“Jesus said unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither on this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24).
Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well very clearly describes a situation in which there were individuals worshiping as God had directed, and there were individuals who were worshiping against God’s directions. It also shows us that there was a plan for worship which was in place at that time, and a plan for worship which would be enacted during the Christian age. Finally we also see that God’s plan for worship, which was Law at that time, was a physical system of worship. The system of worship which was to accompany the Christian age was a more spiritual system of worship. This more spiritual worship is not without regulations (Heb. 9:1), but it is without the physical accompaniment meant to stimulate a “worshipful” feeling.
This more spiritual worship is most noticeably seen in the singing of the Christian assembly. The New Testament commands Christians to sing 3 times. First in Ephesians 5:18-19, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Colossians 3:16 we read God’s command, “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. And whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father by him.” James 5:13 says, “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.”
These brief New Testament commands are different from the the directives for singing worship to God in the Old Testament. During the days of the Tabernacle, the only instrument which was used was the trumpet. In Numbers 10 we see that this instrument was regulated in the following ways: 1) Only two trumpets were authorized to be made–Num. 10:1-2; 2) Only the priests were authorized to play them–Num. 10:8; and 3) the occasions which the trumpet could be used were limited–Num. 10:10.
This was the rule until God commanded David to have further instrumental music. We read an account of this in 2 Chronicles 29:25-27, “He then stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with harps, and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad the kings’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the Lord through His prophets.” As Hezekiah was restoring God’s proper worship, he did not suppose that he could do anything apart from God’s command. So he stationed the people God appointed, in the places God appointed, with the instruments God appointed, so that they could sing and play at the times when God had appointed.
The Old Testament system was highly regulated and was often dominated by the physical sensations of worship. The instrumental music was commanded, directed, and governed by God’s Word. A presbyterian professor at Columbia Theological Seminary said, “When the Temple was to be built, its order of worship to be instituted , David received a divine revelation in regard to it, just as Moses had concerning the tabernacle with it s ordinances…Instrumental music would not have been constituted an element in the Temple-worship, had not God expressly authorized it by his command” (pg. 31).
When we approach the New Testament to find the regulations for God’s worship in His church, we must again be guided by the same regulatory principle which was followed by David, Hezekiah, and Josiah. The God of the Bible has not changed. He and his worship must be regarded as holy by those who would seek Him. “We must always ask the question: What has God commanded in His Worship? Only by using those elements that are divinely instituted can we be certain that our worship is acceptable to Him” (Price page 35). Jesus said, “Why do you transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3). “But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Paul said, “If any many think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandment of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). In 1 Timothy 3:14-15 Paul wrote, “These things I write unto thee…that thou mayest know how thou ought to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.”
We see clearly that the Old Testament system ceased with Christ. Christ, in his death, enacted the new Christian system. The old physical worship and physical priesthood, which was dominated by the temple in Jerusalem, was taken out of the way (Galatians 3:23-29). It was replaced by the new spiritual worship dominated by the new spiritual temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). In Hebrews 7:12 it is written that, “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.” The new priesthood is the priesthood of all believers (Revelation 1:6). The new law is the law of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). The law which we will be judged by is the law of Christ (John 12:48). The law to which we must go to find how to worship is the new law of Christ, not the old law of Moses, not the traditions of men, and not the random choices of individuals.
When we want to discover how to worship God as he has directed or regulated under the New Testament or Christian age, we must go to the New Testament and see what he has specified. Professor Girardeau concluded that John 4:23 taught:
Jesus has thus declared that the positive enactment which required ceremonial worship at the Jewish temple is abrogated; and the New
Testament is utterly silent in regard to any transfer to the Christian church
of the services peculiar to that edifice….To retain a part of its services is to
suppose the continued existence of the Temple, for God never authorized
the employment of those services except in immediate connection with
that particular structure, after the tabernacle had given way to it by his
inspired direction. (Girardeau 87).
