Instrumental Music: Is Singing a Command?

I get emails —

I have many friends who worship with instrumental music who agree that singing is a command (deaf/mute excluded), but believe that there is nothing wrong with instruments aiding their singing.  Their argument is very specific: the addition of the instrument does not violate the command to sing.

In light of that reasoning, I have asked them, “If an instrument prevents one from fulfilling the command to sing, like a trumpet, would you reject its use in Christian worship? One cannot blow the trumpet and sing at the same time.”

Historically, I have been given one of two responses, though I am ready for a third: (1) Yes, they would reject an instrument that prevents one from singing or (2) they change their position and claim that singing is not a command.

Will you give me your opinion on this question, if you have a moment? If you don’t believe singing is a command, can you tell me — from your study — what it is?


About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Instrumental Music, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Instrumental Music: Is Singing a Command?

  1. Keith Brenton says:

    I actually posted on this topic a couple of weeks ago:

  2. Bruce Morton says:

    I was interested to see you write: "Is every scripture stated in the imperative mood (“You do this”) automatically a command for all people of all generations to follow? I don’t think so, or we’d all be going into Jerusalem to look for a man with a donkey’s colt, drawing water for Jesus at a well near Sychar, and taking a little wine for our stomach’s sake and our frequent illnesses."

    I am not convinced the parallels you suggest honor the risen Christ. Are there other "one another" teachings (commands) in Ephesians that receive your judgement — that they are negotiable by reason of time and culture?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  3. Keith Brenton says:

    Classically, modern Christians have regarded "greet one another with a holy kiss" as cultural, and we have not generally observed it.

    I realize that instruction is not in Ephesians, but it is in Romans 16:16, 1 Corithians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, and 1 Peter 5:14.

    My point in the post is that commands are for people who don't know or can't remember what to do. People who are filled with the Spirit of gratitude cannot keep from singing their praise; they don't have to be reminded. That honors the risen Christ. Those who do so out of duty or obligation – responding only to a command – will hopefully learn to provide a home for that Spirit, but if they are taught singing is a command and only a command to be obeyed, it may tale a good amount of time.

  4. Sam Loveall says:

    To answer the e-mailer's question well, I think we must also ask a question that owuld be associated with his "can't play the trumpet and sing" assertion – – is a command that is given in Scripture given to apply to each individual in every instance, or can it be seen as be given to the church as a whole? This question especially applies if we take the (debatable) position that the Ephesians and Colossians passages are supposed to be applied to our corporate worship. If each command is to apply completely and thoroughly to each individual in such a situation, then every time we gather, every person needs to be speaking and admonishing and teaching, etc., rather than just (or primarily) the leaders of the gathering. So we'd best start going around the room and letting everyone speak and teach and admonish, every time we get together.

    Of course, I wouldn't apply the verses that way. But it speaks to the trumpet question. If the assembled group as a whole is singing and making music to the Lord, even if someone is adding to the group effort by playing the trumpet, does that satisfy the command? I think that it would.

  5. Bruce Morton says:

    So, given your rationale and conclusions, why did the apostle write any of the "one another" commands in Ephesians? Is it because they were spiritually mature? Are all of us there, or as disobedient children, do we need to be reminded that we are to obey and follow the King — even when our wills challenge such?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  6. NBS says:

    Louis Armstrong played the trumpet and sang. Now the questioner may be saying that a person cannot sing (with their mouth) during the precise moment when they are blowing into the trumpet. This of course is true. However, the scriptures do not define (specifically) any other types of songs besides Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. But churches of Christ over the last century or more have been fine with Stamps-Baxter style music (i.e. four part harmony, the way most church songbooks are written).
    I have always wondered why people don't have a problem with a song where certain singers (bass, alto, etc…) are singing and others are silent, but if someone fills that silence with an instrument, then the silence becomes a sin.
    The real question in Ephesian and Colossians is; am I required to sing anytime someone else is singing? It seems that a blanket yes is untenable. If the answer is no, it seemingly resolves this issue.

  7. Thomas says:

    Maybe for the official "church service" we should just have the sermon and a prayer. Then you can have all the singing in a "singing" and do whatever you want.

  8. Patricia Harrod-Wyro says:

    I believe it is a command or it's not. If it is, then the church, as a body, can not fulfil a command for me-personally. If the scriptures says to sing, then I am to sing. When I go before God at judgment, I will be accountable for what He ask of me…not what the church did collectively. Again, I believe the first question that must be answered is – Is singing a command?

  9. Mary says:

    I don't believe the command to sing in the two verses we use are in the context of corporate worship, therefore the answer would be that it doesn't matter which instrument you use, you are not violating anything. You are still worshiping. The answers to who the commands apply to and how to interpret them is found in *context*, *context*, *context*. If you wanted to use something from I Cor 11.17-14.40 then you could apply it to corporate worship.

