Tag Archives: biblical authority

“You Think Music’s A Sin!” — Jon Mitchell

I love music. Just ask my little girls. They’d be more than happy to tell you how Daddy loves to pretend the car’s steering wheel is a microphone at his own little concert inside his head while he’s driving and blasting his music. Yes, I love music. I’m very glad music is not inherently sinful in God’s sight.

The charge that we in churches of Christ think music is sinful comes from those who have a misunderstanding of biblical authority in the area of worship. In the denominational world, instrumental musical accompaniment to singing in worship is widely accepted. Some accept it simply because others around them do so, not giving thought to whether God is pleased with the practice. Others assume God is pleased with the practice simply because they themselves approve of it, thus making their worship to Him the “will worship” (KJV) or “self-made religion” (ESV) warned of by Paul in Colossians 2:23. Others seek to find biblical approval for it by appealing the instrumental accompaniment in worship during Old Testament times (1 Chr. 13:8; 15:16; 23:5; 2 Chr. 7:6; 29:25-30; Ps. 150:3-5; etc.), ignoring that the Old Testament laws and practices were taken out of the way at the cross and replaced with Christ’s New Testament (Rom. 7:1-4; Gal. 3:23-25; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:13-17; Heb. 8:6-13; 9:1-17).

Under the New Testament, our Lord commanded us to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Since God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), we must worship according to God’s Word., the Scriptures. In the New Testament, the only music commanded of Christians in their worship to God is singing.

Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn on the night He was betrayed (Matt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26). Paul and Silas sang hymns to God while in prison (Acts 16:25). Singing is mentioned throughout the rest of the New Testament: in an Old Testament quote encouraging the Christian to praise God (Rom. 15:9), in the context of giving instruction concerning the worship assemblies (1 Cor. 14:15, 26), instructing Christians to speak to each other (an indication that they were assembled to worship) in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs via singing and making melody with their hearts to the Lord (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), in an Old Testament quote citing how Christ also is singing in the midst of our assemblies (Heb. 2:12), how our spiritual sacrifices to God include “the fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15), and how the individual Christian who finds themselves happy during their daily lives should sing praises to God (James 5:13). Unlike the Old Testament, there is no mention of instrumental accompaniment. Historically, such did not arrive in worship of professed Christians until centuries after the church began.

Perusing the above passages shows how the music commanded in the New Testament emphasized the spiritual, not the physical. We are commanded to be “making melody to the Lord with (our) heart” (Eph. 5:19). “Making melody” comes from the Greek term psallo, which has multiple definitions that include the playing of instrumental accompaniment. However, listed among these definitions is this: “to touch the chords of the human heart, that is, to sing, to celebrate with human praise.” As with any word that has multiple definitions, one must examine the context of how it is used in order to determine its meaning. In Ephesians 5:19, the inspired writer specifically says that one “psallos” (“makes melody with”) their “heart.” The heart is the instrument God wants played in our worship to Him as prescribed in the New Testament.

The contrast between New Testament and Old Testament musical worship is striking. When one reads the psalms of David, making melody referred to the playing of physical instruments. Yet in the New Testament, the instrument with which one makes melody is our hearts. As cited earlier, Old Testament music was usually performed by a professional choir or band, with the emphasis on how it sounded to the human ear…the physical side of man. Yet New Testament music is sung by all Christians instead of a select few which make up a choir (unlike common denominational practice, sadly), and the melody is made with one’s heart…the spiritual side of man (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). A recent convert out of denominationalism told me just last week how she has noticed the difference and has been spiritually edified by it.

Therefore, churches of Christ in no way despise music. What the faithful among us despise is lack of biblical authority for how we worship (Col. 3:16-17), because we worship and praise a heavenly Father who gave His only begotten Son to die a humiliating, agonizing death to save us from hell. We are bought with that price (Acts 20:28). We belong to Him. In the covenant He shed His blood to purchase (Matt. 26:28), He told us how to worship Him musically. We simply offer Him no more than that.