The Bible repeatedly describes the use of various musical instruments in connection with worship in the tabernacle and the temple services. However, the New Testament is completely silent concerning any physical instruments of music being utilized in the worship to God. The main theme of the restorations accomplished by Hezekiah and Josiah were to go back to the Word of the Lord as they found “the command of David the man of God. As Christians pursue the worship of God today, they must also return to the original form of the church. Christians must go back to the command of God as delivered through the pens of the New Testament writers. To do anything more is to go beyond what God has directed (2 John 9-11). To do anything less is to be insufficient in our service.
Again we ask the question, “What has God commanded in the New Testament for us to do as we worship Him in song?” The answer is still the same. The New Testament commands Christians to sing 3 times. First in Ephesians 5:18-19, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Colossians 3:16 we read God’s command, “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. And whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father by him.” James 5:13 says, “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.”
This is why we do not have physical instruments in our worship. We worship only with singing because that is the way which God has directed to sing praises to Him. One way in which we can test this reasoning is to examine what has been done in the past. Historians agree that “Both instrumental music and unaccompanied vocal music were present in the Jewish background of the early church. the immediate setting for early Christianity, the synagogue and sectarian Judaism,…favored the practice of purely vocal music” (Fergusson page 43). Ferguson goes on to list the following historical accounts of what the early Christians practiced:
Pliny, Roman governor of Bythina–“Christians met on a stated day and sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a God.”
Eusebius summarized Christian worship at the beginning of the 4th century by referring to the “singing of Psalms and recitation of other such words as have been given to us by God.” (Church History X.iii.3).
A 4th century document titled Questions and Answers for the Orthodox records: “the use of such instruments and the others that belong to the childish state is excluded from the singing in the churches, and simple singing is left.” (PG 6:1354).
Niceta, Bishop of Remesiana, said: “Only the corporal institutions have been rejected, like circumcision, the sabbath, sacrifices, discrimination in foods. So, too, the trumpets, harps, cymbals and timbrels. For the sound of these we now have a better substitute in the music from the mouths of men.”
Chrysostem wrote On Psalms 149, 2: “In olden times they were thus led by these instruments because of the dullness of their understanding and their recent deliverance from idols. Just as God allowed animal sacrifices, so also he let them have these instruments, condescending to help their weakness” (PG 55:494).
Augustine commented on Psalm 33:2 and said, “Hath not the institution of these Vigils in the name of Christ brought it to pass that harps should be banished out of this place?….Let none turn his heart to the instruments of the theatre.” (Augustine Enarrationes in Psalnum, Ps. 57.16).
Most all historians agree that the 1st recorded example of a musical instrument in Christian worship was an organ introduced in about 670 by Pope Vitalianus. Is it not odd that from the close of the New Testament in 97 AD that instruments were not used by Christians until 670 AD? The second mention of an organ being used does not come until 812. Charlemagne had an organ built for the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle.
Notice how that many of the great thinkers of the ancient times rejected the practice of instrumental music.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) wrote “The Church does not use musical instruments such as the harp or lyre when praising God, in case she should seem to fall back into Judaism…For musical instruments usually move the soul more to pleasure than create inner moral goodness.” (Needham, 393).
Robert L. Dabney, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, wrote concerning the exclusion of instrumental music: “Such has been the creed of all churches, and in all ages, except of the Popish communion after it had reached the nadir of its corruption at the end of the thirteenth century, and its prelatic imitators.” (The Presbyterian Quarterly, July 1889).
John Calvin wrote: “When they frequent the sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law…..Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to him.” (Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 33:2).
When commenting on Psalm 42:4, Charles Haddon Spurgeon said: “We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.” (Treasury of David Vol. 1, Part 2, 272).
These great voices of the past call us to return to the simple and spiritual worship of the New Testament. There we find no physical instruments, only souls praising God.
When we study singing in worship we see that it is when we express our submission to God as King of our life, praise him as King of our life, and honor Him as the Savior of our souls. If we are ever to sing as Christ would have us to sing, we must live as Christ would have us to live.