize why one thing is prohibited and another allowed. For instance, foot washing and the "holy kiss" are… Read more »
Rules and regulations serve only to empower an authoritarian leader. Many things were taught simply to exalt the local or national leaders and nothing to do with serving God. You cannot go to the movies because the national leader said so is one example and you are not to exercise because bodily exercise profiteth little or you can only get four hours of sleep a night and you must call your fellow church members to make sure they are not sleeping too much is just some of the few absurd teaching that have empowered the leaders who put them out.… Read more »
For those who are convinced that musical instruments are not accepted by God, can you share with me why something would be wrong that God commanded and accepted in the OT (remember, God doesn't change), and heaven is described as having them? This gives both OT and NT "approval," if you will. Add to that the fact that the psalms clearly had instrumental accompaniment in the OT, and Paul in the NT says to praise God with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
This is unassailable evidence that banning instruments is nothing more than "teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men."
I was taught that there is no example in the new testament that musical instruments were used so the SCOC does not allow them in worship. I was also taught that Christians do not get cremated because only the wicked had their bodies burned, like King Saul. In both examples it was stated that no example can be found so we don't do it because it would be adding to the Bible.
That's correct, that's the teaching. But do you see how that is flawed logic? There are many things we don't see an example of in the Bible. Pitch pipes, p.a. systems, song books, four part harmony, owning a church building, baptizing in a baptistry or backyard pool (as opposed to a natural body of water), taking the Lord's supper during the day (all Biblical examples indicate it was at night), even doing "personal work" to invite people to a "nonmembers class." All of these things have fewer Biblical precedent than using instruments in worship and praise to God. At least… Read more »
I found that in many areas only part of the bible was taught and it was usually the part that the current teacher/preacher preferred. In the Phoenix congregation during the reign of the oppressor 1990-1993 we were taught fear and not love. Example: the evangelist in Spring Valley asked for 1000.00 of 3500.00 requested from different churches for the purchase of a newer car because the vehicle he had been driving had the engine rebuilt (which took eight months?) and then the engine blew up and he needed a newer vehicle. The oppressor said because we had the money in… Read more »
I should add that the reason the older Mexican man did not have food is because he was not working much. The Mexican man, who was promoted to preacher and sent out to the Mobile AL congregation, did not have money for rent (he lived for free on a brain surgeons property at central and Mcdowel) he did not have money for gasoline, did not have money for Sunday fellowship food, and told me personally that he only like to work until noon or one in the afternoon and then go home and study his Bible. This was not a… Read more »
Anon 9:29, I don't bring those things up because that wasn't my experience. I had two loving parents whose marriage and relationship with God was marred by false ideology…which is bad, but I never experienced abuse or neglect, or witnessed it personally. I'm quite confident there was a lot of that going on in various congregations, as so many have shared their experiences. It just wasn't mine.
"we were never taught love and helping the poor"
What we were told, over and over, is to, "not ask what the church can do for you, but what you can do for the church".
In our congregation we were discouraged to look to the church for help. The congregation wasn't encouraged to help those who are in need in the congregation. They were very indifferent and if you dared to say anything about it excuses would be made.
Some virtues are only learned through adversity. I went through oppression several times in the church and often wondered why. When you face constant discouragement you will either develop persistence or you will quit. I was under the preacher of discouragement and developed persistence in the face of his hatred of me. He never had anything good to say to me, or about me, or anyone else for that matter; except the national leaders over him in the church. He worshiped the national leaders and was quick to bring up their requests for financial help but the poor went hungry… Read more »
This is one danger of having a standing treasury. If you read the texts carefully that people use to justify a weekly collection, it was for a specific need, not just to keep $35,000 on hand.
