You Need Not Yearn To Look Back at Former Things

Ready again to open up a can of worms, as it seems I have been doing lately, I would like to now take a look at the Biblical warrant for the use of musical instruments in the stated worship of the Lord’s Day. I think one of the things hindering the discussion is a misunderstanding on all our parts on the purpose of Lord’s Day worship and how it may (or may not) differ from occasional worship (occasional in the “special occasion” sense not as in the frequency of meeting). So to move past that I would first like to have some introductory words on the subject.

Occasional Vs. Stated Meetings

Stated Services

The stated service is the worship services that take place on Sunday’s, as has been “stated” by the Elders of the Church. This service differs from occasional services in the respect that it is stated by God to occur on a specific day and in a specific manner.

Francis Turretin says:

For although sacred assemblies for the public exercises of piety can and ought to be frequented on other days also by everyone (as far as their business will allow) and every pious person is bound in duty to his conscience to have privately his daily devotional exercises, still on this day above others a holy convocation ought to take place (as was the custom on the Sabbath, Lev. 23:3) in which there may be leisure for devout attention to the reading and hearing of the word (Heb. 10:25), the celebration of the sacraments (Acts 20:7), the psalms and prayer (Col. 3:16; Acts 1:14), to alms and help to the poor (1 Cor. 16:2) and in general to all that sacred service pertaining to external and stated worship. (Turretin, Enlentic Theology Vol. II, 11, Q. XIV, xxvi)

Occasional Services

The occasional service are things like daily prayers, family worship, weddings, funerals, and other such things that happen on occasions and a particular way of organizing are not explicitly spoken of in Scripture. Here is a specific example and explanation provided by the RPCNA:

Today the worship of the family and of the individual is primarily a meditation on God’s Word accompanied by prayer and praise. Those leading family or group worship do not have the authority to preach officially, to dispense the sacraments, to pronounce the benediction, or to exercise ecclesiastical discipline. The worship of the Church properly takes place as the Church is assembled for that purpose under the direction of the elders. (The Worship of the Church: A Reformed Theology of Worship)

Now to The Exciting Part!!!

First I would like to give you a few varied and quite striking quotes from Dead Old White Guystm that span the generation’s.

John Calvin (I am required by law to begin with Calvin) from his commentary on Psalm 71:22:

In speaking of employing the psaltery (a musical instrument not the Psalter) and the harps in this exercise, [David] alludes to the generally prevailing custom of his time. To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures; but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving. We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical intruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul in 1 Cor 14:13, lays pray to him only in a known tongue.

Charles Spurgeon (A Baptist for God’s sake) from his commentary on Psalm 71:22:

There was a typical signification in [instruments]; and upon this account [instruments] are not only rejected and condemned by the whole army of Protestant Divines, as for instance, by Zwingli, Calvin, Peter Martyr, Zepperus, Paroeus, Willet, Ainsworth, Ames, Calderwood, and Cotton; who do, with one mouth, testify against them, most of them expressly affirming that [instruments] are a part of the abrogated legal pedagogy. So that we might as well recall the incense, tapers, sacrifices, new moons, circumcision, and all the other shadows of the law into use again. . But Aquinas himself also though a Popish schoolman pleads against [instruments] upon the same account, quia aliquid figurabant and saith the Church in his time did not use them ne videatur judaizare, lest they should seem to judaize (in reference to the Judaizers Paul speaks against in his letters).

John Crysostom (really old guy) on Psalm 92:3:

Instrumental music was only permitted to the Jews, as sacrifice was, for the heaviness and grossness of their souls. God condescended to their weakness, becasue they were lately drawn off from idols.

Adam Clarke (a Methodist) looking at Eusebius on Psalm 92:3:

Eusebius, in his comment on this Psalm, says:”The Psaltery of ten strings is the worship of the Holy Spirit, performed by means of the five senses of the body, and by the five powers of the soul.” And, to confirm this interpretation, he quotes the apostle, 1 Cor. 14:15, “I will pray with the spirit, and with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and with the understanding also. As the mind has its influence by which it moves the body, so the spirit has its own influence by which it moves the soul.” Whatever may be thought of this gloss, one thing is pretty evident from it, that instrumental music was not in use in the Church of Christ in the time of Eusebius, which was near the middle of the fourth century. Had any such thing then existed in the Christian Church, he would have doubtless alluded to or spiritualized it; or, as he quoted the words of the apostle above, would have shown that carnal usages were substituted for spiritual exercises. I believe the whole verse should be translated thus: Upon the asur, upon the nebel, upon the higgayon, with the kinnor. Thus it stands in the Hebrew.

