Author: Ron Graham
History of Instrumental Music in Worship
—And its implications
We consider the implications of the history of instrumental music in the worship of God, from patriarchal times until today.
1 The Patriarchal Age
Musical instruments have existed since antiquity (Genesis 4:21). Following the song of Moses, timbrels were used for worship by Miriam and the women of the Exodus (Exodus 15:20-21).
2 The Law of Moses
When the law of Moses was given on Mount Sinai, no musical instruments were prescribed for the worship. There were two silver trumpets that were sounded like a bugle to call assemblies (Numbers 10:1-10).
However musical instruments were not used to play music by which to praise God. Just before Moses died he wrote a song which Israel was to sing throughout their generations. However in his instruction about this song, God gave no command to accompany the singing with musical instruments. The law given by Moses is utterly silent on the use of instrumental music in worship.
3 David’s Kingdom
David was the second king of Israel. God had not wanted Israel to have any king but God. However God allowed earthly kings to reign (1Samuel 8:6-9). It was king David who introduced musical instruments into worship, but he seems not to have been commended for that (Amos 6:5).
The Lord, however, allowed David to use instruments: The Lord gave his authority to David by way of a command through the prophets Gad and Nathan (2Chronicles 29:25-28).
David would not have dared introduce musical instruments without seeking God’s permission. He had learned that lesson when he carried the ark of the covenant in a new cart, instead of on the shoulders of the priest, and God struck Uzzah dead.
David said later, "God made an outburst on us, because we did not seek God after the proper ordinance" (1Chronicles 15:13-14). Only because he had permission in a command of the Lord did David appoint musicians to play instruments in worship (1Chr 16:1-7).
4 New Testament Times
When we come to the Christian age, we find complete silence in the New Testament on using musical instruments in worship. The only music in the worship commanded for Christians is singing and making melody in the heart (Ephesians 5:19).
Note:— Music in Revelation. The visions of Revelation have some references to musical instruments, but so do they to bowls of incense and white robes and golden crowns (Revelation 4:4, Revelation 5:8-9). In the visions, the harps and bowls of incense were symbols or signs representing worship, not things early Christians actually used in worship.
5 The Second Millennium
We have no scripture beyond the first century, but well into the second millenium, Thomas Aquinas (AD1250) makes this remarkable statement: "Our church does not use instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize." [Thomas Aquinas. Bingham's Antiquities, Vol. 3, page 137.]
So at that date, at least some Catholic churches were still refusing to use musical instruments in worship. There continued to be enough protest within the Roman church that the Council of Trent (1545) came very close to abolishing their use. [Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, II, 1702.]
6 The Reformation
Later, when the protestant movement was young, the reformers spoke against singing with instrumental music. For example, Martin Luther said, "The organ in the worship to God is an ensign of Baal," [McClintock and Strong's Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, page 762.] and John Calvin said, "It is no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of tapers, or revival of other shadows of the law. The Roman Catholics borrowed it from the Jews."
7 Twenty-first Century
Today there's a clamour for musical instruments to be played in worship services. God didn't originally want it. He left it out of the law of Moses, and he left it out of the law of Christ. Yet people today seem to say, "I don't care if Christ the Lord never authorized instruments in worship. David had them, and we want them too".
But they forget this one thing: David had a command from the Lord to introduce them into Old Testament worship. He sought God after the due ordinance. Christians have no command from God to introduce musical instruments into NewTestament worship.
So dear congregations of Christ, if you don't seek to please yourselves, but instead you seek Christ after the due ordinance, you will not use musical instruments in your worship. Instead you will worship with music that is simply "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19).