But I applaud your commitment to handling needs yourself. This is true brotherly love, and frankly, is a more rewarding way to "give to the church." Remember, the church is the people. 🙂
I agree, Kevin, and they are the people of God. I have never liked blowing my own horn, but I also, like to practice what I preach, so to speak. Almost only to those who were affected, I had bought those groceries, who needed it, and clothing for children, who needed it. I bought bible and concordances for those who needed them. To me, the whole time I looked at my brethren as the people and children of God and I know that as I did for them I was doing to Jesus. I don't ever remember this concept ever… Read more »
Perhaps one of the historical problems in our COC heritage has been in using the word "worship" as a noun–i.e. a defined period of time on Sunday morning–rather than a verb, something we can and should do 24/7. I'll write more on this later.
One "historical" problems in the SCOC is worshiping the leader as God on earth. It is not taught by direct commandment but can be seen in the examples set by both leaders and followers. The leaders word becomes law and it does not matter if it follows scripture, or is not mentioned in scripture, or even if it goes against scripture: the leaders word is law. Men in Phoenix would not wear facial hair behind the pulpit because the evangelist said he would never wear facial hair behind the pulpit. When I pointed out that Christ had a beard as… Read more »
Great point, Keven, referring to the purchasing of Bibles in relation to Christian song purchases. That led me to the thought of hymnals that are also purchased by congregations. Hymnal companies make a profit just like Christian music companies and Bible publishing companies. Why is one type of Christian song acceptable but the other sinful? Sin is sin; perhaps hymnals need to be thrown out and GP/TC can compose all the music for free? LoL
Yes. The logic of their reasoning only holds up by selectively applying it to the issues they already decided ahead of time. This is the danger of relying on so-called "necessary inference" when reasoning about the scriptures. The mind is easily convinced of what's "necessary" based on its pre-existing biases.
Another example: Why does Stanton not practice the "holy kiss" or footwashing? These are as "direct command" as one can get. Yet somehow musical instruments are banned by SCOC without ever being expressly banned by scripture? Just more "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
When I was with the group, it shocked me when I found no basis in scripture for requiring bible classes! Not even an example, let alone necessary inference!I'm not saying that it's a sin to have and to attend bible classes. But the SCOC REQUIRES it! They rebuke those who miss or are late to a bible class-unless you were ill. You are required to attend ALL bible classes, not just one a week!Even when my husband's Father was in the hospital and dying, we were required to attend all classes as well as "personal work". Our teacher even questioned… Read more »
Yes Debby. This verse comes to mind:
Matthew 23:4 – They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
The sin is in fallible humans binding things the Word of God doesn't bind.
I was in only a few weeks when I realized that the SCOC does not really follow the Bible, but also does not really study the Bible neither. I was given Merie Weiss written lessons on the one true church, non member lessons, ten identifying marks, and more within weeks of being baptized, but not told how important study of the Bible itself is. I saw by example that Meries lessons were taught verbatim, by rote, with no understanding as to why she said what she said. I also heard a lot of Alexander Campbell lessons from his book The… Read more »
Very true. I must say, I never heard Alexander Campbell or Barton Stone taught growing up in the church in anything other than a casual reference. Bible study was done because it was a requirement to show that you were as spiritual as the next person. If you didn't study for each and every class, or didn't have something to share from your studies, you were looked down upon as less spiritual. It's great to study, of course. But studying superficially to obtain the approval of men is just "phoning it in," and they end up parroting whatever the leader… Read more »
You hit the nail on the head with "superficial knowledge." That was me: I was determined to show that I had just as much knowledge and understanding as the next Christian and avoid the demeaning treatment dished out to those less than spiritual. I however, never got the understanding that I must apply these commandments to myself first to truly understand them. I was a scripture spouting parrot knowing something was wrong but not understanding what it was; I was just following the examples of the older Christians. It was not until I left and was out from under the… Read more »
So glad to hear that! God bless…and thanks for reading and joining in the conversation!