    Also, God commanded for the worship of him to include instruments, an example of this is in:
    2Ch 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.
    2Ch 29:26 The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.

    They also had a choir:
    2Ch 5:13-14 and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD…so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.

    A good book on interpreting the Bible is Elements of Biblical Exegesis by Michael J. Gorman.

    * * If God had wanted the Israelite people (and early Church) to change the way they had always worshiped him, he would have had Jesus address this as he did many other topics. * *

    I hope this helps in some way, even if it is only in showing a new angle or perspective.

  10. Keith Brenton says:

    I realize you have a fascination with Ephesians, Bruce, but there's no canonical scripture that commands/instructs/reminds believers in Rome or Philippi or Thessalonica or churches in Galatia or Corinth to sing. (Unless you count quoting O.T. scripture in the Roman epistle as a command.) Maybe apostolic teaching covered it; maybe they just didn't need to be reminded. Perhaps the inspiration to sing in those places just couldn't be quelled. But I don't think we can conclude that the absence of instructing it in those epistles means that it was absent or forbidden in the places that those epistles addressed. (Paul's instruction to Corinth assumes it takes place there.)

  11. Anonymous says:

    Bruce and Keith,

    The "command" in Eph 5:19 is not grammatically a command, the NIV notwithstanding. It's a participle explaining the consequences of obeying the command actually given: "be filled with the Spirit." The ESV among other translations makes this clear. I have a post in the Ephesians series giving more detail.

    (Eph 5:18-21 ESV) 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

    I don't see how you can exegete the participles until you've first exegeted "be filled with the Spirit" as the participles hang from the command and are not independent thoughts.

    I would be most interested in Bruce's thoughts regarding the meaning of "be filled with the Spirit" in this context.

  12. Bruce Morton says:

    Since I am aware of some background information on the subject, let me point you to a study entitled Associations, Synagogues and Congregations (by Philip Harland).

    Harland surveyed numerous inscriptions in Roman Asia to reveal how we in the West have misread Paul's teaching in Ephesians. Paul was indeed talking about a congregational assembly when he wrote about singing in Ephesians 5. How do we know? The Ephesians and Asians "assembled" in public worship settings frequently in their society — as part of trade guilds, etc. They did not think as we do about "assemblies." Certainly, they still had private worship times (typically in homes), but assembled together often in groups to play instruments and pray to a supposed deity. They considered such expressions to be a key to the success of their given gathering.

    In the U.S. that is probably as out of place in our minds as a worship assembly and singing as part of a Super Bowl! But the inscription evidence is clear. Paul was indeed instructing the Ephesians regarding their assembly together.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  13. Bruce Morton says:

    I hope you are not suggesting that a command becomes negotiable unless it is addressed to all of the congregations of the first century. That does not seem to be the thinking behind your raising "greet with a holy kiss" for discussion.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  14. Keith says:

    All I'm saying, Bruce, is that people who live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit need no commands to sing praise to God and encouragement to each other. They can't help it. Some of the people Paul addressed must have needed to be reminded. Evidently, others didn't.

    Your questions presuppose that singing is a command, like any other "one another" instruction, and I disagree with that supposition. So I didn't answer them as you might have liked.

    Some things stated in scripture in imperative mood (and, as Jay points out, neither instance of singing in Ephesians 5:19 or Colossians 3:16 are; they are modifiers) are commands; some aren't. Some are meant for everyone for all time; some aren't.

    Sometimes they are reminders when needed, encouragements, instructions, advice. In these two passages, the instructions are "to be filled with the Spirit" and to "let the word of Christ dwell richly within."

    That naturally inspires one to sing FROM THE HEART (both passages) IN THE NAME OF JESUS (both passages) SPEAKING TO EACH OTHER (both passages) AND TO GOD IN THANKSGIVING (both passages).

    ~ Keith Brenton

  15. Bruce Morton says:

    I understand the totale of your weblog post and certainly agree with the conclusion that spiritual gratitude wells up in song.

    However, I disagree strongly with part of what you write — and much of what is in the recent issue of New Wineskins. You and Jay confuse people in the issue, just as you have at some points in your posts in this chain.

    What do I mean? Jesus gave us a clear example of how we should hear His Father and how we should respond. The Son of God mentions "command" with emphasis (e.g. John 14:30-31 — a statement that I will suggest "emerging church theology" and other similar expressions back away from at speed). Jesus' words in John 14:30-31 do not "fit" a postmodern aversion to authority.

    But Jesus shows us in pointed language the rationale for "command." We live in a world under spiritual siege and at any given moment we tend to forget such… and draw the conclusion we have freedom to believe and do per our reasoning and desires. Folks live as if supernatural spiritual threat is mere myth. Jesus reveals the deception by His earthly ministry and teaching. His teachings on love are interwoven with the importance of "command" and obedience — and the reality of Satan's challenges. Postmoderns hear "love;" they tend to throw away "command." Jesus reveals the two are woven together.

