The simple answer for “Why do churches of Christ not use musical instruments in worship?” is that the Bible instructs churches to sing to praise God and edify one another (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). The instrument cannot speak, teach, and thank God and so praise God in meaningful words. The churches in the New Testament never used musical instruments when they worshiped in song for good reason. Christ, His apostles, and His prophets only commanded singing for worship in the New Testament. As New Testament Christians, the churches of Christ see the blessings of praising God only by their lips, and they plead with all who rely on Christ’s words to consider true worship in speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
Worship with Words
The Bible contains commands from God for the order of the assembly in 1 Corinthians 14 (cf. 11:17–34). In the Bible, words are essential to worshipping God with music. In 1 Corinthians 14, the apostle Paul emphasized understandable words as he explained that words build up worshipers gathered in the assembly. Because words are essential to edification and the assembly of Christians, the New Testament Scriptures describe musical instruments as “lifeless” — “without soul” (1 Cor 14:7). Paul gave this description of lifeless instruments as greater than speaking in unknown languages.
In 1 Corinthians 14:15, the apostle Paul used the Greek word psallo meaning “to make melody” to describe how words are essential to singing and praying to God with the spirit and mind. These scriptures explain that meaningful music in worship consists of understandable words (1 Cor 14:7–19). Furthermore, Paul also instructed Christians to complete the act of psallo by making melody in the heart (Eph 5:18–19). Musical instruments are an unnecessary addition to the purpose and heart of singing praises to God. Instruments cannot produce words for meaningful worship and making melody in the heart.
No Changing Jesus’s Words
Believers find that Christ is perfect and complete, and so are His words (John 6:63; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22). The Bible reveals that adding to the words of Christ and His Spirit is wrong (1 Cor 4:6; Gal 1:6–9; 3:15; 2 John 9; Rev 22:18–19). Do Christians have liberty to express worship in any way other than true worship in the New Testament? Christians can neither change Christ nor alter the gospel. Christ is infallible and so are His words (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:14–15; 1 John 3:5; 1 Pet 2:22). Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). Therefore, Jesus’s words are constant and unchanging.
When believers consider the complete perfection of Christ’s words, then Christ’s institutions of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, prayer, music, and the like are complete in presenting His ideals. Few people would consider adding lamb’s meat to the Lord’s Supper even for the purpose of presenting Jesus as the Passover Lamb. Some may consider adding incense to prayers and ashes to the waters of baptism because of passages in the Old Testament. However, such additions are contrary to Jesus’s infallibility. A true worshiper will not add to true worship.
Churches can no more change the fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper than change the fruit of the lips in praise to God (Heb 13:15; cf. Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25). The Letter to the Hebrews declares, “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb 13:15). God specified the true worship that is best for believers. Christians can no more change the music that Christ commanded than change the elements of the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26–29; 1 Cor 11:17–34). God created humanity with the ability to use their voices to sing praises to Him. Singing in worship is the most beautiful, pure, and sublime form of music.
Jesus’s Change to True Worship
As most Christians realize, worship has changed from physical to spiritual. Jesus revealed that worship is now in spirit and truth, and no longer “in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21–24). David brought the temple worship to Jerusalem and enhanced this worship with musical instruments. Jesus professed, “believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. […] But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:21–24). The churches of Christ see that Jesus set true worship apart from the worship that David established in Jerusalem. True worship is with the right spirit and by the truth of God’s Word (cf. John 1:17; 17:17).
Jesus taught that God seeks true worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23–24). For that reason, Jesus distinguished true worship apart from temple worship in Jerusalem (John 4:21–24). The temple of God changed from that physical building to the spiritual church (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21), and worship also changed from the physical symbolism of the Old Testament to the spiritual reality of the New Testament (1 Pet 2:5). According to Scripture, Christ became the atoning sacrifice for sin (Heb 9:22–26). All Christians are now the priests of God’s spiritual temple, the church. Christians are the ones for whom God blessed to make melody in the heart and upon the lips. Thereby, true worshipers offer spiritual offerings of praise unto God (Heb 13:15; 1 Pet 2:5). The Scriptures reveal that the priesthood of Levites and their physical worship with David’s instruments have ceased (Heb 7:12).
No More Shadows of Worship
Old Testament worship foreshadowed and symbolized true worship, but the substance has always been Christ (Col 2:16–17; Heb 8:5; 10:1). Christ fulfilled the Law, so that Christ has led believers to true worship (Heb 9:9–10; 1 Pet 2:5). Revelation’s symbolic references to worship on an altar with sacrifices, use of incense, and the holding of harps are all Old Testament symbols. These physical symbols foreshadowed true worship in the New Testament. Scripture says that incense symbolizes prayers and the harps symbolize praise (Rev 5:8–14). John described the praises of the faithful sounding like thunders, many waters, and harps (Rev 14:1–3; 15:1–3). While holding harps, no one played these harps in Revelation, but they did praise God with singing.