Worship in spirit and truth is not a show put on by entertainers to entertain the masses sitting in the pews. It is offering to the Lord who saves us praise and adoration in accordance with His will. That last — “in accordance with His will” — is the key. If it’s not in accordance to His will, how can it truly praise and adore Him?            — Jon

Learning From Nadab and Abihu — Travis Main

Numbers 3:4 states, “And Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord…”  The topic of our examination appears from this verse: Nadab and Abihu.  They died in the presence of, in the face of, or before the Lord.  The occasion involved an offering and the offering was strange.  The Hebrew term for strange means, “foreign, estranged, loathsome, or profane.”  What brought Nadab and Abihu to the presence of the Lord?  They had brought fire before the Lord for the purpose of worship.

“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therin, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.  And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.  Then Moses said unto Aaron, ‘This is it that the Lord spake, saying, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified.”’ And Aaron held his peace” (Lev. 10:1-3).

This passage makes it clear God did not command the fire Nadab and Abihu offered.  God never suggested, requested, or authorized it.  Thus, Moses describes the fire as profane or loathsome.  Of great importance is the fact that the passage states Nadab and Abihu did not die from an accident with the fire.  They died when God purposely sent fire to devour them.  Moses provided the reason God acted in such a fashion to destroy Nadab and Abihu.  When individuals go before God, He requires glorification and sanctification.  Sanctification means treating something as set apart or holy.  Glorification means to make honorable.  Nadab and Abihu dishonored God with their behavior.

The issues presented by their actions for examination revolve around mankind’s treatment of God, the importance of God’s commands, and the intentions of mankind.

“Be ye holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16)

The concept of sanctification and holiness relates to more than purity or being without sin.  God first used the term holy in Exodus 3:5 when He called a certain ground holy.  Ordinary and common cannot describe holy.  Approaching holiness requires reverence.  Reverence sees holiness and treats it with respect, humility, and even fear.  Fear closely draws to its side the knowledge that the individual cannot be equal to, but rather stands lacking in cleanness, stature, or quality to that which is holy.  Nadab and Abihu failed in this respect.  They approached their Creator in a manner which did not revere Him.  Their approach to worship treated God as nothing more than common.

Consider this.  If the sanctification and glorification of God stands so critical that the consequence of its absence meant death, how ought mankind approach God today?  Does the phrase casual worship service seem inappropriate?  Perhaps consider the irreverence of checking and sending texts and e-mail during worship.  If Moses approached the holy ground in his sandals toting along snacks and sipping on a latte or soda, would God have shown pleasure?

God does not stand on equal footing with a movie, picnic, or other common event.  Being in the presence of God is not a come-as-you-are event.  God is holy!  Nadab and Abihu failed to treat Him so.  We should draw from their example and not behave in the same fashion.

“If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15)

The wind and the sea obey God.  Unclean spirits obey Him.  Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were punished.  The world disobeyed God and were destroyed, save eight souls.  Sodom and Gomorrah disobeyed God and God destroyed them.  Israel disobeyed God and He punished them in many ways from diseases, to wandering in the wilderness, to captivity, even to death itself.  Uzzah, like Nadab and Abihu, lost his life disobeying the commands of God.  Paul chastised the apostle Peter and the Galatian Christians for failing to obey the commands of God.  2 Thessalonians 1:8 declares destruction on those who do not obey God, while Jesus stands as the author of salvation to those who do obey Him (Heb. 5:9).  Why would anyone disobey God willingly?  Yet, this is exactly what Nadab and Abihu did.

Many people today despise following God’s commands, even some within religious bodies bearing His name.  They feel as if God provided His commandments as mere suggestions, used as guidelines, bendable depending on the situation.  Those who desire to follow God’s Word as it was given actively find themselves victims of mockery and shaming by others.  A favorite and misused term which others apply to them is legalist.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines legalism as “strict adherence to the law.”  This sounds exactly like what God desires throughout the entire Bible.  When they stood before the Sanhedrin, the apostles declared obedience to God rather than to men.  Why would they do so if obedience to commands was subjective?