Augustine on singing in worship without instrumental accompaniment:

Sometimes from over jealousy, I would entirely put from me and from the Church the melodies of the sweet chants that we use in the Psalter, lest our ears seduce us and the way of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, seems the safe one, who as I have often heard, made the reader chant with so slight a change of voice that it was more like speaking than singing. And yet when I call to mind the tears I shed when I heard the chants of the Church in the infancy of my recovered faith and reflect that I was affected not by mere music but by the subject brought out as it were by clear voices and appropriate tune, then, in turn I confess how useful is the practice.

And one more from Calvin on Psalm 33:2:

The name of God, no doubt, can properly speaking, be celebrated only by the articulate voice, but it is not without reason that David adds to this those aids by which believers wanting to stimulate themselves the more to this exercise, especially considering that he was speaking to God’s ancient people. There is a distinction, however, to be observed here, that we may not indiscriminately consider as applicable to ourselves every thing which was formerly enjoined upon the Jews. I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching of the harp and the viol, and all that kind of music, which is so frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was a part of the education, that it is to say the puerile instruction of the law, I speak of the stated service of the temple. For even now if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent the sacred assemblies musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this ,as well as other things, from the Jews.

Men who are found of outward pomp may delight in that noise, but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the Apostle is far more pleasing to him. Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints only in a known tongue. (1 Cor 14:16). he voice of man, although not understood by the generality, assuredly excels all inanimate instruments of music and yet we see what Paul determines concerning speaking in an unknown tongue…Moreover, since the Holy Spirit, expressly warns us of this danger by the mouth of Paul to proceed beyond what we are there warranted by him is not only, I must say, unadvised zeal, but wicked and perverse obstinacy.

Moving On

This ought to give us a good starting point. My next post will look at the historical use of Instrumentation in worship through the centuries by the whole Church. Some of you may be quite surprised.

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19 thoughts on “You Need Not Yearn To Look Back at Former Things

  1. You can quote one thousand or one million different people saying no musical instruments or people trying to come up with legalistic rules for different types of worship but when you look at the actual texts of the Psalms or NT there are no basis for any of their arguments.

    To explain my earlier comment about the church fathers, I think “Don’t do this because they’ll hear us” became “Don’t do this.” over time and it continued to be the rule of the church after the persecution until they actually opened up the Psalter and saw the COMMANDS to use instruments to praise God.

    Scripture trumps Everything. Whether it be the church fathers, John Calvin, or for that matter the Westminster Confession of Faith.

    Or is there some other reading to PSalm 150.

  2. Gary,

    Well put simply the Temple worship has ceased and all the trappings thereof have as well, including the use of instruments in worship. If you read the quotes closely they all use this same hermeneutic principle. In other words the use of instruments in worship in the Old and New Testaments are completely tied to the sacrifices used in the Temple. Moreover there is absolutely no historical or scriptural evidence of instruments of any kind being used in the synagogues or outside of the Temple for the stated worship service.

    Psalm 150 (as well as Psalm 33. 72, etc…) should be read in light of not only this but also the principle of heart worship. The instruments are nothing more than simile for how we as individuals should approach worship to God.

    Again, as I think Scripture testifies and the Reformed and Eastern Orthodox tradition as well, says that just as we would not offer sacrifices or incense in the Temple anymore neither should we use the other trappings of the Temple.

  3. I don’t accept their argument that instruments are tied solely to the sacrifical system. Its the same type of shoddy exegesis that some use to say the OT is irrelevant to the modern church.

    In Psalm 150 the word for Praise הַלְלוּהוּ is an imperative. A command. Thus in my opinion instruments are a requirement for worship. They are not optional. And I will never again attend a church that doesn’t use them.