    Jennifer Geddess (Evil After Postmodernism) clarifies the taproot of postmodernism. It is a simple thought: Satan is dead, as is the idea of "evil." Both are gone, replaced by nothing more than a social or cultural conclusion about "evil" at any given moment.

    As a result we are a nation rapidly concluding that Scripture is negotiable, as is the idea of "command." And to prove Scripture's negotiable quality, folks talk about culture, similar to your "greet with a holy kiss." The context drives what Paul is encouraging. There is more in Paul's statement than a cultural expression. But how many people "proof-text" the statement and force it out of context?

    The subject of song and instrumental music has similarity to it. But some work very hard to avoid hearing all that Paul is saying in the context. We seem determined to free ourselves from hearing it. And yet Ephesians 4:17-5:21 and the specific teaching shows us exactly why early congregations embraced a cappella over generations — even surrounded by a Mediterranean world filled with instrumentation in worship. Congregational a cappella Christian song is a vehicle for teaching the Scriptures and also building congregational unity.

    However, Paul's teaching is founded upon the reality of a spiritual siege. Take away the spiritual siege and hearing Paul's teaching gets harder — and negotiable.

    You and Jay have made it easier for people who have bought into postmodernism to embrace Christian worship by the recent New Wineskins issue — similar to Rick's conclusions regarding a larger "front porch." What is missing here is what Jesus reveals. We need to love. We also need "command." We face a dark lord and a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:10ff.).

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  16. Keith Brenton says:

    All due respect, I do believe there are commands in the New Testament: repent, love God, love your neighbor, love one another as Christ has loved us – those are just a few. Unlike many commandments under the Old Covenant, these have never been repealed.

    I'm simply not convinced that "sing" is one of them. I kmow that it would be much easier for those who like legislation to have a "Thou shalt sing," but I don't find it there for us to modify with our interpretations of how it shalt be done.

    If the songs inspired in our hearts by the Holy Spirit to praise God and build each other up in some way please Satan and give him glory instead, scripture does not explain how.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I believe there is no command to sing, or for that matter, any command for any specific "act of worship."If we love God, worshipping him is virtually irresistible. But the only guidance we get from Jesus on that point is his encouragement to worship in spirit and truth, without regard to whether by ourself, in a small group or large group.There may be some for whom singing is a distraction. There are some for whom the instrument is distracting. Personally, I find most sermons distracting from worship.True worship requires my heart, not any specific act.From my perspective any other conclusion turns us into legalizes and no different from the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned so frequently.

  18. Tom says:

    How often we see the embattled with felonious staments wrapped up
    as questions of theology. I see no love or attempts at understanding in most
    of these blogs and just know Louis Armstrong would not agree!
    Tom in Midlothian
    Tom Cadmus
    Midlothian, Va

  19. Bruce Morton says:

    Keith, David:
    Ephesians 4:17 sets the tone for all of the context of 4:17-5:21: "So I tell you this and insist on it in the Lord…" The apostle to the Gentiles could not have worded more strongly. Please look at the apostle's use of (Gk.) peripateo (live, walk, conduct) throughout Ephesians 4:17-5:21. It ties the context together — including 5:18-21. Ephesians 5:18-21 represents a parallel with Ephesians 5:11. Paul is shouting a command: expose darkness! and then describes how the Ephesians need to do such. In the face of the most powerful characteristic of the Asian cults — music (see Clement of Alexandria) — Paul is instructing/commanding them how to expose darkness: sing!

    Ephesians 4:17-5:21 represents one of the most crucial teachings in Scripture for our day. It is filled with imperatives that "call out" our time and our culture — just as it did Roman Asia. That is why I speak up. I care and hope people will take time to let down their defenses, wade into the Ephesian letter and hear the teaching.

    Tom, Ephesians 2:2 and 6:10-20 reveal much to us of the background to Paul's writing. I hope you are not suggesting that a spiritual war is "felonious." And lease do not judge too quickly at the distance of weblogs. I write because I do understand what Paul is urging and see how much churches would benefit. I love (and can think of many teens right now who have discovered the power of Christian song that has changed them); that is why I speak.

    I feel about Ephesians as Jay feels about Galatians. You have given him a hearing on Galatians; much of what he has concluded from the letter is on target. How about allowing a similar openness to another brother's urging a relook at Ephesians?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  20. Keith Brenton says:

    If either letter – to Ephesians or Colossians – contained even a hint of a negative reference to musical instruments (in Jewish or pagan culture, or just generally), I would be willing to entertain your proposal, Bruce. But Paul is so explicit about enumerating every sin and temptation faced by the believers in these two cities, I can't help but think that if accompanied praise was another one, he would have wedged it in somehow. He would not have put the souls if tjose belived ones at risk by leaving it out after pages and paragraphs of clear, concise apostolic teaching … and the instructions for what can help protect the heart from temptation and sin: Praise and mutual encouragement in song, from the heart, in the Spirit, through Christ, grateful to God.