Now, one might quote Matthew 9:13, “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, ’I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I am come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Upon reading, they would declare that God never desired exact obedience.  Yet, all Scripture shows He most definitely did desire obedience.  Contextually, Christ identified that one aspect of the law cannot be dropped and that individual still be pleasing to God.  One cannot worship without spirit and truth.  If a person goes through the motions of obedience in physical acts, but not obedience to a pure and holy spiritual nature, the physical acts presented to God result in God’s dissatisfaction.  He will not desire the sacrifice!

In view of Nadab and Abihu, they presented worship to God.  One might think that God would be thrilled with the “spiritual” demonstration of these individual’s hearts.  Yet, He rejected their worship because it failed to follow His commands.  In so doing, Nadab and Abihu demonstrated disdain in their worship rather than love for God.  They disobeyed and treated God in a profane manner.  Paul declared in his letter to Rome, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).  Learn from Nadab and Abihu’s example of disobedience.

“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”  (James 2:20)

Grease fires break out while cooking on occasion.  Good, well-intentioned individuals frequently take action to attempt to put out the fire with water.  This can result in the fire spreading further because “water and oil don’t mix.”  Good intentions do not by themselves result in God’s pleasure.

Nadab and Abihu worshiped God.  Worship indicates a desire to please.  Yet, they attempted to present worship on their terms.  They presented as Can did, who when presenting his offering to the Lord did not do so in faith.  The so-called faith of those who present worship to God is dead if the works are guided by intention and not truth.  God will be treated as holy and will be obeyed.  No matter of intent (again, see Uzzah) will cause God to smile on a worshipful action not requested.

God declared through the apostle Paul that preaching saves.  Jesus commanded the proclamation of the gospel to all creation.  Yet, men in their good intentions decided to present God’s truths through acting and drama rather than proclamation. God declared that man sing as one body to Him in worship.  Yet, the intentions of man to worship in song resulted in playing instruments, choral groups, and praise teams with handclapping rather than what God commanded.  Will God be glorified with such behavior?  Will He be sanctified when His commandments are ignored?  Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of His life, death and resurrection.  The first-century church partook of this on the first day of the week.  Paul exhorted the Corinthians to take it properly and not treat it as a common meal.  Yet, through the intentions of man the Lord’s Supper is not taken every first day of the week in many places.  It is taken yearly, quarterly, monthly, or on special occasion.  In many places the Supper is offered with leavened break, water, or in the midst of a meal.  Is the intention worship?  These behaviors result in will worship condemned by Paul (Col. 2:23).  If Nadab and Abihu, guided by good intentions to worship God, could not worship Him in a pleasing fashion, what makes men think they can today?

As Paul exhorted the Christian regarding the Scriptures written beforehand, man can learn from Nadab and Abihu how to properly worship God.  Christians treat God as holy.  Christians love Him by obeying His commands.  Do not follow your intentions, Christians.  Follow the truth.

Travis has been a minister in the Lord’s church for over 15 years.  He attends and teaches at the Eastside Church of Christ in Mt. Vernon, OH.  He is the creator of churchofchristarticles.com.



Instrumental Music: A Matter of Authority — Rick Lawson

When flawed and fragile man approaches a righteous and mighty God, he must be very careful to offer the kind of worship that God desires. This is especially critical when one understands what the Word of God teaches concerning the types of worship that exist.

For example, Jesus clearly taught that man can offer worship that is vain or worthless (Mt. 15:8, 9). Paul preached that the people of Athens were worshiping God ignorantly by having set up an altar to the “unknown god” (Ac. 17:22, 23). The same apostle, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, condemned some in the first century of offering “will worship” to the Almighty (Co. 2:20-23). In that context, the will worship seems to involve a form of asceticism, in which men denied themselves certain physical necessities in an attempt to become more spiritual. Rather than worship according to God’s will, they attempted to worship according to their own wills.

Of course God does not accept vain, ignorant, or will worship. The only worship that is accepted by God is true worship. True worship is that which is offered both with the right attitude and in the way that God has authorized (Jn. 4:23, 24). What kind of music does God authorize men to use in their worship today?