  4. I would counter that the context of Psalms 146-150, being their setting being the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple, is calling forward the rebuilding and restoration of the Temple worship. Of course it would be an imperative in the context of which the Psalm was written. For the returning remnant their first necessity was rebuilding the temple and doing that which the Temple required. As Matthew Henry says in his commentary:

    In what manner this tribute must be paid, with all the kinds of musical instruments that were then used in the temple-service, v. 3-5. It is well that we are not concerned to enquire what sort of instruments these were; it is enough that they were well known then. Our concern is to know, 1. That hereby is intimated how full the psalmist’s heart was of the praises of God and how desirous he was that this good work might go on. 2. That in serving God we should spare no cost nor pains. 3. That the best music in God’s ears is devout and pious affections, non musica chordula, sed cor—not a melodious string, but a melodious heart. Praise God with a strong faith; praise him with holy love and delight; praise him with an entire confidence in Christ; praise him with a believing triumph over the powers of darkness; praise him with an earnest desire towards him and a full satisfaction in him; praise him by a universal respect to all his commands; praise him by a cheerful submission to all his disposals; praise him by rejoicing in his love and solacing yourselves in his great goodness; praise him by promoting the interests of the kingdom of his grace; praise him by a lively hope and expectation of the kingdom of his glory. 4. That, various instruments being used in praising God, it should yet be done with an exact and perfect harmony; they must not hinder, but help one another. The New-Testament concert, instead of this, is with one mind and one mouth to glorify God, Rom. xv. 6.

  5. Can I say a word of reason?

    What were the reformers and the early church fathers reacting against in their admonitions about instruments?

    Their (the instruments) tie in the minds of the culture with pagan worship!

    For me, the issue is that of focus on the WORD, its hearing, its proclamation, its celebration.

    There is no doubt that excessive instrumentation can take away from that. Palestrina had to write his Missa Papae Marcelli to demonstrate to a Pope that music written well can actually uphold the Word and does not obscure it.

    We should listen and learn!

    A well-played accompanying instrument helps us to lift up the Word to our hearers. Covering, or excessive music does not.

    I mean, what ever happened to taste and discernment here? God gave us brains (and hopefully a measure of common sense after our rebirth)!

    I respect our non-instrument bretheren. But, as in women’s ordination and celebrating home communion, I just think that they are missing out.

    Adiophora all the way!

  6. I would agree Toby but my research does not bear that out in the facts. Simply put if worrying over the Pagan implications over musical accompaniment is all that is leading the 2000 years of the Eastern Church, 1300 years of the West, and the first 200 years of Protestants against then why all the detailed exegesis? Why not just say so? It strikes me as odd that the church would do something for 2000 years and then all of a sudden decide, “Hey we need not have that fear anymore”. Why the vitriolic association with circumcision and with Popery? If in fact it is just a safeguard? Or is Dabney correct when he says:

    I know by an intuition which I believe every sensible observer shares, that this innovation is merely the result of an advancing wave of worldliness and ritualism in the evangelical bodies. These Christians are not wiser but simply more flesh-pleasing and fashionable…”

    Or Spurgeon:

    What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettinesses of a quartet, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.”

  7. Ben,

    You are a brave man to put your neck on the line for the sake of no instruments in worship. I assume you have read Girardeau? He has the best work of anyone I know on the issue of no instruments in worship.

    The fact that instruments are tied to the ceremonial law is plain by these facts:
    1. Instruments were only played by the Levites.
    2. Instruments were ordained for the temple service.
    3. Instruments were not used by the Jews in exile, for instruments were tied to the temple.
    4. Orthodox Jews to this day do not employ instruments.
    5. The use of instruments did not continue in the apostolic and early church.

    Toby you may say word of reason. I am waiting… I hope you don’t consider your comment a word of reason because it lacks it. NONE and I mean NONE of the Church Fathers and Reformers associated instruments with pagan practices. Go read their arguments. They tie instruments to the ceremonial law, that has been done away with in the New Testament.

    “Adiaphora all the way,” –gimme a break!!! “God’s standard of worship all the way.” –that’s what I’m all about.

  8. Steven,

    I have read Girardeau and a new book by John Price (called “Old Light on New Worship” must read)
    Though I must say that I have not fully gone to the Non-Instrumental position but I am on the track there I must confess.

    You are correct to point out that none of the Church Fathers and Reformers did not tie the intrumental question to pagan practices but to the end of the Temple worship.

  9. Steven,

    So….dumping ALL instruments in any form, in any setting of worship IS reason?

    I’d call it making your own molehill into Mount Everest.

    Just keep the instruments in their proper place–helping the people to sing praises. God gave us brains to create wonderful things. I’ll not abandon Bach, Mozart, Brahms or any other marvel of inspiration for a questionable reading of Scripture.

    But bless you anyway! I’ll keep on blasting my baritone voice over the organ!