    Keith Brenton

  21. Bruce Morton says:

    I appreciate your considering and your note. Now for what some folks I have met are not ready to hear; too much of a culture clash to consider. Paul's contrast in Ephesians 5:18-21 is just that — a reference to instrumental music within the pagan cults. It represented a common contrast even seen in the writing of Aristophanes. Other ancient writers did exactly what Paul did; they "called out" the ancient Asian mystery religions for their instrumentation and the new sounds they constantly sought from instruments to "hype" the ancient audiences more with each Dionysiac play produced. The ancient world even knew bands of roving performers (the Pechnitai) whose livelihood was inventing new, bold sounds and performing Dionysiac theatrical performances/ritual. The practice was pervasive and powerful.

    That is what is behind Paul's contrast in the context and the text: "debauchery" (Gk. asotia) vs. singing — as the application of "exposing darkness." The Asian Christians knew what he was saying in the context, and some Ephesian commentaries have spent a little time noting the Dionysiac background. So, I am not convinced all of this is new, but the parallelisms in the text that clarify the message have been given no treatment to date in the literature I have read.

    Now we do not need to know all that is behind the contrast; we just need to honor apostolic teaching and sing. But the background to the Ephesian letter clarifies why the early churches chose the practice they did.

    Glad to discuss further by email — or phone.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  22. Anonymous says:


    I do not believe that the Ephesian letter is a cryptic as you appear to present in your comments.

    Ephesus was a Greek colony in the Roman province of Asia. It was renowned for its status as the leading city in the province of Asia and home of the temple of the Greek goddess Artemis. Everett Ferguson tells us that few, if any cities, had a closer identity with their “patron deity” than Ephesus with Artemis. He says, further, that the religious, economic, and social aspects of life in Ephesus were dominated by the cult of Artemis of the Ephesians.

    Luke (Acts 19) tells of Demetrius, a silversmith who was afraid that the preaching of the gospel was threatening the life of his business, which depended on the city’s ongoing worship of the Greek goddess Artemis. His complaint was that Paul had “CONVINCED” and “LED ASTRAY” large numbers in Ephesus and the province of Asia (vv. 24-26). The terms: indicate that the Gentile believers were idol worshippers, before they were “convinced” and “led astray” to follow Christ.

    It is also clear that the idol worship reported in Luke’s account involved the entire city. Demetrius realized that the strength of his business depended on Artemis’ vast following (vv. 26, 27). He was concerned that if too many people were led astray from the worship of Artemis, then her temple would “be discredited.” Furthermore, he said, “The goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty” (v. 27).

    The city’s response to Demetrius’ words (vv. 28, 29) exposes the deeply ingrained religious beliefs and practices associated with this cult. Luke wrote, “When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was in an uproar” (vv. 28-29); and, like the group of silversmiths, “they all shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (v. 34).

    Note: Luke simply mentioned Artemis to his readers without explaining who she was (v. 24)? He assumed that her identity was GENERAL KNOWLEDGE for his first-century readership, for indeed it was. This point is strengthened, first, by Demetrius’ statement, describing Artemis as one “who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world” (v. 27) and, second, by the words of the city clerk: “Men of Ephesus, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven?” (v. 35).

    The Gentile of Ephesus were born and raised in an era when idol worship was weaved into the fabric of the society in which THEY CONTINUED TO LIVED. From their perspective, the worship of idols was the way of life. Their families, childhood friends, coworkers, and next-door neighbors continued in this phenomenon of idolatry, while they struggled with it themselves.
    In Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Ferguson said that from birth the Greeks were surrounded by domestic piety (a “pious” one observed all the rites of his cult). He said that the Gentile’s earliest recollections were of their fathers sacrificing meat (or vegetables) to the deities on family owned hearths (altars) before the entire household assembled for a “sacred” meal. Right about here, Paul’s words, “Now about food sacrificed to idols” comes to mind — another indicator of the Gentile issue. Gentile birthdays, puberties, marriages, and funerals were all observed by some form of ceremonial acts devoted to pagan deities.

    In addition to the worship of pagan gods, Ferguson tells us that this was the era of the ruler cult—a time when worship was offered to kings and rulers as an expression of homage and loyalty. The Athenians for instance, declared Demetrius Poliorcetes, son of Antigonus, in 307 BC a “savior god” for liberating Athens. A HYMN TO HIM DECLARED:

    “the other gods are either far away or have no ears, or are not, or pay no slightest heed to us; but thee we see face to face.”