The New Testament describes the ordinances of Old Testament worship as obsolete, carnal, and fleshly (Rom 7:1–7; Gal 3–5; 2 Cor 3:7–18; Eph 2:14–22; Heb 8:13). This is why the churches of Christ believe in observing all of Christ’s commands — unaltered, because Christ’s words are perfect and greater than the Law of Moses. The churches of Christ refrain from musical instruments in worship because these are contrary to the Spirit of the New Covenant (cf. 2 Cor 3:1–6). If God wanted Christians to worship with instruments as the music of the church, God would have commanded instruments for Christians to worship God. However, the New Testament specifies that Christians praise God in song with their hearts and lips (Eph 5:19; Heb 13:15).
Worship throughout History
The word acapella refers to non-instrumental singing and means “of the chapel” in Latin. The word comes from the ancient form of Christian praise when early churches worshiped by singing without instrumental music. For fourteen centuries following Christ, almost all churches sang and opposed the use of musical instruments in worship and assembly. During the Reformation, the reformers led believers in France and England to remove the recent additions of musical instruments that the Roman church added in the fourteenth century. This effort to reform Christian worship according to “the regulative principle” continued among many churches through the nineteenth century. Through the Reformation until today, “nonconformist” churches find that true worship is free of innovations and amusements. In the Restoration Movement, the restorers made the same stand for true worship and still do among churches of Christ.
God Judges Hearts
True worshipers will not add or annul from true worship. As far as true worship being a matter of salvation, God judges the hearts of those who worship for whether they love God and keep His commands (John 14:21–24). Some Christians in ancient Corinth received condemnation for not discerning the Lord’s Supper. Some also misused the gifts of languages in the assembly (1 Cor 11:17–34; 14). Christians must defer for God to judge the immature and ignorant on these matters, yet the faithful urge that all follow Christ to worship as God has revealed in the Scriptures.
The churches of Christ do not use musical instruments to worship God, because Christ commanded singing for worship in the New Testament. Churches in the New Testament sang congregationally and never used instruments. The New Testament writers affirm that singing is the most edifying, meaningful, and spiritual form of music. Because the New Testament Scriptures command music consisting of words for praise and spiritual teaching, the church of Christ will not add musical instruments to singing in worship of God (1 Cor 14:9–19).
The words of Jesus compel churches of Christ to maintain the purity of true worship. Neither Christ, his apostles, nor his prophets used or commanded musical instruments for worshiping God. Therefore, many Christians conclude that no one can add to Christ’s words or change true worship as Jesus established. Because God specified only singing in the New Testament Scriptures, alterations are contrary to the heart of meaningful worship. For Christ’s Spirit teaches that every Scripture is God’s breath to make the person of God complete and fully equipped unto every good work (2 Tim 3:16–17). Christians are not lacking any teaching or any good work in the Scriptures. The faithful listen to Christ’s Spirit and His words in the Scriptures, and by loving Christ, they see the complete purity of singing over all other musical forms. This is why the churches of Christ do not use musical instruments.
May God bless all to consider sincerely the music that God desires for believers to worship in spirit and truth. To understand true worship, a believer must think spiritually (1 Cor 2:14). A person must also have an honest and good heart who does not dismiss Christ’s teachings (Luke 8:15). Furthermore, churches of Christ urge repentant believers to receive salvation by the gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:1–5). Jesus rose bodily from the dead so that His followers will rise bodily from the dead on the last day (Rom 6:5; 8:11; 1 Cor 6:14). God saves believers by raising them from burial with Christ in baptism (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12–13). The believer must die with Christ to one’s sins to rise with Christ from baptism (Rom 6:1–7; Col 2:12–13). In this way, the Scriptures teach that God saves believers by grace raising them to new life in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:4–7).
- Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 4:24; 16:25; Rom 15:6; 1 Cor 14:15; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Heb 2:12, 13:15; Jas 5:13; Rev 15:3–4.
- Scott J. Shifferd, “Do David’s Instruments Have a Place in True Worship?,” <https://Godsbreath.net/2014/03/04/davids-instruments-for-worship/> (2014).
- John Price, Old Light on New Worship: Musical Instruments and the Worship of God, a Theological, Historical, and Psychological Study, (Avinger, TX: Simpson Publishing, 2005).