Musical Praise and Worship
Have you heard someone say, “It doesn't matter how you worship God, just as long as you're sincere in your heart”? Perhaps you have said it yourself. Is this statement true? Does it really make no difference how we worship God? Simply put, no. At least when Christ’s teachings are considered. Jesus says, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23-24). We must worship God in spirit (with all of our heart, Mk. 7:6-8), and we must worship Him in truth (in accordance with God's word, Jn. 17:17).
Most people understand the importance of music in our worship to God. Music has been called the language spoken by all people. Music works wonders to stir the emotions of individuals and communicate in ways that would be impossible using other avenues. As you may already know, the Bible has many examples and even commandments of musical praise and worship. Since God really does care that we worship Him in spirit and in truth, we must do all we can to properly answer the question, “What type of music does God want and require for New Testament worship?”
Consider that question again. What type of music does God want and require? Surely those who participate in musical praise and worship enjoy entering into harmony with those of a like precious faith, praising God. Is that why individuals and groups worship and praise God? It shouldn’t be. The fundamental and underlying reason anyone should ever pay attention to the Scripture is to learn how we “ought to walk and please God” (1 Thess. 4:1-2). That is why it is so important that we ask the question, “What type of music does God want and require?” instead of, “What type of music do I/we desire?”
What Type of Music Does God Want and Require for New Testament Worship?
Remember that God requires true worshipers to “worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24). Jesus Himself has defined truth for us. During His prayer to the Father in John 17, He told God, “You word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Obviously, if we desire to be true worshipers, we must respect God’s word as truth, and we must conform our ways to His ways found in His word, understanding that the entire reason why we worship God is to please Him, and not ourselves (Isa. 55:8-9).
I must now take the time to emphasize that we, as people now living under the new covenant of Jesus Christ, must get our instruction from the New Testament. If we were to look at the Old Testament for how to worship God, we would find rituals like animal sacrifices and burning incense in to God. Such practices Jesus has abolished in His flesh (Eph. 2:15) (Read Heb. 9:15‐17 and “The Two Covenants” for more details). So, when we look in the New Testament, we find instruction in the form of example (Acts 14:23, 20:7) and commandment (Acts 2:38; Rom. 12:16-21). In this study, we will go through the New Testament together noting everywhere that disciples use music for God’s sake, in both example and commandment. I implore you to have an open, honest heart, looking for what God wants, and not what you or I want.
Matthew 26:30: After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Biblical example)
Mark 14:26: After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Biblical example)
Acts 16:25: But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (Biblical example)
Romans 15:8-9: For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Your name.” (Biblical example)
1 Corinthians 14:15: What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. (Biblical example)
Ephesians 5:18-19: And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord. (Biblical commandment)
Colossians 3:16: 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 God. (Biblical commandment)
Hebrews 2:11-12: For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will proclaim Your name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.” (Biblical example)
James 5:13: Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. (Biblical commandment)
Can we now come to a biblical conclusion? When we look at all the passages in the New Testament that mention disciples using music for God, what example and commandment do we see? We see only singing. What does that mean? What type of music does God want and require for New Testament worship? When we use the Bible as the authority to answer that question, we come to only one conclusion: God wants and requires singing only.
We use this type of logic every day, even in our Bible interpretation. What are we supposed to use in the Lord's Supper (communion)? Most people know that the Bible teaches Christians to use unleavened bread and fruit of the vine (juice from the grape, Mt. 26:17-29). How would you feel if you were served cake and coffee at the next Lord's Supper? Most people understand that partaking of cake and coffee destroy the communion of the Lord, since it goes completely against what He taught us. Jesus, when saying “unleavened bread” and “fruit of the vine” meant just that. He didn't have to spend chapters and chapters of the Bible explaining what not to use. When we add to or change that commandment, we have sinned (Prov. 30:6; 1 Jn. 3:4). Similarly, when the Lord teaches us to sing, He means for us to do just that. How dare we add to or take away from His commandments (Rev. 22:18-19)!
Because of the popularity of television talent shows and online videos, a cappella music has been getting more and more popular. A cappella music is music beautifully produced with the voice only. However, that's not what it used to mean. When coined in Italian, a cappella originally meant, “in the manner of the church.” Acceptance of instruments in Christian worship is still a fairly new concept. For most of the church’s history, a cappella music was the only way to praise God, which is the only way to do so biblically.
But What About...?
Someone might ask, “But didn’t David play the harp?” or “Weren’t instruments used for God in the Old Testament?” The answers are yes, and yes (Ps. 150; 2 Chr. 29:25). God was pleased on several occasions when people used musical instruments for Him. But what covenant are we under? We’re under the new covenant. Yes, they used instruments in the Old Testament, but they also sacrificed bulls and goats for their sins. If one argues to use musical instruments because of the examples in the Old Testament, then he or she must also perform animal sacrifices as a way to worship God, too, for “Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deut. 27:26). We receive our law from the New Testament, not the Old.
Although we are under New Testament law, we understand that there are principles in the Old Testament from which we can all learn (Rom. 15:4). For example, we read in Deuteronomy 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Although these words were used to introduce the Law of Moses, we still serve the same God, and we understand that if we add to God's Word, it is the same as disobeying it. We can also learn from Nadab and Abihu. “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” (Lev. 10:1-2, emphasis added). Nadab and Abihu were harshly punished for adding an element to worship that was not commanded (“strange fire”). In God's law today, we read of the example and commandment to sing, and only sing. Wouldn't adding the element of mechanical instruments be strange to His commandment? Indeed, it would be adding something He had not commanded us. Adding to His word is the same as disobeying it.
Someone might make the argument asking, “Don’t they use harps in heaven?” In the book of Revelation, when John describes heavenly visions, he does describe the twenty-four elders as having harps (Rev. 5:8; see also Rev. 15:2). We must understand two things. First, Revelation was written with a high level of figurative and spiritual language. It would be quite dangerous for us to interpret this great book literally in all cases. Secondly, we must understand that some things are permitted in heaven, which are not permitted on earth. And some things are not permitted there, but they are permitted here. Just because it happens in heaven does not give us authority to do it on earth. In fact, Jesus tells us specifically that heaven and earth have different permissions (Mt. 22:30).
We must ask the question again: Why do I try to follow the Scriptures? It is to please God, and not myself. “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:4). God’s word commandment is to sing. Adding instruments to the worship of God is motivated by the desire to please men, not God. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12).
Anyone who has been part of a congregation that was simply singing to God has had the wonderful pleasure of learning first-hand that a cappella music is much better in all areas (in the beauty of its sound, but also in spirit and truth- Jn. 4:23-24). It makes sense, too- we’re under a better covenant; the worship to God under the new covenant should be better. Do whatever it takes to be part of the body of Christ, which worships God by His authority.