    Such was the history of the members of the church in Ephesus. It was a history intermingled with paganism. It was in this context that Paul wrote,

    So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. (Ephesians 4:17)

    Give attention to what is inferred in Paul’s statement—the members of the church to whom Paul’s letter was addressed, were still living or inclined to live “as the Gentiles” did. For an example, I refer you to an earlier part of Acts 19. There, Luke tells the story of the sons of a Jewish chief priest. After which, he wrote:

    When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. (Acts 19:17-19)

    The many believers were the members of the church addressed by Paul’s letter, a letter that instructed them to “sing and make music” IN THEIR “HEARTS TO THE LORD.”

    The sorcery of Luke 19:19 was part and parcel of their former idol worship.

    The biblical and historical evidences suggest that the Gentile believers’ had an ongoing struggle with idolatry of the heart.

    Additionally, the Bible makes clear that the Gentile struggled with revelries.

    Understanding the Gentile issue then clarifies the message of Eph 5:19 in context. Paul is instructs are: Do not get give yourselves over to gentile sensuality (as is your custom), put off your old self instead, be imitators of God, live a children of light, be filled with the Holy Spirit, not wine that leads of debauchery — speaking to each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (all words permitting instruments) in your heart to the Lord – not your former idols.

    The passage does not teach exclusively a cappella singing.

  23. Bruce Morton says:

    I appreciate your note and can tell you have spent a good bit of time here as well — that is great! And you have indeed gotten at a good bit of the background. I think the best thing for me to do at this point is to leave you to consider the parallels and contrast in Ephesians 4:17-5:21 for awhile. I am not sure they are as cryptic as we might think; the historical practice of the earliest churches tells us much — which has been Everett Ferguson's long-standing focus. Looking forward to discussing in the near future.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  24. aBasnar says:

    I doubt the discussion IM vs a-capella could be solved by stating that singing is a command (or by pointing out the it is really a participle).

    Singing to the Lord is ona aspect of worship – and CHristian worship is different from
    a) Samaritan Worship – we don't pray towards mount Garizim
    b) Jewish Worship – we dont't pray towards Jerusalem
    c) Pagan Worship – we don't pray to idols

    As the "direction" of our worship changed, so did the "liturgy" or the way we worship in general.

    We don't have temples of stone as each of the three religious systems above had. We don't have animal sacrifices, as each of the three religious system had. Neither do we have a special priesthood as mediatiors to the the laity, nor sensual additions such as incense, special garments or even drugs and exstatic music as in some ofthe cults.

    Not using instruments in our worship underlines these diffenreces; focussing on "speaking" to one another the Word of God in our singing, capitalizes this principle and types it in bold: We are to worship in Spirit and Truth.

    So whether we are commanded or simply instructed to sing does not matter that much: We must see how our singing is embedded in the priciples of Christian worship vs. Jewish, Samaritan and Pagan worship.
    Another thought to this:

    The temple => living stones, we Christians
    The sacrifices => living sacrifices, we Christians
    The instruments => living instruments, we Christians


  25. Actually, you can play the trumpet (trombone, saxophone, etc.) and sing at the same time. It is extremely difficult and only mastered by a small handful of people, but you can do it.

  26. I believe that Keith hits on a key concept with "People who are filled with the Spirit of gratitude cannot keep from singing their praise."

    I believe the concept of singing as expressed in the New Testament is totally different from what we accept singing to be today. So is the concept of dancing and casting lots. The intervening centuries have changed singing, dancing, casting lots, placing hands on a person, and others slowly, surely, and if you blink 2,000 years – dramatically.

  27. Bruce Morton says:

    I appreciate your post.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  28. Clint says:

    Just another thought to add to the discussion…

    James 5:13 offers an imperative to sing: "Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise."

    Of course, the verb here is psallo, not ado.

  29. Doug says:

    You all have confused me… is it the person playing the instrument (and therefore not singing) we are worrying about? Or, is it the person who can't sing because an instrument is being played we are worried about? Of course, singing while playing many instruments is not a problem so are we therefore saying only those instruments that allow a person to simulltaneously play and sing are acceptable?

    My personal view is that we are really straining the interpetation of sciprtures in even worrying about something like this. I do have concern for that person who can't sing because of insturments being played but the Churches we've been talking about haven't abandoned their acappello worship services, they just added IM services. That seems like a pretty reasonable position to me. Most of us have some issues with the congregations where we worship, the only question is if we allow these issues to drive us out of that fellowship and into another fellowship (where we'll likely find a different set of issues).

  30. Ryan Chubb says:

    Correct, Paul’s typological points are noted throughout his writings: we are the living stones of the temple, we are to be a living sacrifice, we are the instruments… but the question remains: can we, as the instruments of God, consecrated and holy, make intelligent and meaningful, edifying and rich worship through various means and methods?

