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Why don't some churches use musical instruments in worship?

Did you know some churches, like the Church of Christ, absolutely refuse to use musical instruments during their church services? And I mean all instruments. We're not just talking about electric guitars. We're talking a capella and that's it. W-W-WHY? 

This is an ulcer that never seems to go away. I just finished reading Scott Hahn's entry for the Psalms in the Catholic Bible Dictionary, and I was again irritated by practice of some churches refusing to use musical instruments during worship.

A few years back I attended some Church of Christ services (never partaking in their communion) out of respect for a friend who was of that church. I noticed that they always sang a capella, so I asked my friend why. 

My friend told me that the early Church did not use instruments, and so why should the modern church? 

But is that true? Did the early Church use instruments? The following are some online articles making this same point, the first of which could use better sourcing:

See the above image of King David playing a stringed instrument? It sure seems like musical instruments have been used in the church's liturgy for quite some time. 

This is why reading Scott Hahn's entry on the Psalms inflamed this theological ulcer of mine: "the Greek title for the book in the Codex Alexandrinus is psalterion, which is the name of a stringed instrument used to accompany songs of worship." 

So, one of the possible name origins of an entire book of the BIBLE (!) is, itself, a call to use musical instruments in worship. The psalms represent "the foundation for the Church's public prayer." And, some of the psalms (e.g. 4,5) begin with directions to the choirmaster to use stringed instruments or flutes.

This isn't just the Church of Christ who discourages, if not expressly forbids, the use of musical instruments in worship. These other churches do the same: some Presbyterian churches, Old Regular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, the Old German Baptist Brethren, and the Amish and Mennonite communities. What gives??

In addition, it is said that the practice of using instruments was "opposed vigorously in worship by the majority of Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Alexander Campbell." Go figure.

Here's my two cents. The use of musical instruments was and is seen as a Catholic innovation, and on those grounds alone it has been opposed and continues to be opposed. Not doing something because Catholics do is a Protestant innovation, one that seems even to trump another Protestant innovation: sola scriptura.

These New Testament verses are often cited as a basis for not using instruments in worship: Mathew 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12, 13:15; James 5:13 (CAUTION Protestants: be careful citing James--you might need to throw out sola fide if you do). These verses show the worth of singing praise to God, which no one should dispute. 

However, they are merely invocations to sing, not denouncements of instruments. In these verses, Christ's apostles find themselves alone on the Mount of Olives, imprisoned, etc. ... Hey! Why didn't anybody remember to bring a lute to prison?? Yikes.

Here's my thesis. At the root of this silly argument is a poisonous resistance to right worship, to the Catholic liturgy, the corporate worship of the Body of Christ, which is only represented fully in the Church, and which reaches its fulfillment, source, and summit in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is the devil's twist to attack the liturgy. The reason for our existence is that we may praise, reverence, and worship God, and in so doing save our souls. God teaches us through history how to worship Him, and the devil attacks this.

Lord, for your gift of liturgy, we give you praise. Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Alleluia. 

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  1. Sincere believers who wish to praise God through vocal or instrumental music - would God really have a problem with this? Would God reject their praise? Would God consider them sinners? If they are not actually sinners for worshiping improperly, then is there anything wrong with it? Are Catholics who worship in their native language wrong for not using Latin?

    God knows who truly believes, and who is sincere in their worship. I have difficulty accepting that God would make such distinctions.

  2. What about David? He was a man after God's own heart. From what I understand of the bible he played the harp and sang worship songs.

    We're moving and looking at attending a Church of Christ.

    I'm wondering if it is a big deal or what else they might believe that I don't. Any advice?

  3. @Frank: The question should always and everywhere be "what is the truth?" Praising God in and of itself is not going to be sinful. However, if we let error slither into the garden, we may one day discover that it's no longer God that we're worshiping. It might be a golden calf. Remember: God's whole point for freeing his people from slavery in Egypt was so He might teach them to worship Him rightly.

  4. @Elf lovin': Right! That's exactly what I'm talking about: David was also the author of the Psalms!

    I would ask you to at least give the Catholic Church a look, as you evaluate your options. But please always ask yourself -- not merely is this or that church pleasing -- is this church teaching Truth? There is some truth in everything, but there is all truth somewhere!

  5. “and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
    “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
    and sing to your name.” (Romans 15:9)

    “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. “ (1 Corinthians 14:14)

    “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” (Ephesians 5:19)

    “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

    “I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”(Hebrews 2:12)

    Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (James 5:13)

    Well I'm here to tell you that We No Longer Live by the Old Testament. We live in the New. In none of the new testament verses does it say use musical instruments in Worship.

    1. ... Except that the New Testament is citing Psalms, which contains repeated instructions to use the lyre and harp as musical accompaniment.

      Also, remember Jesus' words at Matthew 5:18: "For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."