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Is it wrong to use musical instruments in church services?

Weekly Q&A

Is it wrong to use musical instruments in church services?
Posted on August 4, 2020  - By Jobin John Mathew

Is it wrong to use musical instruments like drums and guitars in church services?

Christian churches are divided today, not only on the basis of doctrines and how Scripture is interpreted, but also on the mode or pattern of worship. Because of this, some churches allow the use of instruments during worship, but others feel musical accompaniment would be far too distracting and so don’t allow it.

I confess, this is a hard question to answer because any answer would only invite more questions. If instruments can be used, then how many? And if not, as some would say that they cause distractions, are instruments the only cause for distractions during worship? 

Let me make an attempt to answer the question by stressing on four important factors:

1. Derive Biblical truths correctly.

There is ample evidence found in the Old Testament about the use of instruments. The very first mention comes from Genesis 4:21: “His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.”

One of the first instances where instruments were used in praising God can be seen in Exodus 15:20-21: “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea.” 

We also see the use of instruments inside the house of the Lord in 2 Chronicles 29:26, as instituted by Hezekiah: “He stationed the Levites in the temple of the Lord with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king’s seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the Lord through His prophets.  So the Levites stood ready with David’s instruments, and the priests with their trumpets.

There’s also Psalm 150:3-5, in which the psalmist says: “Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with timbrel and dancing, praise Him with the strings and pipe,  praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals.

Coming to the New Testament, we do not see as many verses in regards to the use of instruments. The lack of verses have led some to think that it should not be used in church — but this would be a wrong way to derive a biblical truth. The absence of Scriptural reference is not a sole criteria for deciding any particular church practice or doctrine.

The absence of Scriptural reference is not a sole criteria for deciding any particular church practice or doctrine

2. Make God the focus of your worship.

There are two important verses I would like to emphasise here:

  • Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16 
  • “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:18-19

The words of the Bible, God’s written word, must dwell richly in each and every believer. When we begin to meditate and apply God’s truth into our lives, when we allow Scripture to draw us closer to God, when we begin to enjoy him through the Word, we can see an outburst of God’s work in and through us which also becomes a source of encouragement to others as well. This is the Spirit-filled life, where God is the centre of attention and His Word, the instrument. 

Let the Word of God be the only source of true joy, spiritual growth, worship and progress onto maturity in the life of a believer. Musical instruments should only serve its purpose as an accompaniment or support (if needed). We can use musical instruments as an enjoyment and also an expression of our talents, but we must be careful with its use so as not to ‘enhance’ our praise and worship. 

Emotions are a huge part of our personality, and every emotion has an emotional trigger. Music is one example of a deep trigger that can easily stir up the emotions; therefore, if we are not careful with it, we can get carried away. That is why when we hear that special song, that special note in the minor scale (in fact, all songs in the minor scale), certain guitar riffs, or that thumping bass line, it can become more about the music than about the lyrics or meaning.

Music as an enhancement is not wrong, but it can become misleading and distracting if our emotions are not controlled by the work of the Holy Spirit. So, let the Spirit continually guide our emotions, mind and thoughts. Let the music play in the background, as we wholeheartedly focus on Jesus alone — for He alone should be the object of our praise and worship.

Musical instruments should only serve its purpose as an accompaniment or support (if needed)

3. Be tolerant, not toxic.

While I was growing up, I was part of a church that did not use instruments during church services; at present, I am serving with a church that does. Having tasted both these experiences, I can confidently say that I appreciate and enjoy the use of instruments and, at the same time, have not found it difficult to enjoy worship without the use of instruments. 

There might not be many examples found in the New Testament of churches using instruments but, at the same time, Scripture does not condemn its use. Saying that the New Testament does not authorise the church to use musical instruments is not the same as saying the use of such instruments is wrong. Sadly, over the years, we have begun to condemn churches that use instruments and even look down on those that don’t. The Lord Jesus teaches us to be tolerant towards others, especially when their practices and beliefs differ from ours. 

Colossians 3:13-15 says, “Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity. The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you together in one body. And be thankful.”

A lot of youngsters today choose to leave churches where musical instruments are not used and flock to other congregations where they are. We must be careful to use wisdom when making such decisions. Talk to a mature brother or sister about your personal predicament and seek godly advice. 

Also, we must not become stumbling blocks to others who desire to attend a particular church that uses instruments by gossiping or spreading false rumours just because we don’t agree to their pattern of worship or their use of instruments. Churches should never close its doors to true seekers who might come with their own struggles and questions, but rather help them to grow, moulding them into maturity. Romans 14:1 says, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”

Jesus teaches us to be tolerant towards others, especially when their practices and beliefs differ from ours

4. Enjoy your freedom — and respect that of others.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, clearly teaches us about worship: the various elements of worship, our manner of worship and how worship should be centred around God. At the same time, the Bible also introduces Jesus Christ as the one and only way to the Father. Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” 

Those who receive Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour become “true worshippers of God”. John 4:23-24 says, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” To worship in “truth” is to offer worship to the Father through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even though the Bible (New Testament) teaches worship, God’s Word does not endorse any particular pattern that needs to be followed. God loves to watch His children enjoy the freedom He has given them and has also allowed them to adopt any pattern for worship. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the kind of plates we need to use for laying the emblems, or which colour the table cloth should be, or how big or small the offering bag should be. 

In short, the Bible does not forbid nor command the use of musical instruments either. I believe every local congregation has the right, freedom and authority to decide the pattern of worship they would like to follow. In regards to using musical instruments, whatever a church decides to do, other churches should accept it as that church’s way of praising the Lord.

As believers, we should at all times remember this important truth, with or without musical instruments: 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”.

Jobin John Mathew

About Jobin John Mathew

Jobin John Mathew serves as a deacon at his church in Bangalore. He enjoys talking about Jesus to all age groups, preaching through the book of James, and listening to gospel-centric sermons. He is married to Ruby and dad to little Judah. The family shares their home with many pets, including three turtles.



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