When the subject of instrumental music in the assemblies of the saints is brought up, the conversation normally focuses on matters of authority. Instrumental music is wrong, it is argued, because God never authorized its use in the assembly. While this argument is certainly true, it does not take into account the reason why God did not authorize its use in the assembly– that is, the real problem with instrumental music.
Let us consider the two of the main passages that talk about singing, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16:
Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.
Please notice that while our singing is offered to God, the thrust of the exhortations involve us speaking, teaching, and/or admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs!
This exposes the real problem with instrumental music: how can an instrument possibly assist us in speaking, teaching, and/or admonishing one another in song? Even those who use instruments confess that they do not provide any such benefit! Instead, the instrument “sounds good.” The instrument helps in the “performance” aspect of the singing, they say. Such a mindset is focused more on the flesh and what sounds nice to the ear, and not focused as much on what Paul is emphasizing in these passages.
Paul is making it evident to us that the purpose of our singing is to build one another up in the faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26). This edification is not based in what pleases the flesh but what encourages the soul. When we sing “to one another,” we are communicating the message of the song to one another. We remind each other to “take time to be holy,” perhaps, or to “trust and obey.” The point of the song is less about its production and much more about the message: this is why we sing “from the heart,” making the message expressed in the song our own.
No mechanical instrument of human invention can possibly express the feelings of the heart of a man, nor can it provide a message that builds up the soul. It does not matter, therefore, whether mankind can come up with some “new hermeneutic” or find some other way to re-define authority in order to justify the use of instruments, for such feeble attempts will never reach the heart of the issue. Instruments cannot assist us in speaking, teaching, and admonishing one another in song. They can only hinder those endeavors! Their use and justification entirely misses the point of our singing, making it more of a performance issue than an issue of message. Should we be surprised that as the use of instruments has increased within the denominational world, the level of spiritual substance in newly written songs, on the whole, has decreased?
The real problem with instrumental music, therefore, is that instruments cannot speak, teach, or admonish believers in any way, shape, or form. Such is why God did not authorize them in the new covenant– they have no spiritual purpose for us. In our new covenant, believers sing to one another to encourage one another in the faith, speaking and teaching one another through song. Let us always keep this in mind, making sure that our singing never becomes some empty ritual, continually singing wonderful spiritual messages from our heart to our fellow man and to the Lord!
Ethan R. Longhenry