NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR THOSE WHO FAVOR INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC

Neal Pollard

People who have rejected the teaching that singing in worship must be without the addition of mechanical instrumental music have appealed to culture, to the permission of silence, to aesthetics, to emotion, to tradition, to preference, and the like. As we examine Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, seeing the imperatives in each place (“let the word of Christ richly dwell within you”—Col. 3:16; “be filled with the Spirit”—Eph. 5:18) and the participles that reveal how to obey the imperatives (Eph.: “speaking…singing…making melody…giving thanks”; Col.: “teaching…admonishing…singing”), we rightly say that God specifies what He wants and through such excludes what does not fall within these categories. No one will successfully build a case for Divine authorization or approval, and church history will have turned centuries of pages before it is even found introduced in Christian worship.

Having said that, we have at times failed to step back and look at some of our own attitudes toward the music portion of our worship that may reveal some deficiency in our musical offering to God. As a musical instrument may drown out, overshadow, or become the central feature of worship music, so may our own minds and attitudes. How?

  • Being distracted by the age of the song (it’s too old or too new)
  • Being distracted by the pitch of the song (it’s too high or too low)
  • Being distracted by the pace of the song (it’s too fast or too slow)
  • Being distracted by the notes of the song (the song leader is leading it wrong)
  • Being distracted by who the song leader is or his appearance
  • Being distracted by how many verses are sung (too many or too few)
  • Being distracted by the aesthetics of the song (thinking about how it sounds more than what it says)
  • Being distracted by our own ability (proud of how good we sound or so embarrassed at how we think we sound that we keep quiet or fail to speak, teach, etc.)
  • Being distracted by the person/people next to us (concerned about what they think of us rather than what the message of the song is)
  • Being distracted by our familiarity with a song (frustrated that we don’t know it or knowing it so well that we sing from memory without engaging the heart)
  • Being distracted by matters outside the song (people-watching, thinking of other things, etc.)

Though I’ve never heard it said, have we constructed a theology that believes the only sin in our worship in song is adding an instrument to it? If we refuse to sing, sing with improper attitude, sing without heart and mind engaged, and the like, do we believe we are OK since we did not add to what God authorized.

In Matthew 15:9, Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes for worshipping God in vain due to their “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Context reveals the specifics of their wrongdoing. But that word vain means “pertaining to being without any result; to no avail” (Louw-Nida; “to no end,” BDAG). Review the examples of distraction above. Can those render worship in song with no result, avail, or end? Absolutely! Perhaps we need to emphasize within our own assemblies how equally necessary it is to be worshipping God “in spirit” as it is “in truth” (cf. John 4:24). The bottom line of this whole matter of church music is striving to please God in our worship. That is not limited to a single issue or somebody else’s issue. It is as individual and personal as each of our own relationship with God.

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14 thoughts on “NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR THOSE WHO FAVOR INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC

  1. David Courington

    Good thoughts Neal. It is incredibly difficult and requires strong concentration and determination to worship in spirit. Of the 11 distractions you listed here, several can be changed by the attitude of the worshipper(age of song, verses sung, aesthetics). Our heart must not be selfish in thinking every song should be to our liking. When Paul spoke to the Corinthians about their use of spiritual gifts he reminded them everything being done was “For the profit of all”1Co 12:7 This is how we should view worship, not just for our profit but for all. But several of these distractions have to do with proper teaching of how to sing and this does not need to be neglected. When no consideration is given to the pitch of the song, for example, it is often too low and the bass cannot sing it, or too high so the soprano can’t. I’ve often seen leaders have to stop in the middle because they themselves were unable to sing. This can be remedied easily with a little teaching. The ability of people to sing is not nearly the issue as people being taught to use the ability they have. We should be as diligent about teaching how to sing as how to pray. And here lies much of the problem of distraction. Churches need singing classes for children, for song leaders, singing nights to practice new songs, singing emphasis days, not just sermons on not using instruments.