  10. Also,

    If the Bible is clear that the use of instruments in worship now is forbidden to the people of God, then look at who don’t know their Bibles:

    John Piper

    R.C. Sproul

    John MacArthur

    C.J. Mahaney

    J.I Packer

    The list goes on and on.

    Over 95% of the conservative evangelical Reformed community and its leaders are on the other side of this. Are they all deluded? Misguided? Sell outs?

    Or, could it be that this issue is not entirely clear?

    I guess you know where I stand and who I stand with…

    🙂

  11. Toby said,

    “If the Bible is clear that the use of instruments in worship now is forbidden to the people of God, then look at who don’t know their Bibles:

    John Piper

    R.C. Sproul

    John MacArthur

    C.J. Mahaney

    J.I Packer”

    That’s quite a long list of people who don’t know their Bibles, Toby. Ben has a list as well, but the men Ben listed sure knew their Bibles.

    Toy said,

    “Over 95% of the conservative evangelical Reformed community and its leaders are on the other side of this. Are they all deluded? Misguided? Sell outs?”

    In a word, yes. Again, Toby, I am waiting to hear a word of reaon from you. It seems to have escaped you. There are textbooks on logic, I suggest you employ them. I would wager that nearly the same percentage of Christians in the world do not believe the doctrine of predestination. Who’s misguided?

    By the way, Toby, everyone you listed is against women in office and private communion, or did I misread this statement of yours?
    “I respect our non-instrument bretheren. But, as in women’s ordination and celebrating home communion, I just think that they are missing out.”

  12. Steven,

    This is fun. You answer mine and I’ll answer yours!

    Benjamin,

    It may be worth noting that if indeed only the Levites were given instruments, then who are the priests now?

    I think that we are. Jesus is High Priest, of course. But if we Protestant folk really do take seriously the issue of POB than it is fitting for our priesthood to take up the organ, trumpet and the like to lead the praise of God in the covenant community’s worship.

    The linking of instruments in worship with the fulfilled Ceremonial Law just seems a bit forced to me. And since there is no NT teaching on this matter, let’s leave it in the nonessential category shall we?

  13. One more thing, Steven:

    I think I was pretty clear that the mentioned issues of controversy in the Reformed community have good biblical scholars on both sides of these things. They are not essential matters to salvation. Want to make them so?

    I’m arguing for a little bit of understanding for some Reformed diversity, to the glory of God.

    Peace in Christ!

  14. Toby,

    What do you mean by salvation? Are you talking about justification only? If you are, then I agree, these are not matters that are necessary for our justification. But what about the rest of salvation; what about sanctification? That is part of our salvation as well. I think these matters are necessary for our sanctification.

    By the way…nice cop out. The whole appeal to diversity and matters of salvation, etc. That is what those who cannot debate well appeal to when they cannot appeal to reason. And yes, I am still waiting to hear a word of reason from you.

    It’s great that you are arguing for a little understanding of diversity for the glory of God. But have you stopped to ask the all important question, “What is it that gives God the glory.” Don’t you think that Christians who are united together under common obedience to the will of God brings Him greater glory than a bunch of Christians who have different oppinions but are united anyway because these differences just don’t matter? The latter works well for a post-modern God, but the former works best for the God of the Bible.

    The men you listed I have a deep respect for as biblical scholars. I think that they have contributed greatly to the cause of Christ, and I am greatly indebted to them. I just think that they are wrong on the issue of worship. It is true there are a great many biblical scholars who think musical instruments are fine in worship, but again consider Ben’s list of men who are against musical instruments. Consider also the long list of Church Fathers up until the 12th Century who rejected the use of musical instruments. Consider the simplicity and spirituality of worship in the New Testament. Finally, consider your own motives to use instruments in worship.

    One more thing and then I am done. Your appeal to the priesthood of all believers is not a good argument for instruments in worship. The priesthood of all believers means simply this that all men have direct access to God through Christ; there is no need for a mere human to stand between you and God. It in no way means that we can do whatever the Levites did. Just remember, also, that the idea of the priesthood of all believers was found in the Old Testament, yet only the Levites could perform the Temple services including the playing of the instruments.

  15. “It is also worth noting that Orthodox Jews to this day do not use instruments in worship.”

    If the Jews were right in their worship, they probably wouldn’t have been sent into exile or heard from the majority of thier prophets.

    BTW, The whole temple sacrifice connection is the argument I wouldn’t reveal over on the United Kirk what my former denomination argued because I thought it was ridiculous and couldn’t be their official position. Apparently others don’t find it ridiculous.

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