“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 created humanity with the ability to use their voices to sing praises to Him.
The simple answer to: “Why do churches of Christ not use musical instruments in worship?” is that the churches in the New Testament never used musical instruments when they worshiped in song. Christ, His apostles, and His prophets only commanded singing for worship in the New Testament. This is why the churches of Christ practice singing only. The New Testament Scriptures instruct singing for the church to make melody together by teaching one another and thanking God. This article will present further why the first churches did not use musical instruments to worship God and will challenge the reader to rethink Christian worship.
Jesus and True Worship
As most Christians realize, worship 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 old 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).
The Change to True Worship
Jesus taught that God seeks true worshipers, and Jesus revealed that true worship is in spirit and 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 edifice to the spiritual church (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21), and worship also changed fromthe 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 priesthood of Levites and their physical worship with David’s instruments have ceased (Heb 7:12).
Shadows of True 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 Old Testament worship on an altar with sacrifices, using incense, and holding harps are all symbols in Revelation. These physical symbols foreshadow true worship in the New Testament. One scripture says that incense symbolize prayers and the harps symbolize praise (Rev 5:8–14). While holding harps, no one played harps in Revelation, but they did praise God. John described the praises of the faithful sounding like thunders, many waters, and harps (Rev 14:1–3; 15:1–3).
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 (Matt 28:18–20). 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 in song. However, the New Testament specifies that Christians praise God in song with their hearts and lips (Eph 5:19; Heb 13:15).
The Substance of Worship
Jesus’s words are perfect, and no one should add or annul His teachings about worship. Do Christians have liberty to express worship in any way other than true worship in the New Testament? 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). Christ specified “the fruit of the grapevine” for the Lord’s Supper, and His Spirit specified “the fruit of the lips” for praise (Heb 13:15). The church of Jesus Christ can no more change “the fruit of the grapevine” in the Lord’s Supper than change “the fruit of the lips” in praise to God (Matt 26:29). Christians cannot change anything that Jesus commanded regarding marriage, baptism, and church elders. 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, no one can really change Jesus’s words.
Jesus declared about the Lord’s Supper, “Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the grapevine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). The cup of the Lord’s Supper is “the fruit of the grapevine.” Who can change “the fruit of the grapevine” into anything else? Who can add anything to the Lord’s Supper that Christ established? Likewise, who can change Christ’s music and Christian praise? The apostolic writer expressed in Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” As New Testament Christians, the churches of Christ see the blessings of praising God only by lips, and they plead with all to reconsider the simple beauty of speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
Words are the most important part of singing to worship. Christ’s music is vocal and verbal for the church, and singing in worship is the most beautiful, pure, and sublime form of music. The apostolic Scriptures describe musical instruments as “lifeless” and “without soul” (1 Cor 14:7). The description of lifeless instruments are very much in contrast to one being filled with the Spirit. However, the apostle Paul exhorted, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:18–19). The Scriptures depict meaningful and spiritual worship where Christians gather together singing to God and to one another without relying on a select group to enhance worship. Worship in spirit and truth is God-enhanced worship because God has instructed and guides such worship (John 4:23–24).
In 1 Corinthians 14, the apostle Paul explained that verbal worship edifies worshipers in the assembly. In 1 Corinthians 14:15, Christ’s Spirit uses the Greek word psallo to describe how making melody with the spirit and the mind requires words. The Scripture explains that meaningful music in worship relies upon understandable words (1 Cor 14:7–19). Furthermore, Christians complete the act of psallo by making melody in the heart (Eph 5:19). Music consisting of anything other than verbal singing is an addition to God’s Word and contrary to the heart of meaningful worship.
By seeking to worship in spirit and truth, Christians can find that singing is the only form and the highest form of musical worship in the New Testament. Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is a God-given way for Christians to teach and admonish one another (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). For this reason, thousands of churches follow the Scriptures to merely sing. They avoid musical instruments including body percussion such as foot-stomping and hand-clapping, because these are additions to Christ’s words. These additions are not useful for meaningful worship to God. Worship invented by people apart from God’s Word can only hinder Christians from drawing near to God.
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 apostolic 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 continued through the nineteenth century among many of these churches. Throughout these times, “nonconformist” churches found that true worship is free of the innovations and amusements of society. In the Restoration Movement, the restorers made the same stand for true worship and still do.
Christ’s Perfection of True Worship
True worshipers find that Christ is perfect and complete, and so are His words (John 6:63; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22). Adding to the words of Christ and His Spirit is wrong (Gal 1:6–9; 3:15; 1 Cor 4:6; 2 John 9; Rev 22:18–19). 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.
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 good work in the Scriptures. True worshipers 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.
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, yet some also misused the gifts of tongues and there is no mention of condemnation (1 Cor 11:17–34; 14). This writer must defer for God to judge on these matters, yet urge that all follow Christ to worship as God has revealed in the Scriptures.
Churches for True Worship
The churches of Christ do not use musical instruments to worship God, because Christ commanded singing for worship in the New Testament and the New Testament churches sang and never used instruments. 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. The New Testament writers affirm that singing is the most edifying, meaningful, and spiritual form of music. Because the New Testament commands verbal music 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).
May God bless all to sincerely consider the music that God desires for believers to worship in spirit and truth. To understand true worship, a believer must think spiritually and not carnally (1 Cor 2:14). A person must also have an honest and good heart who does not dismiss Christ’s teachings (Luke 8:15). Therefore, a believer needs to receive salvation by the Gospel (1 Cor 15:1–5). God saves believers who have risen with Christ from burial in baptism (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12). 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 alive 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).