Question Time

Question

There was a lot of music linked to worship in the Old Testament, is it appropriate for today?

Answer

Generally speaking, up until the middle of the twentieth century many assemblies had no musical instrument at all and, even today, that would be the case in several areas. Even those that did use a musical accompaniment limited this to either an organ or a piano. Things began to change about fifty years ago and the rate of change has accelerated over the last three decades. Such is the extent of this shift that the use of multiple musical instruments is considered by some to be an integral and essential element of corporate worship.

Our only guide as to whether this change is right or wrong, beneficial or detrimental, must not be our personal preferences, or what is culturally acceptable, but the word of God. In examining the scriptures, one thing becomes apparent very quickly; there is a complete contrast between what prevailed in the Old Testament and what we find in the New Testament. Whereas in Judaism music, and a diversity of instruments, is mentioned, there is not a single reference to the use of any musical instrument in relation to any church.

This total silence cannot be coincidental, but must be significant. At the very least, it teaches us that there is no mandate to introduce a musical instrument into the various meetings of an assembly. In addition, I suggest that the use of a musical instrument was either totally absent or was of such insignificant usage as to not merit one reference to it. Although it is not a strong counter argument, it must also be accepted that there is not a specific prohibition against the use of some form of accompaniment to the singing recorded in the Epistles.

In view of the comments made in the previous two paragraphs, I believe we can come to some definite responses to the question that has been asked. Firstly, as the use of musical instruments is primarily linked to the ceremonial law observed by Israel, that would suggest that it has no place in church life today. Secondly, in the absence of any biblical prohibition stipulating we must not use any instruments, we should guard against going beyond what the scriptures teach. Thirdly, it is clear that music should not have any place of priority in church life, nor should it have any place of prominence, as it is afforded neither in the New Testament.

We all probably subscribe to the teaching that each assembly is autonomous, and, whilst that does not mean each can do whatever they want, it does mean that one company cannot legislate for another. If one church believes they are free to use some form of music then, providing it has no place of prominence nor is given any priority, they are at liberty to make that decision. However, this gives rise to another issue – what kind of music is appropriate and when can it be used? To answer the latter point first, if it is not wrong to use an instrument, then I cannot see why it cannot be used at any meeting where hymns are being sung.

In respect of what musical instrument to use, then each church must decide what is appropriate and ensure its usage is neither intrusive nor dominant. Traditionally, many readers of this magazine will have grown up in an assembly where the organ was the only instrument, but this is no more ‘sacred’ than the use of a piano or something else. Passions can run high on this matter, but we need to accept that this is a matter of taste and familiarity, rather than one of a definite instruction from the scriptures.

What is more important is not what is played but how it is played. The purpose of a musical accompaniment is not to show how talented the player is; it is merely to assist the saints in being able to sing in tune and in time. Equally, if a musical instrument is going to be used, it needs to be played well; it is not a good testimony to have someone playing poorly and making it difficult for the saints to recognize the tune.

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