Several days ago, reader Bruce Morton challenged me to post his arguments against instrumental music in worship. I invited him to write such a post. Here it is, entirely unedited, other than the insertion of a link to his book available at Amazon.
Concerning Ephesians 5:18-21
The teaching in Ephesians 5:18-21 by Paul has, at times, been separated out of the broader context of 4:17-5:21. The Restoration Movement has focused attention on the teaching and in some cases concluded that apostolic teaching is silent regarding instrumental music in worship assemblies.
Paul, however, is writing about song in the broader context of Asian and Greek life and conduct – including worship. Much lies behind Paul’s comment in Ephesians 4:17. Ephesians 4:17-5:21 includes important parallels that tie the teaching together. Specifically, 5:18-21 parallels 5:11 and also reveals 4:23-24 applied to Christian worship.
The apostle is speaking in generalities, but they are generalities that point toward the strong influence of Asian religion. The dark pressure should not surprise us. Luke’s account of earliest Christianity in Ephesus reveals the influence of “Artemis of the Ephesians.” Further, a growing number of historians and theologians have noted of late the power of the Dionysus cult in both Ephesus and Corinth. The two cities acted as hubs of power for the religion. The cult permeated Gentile life and worship in Roman Asia and beyond (see, for example, Philip Harland, Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations; Ross Kraemer, Her Share of the Blessings).
Paul’s generalities in Ephesians 4:17-5:21 do not describe the specifics of religious ritual. Indeed, he writes, “it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” (Eph. 5:12; NIV) However, we should not conclude that Paul is endorsing specific, well-known practices associated with cult ritual simply because he uses the general words “shameful” or “debauchery.” Both Greek words were prominently associated with Asian cult activities. Dionysian worship included sensational ritual that featured instrumentation, theatrics, and wine. Paul reveals his concern about sensationalism throughout the text – an issue that OneInJesus.info contributors have been raising as well (and which I appreciate).
Is Paul urging song as opposed to instrumented music? Yes, it appears he is doing exactly that. Paul quotes – and carefully revises – Septuagint Psalms for a reason. He is stressing how the Spirit uses song to renew a congregation of Christians. He is highlighting the dangers in a world drenched in a war of light versus dark. The subject of instrumental music and the importance of song to the Lord and to one another are part of a desperate spiritual struggle. Seeing by faith the world Paul sees will inform our conversation – and our worship. A spiritual war is real; our spiritual song acts as a setting for the Spirit’s work in comforting, protecting, and renewing us. It also can unify us. But only if we listen to the counsel of the risen Lord and act on it.
Note: more is available, including notes/references, in the recent publication Deceiving Winds (21st Century Christian).