    Our hearts must always be the source, and our lips always the premiere instrument—but what, pray tell, would be our reason for forbidding music that is used in a egalitarian and sober fashion—as a signpost and response to what God has done???

  31. aBasnar says:

    Is there a verse in the whole Bible that FORBIDS the use of instruments? It is "commanded"! It is "forbidden"! I know that some conservative CoCs use these phrases (and progressives sometimes, too); but this whole aproach does not sound right to me.

    If we want to make our worship meaningful, then we should avoid what distracts from the meaning or contradicts it even. The richness of our worship however does not come from guitars and flutes, but from our hearts … so when we do have a "premiere instrument", we should be careful that secondary instruments dopn#t become more prominent then our hearts and lips.

    And since these endless debates constantly push lifeless instruments to the fore, they tend to let us focus on the wrong end of worship.

    So we don't "forbid" instruments in our church – we don't have them for good and valid reasons. And if anyone asks for the reason, we would not say they are "forbidden", but that we have something better to play with.


  32. Ryan Chubb says:

    This gets us closer to a workable solution. We should have a good answer for why we worship as we do. But let's not look down on those who would find it a 'distraction' in worship to sing our way. And I guess I mean this as a question: do we look down on those who do not worship as we do? Do we assume our position is the higher road?

    I don’t think we should just 'live and let live' on this issue—for we should encourage and critique one another to always strive for healthy and correct worship. But let's not assume that what is distracting for us is distracting for all (or that what would take from the meaning for us does so for others). For until I came to the coC I never even heard or imagined of such debates as these!

  33. Mary says:

    I apologize for the length, but if you follow it all the way through, I pray you will see something that I doubt anyone will have taught you before. Please read with an open mind.

    If I were to ask you if you are a Jew or a Gentile, most of you would probably say Gentile. This leads me to Acts 15 where the Apostles, Barnabas and Paul, went up to Jerusalem to get a matter decided. Some of the believers (Christians) who "belonged to the party of the Pharisees" said that the Gentile believers had to be circumcised and commanded to keep the *Law of Moses*. This indicates to me that these believers weren't worshiping any different than they had been before. They were worshiping the same God by the way – their God hadn't changed.

    So the apostles and elders gathered together to consider the matter. After they had discussed, James got up and presented the idea that: "we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues." (Acts 15.19b-21)

    The above decision was agreed to by Holy Spirit (vs 28), the apostles and the elders, with the whole church (vs 22). So they sent out a letter to the Gentile believers stating the above decision.

    From this we can see that the very early church was mostly Jewish and didn't change their worship practices, except for sacrifices (which Jesus fulfilled). Also, they expected the Gentile believers to learn from the "Law of Moses", or for us, the Old Testament. They expected them to grow from the few rules they had laid down for them by them studying the scriptures.

    If you want to see what the first century church looked like, and what they practiced, study Acts in detail. Stop proof texting, learn to keep verses in context, and study covenant. The Bible is not the Old Testament and New Testament, it is a whole narrative of varying covenants made between God and man and between man and man.

    Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (like we teach), but to fulfill them, and until heaven and earth pass away, nothing will pass from the Law. (Mat 5.17-18) Heaven and earth are still here, so there are still things to be accomplished (Jesus' return), and nothing has fallen from the law (OT). Of course, we cannot get any of our righteousness from the law (Christ is our righteousness – 2Co 5:21), but we can surely know what is right and what is wrong from what God gave to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai.

