Do you use musical instruments?

The widespread use of musical instruments in church worship is a fairly recent development, yet has become so nearly universally accepted that many are fascinated to learn that we worship without accompaniment. But our a cappella worship is not designed to arouse curiosity or fascination; it is instead a principled position.

The New Testament — our pattern for church worship — contains several references to music in worship: Matthew 26.30 (paralleled in Mark 14.26); Acts 16.25; Romans 15.9; 1 Corinthians 14.15; Ephesians 5.19; Colossians 3.16; Hebrews 2.12; James 5.13. None of these passages may be applied to musical instrumentation: they deal specifically with vocal exercise — lifting the voice in praise to God. The clear implication is that musical instrumentation in corporate worship is not God’s design.

The Old Testament, though, does describe musical instruments in the context of worship. Herein we discover a great biblical truth that complements New Testament teachings. In Old Testament worship, all acceptable sacrifices were dead sacrifices, pointing forward to the coming Christ, the perfect, spotless Lamb whose sacrificial death would atone for sin. Jesus Christ was the last of the dead sacrifices.

But His resurrection was pivotal: He became the first of the living sacrifices. And God’s Word today exhorts us to make living sacrifices: “present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12.1); “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” (Hebrews 13.15); “do good and communicate… for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13.16). These are living sacrifices: living bodies, living praise, living works.

Old Testament worship was all about death. The tabernacle was constructed of badger skins, wood, silver, gold and linen — all of it dead. The mortal priest wore dead garments. The sacrifice he brought was a dead sacrifice. And the musical instruments played were dead instruments.

New Covenant worship is all about life. The Spirit of the Lord dwells in living tabernacles. The Great High Priest, clothed in righteousness, is alive evermore! The sacrifices that we offer are living sacrifices. And the musical instruments we play are living instruments.

God’s simple design for music in worship — congregational a cappella singing — completely removes focus from musical performance, and centers our affections on the One to whom all worship is due.

Posted in: How We Worship