Bob Myhan

It is often said that churches of Christ have no music in their worship. This inaccuracy is based on a widespread misconception of what constitutes music. As we look at this subject, we need to keep in mind that, since “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23), we would not know how to please God, in worship, unless He revealed such to us  (1 Corinthians 2:11). Hence, we must look to that which God has revealed on the subject of music in order to know how to please Him in this area of our worship. Someone may think that he can please God in a way that God has not revealed, but our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and our ways are not His ways (Isaiah 55:8,9).


     Music may be defined as "a rhythmical succession or combination of tones." Tones (musical sounds) have four properties: pitch, length, power and quality. Pitch has to do with the highness and lowness of tones. Length, obviously, has to do with how long or short tone is. Power has to do with the volume (loudness or softness) of tones. Quality has to do with the kind or character of tones. These are properties of both vocal and instrumental music. There are three branches of musical study: melodics, rhythmics, and dynamics. Melodics is the study of tonal pitch. Rhythmics is the study of tonal length. Dynamics is the study of tonal power and quality.


    Consider the following quotes from the programmed instruction booklet, Developing Vocal Skills, Part 1:Vocal Fundamentals Kit, which was published by Convention Press (publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention).

q       "Singing and whistling are the most personal of all the musical arts.  The person who sings or whistles does not have to depend on any separate instrument in order to be able to make music."

q       "A person who sings or whistles possesses in his own mind and body all that is needed to produce musical sounds."

q       "The singer is a musical instrument."

q       "In learning how to make good sounds, it is helpful if the singer understands how his vocal instrument operates."

q       "All musical instruments, including the human voice, have three basic elements:  an actuator, a vibrator (or vibrators), and a resonator (or resonators)."

q       "The actuator of a musical instrument is the power source  (or motor) which causes the vibrator to start vibrating (moving back and forth).  In a wind instrument, the breath of the player is the actuator.  On a drum, it is the stick set in motion by the player."

q       "The vibrator of a musical instrument is that part which is set in motion by the energy from the actuator.  It is this motion, which produces musical sound by creating sound waves.  On pianos and guitars the strings are the vibrators."

q       "The resonator of a musical instrument is that part which takes the basic sound produced by the vibrator and reinforces (amplifies) or improves its quality.  The sounding board on a piano and the soundbox on a violin are examples of resonators."

q       "On a trumpet, the actuator is the breath of the player; the vibrator is the lips of the player (against the mouthpiece); the resonator is the horn itself (all the tubing contained therein)."

q       "In the human voice, the actuator is the breath supplied by the singer; the vibrator is the vocal cords; the resonator is certain cavities of the throat and head (primarily the throat and mouth)."

q       "When a person sings or speaks, he engages in four important physical processes; respiration, phonation, resonation, articulation."

q       "Respiration is the process of moving air in and out of the body--inhalation and exhalation."

q       "Phonation is the process of producing vocal sounds by the vibration of the vocal cords.  When your actuator (breath) starts your vibrator (vocal cords) moving back and forth, sound is produced and the result is called phonation."

q       "Resonation is the reinforcing (amplifying) or improving of the quality of the sound produced by the vocal cords, mainly by the correct shaping of the throat and mouth."

q       "Articulation is the process of making all the movements and adjustments of the speech organs necessary to form a certain sound.  The tongue, lips, and jaw are very important to this process."


    Notice Paul's charge to the Ephesians on the subject of music (Ephesians 5:19). We are to speak to ourselves in psalms--songs devoted to the praise of God, extolling His name, power, character, and works. We are to speak to ourselves in hymns--songs of praise, thanksgiving, and supplication, teaching our dependence on God. We are to speak to ourselves in spiritual songs--intended to inspire and cultivate feelings of spiritual devotion and to bring the spirit of man into harmony with the Spirit of God.

    Singing is a combination of music and intelligent speech. “Making melody in your heart to the Lord” is bringing the thoughts and feelings of the heart into harmony with the sentiment of the song (in other words, "mean what you sing"). Paul gives no instructions concerning the use of man-made instruments to accompany the singing.

