Site hosted by Build your free website today!

back to Theology main page

Instruments in worship?

Are instruments to be used in worship? A few ultra-conservatives have answered in the negative. A recent tract arguing against the use of instruments in worship was written by Robert B. McCracken and published by Crown & Covenant Publications. As the Puritans did not use instruments, this is an issue which those who are fascinated by the scriptural soundness and maturity of the saints in former times like the Puritans would probably have to encounter.

Anyway, the argument against the utilization of instruments in worship is rather convoluted. In this missive, the main points of the arguments would be stated and summarized here, followed by a response to the argument presented.


Introduction of Instruments into the worship of God:

Removal of Instruments from the worship of God

Reasons why Instruments were not continued in the N.T. Church


After looking at the various points of their argument, let us analyze their position biblically and logically, and even historically.

The first point that we would analyze is that instruments were first stated as being used in the temple worship, as instituted by Moses and then David, under the direct command of God. This fact, while true, does not hold any significance at all for the argument at hand however. The Bible moves over the first few centuries of human history very quickly to focus on the story of Abraham and his descendents. Gen. 1-11 thus are a framework, while very important and must be held to be historically correct, for the narrative of Abraham to flow. As such, even if instruments are to be used for worship in such a period, they would not be mentioned. Before Moses, there was nothing that can be remotely called corporate worship, and the captive people of Israel were hardly in spiritual health while they were in bondage down in Egypt. Therefore, when Moses was said to institutionalize the worship of God, the fact that he introduces instruments does not necessarily mean that instruments are tied to the ceremonial law. Moses institutionalize proper corporate worship also, so therefore this fact bring nothing to the discussion at hand.

This brings us to the second point — of instruments being directly associated with the ceremonial rituals. However, is that the case, or is it rather the case that corporate worship in the Old Testament always comes together with the performing of the ceremonial rituals? The fact that corporate worship always comes together with ceremonial rituals and sacrifices thus introduces another factor into the equation. As such, it is disingenuous to simply state that instruments are directly associated with the ceremonial rituals when there is another possibility that instruments are always together with the ceremonial rituals because both are present in Old Testament corporate worship.

Nevertheless, let us proceed to consider 2 Chron. 29:25-30. When we look at this passage, it can be seen that to use this passage to say that instruments are absolutely linked to the ceremonial rituals is straining at gnats. The passage is not explicitly clear either way, for although it is true that there are two parts of the worship, it cannot be proved that no instruments were used in the second part. The singing and playing of instruments would naturally stop when the king and his company bow down and worship, as we in our modern context would stop singing and playing our instruments when it comes to a very solemn moment in worship. However, what makes such an argument from silence ridiculous, is that earlier on it was mentioned that the Levites were stationed around with cymbals, harps and lyres (2 Chron. 29:25), but these instruments were never mentioned at all after that. Are we to infer that the Levites brought these instruments into the temple just to display them without playing them? But yet, this is what such an argument from silence would lead us to. It is thus far more likely that these instruments were used together with the singing of the people, while the trumpet were used only initially since they are typically used to herald the beginning.

As such, we have seen that the linking of instruments to the ceremonial system is pure conjecture founded on no biblical basis. Furthermore, since the use of instruments were never stated explicitly in the Scriptures to be part of the ceremonial system, it is ridiculous to say that Christ did away with their usage. As an aside, what are we to make of the fact that there are instruments in heaven (Rev. 5:8)? Are there ceremonial rituals up in heaven which are to be made obsolete when Christ comes, but then Christ is always there!?

Wit regards to the New Testament, it is true that there are no mention of instruments in the New Testament, but then there wasn't any detailed description of a New Testament church service either, just that believers praised and worshipped God then. Knowing that those who are typically against the usage of instruments in worship are Covenantal Theologians and Exclusive Psalmodists, how then can they sing a Psalm such as Ps. 150:3-5 without 're-interpreting the words' so that the plain meaning of the psalm becomes irrelevant to them?

McCracken then goes on to a short history lesson. Of course, we must remember that Christians in the early days were generally poor and definitely persecuted. Therefore, that there were no instruments among them in general does not mean that instruments were banned, but more that they either could not afford them, or they are more pressing concerns like supporting missionaries etc. It is always a risky venture to argue from history, because it is more subjective and generally it proves nothing much of value, only in validity a point. In this case, the point has not been validated, so such would be an exercise in futility. With regards to the Reformation, generally there was an over-reaction to the abuses of the Roman clergy and this led to the removal of instruments as well. However, this proves nothing unless it can be shown that the prohibition of instruments is biblical.

In answer to the last part of the reasons given on why instruments are not continued, the fact that we are to have joy and praise which fills our hearts as Christians, which is to be expressed from the heart through our lips, does not negate the use of instruments. Ditto for the fact that we are to make music in our hearts to the Lord. Worship must always comes primarily from the heart, but to use that fact to prohibit instruments is to prohibit the eating of oranges because we need to eat apples.

With regards to the comparison with ancient synagogues, such a comparison is wrongfully made. Synagogues were originally more of a house of prayer than a true place of worship (which the temple in Jerusalem was). As such, no true corporate worship would originally be done in a synagogue, and therefore the comparison is in error.

From all of this, it can be seen that the linkage of instruments to the ceremonial system of the Old Testament, and therefore of the prohibition of instruments in worship, is severely misguided. The arguments have been shown to be more of grasping for straws and making invalid inferences and arguments from silence rather than true biblical exegesis. What makes it very ridiculous is the fact that people who call themselves Covenantal Theologians, who are supposed to believe in the continuity between the Old and New Covenants; the Old and New Testaments, who are promoting this sharp discontinuity and thus behaving more like Dispensationalists in this regard. As I have said before, such people can never in good conscience sing Ps. 150:3-5 because they prohibit the usage of any instruments in worship. Of course, I would like to know whether they think instruments can be used for personal worship, because David did play the harp in his own worship to God.