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