    Notice also Paul's charge to the Colossians on the subject of music (Colossians 3:16). We are to teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The ideas contained in the words do the teaching and admonishing. The song is the vehicle by which the sentiments are conveyed to the heart of those who hear and understand.

We are to sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. That is, the melody of the lips must come from and fill the heart. Also, the words sung must be the outgrowth of the word of Christ in the heart. It is significant that Paul gives no instructions concerning the use of man-made instruments to accompany the singing.

    Notice third the example of Paul and Silas singing in prison (Acts 16:25). There is no indication that either accompanied the other with a man-made instrument.

    Notice fourth the statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:15. Singing is to be done "with the spirit and with the understanding." The "spirit" and the "understanding" are two aspects of the biblical heart--the emotions and the intellect. 

    Notice fifth the admonition in James 5:13. He gives no instructions concerning the use of man-made instruments to accompany the singing. Nowhere in the New Testament are man-made musical instruments authorized for use in worship.


    Some claim to find authorization in the Old Testament. It is true that the Old Testament authorized the use of man-made musical instruments in Jewish worship. But neither Moses nor the Old Testament prophets have any authority, today (Matthew 28:18; Luke 9:28-36; Hebrews 1:1-3). Christians are to worship according to the New Testament (Galatians 1:6-9; Colossians 3:17; Hebrews 2:1-4).

    Some claim to find authorization in the book of Revelation ("After all, there are going to be harps in heaven, aren't there?"). The book of Revelation contains several visions in which harps are prominent (5:8; 14:2; 15:2). But these are highly figurative visions, apparently of things occurring (whether now or in the future) in heaven. Even if the harps are somehow literal, they are certainly not man-made. If, when I get to heaven, God hands me a harp, I will play it to the best of my ability. But where in the New Testament are Christians authorized to use harps in worship while on earth? Besides, specific authority for a harp would not provide generic authority for all other instruments.

    Some claim that the Greek words, "psallo" and "psalmos," necessarily imply the use of a musical instrument. Psallo is variously translated as "sing" (Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15), "sing psalms" (James 5:13) and "making melody" (Ephesians 5:19). Psalmos is simply "psalms" (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16). In Romans 15:9, Paul is quoting an O.T. Prophecy (2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49). We must interpret O.T. prophecy in the light of N.T. fulfillment. In 1 Corinthians 14:15, the singing is to be done "with the spirit and with the understanding." In Ephesians 5:19, the melody is to be made "in your heart." No instrument (other than the human voice and the human heart) is anywhere authorized for use in New Testament worship.

    Some argue that musical instruments are just aids like songbooks. However, songbooks can be an aid to either singing (vocal music) or playing (instrumental music). When singers use songbooks, no other music is created, but when man-made instruments accompany the singers, playing is added to the singing. Since singing is authorized it may be aided. But, since playing is not authorized, it may not be used, much less aided. And, since playing is obviously more like singing than songbooks, it cannot logically be considered an aid to the singing, but must be considered an addition or a substitution.

    Some, in a last ditch attempt to cling to the use of the instrument, but being unable to show authority for its use in N.T. worship, claim that they can use it at certain stated times (e.g., outside the formal, collective worship of a congregation), so long as they are not actually worshiping (e.g., they may be entertaining one another). But if they are singing without actually worshiping, are they not misusing the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs? Would this not be like giving alms, praying and fasting "to be seen of men" like the hypocrites in Matthew 6:1-18? If they are "singing and making melody in [their] heart to the Lord" it is worship. If they are "singing with grace in [their] hearts to the Lord" it is worship. If they are not "making melody in [their] heart to the Lord" or they are not "singing with grace in [their] hearts to the Lord," why are they not? And would they not be drawing nigh unto God with their mouth, and honoring God with their lips while their heart is far from Him? And would this not be "vain worship" according to Matthew 15:8,9?


    As far as this writer has been able to determine, and he knows of no defenses other than those dealt with here, there is no authority in the New Testament for instrumental music in worship, whether in or out of the congregational assembly. Therefore, he refuses to use it, or to sing with those who do. Interestingly, the Italian Phrase, "a cappella" (which refers to singing without instrumental accompaniment), literally means "as in the chapel."