  34. Dan Harris says:

    Mary, thank you for your thoughtful comments. (Mine is a long post as well.) I tend to agree that the nature of worship has not changed so much from the Old Testament to the New Testament that a whole new set of rules apply to say what is acceptable.
    One thing that got me started thinking about this whole issue is something I read concerning one man’s desire to express his love for God. You know, David in Psalms 119 basically goes through the whole Hebrew alphabet using each letter to start a sort of poem of love, worship and adoration to God.He seems to be saying "I will praise You with each letter of the alphabet available to me."
    Each time I read it I become amazed again at how David loved the Lord and how he strove to express it in a way that can benefit us also. A few years ago, I was reading about one of my favorite musicians. His name is John Coltrane. He played the saxophone. He was a great player, but like some other jazz musicians he had a terrible problem with drug abuse; heroin. He suffered greatly and brought much sorrow to those who loved him and who did every thing they could think of to get him clean. Nothing helped. Finally at the lowest point of his life, with his will to live all but gone and his health destroyed, as he lay near death;he turned his life over to God. I don’t know what he knew about the Bible or what he believed. But in his own way, to the best of his understanding at that time, he gave up on himself and asked for God’s help. His life slowly began to improve. He sought help for his drug addiction and over time turned his life around. There were so many musicians like him, addicted to drugs that literally died with needles in their arms that people asked him, “How did you do it? How did you kick this awful way of life?” He tried to tell them, but felt inadequate to the task. He was not a well educated man. All he knew was music. It was his language. So, he decided to use that language to express his love of God and to show how much God loved him and all of us. He wrote a suite of music called "A Love Supreme". He was a fine artist and the music was wonderful. The jazz critics were amazed. It was different from anything they had ever heard. Unlike much of the jazz of his day (about 45 years ago) it even included some simple lyrics of praise. But one thing that made this project so unusual was that instead of writing his music in one, two, or even five keys, he used every key he possibly could. Thirty seven of them. His music used dozens and dozens of key changes. His key changes included every major and minor minor scale, and most pentatonic and blues scales. He was saying in the only way he knew how that “God has offered His supreme love to me and I am offering it back in every key I can play on this horn. I was nothing without Him, but somehow He loved me anyway and saved me.” It reminded me of how David used each letter in the alphabet to express his adoration for God. And it got me to wondering if John Coltrane loved God so much, and was so appreciative of God’s love that he wrote music to praise Him; isn’t it a possibility that God could be pleased with what John Coltrane wrote and played for Him. Naturally, no one can speak for God. And I do not use this anecdote as authority. But merely to suggest that this incident provoked my thought processes to wonder if this was the same kind of instrumental praise that God commanded and found pleasing in the time of David. I saw the many times recorded for us in the Psalms that God encouraged the sound, effort, and skill of musicians to make music with instruments for Him. It made me wonder, “Has God changed so much? Or has pleasing worship changed so much that God is no longer pleased with the sincere and worshipful efforts of those who seek to make beautiful instrumental music to praise him?” Yes, I understand that worship must be in spirit and in truth as Jesus said (Jn 4:23). As I studied this issue I have come to believe that instrumental music can be a part of worshiping God in spirit and in truth. God did authorize its use in the Old Testament and He shows us it is authorized for use today by directing us to use the Old Testament Psalms in worship to Him. Since the Psalms authorize instruments and since we are directed to psallo psalms to God, then Instruments must also be authorized even today.

  35. Dan Harris says:

    p.s. As to Jay's question: No, I do not think singing is a command for corporate worship.

  36. aBasnar says:

    Looking down on others should never be a Christian attitude (Luke 18:9-14). Actually: It isn't a Christian attitude, but some pharisaic leaven …

    Before I joined the churches of Christ, the debates I heard of (and engaged once in a while), was the amount (right word?) of instrumental music and CCM. Are the instruments serving or dominating worship? Are we following Christ's Spirits or our own worldly desires when composing and choosing songs for worship?

    When Lee Strobel first visisted Willow Creek, he said: "Wow, they play my kind of music!" And you can comment on this from two different angles:
    a) We should choose a style that is appealing to the world around us
    b) We must not confirm to the world around us

    We find both principles in Scripture, the first is tied to evangelism (become to those without law like one without law / but stil under the law of Christ). The second has to do with sanctification and separation.

    The problem I see is, that many Christians view our worship assemblies as a "public" gathering designed for worship AND evangelism. So instead of making a distinction between being "separated unto the Lord" (eg. in worship) and being "sent into the world" (sitting with the tax collectors and sinners); they combine these two very different activities into one. This means: They invite the uncircumcised and unclean into the (N.T.) Temple to the table of the Lord.

    This causes most of the troubles and discussions! We should learn again to view the temple as a holy place which is not designed to please and appeal to outsiders and strangers, but is designed after the Heavenly Realities, completely undefiled and uncorrupted. No one may enter this place, who does not come in faith, cleansed and striving to be close to God (see Heb 1:19-25).

    When a few monthes ago the discussion touched the question of "closed" or "open" assemblies/communion I noticed that I stand pretty alone on this. Nevertheless I think this is an underlying question that needs to be dealt with, too.


  37. Dan, I truly appreciate your post. I too cannot answer for God, but I do think God could be pleased. That is a beautiful story. Also, I have never considered the fact that God had directed us to use the Psalms in worship to him (it was right under my nose). Thank you for sharing that gold nugget of info.

  38. Mario Lopez says:

    Still arguing about the instruments? If anyone be contentious, we have no such practice…

    Just a thought?

  39. Ryan Chubb says:

    I agree with you. I think many do confuse our place of worship as the only practical place for evangelism, which absurd (and it is sad that this isn’t more obvious). I also agree that this is often, then, the primary reason for engaging in certain styles of music. I, too, find this misguided. Moreover, I would add that many use music because they confuse amusing for teaching—and miss the message in their medium of choice.

    There are many ways we can critique contemporary worship. But I still see no reason to eschew music in church altogether. Not even in some righteous effort to balance out the errors of others.

