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Dealing with Instrumental Music

Cory Landolt—Gospel Advocate, July 2014


By practicing the aspects of worship commanded in Scripture, we can be certain that our worship is in spirit and in truth.


               The Bible makes it clear that God has not left His worship open to the inventions of men.  From the inspired Scriptures, God alone has the authority to determine how He will be worshiped; He has the right to decide what aspects should be used in the worship of His assembly.  Worship should not be conducted and practiced by what men desire, but by what God desires.  We may know His will only through His Word, and by practicing those aspects commanded in Scripture, we can be certain that our worship is in spirit and in truth.


               We must be willing to submit our hearts to the truth revealed in Scripture.  Isaiah urgently declared, “To the law and to the testimony:  if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20 KJV).  We must heed the prophet’s declaration to abide and live in God’s will, for when we abide in His Word, we will know what is pleasing and acceptable in the sight of our heavenly Father.


               It is often assumed—sadly, even by some in the church—that musical instruments fall outside the realm of God’s authority.  Therefore, in this article, we will examine how God has always authorized His worship even in regard to the usage of instrumental music.


Tabernacle and Temple Worship


               We start in the days of Moses, when God established the tabernacle and its obligations (Numbers 10).  In verses 1-2, we observe that the musical instrument was ordained by God’s divine authority:  “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Make thee two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shalt thou make them.”


               One vital point ought to be considered here:  In tabernacle worship, the trumpet was the only musical instrument authorized by God.  Furthermore, not only were the instruments regulated, but every other aspect in the tabernacle was also commanded by God (Numbers 10: 3-10; cf. Leviticus 23:24).  Not until the ark made its destination the land of Jerusalem during the days of King David were any other instruments of music brought into the worship of God.


               We now transition to the time of King David, when the instructions of the temple were bestowed upon him.  We first acknowledge that the temple was not built until Solomon’s reign (1 Chronicles 28:6).  We are provided in Scripture how King David received the blueprint of the temple, which he passed down to his son Solomon:  “These were the sons of Levi by their fathers’ houses, the heads of fathers’ houses as they were listed according to the number of the names of the individuals from twenty years old and upward who were to do the work for the service of the house of the Lord” (23:24 ESV).  We are informed that after David organized the Levites, they were commanded to practice these services in the house of the Lord.  The people were no longer in need of the tabernacle (vv.25-26).


Later, in 1 Chronicles 25, we read o f three specific instruments that were brought into temple worship:  lyres, harps and cymbals.  The men were commanded to play these instruments inside the house of the Lord (v. 6).  Why did David bring these musical instruments into God’s worship?  Our answer is found in 2Chrionicles 29:25:  “And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the Lord through his prophets.”


               King David, a man after God’s own heart, brought these musical instruments into temple worship because that was what the Lord had commanded.  David commanded the Levites to use the instruments, for he was commanded by the Lord to do so.  Therefore, David’s commandment was God’s commandment.  He knew not to go beyond the authority of the Lord.


               Interestingly, we witness this same pattern repeating itself throughout the Old Testament:

§       About 170 years later, Jehoiada established a reformation in 2 Chronicles 23:18:  “And Jehoiada appointed the officers of the house of Jehovah under the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had distributed in the house of Jehovah, to offer the burnt-offerings of Jehovah, as it is written in the Law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, according to the order of David”  (ASV).

§       King Josiah commanded the Levites, 38- years after David, to look back to Scripture for their authority:  “And prepare yourselves after your father’ houses by your courses, according to the writing of David king of Israel, and according to the writing of Solomon his son’ (2Chronicles 35:4).

§       After the return from Babylonian captivity, bot Zerubbabal and Jeshua organized worship in the second temple the following way:  “And when the builders  laid the foundation of the temple of Jehovah, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Jehovah, after the order of David king of Israel”  (Ezra 3:10).

§       The people of God continually looked back hundreds of years to understand what God had commanded through David in Scripture.  They comprehended that God had always directed His worship.  Never did they assume that they had authority to add any other instruments into God’s worship without an explicit divine command. 1


New Testament Worship


               When we arrive at the New Testament, we are informed by our Savior that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  He did so by dying on the cross, providing all of mankind with the hope of eternal life (Colossians 2:14; Titus  1:2).  He fulfilled the Old Law by dying and stablishing His own covenant; that is, a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13).  Because we have been given a better covenant, we have not need for the Old Law and its outward ceremonies, worship and rituals.


               The book of Hebrews presents the greatest case for the “removal of the old covenant and all its administrations.” 2  The writer of Hebrews wrote, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (7:13).  He further noted, “Now even a first covenant had ordinance of divine service, and its sanctuary, a sanctuary of this world” (9:1).  When the priesthood was taken away, so were all of its functions, including the use of musical instruments (1Chroniclesa 16: 4-6; 23: 1-5).


               We may, therefore, put it together in this order:  (1)  The first covenant had its ordinances, which were identified earlier; (2) Christ changed and fulfilled the law when He died on the cross, establishing a new and better covenant; and (3) when the priesthood changed, the whole law changed, including its ordinances.  “And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.  For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it.  For a testament is of force where there hath been death:  for it doth never avail while he that made it liveth” (Hebrews 9:15-17).


               If the Old Law and its ordinances have been done away with, what does God require His people to do in regard to His worship?  In order to answer this excellent question, we must remember to look toward God and His Word for our final outcome, just as the people did from before.


               The New Testament gives no command for instrumental music in the worship of the church; neither do we find even a single example of instruments being used in any of the congregations.  Therefore, we have no authority to bring them into the worship of His church.  The complete silence of the New Testament on musical instruments provides the most compelling argument that they are not to exist in the church.  Only singing is commanded (1 Corinthians 14:15); Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16) along with praying  (Acts 2:42; 1 Timothy 2:1-2); partaking of the Lord’s Summer (Acts 2:42; 20:7;  1 Corinthians 11:20-32); giving cheerfully (16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:1-7); and studying from God’s Word (Acts 2:42; 2 Timothy 4:2).


               Some will indicate that the New Testament command to sing implies the use of musical instruments, but this is a false claim.  We must understand that singing and playing are two different acts.  This is why, in temple worship, both playing and singing were commanded.  In the New Testament, it is very clear that only singing is commanded.


               Obedience in worship consists of doing God’s will-nothing more and nothing less. “whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32 NASB).  In the New Testament, God has commanded singing with the voice only; any addition to God’s will is disobedience.  The use of instrumental music in Christian worship is such an addition and, therefore, becomes an act of disobedience.




1 See Andrew Fuller, “On Instrumental Music in Christian Worship,”  The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller 859-61 and John L. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church 75 2 John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 22,  177.