Can we use instrumental music during worship?
If you search the New Testament for information about music in worship, you’ll find several descriptions and commands for how God wants us to worship Him. But in all those verses, you’ll never once read any mention of musical instruments.
Colossians 3:16 reads:
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to the Lord.”
By simply singing from our hearts, we teach and encourage our Christian family, as well as praise and thank our Lord. How cool is that! Notice there is no mention of musical instruments – and why would there be? Can a piano admonish our brothers and sisters? Can a guitar offer thanks to God? No. In fact, using any instruments would provide a great distraction from those very important acts.
Ephesians 5:19 reads:
“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;”
This verse is similar to Colossians 3:16. We are told to speak to one another through song, having the melody come from our hearts – not a musical instrument.
Obviously, these are not the only verses on this subject. The simple answer is that there is no authorization from God concerning musical instruments. That’s it. We just do not have permission to use musical instruments in the worship service. When we gather together as a church, we are told to sing – to each other, to God, with our voices.
But it doesn’t tell us we can’t!
No, the Bible never tells us “you shall not use musical instruments in the worship service.” But if the Bible listed every single thing we should and shouldn’t do, it would be infinitely long. However, with the scripture we have been given we can find answers to every question in life. We just need to look for them.
Let’s take a look at the book of Leviticus for a bit, specifically chapter 10:1-3. In this passage we read:
“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the LORD spoke, saying, “By those who come near me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.”
Nadab and Abihu were holy priests before God in the time of the Old Law. Their job was to offer regular sacrifices, following the very detailed and specific instructions God had given them. They were considered holy before men and God – so why did they die? It wasn’t because they offered something forbidden by God, but because they presented that which He had not commanded them. Whatever it was that they offered, God had never once given them permission to offer. And because they offered it, God considered them to be treating Him as unholy. We don’t know why Nadab and Abihu decided to offer something new – it did not matter to God, and it shouldn’t matter to us today. No matter what we think might sound better or draw in more visitors, if God has not authorized we should not even consider it.
What about instrumental Christian songs outside of worship?
Outside of the worship service, can we listen to songs that are written about God or Jesus and put to instrumental music? With what we’ve learned so far, it’s easy to answer a solid “no” without further thought or study. But there’s more to it than that.
Contrary to what a many believe, not every aspect of our lives is worship to God. It’s true that God must navigate every decision we make and be always at the forefront of our minds (Colossians 3:17). But our lives are not one big worship service. Worship is a meaningful, purposeful service rendered to God, and is not offered accidentally. The English word worship is translated from several different Greek words, but let’s take a look at the word proskyneo. This word means ‘to kiss the hand to one in token of reverence; kneeling or prostration to do homage, whether in order to express respect or make supplication.’ This is the kind of worship that was offered to Jesus at His birth (Matthew 2:2,8), when He healed a leper (Matthew 8:2), and when He gave sight to a blind man (John 9:38). It is also the word used by Satan in Luke 4:7, when he was tempting Jesus to worship him instead of God. This is the very worship for which God has specific commands, just like Nadab and Abihu had specific instructions for their sacrifices. So when we worship God, we do so with meaning, purpose, and respect for His commands.
Now, listening to spiritual songs put to instrumental music (Christian rock, pop, etc.) as you go about your day is something different. When you choose to listen to this type of music, say, in your car on your way to work, you are not replacing authorized worship with something strange (Lev. 10:1). You are simply listening to music with higher meaning and reference to God. There is a difference between using this type of music as worship, and simply listening to it because you prefer it. For instance, a friend of mine chooses to listen to a Christian radio station in the car while she drops her young son off at school, because its content is much cleaner than that of secular radio stations. Now, it’s good to be selective in the songs you do listen to (some can be inaccurate or flippant, and some are actually songs of worship put to music) and make wise, thoughtful decisions based on scripture. But listening to this type of music can serve to refocus our minds on what is really important, and encourage us the rest of the day. Are we going to quickly change stations because a song mentions God (in a respectful, non-blasphemous way)? If you choose to present this music as an offering to God, or add it to what He has authorized, it is sin. But listening to this kind of music is not the same as offering worship to God.
Now, before we close there’s just one more point I’d like to make. Just like most topics of discussion from scripture, this is a matter of conscience. If you truly believe in your heart that listening to this type of music is sinful – then don’t do it! The act itself may not be inherently sinful, but if you believe it to be, to you it is. Romans 14:23 tells us:
“But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.”
Whether it’s singing in worship before God, or listening to Christian themed music during the day, let’s make sure our every motive and intention is to glorify and obey God – because that’s why we’re here in the first place.
By Rosie Smith