Alexander Campbell was mentioned…if memory serves correct, the church regarded him as a Christian, correct? If he is regarded as such, isn't it odd that he started his own private college, Bethany College, because he believed that the clergy should be college educated yet CoC teaches that Christians are forbidden to attend college because of its worldly ideas??
Yes, they just say that he "went off" in his later years. They do consider him a Christian, but have never reconciled the fact that he did not reach his conclusions about baptism being for the remission of sins until later in life, and was never re-baptized. He was asked about it in his publications, and defended the authenticity of baptism even in cases where someone didn't fully understand all the benefits of it. From his Millennial Harbinger publication: "…[T]herefore I must say that the preaching of re-immersion to the citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ for the remission… Read more »
That was a constant comment: he or she started out okay but went off in the later years. Hardly anyone is declared to have died faithful and went to heaven in the SCOC. Anyone not obedient to current leadership is somehow "off". Many religious leaders are like this : "everyone is going to Hell except me". This attitude is very common is religion and is very hypocritical, how can only one person be going to Heaven?
I never thought of it, but Campbell does make a valid point; the preaching of re-immersion was never practiced. I wonder why that was never addressed or brought up in the early churches? Today, baptism is so tedial that all the re-baptisms can leave one confused.
Here's what Campbell had to say in response to those who argued one must be rebaptized when they learn about baptism for the remission of sins:
"The not understanding of this institution has prevented many Christians from enjoying its benefits; but the not understanding it does not make them aliens from the kingdom of Jesus."
Ahhh, but I fear this will provoke more friendly fire from some. 😉
All this talk about Campbell brought to mind a talk that the evangelist from the south gave. I can't remember if it was Campbell or Stone or another of that time period. But the talk was about how that person was killed in a train wreck, and that God did it because the person was going to some meeting. And at the meeting he was going to present something that was "off", and God prevented him from doing that. I was hoping that maybe someone remembers that talk and some more of the details!
i wish Kevin had an open blog section for sharing. I just finished a book by a holocaust survivor named Viktor E Frankl, named Man's search for meaning. Suffering produces such great wisdom and Viktor shares of his experiences in a concentration camp and his observations of the men's mental state. He was trained as a psychologist before the war and shares deep insight into the human mind. He shares that when a man gives up hope he resorts to pleasure then death, much like Solomon is the book of eccliastics. He finishes his book with reconciliation or revenge? Man… Read more »
If I had an open section of this blog, I would have to spend 24/7 editing and policing it. 🙂 There are plenty of free blogging platforms like Blogger and WordPress available for people to share their longform thoughts unedited. In the meantime, comments here are a good compromise. Feel free to link to helpful reading material in your comments.
Yes, forgiveness is essential to the Christian walk. If "love your brother as yourself" is the Golden Rule, "forgive others as you have been forgiven" has to be the Platinum Rule.
One other thing Viktor Frankl said in his book Man's search for meaning is that sex is an expression of love. Sex is the sharing of love between two individuals in marriage. So many times in the SCOC sex was a negative topic. How people acted in the marriage bed was public discussion and it should have been handled privately. The profaning, that is the making public the marriage bed, is one more way the SCOC is off: they have no common decency. There is nothing off limits from public discussion, even when children are present. The use of music… Read more »
Anonymous- As far as the singing within the SCOC is concerned, I believe the singing could be MUCH improved by the LOVE of God coming from the hearts of those singing. How can you PRAISE God in song when all you know is FEAR and punishment from the Almighty?
Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs form the Spirit. Sing and make music from your HEART to the Lord.
I do not recall the story of the Christian's death; however, according to this sect, you can tell if he went to Heaven or Hell depending on the day of the week in which he died. You see, it was strongly implied that spiritual Christians die on Sunday.
I should also add that my points about instruments don't stem from personal preference. I love acapella singing. But I can't conscientiously bind it on my brothers based on scripture.
Debby what was going to be presented that was "off" was musical instruments if I remember that story correctly.
Craig, I do believe you are correct! Thank you so much!