What About Mechanical Instruments of Music in Christian Worship?

By Wayne Jackson

A sincere Christian posed this question: “Why don’t we use instruments of music in our worship?”

Tragically, so many members of the Lord’s church these days appear to be untaught as to exactly why churches of Christ refrain from instrumental accompaniment in their worship.

The simplest, most concise answer is this: It is a matter of authority. There is no authority for the use of a mechanical instrument in Christiai> worship. We are not concerned with how the ancient pagan worshipped his gods. Nor is the Hebrew method of worship germane, since that system was abrogated by the death of Christ (Rom. 7:4; Gal. 3:24-25; Col. 2:14).

For this age, the crucial question is: How is the Christian authorized to worship?

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote: “And whatsoever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus . . .” (3:17). The expression “word or deed” encompasses two realms — teaching and practice. Our teaching and practice must be “in the name of the Lord.”

The Greek expression en onoma, when used with the dative case, signifies “in the power of” or “by the authority of” (J.T. Mueller, Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology, p. 371).

Too, the designation “Lord” emphasizes the Savior’s authority (cf. Mt. 28:18) in matters of faith and practice. The child of God must operate only within the bounds of Christ’s authority (see Jn. 4:24; 17:17; 1 Cor. 4:6 – ASV; 2 Jn. 9).

If the auto mechanic is instructed to do a “tune-up,” that does not mean he is authorized to rebuild the transmission. If a physician authorizes a certain medication, the pharmacist is not at liberty to improvise otherwise. The “wheel chair” symbol authorizes a handicapped person to park in a certain place; there are heavy fines for ignoring this authority designation. Each day, in many different ways, we are required to respect the limitations of authority.

So it is with worship; we are authorized to sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). We are not authorized to “play.” It is a matter of authority.

Some folks respect the authority of the New Testament; others do not. They yield to the impulse of “will-worship” — the practice of which embraces both that which is “forbidden” and “unbidden” (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary). Such disobedience brings only condemnation.

This term “will-worship” condemns the use of mechanical instruments in Christian worship.

Furthermore, history confirms that mechanical instruments were not used in the early church. Note the following quotations:

“Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments of music, the first Christians were of too spiritual a fiber to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1913, Vol. X, p. 651).

“There is no record in the NT of the use of instruments in the musical worship of the Christian church” Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998, p. 1163).

“Whatever evidence is forthcoming, is to the effect that the early Christians did not use musical instruments” (William Smith & Samuel Cheetham, A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, London: John Murray, 1880, II, p. 1365).

“The foregoing argument [of this book] has proceeded principally by two steps. The first is: Whatsoever, in connection with the public worship of the church, is not commanded by Christ, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence, in his Word is forbidden. The second is: Instrumental music, in connection with the public worship of the church is not so commanded by Christ. The conclusion is: Instrumental music, in connection with the public worship of the church, is forbidden” (John J. Girardeau, Professor, Columbia Theological Seminary (Presbyterian), Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church, Richmond, VA: Whittet & Shepperson, 1888, p. 200).

The devout Christian, who wishes to respect the Lord’s authority,
will worship in song (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) — without the encumbrance of mechanical instruments.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.