Worship, Music, and the New Testament

By Paul Smithson

Most agree that God desires music to be offered up to Him in worship, but what kind? To answer this question we must search the Scriptures to see what God has authorized in His New Covenant.

When one searches the New Testament Scriptures he finds that Matt. 26:30; Acts 16:25; Rom. 15:9; 1Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12; 13:15; Jam. 5:13, are all the passages that deal with men offering up music to the Lord. In every instance the music is singing, thus specifying what kind of music we are to make– singing with the heart. There is no New Testament passage that states, “Thou shalt not play instrumental music in worship.” Yet, God has told us what kind of music He does approve of, which excludes all other types.

We must not only worship with the proper spirit, butSong Book also as the truth directs (Jn. 4:24). Thus, we must have divine authority for all that we do in word or deed (Col.3:17). Divine authority is established by direct commands, approved examples, and by things that must be necessarily inferred from the Scriptures.

There are two kinds of authority, general and specific. General authority gives us the liberty to determine what has not been specified and include everything that is essential to accomplish the thing we are authorized to do. An example of general authority would be Mat. 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of nations…” By a direct command we establish divine authority to “Go”. The authority is general as the means of going is not specified. Thus, we are at liberty to walk, ride, fly, sail, etc..

Specific authority, however, excludes everything else that is not specified. When God specifies a certain thing,  this excludes all others. This has always been true. When God told Noah to build the ark He specified gopher wood (Gen. 6:14). Though God did not tell Noah what not to use, His specific command excluded all other types of wood. Thus Noah would have been disobedient to have used any other wood than gopher. In Num. 19:2 we read of the red, unblemished, heifer that was to be burned to ashes by the priest. God did not have to state what all could not be used, His specifications excluded all other animals, colors, and heifers that were blemished.

The same is true in establishing divine authority for what kind of music is pleasing to God. The New Testament shows that He has specified singing as the kind of music we are to offer unto Him. Though God has not stated what types of music cannot be used, the fact that He has specified singing alone excludes all other types, including instrumental music.

The same principle applies to the Lord’s Supper. In  Mat. 26:26-28 and 1Cor. 11:24-26 we have specific authority for what is to be used as a memorial for the death of Christ until He returns. The approved example gives specific authority for unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine to be used. The fact that unleavened bread is specified excludes all other types of bread. Thus, it would be sinful to use another kind of bread such as cornbread or sourdough bread, as God specified unleavened.  The same is true with the fruit of the vine, it excludes all other drinks. To use orange juice or apple juice would be sinful, for it would be using a different kind than what God has specifically authorized for worship.  Most people can see this and would rightly oppose adding to or changing what God has authorized concerning the Lord’s  Supper.  Yet, when it comes to what kind of music God has authorized many want to add a type of music that God has not authorized— the instrument.

However, what is true concerning one act of worship is true concerning all acts of worship,  we must follow God’s authority for what we do.  If that authority is general we are at liberty to determine what has not been specified and can include everything that is essential to accomplish the thing we are authorized to do.  But when God specifies a certain thing, that excludes all others. If God had just said, “Make music”, then that would be general authority and we could make any kind of music. But He has specified singing and that excludes all other kinds of music.

Some argue that since God accepted instrumental music under the Old Testament it must be acceptable today. However, it must be remembered that we live under the New Covenant, the Old Covenant having been taken away (Heb. 10:9; Col. 2:14). There were many things that were performed in the worship of the Old Covenant (animal sacrifices, the burning of incense, etc.) that are not authorized under Christ’s New Covenant including the use of instruments.

If we offer up to God only that which He has authorized in His New Covenant with the proper attitude we are sure to be offering what is pleasing and acceptable to Him.  “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” Joh 4:23.

About the Author
Paul Smithson is the evangelist for the Westwood church of Christ in Tullahoma, TN