INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN THE WORSHIP OF GOD – Ephesians 5


speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;

Ephesians 5:19 ASV

Speaking one to another …

This reference is probably to the custom of Christians “singing by turns a hymn to Christ, as to a god.”

“By turns” is also rendered “antiphonally”; but from 1 Corinthians 14:26, the custom was actually that of singing by turns.

Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs …

Although these can be differentiated, there is no need to do so. The teaching declares that not all songs are acceptable in the worship of God, but only those with spiritual value.

Regarding the question whether or not the public assemblies or worship services of the Christians are referred to here, it seems best to construe the passage as having exactly that application.

To make it applicable to all types of gatherings would be to prohibit a Christian from singing any kind of music except sacred music, a prohibition that does not appear in the passage at all.

With Lipscomb and many others it is viewed here as instruction regarding the public worship of the Christians.

Singing …

The meaning of this term is to produce music vocally; and regardless of ancient meanings attributed to the word [PSALLO], rendered “making melody” used here in conjunction with it, no translator has ever rendered this verb any other way.

God’s command for Christians is that they should sing, and if playing instruments of music is an acceptable part of divine worship, it is difficult to understand why it would not have been so stated in this place.

Arguments from the ancient meaning of [PSALLO] are, irrelevant to the question of instrumental music, one way or the other.

WHY INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN THE WORSHIP OF GOD IS REJECTED

1. There is nothing strange or unusual about some Christians rejecting mechanical music as in any manner appropriate or permissible in Christian worship.

The entire Protestant world maintains exactly the same religious position with reference to use of the Rosary of the Virgin Mary, the sign of the cross, the burning of sacred incense, the sprinkling of holy water, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers for souls in purgatory, the lighting of holy candles … and a hundred other innovative additions to Christianity, as being not taught in the New Testament.

The identically same arguments which support the non-use of such devices as those here cited are valid when applied to the use of mechanical instruments of music in God’s worship.

The burden of proof therefore rests upon those who reject some of the historical church’s innovations, but do not reject them all.

To many devout souls, it appears mandatory to reject all innovations (Matthew 15:9).

No one has ever denied that the use of mechanical instruments in worship was unknown to the New Testament age and that the first historical appearance of them in Christian worship came during the eighth century.

2. It is accepted by many that the use of musical instruments in the Old Testament was an innovative change from David and that the change was not approved by the Lord.

This, of course, is vigorously denied by some; but their denials are refuted by the truth that the Orthodox Hebrew Communion through the centuries has clung to the non-use of mechanical instruments, maintaining that God did not approve of them; and they know the teaching of the Old Testament on that point better than any modern scholars.

3. Mechanical music as worship of God is antithetical, by nature, to spiritual religion.

From times immemorial, many centuries before Christ came, instruments of music were conspicuously associated with pagan worship (Daniel 3:7); and for the first six and one-half centuries of the Christian faith on earth, they were just as conspicuously omitted from Christian worship.

Although Paul did not have such things in mind when he declared that “God is not worshipped with men’s hands,” the text truly applies to this question (Acts 17:25, KJV).

The introduction of mechanical instruments into the worship of Christ involves the service and skills of technical and profession craftsmen who tend to emphasize “art” more and more, and “worship” less and less, resulting usually in the professionalizing of the “singers” as well as the players.

Anyone who has ever known the internal workings of a big city church choir can testify to the blight that inevitably follows. There was never anything on earth more “unspiritual.”

There are many other persuasive and convincing things to be said on this question, but the above are cited here because they were determinative in the thinking of this writer, at a time when he was a member of a “choir” and struggling with this question himself.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.

Colossians 3:16 ASV

Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs …

It would appear that “spiritual” in this verse is the modifier of all that may be properly used in Christian assemblies.

By their nature of being in the Old Testament, psalms are surely spiritual, and “hymns” are so by definition; but, as for any song so used, it must likewise be spiritual.

Significantly not even all singing is permissible in Christian worship.

What is the bearing of this passage on the use of instrumental music in Christian worship?

The answer is this: By the apostolic injunction “to sing,” thus commanding a special kind of music, all other kinds are eliminated.

It is contrary to the injunction here for congregations to “whistle” or to play mechanical instruments, the latter having been associated throughout history with pagan worship (Daniel 3:4-7).

Historically, no mechanical instruments of music were used in Christian worship until the seventh century, despite the fact of such instruments having been known and used throughout the whole world at the time of the beginning of Christianity and for centuries prior to that time.

There is no refutation of the fact that the founder of Christianity, namely, the Christ and the blessed apostles simply left them out.

Arguments from the word [PSALLO] to the effect that it refers to playing a harp fail in the light of the truth that the instrument of God’s praise appears in the passage, not as anything mechanical, but as the human heart itself.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.
Mark 16:16 ASV
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3 Replies to “INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN THE WORSHIP OF GOD – Ephesians 5”

  1. Furthermore, we see musical instruments used in heaven in the praise and worship of God in the book of Revelation:

    Revelation 14:1 And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.
    Revelation 14:2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:

    Revelation 14:3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.

    The argument that because something is not mentioned should mean it’s not approved is fallacious. Sin is a transgression of the law. Where there is no law, there is no sin. Whatever is not expressly forbidden by a relevant Scriptural injunction cannot be a sin then.

    Romans 5:13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

    Romans 4:15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

    Therefore, it is erroneous to condemn what God has not expressly condemned. It’s wrong to assume a practice sinful just because the new testament is silent about it. Whatever is forbidden in the new testament is expressly stated, so no one will have any excuse when he disobeys.

    God bless you!

  2. Greetings!
    I have some problems with the assertions and conclusion of this article.

    Paragraph (2) in support of the argument against the use of musical instruments in worship states thus: “it is accepted by many that use of musical instruments in the old testament was an innovative change from David and that the change was not approved by the Lord”. To counter this assertion, I want to point out that the use of musical instruments in worship in the Bible predated David. In Exodus 15:20, Miriam the prophetess led the women of Israel in praise of God, singing with a timbrel in her hand:

    Exodus 15:20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.

    Also, nowhere did we see God’s disapproval stated here, nor in the circumstances where David sang with musical instruments, or ordered the Levites to sing with musical instruments. If God was offended or displeased with the practice, he would have expressly condemned it, just like he expressly condemned David’s adultery and other sins. God condemned and punished David’s carrying of the ark in a new cart (rather than on the shoulders of Levites), as well as his conducting of a census the improper way. Would God condemning his use of musical instruments be a big deal then, of it was not pleasing to God?

    The prophet Elisha also needed a minstrel to play with a musical instrument to get him into the spirit of prophecy, signifying that the use of musical instruments in worship can be spiritual too ( 2 Kings 3:14).

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