    For me, all this talk about ‘command’ seems to assume a sort of religious formalism, itself piggy-backing on a kind of epistemic formalism, that often covers over the larger issue at stake here—you mentioned holiness, and this is important, but equally important is the axis of—idolatry. All worship can be idolatrous. Likewise, I think we’ll be surprised to find out how various other expressions of worship can point clearly on to Jesus in a sober and reverent manner. I imagine we will also be surprised to find that God has found many forms of worship acceptable and pleasing to Him. I won’t dig further here—but a clear understanding of holiness and idolatry should take precedence over any induction from biblical and historical sources for a checklist of approved specifics.

    I pointed out ‘looking down on’ or to the feeling as though we were taking ‘the higher road’ as markers that point to idolatry. I believe that much of progressive rhetoric in this debate is fueled by a reaction (perhaps unhealthy) to the subtly idolatry that seems to lurk behind many of the books and papers arguing against instruments in worship. The language used and the opinions that masquerade as knowledge change acappella from iconic to idolatry. We don’t want ‘closest to perfect worship’ unless by this we mean that our eyes are off what we are doing and on to Jesus.

    We are living in a crazy time where many views and traditions are bumping up against one another like never before. We must be careful and humble, loving and discerning…

    Offer right sacrifices
    and trust in the LORD. – Shelah!

  40. Nate says:

    The New Testament:

    a) Makes a big deal of Jesus
    b) doesn't make a big deal of singing, or any other expression of the gathered church


  41. Bruce Morton says:

    Many folks keep thinking what you have expressed. The challenge is that we do not place the matter of "singing" and congregational worship in the context of Ephesians 4:17-5:21 — and we should. There, where Paul parallels Ephesians 5:18-21 with Ephesians 5:11 and "exposing darkness", singing becomes crucial to helping a world see Jesus — by congregational unity and singing Scripture. That is why "Jesus" and "singing" are not as disconnected as folks try to suggest.

    Just as music was a crucial part of drawing people to the ancient cults, it plays a crucial part of drawing people to Christ. That is Paul's point in talking about the importance of congregational song.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas
    [email protected]

  42. R.J. says:

    the phrase "One another" in Ephesians and Colossians is in the third person(not second). hope that helps.:)

  43. HistoryGuy says:

    I think this is a good question. Many gave some thoughts, but the question has been unanswered. The question is very specific. If singing is a command, what is a proper response to the question? If singing is not a command, what is it? I have read all the responses and believe (I could be wrong) that only Keith denied singing is a command AND also tried to give an explanation of what it is or how instruction differs from a command. Although, I don’t see how trumpeting can be a substitute for singing, regardless of what singing is, which is why I am interested in this topic.

    The question was not meant [in my view] to settle the IM debate, but rather cause people to think about a specific line of thought given by many IM advocates today who believe singing is a command and IM use does not violate it. If one does take the position that singing is a command, what would a plausible response to the question be? I cannot think of a third option, but would like to see one.

    The question pertains to an individual, not a group. A person is not singing because he has chosen to play an instrument (trumpet, flute) that prevents him from singing. One poster listed an OT verse in 2 Chron. 5 & 29, but that proves the question, IMO, more than debunks it, since the trumpeters were commanded to trumpet and the singers were commanded to sing, and then the players played and the singers sang. Note: In the OT context, the singers did not play the trumpets. However, we are talking about the NT so I will the leave the OT alone.

    No scripture was listed in the question, though many assumed one was in mind. Private or corporate worship was not mentioned or distinguished in the question either. People attacked the Eph/Col passages in regards to corporate/private worship and Gk. participle, but nobody really dealt with “what singing is” or the force it carries in the Christian life. I also noticed that nobody responded to the poster who listed an imperative in James 5:13, where singing seems to have as much instructional force as praying.

    I am not a Louis Armstrong historian, but I cannot find any verification of the claim that he could sing and play trumpet simultaneously. I did read that he could play and simultaneously sing “scat,” but that is vocal improvisation, not singing with words. For the record, I am curious. Can someone provide a link? However, even if Louis or “others” can sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” while simultaneously playing a flute, trumpet, etc, it still does not answer the question regarding those who cannot, which the question focuses upon…. if one cannot blow the trumpet and sing at the same time, does blowing the trumpet violate the command to sing? If singing is not a command, is singing still violated and what force/instruction force is singing?

  44. HistoryGuy says:

    Can you give your opinion on the question?

  45. R.J. says:

    Psalms 30:14 and Colossians 3:16 I believe proves that your heart sings. The Hebrew word Kevodi actually referred in some cases to man’s innermost thoughts and feeling(the liver or bowels) or the soul.

    If you play an instrument(even a trombone), truly you are singing in your heart.

Comments are closed.