God has always given his people explicit instructions on how He wants to be worshipped by His people. His people worship Him. The very nature of the term worship demands careful attention to the instructions of God.
Therefore, when it comes to worship God has always given explicit instructions regarding the elements used to offer unto Him acceptable praise and honor. In regards to any religious questions we must consult the Bible and the Bible alone to search out the answer(s) He has set forth in the Bible. Personal opinions and prejudicial ideas must be removed in order to gain an unbiased approach to the scriptures. Perhaps this principle is met with more opposition than any other when the discussion involves the offering of songs unto the God of heaven.
The command to “sing” has long been debated in the context of praise unto God. Countless debates, sermons, articles, lectures and papers have been given to the discussion of this one simple word. Is it vocal only? Is it instrumental only? Is it vocal and accompanied by the instrument? Does a group sing while others simply listen? In addition to all of the different questions posed through the years there is still an outstanding abundance of controversy when it comes to the importance of the answer. Does it really matter what method we use when we sing? Is it an area where we can simply agree to disagree? Was God really that clear when He gave instruction for singing?
It would be easy to become exhausted by reading church history and searching out all of the different “church fathers” that have commented on the subject. Likewise countless hours of study could be spent in deciphering the meaning of the terms used in both the Old and New Testaments for “sing.” However, at the end of all things we must come to rely on what the inspired word of God teaches and not what uninspired historians and opinionated lexicographers may say. If we believe that God’s word is sufficient enough to provide us with clarity in other matters we should be satisfied to affirm that His word is sufficient to instruct us concerning the song we offer unto Him.
The Pattern of the Old Testament
God commanded the use of mechanical instruments of music in connection with the worship of the temple designed by David and built by Solomon. As stated in 1 Chronicles 28:12 , 19, “And the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord, and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated things; All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern.” Therefore David’s actions were according to the precise instructions of God which he had received from the prophets Gad and Nathan.
However, the musical instruments of David were never separated from the sacrificial system in the Temple worship of the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 28:11-13 , 19; 2 Chronicles 8:14 ; 5:11-13; 29:25-27). The command of the Lord was to be observed by Aaron and the priests. So long as the priesthood and temple worship continued, so did the command. Each time temple worship was restored it included the restoration of both sacrifices and the use of mechanical instruments in order to comply with the divine pattern given by the Lord.
We note from these passages that the men of the bible viewed instrumental music in public worship as under God’s authority. It was not according to their own personal liberty so they could do as they please. We must keep this in mind as we continue our study. God’s authority, not our own personal preference, directs acceptable worship.
Worship in Spirit and Truth
John 4:20-24 embodies a contrast between worship under the Old and under the New Covenants. Although the Jews were right in their worship of God and the Samaritans were wrong, Jesus indicated that a change was coming where any grounds for controversy would be eliminated. The Mosaic Law was filled with material types and shadows of things to come (Hebrews 8:9 ).
So long as the law stood, the law was in force. Christ’s death was essential to the removal of the Old Covenant and the establishment of the New Covenant. The reality to which the shadow pointed pertained to Christ and His covenant. Therefore the New Covenant completely removed the Old Testament temple worship, including the law and priesthood (Hebrews 7:12 ; Numbers 10:10 ). When the priesthood is taken away (changed), so must ALL of its authorized functions (Heb 8:13 ; 9:8-10). The Levitical priesthood and ceremonial laws of the Temple worship both stand or fall together. Once Christ nailed the law to His cross its efficacy in bringing men to Christ was no longer needed. It’s shadows were no longer a mystery but now were a reality for “grace and truth came by Christ Jesus.”
To worship on the grounds of “spirit” and “truth” as sincerity and in accordance with God’s will is not the contrast of the text. If this were the case there would be no difference between the Old and New Covenants. In what then does the change and contrast consist? The contrast is between the carnal ordinances and the spiritual nature of the new covenant worship, namely between the shadow and the substance or the copy and the true. John’s usage of the word “true” seems to be a combination of both Old and New Testament usage, where in the Old Testament the term was used to describe what is trustworthy, faithful and loyal whereas, the New Testament its usage describes that which is uncovered, clearly manifested.
Jesus said we must worship in spirit and truth and those who do so are the “true worshippers.” To be “true worshipers” we must avoid man’s precepts (Mt 15:9), worship which is in ignorance (Acts 17:23 ) or worship based on man’s will (Col 2:20-23 ). The “true worshippers” as the context shows, has reference to those who worship in spirit and truth. The “true worshippers” worship in the manner that is represented or typified by all the shadows of the Old Testament (Hebrews 9:9 , 24). It is the worship of the Father through Jesus Christ. To worship God in sprit and truth we must worship through Him. Jesus said, “the time is coming and now is (cf John 4:25 ) when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” The reasons for this statement (1) God are spirit (2) God sought this type of worship from the beginning. Therefore, God MUST be worshipped in the spirit through the true, i.e., from the inner man through Jesus Christ
The Pattern of the New Testament
Did God command instrumental accompaniment to music in worship today? God could have, as He did with David, but is that what the New Testament teaches. It clearly teaches that “singing” is all that God wants in worship today. Just as we see in the Old Testament, music is also a part of New Testament worship. In fact, we find the Christians at Corinth being encouraged to sing with understanding by Paul “I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15 ). While in prison we discover that Paul and Silas were singing songs (Acts 16:25 ) and James said that if any of us are cheerful we should sing psalms (James 5:13 ). After eating the Passover we find that the apostles sang hymns (Matthew 26:30 ).
The specific command to sing in the New Testament is found in Ephesians 5:18-19 . “…but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.“ The command to sing and make melody was made to all believers in the first century church, Christians who are filled with the Spirit. Therefore Paul commanded two things: (1) sing (external, as “the fruit of the lips” Hebrews 13:15 ), and (2) make melody (internal, on the heart). This is the authorized manner that God has given us under the new covenant to express the sincerity of our hearts to Him. To sing and make melody in the heart is to worship in the spirit and express with our voices the praises of God for all that He has done for us. The man who is “filled with the Spirit” (cf Ephesians 5:18 ) trusts and obeys God as His Word directs. Christians communicate with one another from their hearts and minds. As the Lord's people, we should praise His name, speaking His Word to one another from psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Similarly, the Lord expects His people to join together as a congregation to praise, worship, and adore His great and holy name through uniting in spiritual songs. The main objective and purpose of singing these psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is to magnify the name of the Lord, and to offer to him a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving from our hearts. Thus, in verse 20, the apostle says, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The words “sing”, “singing” and “sung” show the choice that God made as to what kind of music He will accept. If the command had simply been to “make music” or to “make vocal music” then any kind of music or use of vocals would be acceptable. However God gave a specific command. He has authorized that we sing praises to Him with our hearts by way of the vocal cords He created.
The discussion of singing goes much deeper than any restoration, heritage or tradition. It has to do with our faith and our desire to follow God’s instructions. Unlike Hezekiah, we are unable to produce evidence of a command to play an instrument or an approved example from which we might infer instruments of music in worship are acceptable to God. Whenever man returns to the forms of the Old Covenant, we are returning to the symbols and shadows of the true worship. Yes, Hezekiah and David used musical instruments at times when instructed by God for purposes ordained by God. So as is the Will of God we now worship our Heavenly Father with singing from our heart unaccompanied with man-made instruments. God with singing because that is the “will of the Lord.” We can do this knowing full well the kind of music that our Father desires is the unaccompanied praise of the heart of the worshipper.