Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Can we worship with the instrument?

For many years I have heard that worshiping with the instrument is a matter of conscience and tradition. The thought was that while churches of Christ preferred to sing a cappella, that this was a tradition and optional. The other option for them was to use the instrument.

It is to their benefit to proclaim a cappella music merely as a tradition, because this would put singing and playing in their mind on equal footing--one as good as the other. The only problem is that singing (speaking, teaching, admonishing, confessing, giving thanks) is Biblically instructed (Eph. 5:19; Col. :16; Heb. 13:15) as the fruit of our lips. It is not a human tradition but a divine one (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). There is Biblical injunction and exhortation to do that. As for playing instruments, the Scriptures are silent. Opponents from the beginning have clearly admitted that.

George P. Slade argued as late as 1878 that psallo and psalmos meant that we ought to use the instrument of music in our worship. They took an old view of psallo and psalmos out of context and pressed it to mean something it did not mean. Later debaters stepped back from the view that we "ought" to use the instrument to the view that psallo and psalmos "permitted" the use of the instrument.

Everett Ferguson said of psallo, “If the precise meaning of certain verses may be in doubt, what is clear is that an instrument did not inhere in the word psallo in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, dating 150-250 BC). Psallo could translate a word meaning ‘play’ (nagan), or a general word (zamar). The meaning which would cover all occurrences is ‘make melody.’ This could include making melody on an instrument, but in the preponderance of occurrences it clearly refers to making melody with the voice.”

F. F. Bruce said of psallo in Eph. 5:19, “Nor should the etymological force of the terms be pressed, as though psalmos inevitably meant a song sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument…while such plucking of the strings is the original sense of psallo…it is used in the NT with the meaning ‘to sing psalms.’” In confirmation of this view, the Greek Orthodox Church
(who knows Greek better than anyone) has never used instruments of music in worship.
While some have abandoned the idea that psallo requires the use of an instrument, they today suggest that it permits the use of the instrument in Ephesians 5:19. If this were so, the first readers of the epistle of Ephesians and early churches did not know it. If Paul indeed was permitting the use instruments, we are at a loss to explain why early churches so adamantly and uniformly opposed them. Actually, no ancient writer ever made the argument that psallo and psalmos permitted the use of instruments is worship.

In fact, George P. Slade in 1878 was the first ever to argue that psallo or psalmos permitted the
instrument even if the instrument is not mentioned. Early Christians never understood the context of Ephesians or Colossians to demand or permit instruments.

The first rule of hermeneutics in the study of words is that a word does not and cannot mean what the author and the first readers did not understand it to mean. Whatever the words psalmos and psallo meant to them, it could not have demanded or permitted the use of instruments. The universal opposition to the use of instruments among the early church fathers makes it clear they understood the epistles of Ephesians and Colossians to teach vocal music only.

Ferguson explained that early Christians drew the meaning of the words psallo and psalmos from their regular practice in the synagogue (which did not use instruments of music). They frequently psalloed psalms in the synagogue without the use of instruments at all. So when the early Christians thought of singing psalms from their hearts, their first thought was not to grab a harp but merely to sing. And that's what they did for centuries, considering the use of instruments to be Judaizing or worldly in nature. They wanted pure worship without the corruptions of the religions around them or the worship of the Temple.

We can read the practice and instruction to sing in the New Testament. But one must use extraordinary means to try to find an instrument in Christian worship. Indeed one must be guilty of eisegesis (reading into the text).

Would it not be better simply to do what God's word says? Would it not be better to simply sing and end the division between us? Loving the Lord means that we will follow His teaching and obey His will (John 14:15). We urge all men everywhere to follow the New Testament pattern of singing and to avoid adding an instrument to their musical worship.

May God open our eyes and hearts to a deeper love for truth and for each other.

For more about Music in New Testament worship go to:

In Christian love,

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