God plainly instructs that whatever men do in religion must be done in the name of Jesus (Co. 3:17). If a man knocks on the door and says, “Open in the name of the law,” then he means he has authority from the law to demand that the door be opened. Doing things in the name of Jesus means doing them by His authority. If we offer to God that which is unauthorized, God will not accept it, and we may even be punished. Look to the account of Nadab and Abihu. They offered fire before God that was unauthorized, and the result was fire from heaven that burned them up (Le. 10:1, 2). The kind of music authorized by God is very specific. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Co. 3:16). It seems clear that the purpose of singing in worship is connected to the idea of teaching and admonishing one another. No mechanical instrument, however skillfully played, can teach or admonish as can the human voice. This is the reason that a more general term is not used by God. If, for example, God had authorized “vocal music,” then men could sing, hum, or even whistle in worship. However, neither whistling nor humming can teach the great spiritual lessons taught in our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Learn the lesson from the sons of Aaron. Do not trifle with God by offering that which He has not commanded.

Consider this parallel passage, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ep. 5:19). This instruction precludes making melody on the keys of an organ, the strings of a guitar, or upon any instrument invented by man. The specific instrument authorized by God is the heart of the worshiper. Many believe that they can substitute some mechanical instrument in place of the heart and that God will accept it.  Perhaps those folks should ask Cain if substitutes in worship are fine with Jehovah (Ge. 4:5). Ask Jeroboam how it worked out when he placed golden calves in Dan and Bethel, rather than returning to Jerusalem to worship God faithfully (1 Ki. 12:28-30). Inquire of king Saul if substituting himself as a Levitical priest and burning a sacrifice to God was worth losing his kingdom (1 Sa. 13:12-14). God does not accept substitutes in worship.

When asked, many can easily understand that when God specified gopher wood for the ark that all other kinds of wood were ruled out. For some reason the logic becomes cloudier when God specifies singing to be used in worship today. Hear God’s instruction in James, “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (Ja. 5:13). The command to sing is very specific. If God had given the command “make music,” then men would have a choice in how to make the music. A piano would then be fine. So would an organ, or even a full orchestra. However, God said “sing.” If one single sentence in the New Testament authorized the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship today, churches of Christ would cease their pleading to avoid them. How easy it would have been for God to do so, yet He did not. That settles the matter for true disciples of Christ.

It is evident that the New Testament is not written in the format of a rule book. Because much of the Bible is historical in nature, it is important to recognize the power of approved example to authorize actions today. Examples of the early church, approved by the inspired apostles, are just as binding as direct commands of God. God expects us to recognize the pattern of the New Testament church and to follow that pattern. Are there any examples of how the early Christians worshiped? The answer is yes. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi for their faith in Christ, they “prayed and sang praises unto God” (Ac. 16:25). Paul would later write to the church in Corinth that he would “sing with the spirit,” and “sing with the understanding also” (1 Co. 14:15). The Hebrews writer quoted Psalm 22, writing, “…I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praises unto thee” (He. 2:12). Another of the Psalms is quoted in Romans, “…I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name” (Ro. 15:9). Even Jesus, as our perfect example, sang hymns with His disciples the very night of His arrest (Mt. 26:30). What does each of these examples have in common? S-I-N-G! Not playing or plucking, strumming or humming—just the simple human voice offered as the fruit of our lips in praise to His name (He. 13:15). The example of the early church could not be any clearer.

As a thought exercise, imagine that God had commanded to sing and play mechanical instruments in worship. When Jesus said to believe and be baptized (Mk. 16:16), both are required; therefore both are equally important. When Peter preached repent and be baptized to be saved (Ac. 2:38), which of the two requirements may be ignored? Obviously if God said that we must sing and play instruments in worship then we would each have to sing and play. In denominational worship usually one person, or at most a few, are playing while the rest sing along. In order to justify common practice, a verse would have to be shown that states that singing or playing instruments in worship is authorized, and in that case either would be optional.

