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Singing And Playing In Christian Worship – More On Instrumental Music
By Denny Smith
I have learned over time that no matter how familiar you are with a subject given enough time you are bound to hear something you never heard before. It is a historical fact that instrumental music was never used in Christian worship until well over 600 years after the establishment of the church. A simple Google search on the topic with the words “history” added will get you all the information your heart could desire.
This is a historical fact about instrumental music in Christian worship none will deny. (The earliest date I have seen listed in my research is around 670 AD.) If it was of God, if the apostles had instructed the early Christians to use it, then it goes without saying that in those very early years they would have been worshipping with it. The very fact that we can be certain beyond doubt that the instrument is of man’s invention in Christian worship rather from God, that man brought it in, not God, ought to settle the question immediately with all who want to follow the bible, the word of God. Want to follow the Bible, the word of God? Simple! Just sing. Want to follow man. Simple again! Play musical instruments in worship. There is nothing difficult about it.
It is hard for people to get a good grasp on time. We fail to realize what an enormously long period of time it was before the church ever introduced even the first instrument of music, what an awfully long period of time it was where the only music in worship was that of singing. This helps me get a grasp on it and maybe it will help you as well. It is now the year 2009. Let us take 670 years from that and see how far back we get. That takes us back to the year 1339 AD. If we phrase it this way and reverse the events (in order to grasp the time element better) we would say that from the year 1339 up to the year 2009 the church did not have instruments in the worship of God. It is pretty evident when you look at it that way that neither God nor the church thought of instruments of music of being of any value in Christian worship. That is a long, long period of time.
That said I just recently heard of a man who made the argument that when we invite someone in to sing, speaking of today, the here and now, we just naturally assume he or she will bring their musical instruments with them and use them in the performance thus the word sing in the New Testament does not necessarily mean just sing alone. They might have been bringing their instruments with them. If so the historians are wrong for that is the very thing they say was not done. Do the research yourself.
The real problem, so you are not led astray by such reasoning, is that he states as fact what he cannot possibly know or prove. He extrapolates (infers unknown data from known data) and says that because we use the word that way today they necessarily used it the same way 2,000 years ago in another culture.
According to him the word “sing” could mean either just sing or sing and play both. The trouble is that is not true. Sing means sing or else words have no meaning and if that is the case we soon lose our ability to communicate. We may put two and two together today because of the common practice that singers also often play while singing but still singing is singing and that is all the word means. When you begin to say it also means or could include playing you are walking blindly, by something you cannot possibly know, and if the blind lead the blind both will fall into a ditch. (Matt. 15:14)
The very best that could be said about it is that it is a gamble and who desires to play a gambling game with God when you are the only possible loser? There is no gambling in singing. You do not have to hope that singing is pleasing to God for you can read your New Testament and see clearly that it is. No one has ever disputed that (emphasis on “no one”).
In years gone by some use to argue that in the Greek the word that is translated “sing” had the instrument inherent in the meaning of the word. Many debates were held and books written. I have a 278 page hardback book in my library on the Greek verb “psallo” which is the word in question. I long ago decided that not being a Greek scholar I would have to depend on those who are – the translators of the many versions of the Bible we have available today. If the Greek verb “psallo” has inherent within it the instrument they could have so translated it, being Greek scholars, by something along the lines of “sing and play.” That they did not do. No major Bible translation I know of translates the Greek in any other way than “sing.” Why? Because they are convinced the word means sing and not sing and play.
But the liberal brother gets around this by saying that it might be included in the word just by common usage as is often the case today in that we just expect entertainers to play as they sing. Living on might, maybe, and it could be
is not very satisfactory to a man who wants to live by faith. The man of faith wants word from God so he can have some grounded faith, faith placed on a strong and solid foundation. Such a man lives in confidence trusting in the word of God.
The other man trusts as well but his trust is in his opinion, in what he cannot possibly know by the word of God since the word of God says nothing about it. There is nothing there to endorse his opinion and put it on solid ground. He gambles and trusts in the wisdom of self.
It is not hard to research singing in the New Testament for it is not mentioned that often. We find the word “sing” in Rom. 15:9, 1 Cor. 14:15, Heb. 2:12, James 5:13, and Rev. 15:3. The word “singing” is found in Acts 16:25, Eph. 5:19, and Col. 3:16. The word “sung” is found in Matt. 26:30 and Mark 14:26.
The man in question seems to make much of the thought that some of the passages above do not have reference to the worship service. Well, so what? What is that suppose to prove? How many passages does he need to be persuaded that we are to sing in Christian worship? But, the real question is why make an issue out of what appears to be an insignificant fact?
The only explanation that makes sense to me is that he is making an attempt to try and prove that we have no Bible authority for singing in the worship assembly. If he can show that he can make the case that he too is allowed to do what there is no authority for, play musical instruments in worship which is his desire. If this is what he is trying to do he will fail miserably for we have all kind of Bible authority for singing in worship.
In 1 Cor. 14:15 Paul says, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” Verses 12 and 16 and 19 (“in the church”) show conclusively that in context Paul is speaking of singing done in the assembly. In fact, the entire chapter deals with what is going on in the assembly, the word church being used 7 times in the chapter. Furthermore, I have a pretty good idea how one would sing with the spirit but I am at a loss to know how one plays, as in play a musical instrument, in the kind of spirit Paul is talking about in this chapter.
In Heb. 2:12 the reference is to Jesus and the text reads, “I will declare your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to you.” Does my brother think Jesus does this singing while playing an instrument? And, by the way, this singing is in the assembly. Do we think he sings alone – that is without the brethren also singing?
The brother said, in what I read, that Ephesians 5:19 has nothing to do with singing in the assembly of the saints. It reads, “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (NKJV) His idea is, evidently, this is just to be done at home. When you get somewhere where there are people you can actually speak to in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (because you are in the assembly) then you must keep quiet for this verse he says is not about that. I cannot understand how some people reason.
He is even wrong on the context of Eph. 5:19 which he says is not about the assembly. He uses verse 15 to show, he says, that the context is talking about individual singing outside the assembly. But as the reader can clearly see this is a “one another” passage as is the concluding verse in this section, verse 21, “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (NKJV) One another is us, the church, the saints. Thus to try and limit the passage and give it an outside of the assembly application only is going too far. It applies both ways.
The same things can be said for the same reasons about Col. 3:16, “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.” That being the case I will not take up your time.
It is obvious there is plenty of Bible authority for singing in worship. There is none for the use of instrumental music. For that there is only a desperate grasping after the wind as though it could be caught in the hand. It is a wild and reckless gamble. When you can be sure you are worshipping God in a manner pleasing to him why would you gamble with anything else unless it is human pride and desire and that may be the greatest problem of all.
Based on historical facts, on what we can be sure of (singing), and what is safe and reasonable, an infallibly safe way, we ought to confine ourselves to that which we know pleases God – singing psalms and hymns and spiritual sons while making melody in our heart to the Lord. We must always remember that worship must be not only in spirit but in truth as well. (John 4:24) God’s word is truth (John 17:17) so he gets to make the decisions on worship, not you, not me.
Visit Denny Smith’s web site to read more of his articles and also listen to over 110 audio sermons on many different subjects from “Where Are the Dead?” to “The Weaver’s Shuttle,” to “What Must I Do To Be Saved?” The audio sermons are by a good friend of his, Waymon Swain. Why not visit his site now dennysmith.net? You are sure to find a sermon topic or article of interest.