  2. Rebecca

    Thank you for explaining what I have felt for years. It really has nothing to do with pitch or teaching (I respectfully disagree, David) but what is inside. I have been to villages in Malawi where the praising of God through song makes you cry, it is so beautiful, because they sing loud and proud. We should want to shout our praises to the Father and it really doesn’t matter if you are tone deaf or off key because when it is all blended together with others, it becomes a sweet aroma to God.

    We have looked at others in disdain (those who use instruments) while standing or sitting there mute and thinking as long as I don’t have this or that, my worship must be acceptable and theirs not.

    I have more but let’s leave it at great article! I love the singing at Bear Valley when I visit. It is very encouraging.

  3. Incredible, thorough, and thought provoking. Thank you for providing a different perspective on this essential topic. As a song leader/hymn composer I am most uplifted, brother.

  4. As a former song leader, you have touched on several items I have tried to be aware of virtually every time called on to serve in this capacity. You are exactly right on every count. And ministers of music, worship leaders, praise teams, and powerpoint sans lyrics are the wrong way to go as well, IMHO. I have always been grateful for those congregations that encouraged more men to lead, held song leading classes, singing classes, and times to work on newer songs – all done with the focus that our only “audience” is God. While we can inspire one another in song, the direction of the action is God Most High, and the purpose to give Him glory.

  5. Tom Fleming

    I do not hold with the use of instruments, ‘BUT’
    In Romans chapter fourteen, the Paul teaches us not to ‘quarrel over opinions’ (Romans 14:1) nor bind what God does not using food and the observance of days as examples.
    In Romans 14:10 he asks ‘Why do you pass judgment on your brother?…’ and again explains and asks in James 4:12 ‘There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?’
    I understand that the point of instruments are not expressly condoned nor forbidden; and what we are to do, is expressly stated. What God has bound stands, where no bond is abides freedom and choice in faith before our Lord.
    ‘The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. FOR WHATEVER DOES NOT PROCEED FROM FAITH IS SIN’ Romans 14:22-23
    Romans 14:8 ‘For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s’

    1. Tom, thanks for taking the time to read the post and then replying. Regarding the matter in Romans 14, Paul is speaking of personal convictions and conclusions. However, worshipping in song is a “corporate” (whole body) matter. Such leaves the realm of the personal and becomes collective. The only instructions we find for this collective activity is Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5. God specifies what He wants His church to do in song together. So, I don’t think we can apply Romans 14 to this particular matter. May God bless all of us as we seek to sincerely and submissively serve our great God. Appreciate your conviction and willingness to share it.

  6. Kevin Kasparek

    Appreciate your thoughts. I’ve been preaching for years, if we make the claim that singing without instruments in worship is such a critical issue to the identity of the Lord’s church, to the extent we are willing to draw lines of fellowship over it, why do we not teach our people to sing? How much effort does any given congregation put out in that area of worship? Our members may have heard countless sermons/lessons on the fact that we do not use instruments, but do they know the difference between a soprano and bass? Tenor and alto? Do they know what the shape notes are? How can we expect people to love praising God only with their hearts and voices if we do not teach them how and encourage opportunities to use those newly acquired gifts? If it is that big of a deal…then prove it! Put some emphasis on the singing part, not just what we exclude.

    1. Scripture teaches us to sing truth. To teach and admonish. That is what pleases God. It doesn’t teach us to sing in a way that pleases our ears.

      The beauty of singing without accompaniment is that it. Y default results in beautiful harmony singing. Repetition is how we get good. Your comment kind of threw me as the singing in churches that are a cappella is simply almost always great.

      1. Very true. Inasmuch as our song books are written with shape notes and song leaders try to lead and pitch them as written has become a part of our singing. I believe Kevin was saying that we should not be complacent or stagnant, but to educate people about singing. I don’t think it’s either/or (either singing in truth or trying to improve in our efforts). God is pleased with the right heart and a submissive one. But those things should not prevent us from giving our best. I appreciate your perspective, though, brother Mays. I need to be careful how I answer and what impression I leave. Thank you for the reminder.

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