Consider some objections to using only singing in worship. Some might say, “I don’t think God really cares about the kind of music that is used in worship.” Elevating man’s thinking over God’s commands has gotten many people into trouble through the years. Naaman nearly thought his way into a future of leprous agony (2 Ki. 5:11). Moses thought that striking the rock was just as good as speaking to it (Nu. 20:8-12), and it cost him the opportunity to go into the land of Canaan and see it for himself. God’s thoughts are higher than man’s thoughts (Is. 55:9). Man can think a thing is right and it be the very thing that causes his destruction (Pr. 14:12). If the kind of music did not matter to God, why would he instruct over and over to sing? It is obvious that God does care about the kind of music that is used in worship today.

Some insist that the use of instruments in the Old Testament shows that God is pleased with their use today. Would that same line of reasoning apply to other avenues of worship from the Old Testament? They also offered animal sacrifices. Shall we? PETA would love that! They burned incense in worship, traveled to the city of Jerusalem several times a year for feasts, and married their dead brother’s wife to raise children in his name. The point is that just because God commanded a thing in the Old Law does not authorize it under the Christian age. The Old Testament is not to be treated like a restaurant menu, where one may pick what he likes and ignore the rest. Listen to the inspired apostle, Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Ga. 5:2, 3). If one tries to follow any of the Old Law, he becomes subject to all of it. Indeed, in the very next verse Paul points out the folly of striving to use the Old Law as justification for today.  “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Ga. 5:4). Two brief points concerning musical instruments during the law of Moses: 1) They were only used in the outer courts of the temple (typifying the world) and never in the Holy Place (typifying the Church), and 2) God pronounced woe to those who “invent to themselves instruments of music, like David” (Am. 6:1, 5). Every jot and tittle of the Old Law has been fulfilled and replaced by the Law of Christ (Co. 2:14).

Sometimes the claim is made that mechanical instruments in worship are simply aids to the voice. This claim is false. Instruments used in worship are an addition rather than an aid. That distinction is a critical one. If worshipers need help to remember the words or notes to a song, the songbook aids in that area. If the song leader needs an aid to pitch a song, a tuning fork or a pitch pipe can aid him. Many things aid us in our worship to God. Electric lights, air conditioners, public address systems, even church buildings serve as aids to worship. Aids are simply expedients, and therefore acceptable to God. To introduce an unauthorized activity into worship is to abandon the authority of the Scripture and enthrone the doctrines of man. The use of a piano, organ, or any other mechanical instrument in worship is just such an addition. The music from such an instrument certainly may drown out the human voice, but it does not aid it in any way.

Often it is claimed, “I think the singing sounds better when accompanied by an instrument.” The better question is, “What does the singing sound like to God?” After all, God is the audience of our worship. We ought to strive to please Him and not fickle men (Ac. 5:29). In this age of human entertainment thinly veiled as worship to God, the instrument might be more exciting to men. Some denominational churches distribute free earplugs in the foyer to dull the deafening onslaught of the “house band!” No matter how much men may enjoy vain worship, only true worship is pleasing to holy God. God says sing, so His faithful people sing.

Perhaps more often than any other justification, we hear, “Well, the Bible doesn’t say we can’t use instruments in worship.” Thankfully, this reasoning is not used in other areas of life. “Chevrolet didn’t say not to fill my car’s fuel tank with orange juice.” “The doctor didn’t say not to drink drain cleaner for my nasal congestion.” How foolish men can be. When God authorizes a specific item to be used, it rules out everything else. When Jesus told the man whose sight was restored to go wash in the pool of Siloam (Jn. 9:7), He did not list off every other pool in Judea. He did not need to because He had specified the pool to wash in. So it is with the kind of music God desires. When He specifies singing it prohibits anything other than singing.

Many believe that the church of Christ is “that weird church without music.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Christians do have music in worship. It is the beautiful music called singing, and it is the very kind of music that God has authorized in His holy Word. A refusal to use mechanical instruments of music in worship is not some quirky doctrine that Christians use to make themselves distinctive. It is a matter of Bible authority, and it lies at the very heart of a proper interpretation and application of God’s will for man today.

Rick is a 1999 graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching, an instructor for the Georgia School of Preaching (Marietta and Adairsville campuses), and has served as the evangelist of the Adairsville, GA church of Christ since 2013.