No Instruments in Church?

organ“Churches of Christ” have one primary distinctive belief: the NT does not authorize the use of musical instruments in worship services (thus they are committed to a capella worship). (Castelein, 130)

I was reading through the Zondevan Counterpoints series book, Understanding Four Views on Baptism recently and encountered the above quote. I admit that it caused me much confusion (I wrote on the margin: “Uh?”). First, I’ll admit I didn’t go looking through the New Testament to see if the claim was true. I’m just going to give John Castelein the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s right. Second, Castelein noted that “Churches of Christ” is not a denomination in the strictest sense and so there is diversity; but it seemed that his point was that they unified around this point. I also don’t know if this is true and will assume Castelein is correct (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

Okay, now to my point: even were I to grant that the NT does not authorize the use of musical instruments in worship, what does this mean? Think about it for a second. What else does the NT not authorize? I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in there about offering plates, displaying crosses in a sanctuary (or really anything at all about what a church may look like considering it was written during the time of house churches), playing Frisbee, or going on family vacations either.  Does this mean all of these things may not be practiced? Certainly not. On the face of it, this appears to be an argument from silence: the NT doesn’t say we can, so we cannot. But of course that doesn’t follow.

Moreover, what of the multiple places in the Old Testament where the use of instruments in worship is clearly condoned and even encouraged? One may consider Psalm 33:2-3:

Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.

It seems to me that in order to argue that there may be no instruments in church, one must explicitly state that the Psalms may not apply to worship in Christian churches. For me, that’s a tough sell.

I’m curious to see whether there are positive arguments for this doctrinal distinctive. Let me know if you have encountered any and also let me know your own thoughts on the issue.


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John D. Castelein, “Christian Churches/Churches of Christ View: Believers’ Baptism as the Biblical Occasion of Salvation” in Understanding Four Views on Baptism edited by Paul Engle and John Armstrong (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


7 thoughts on “No Instruments in Church?

  1. This is from “Churches of Christ Online”,

    Top Ten Questions About the Church of Christ

    We do use music, but we don’t use musical instruments to accompany our singing. While many of our friends in other churches (even some Churches of Christ) use instruments, most of our congregations don’t for several simple reasons.
    Early Christianity included two groups of people: Jews with a background of instrumental music (see Psalm 150) and pagan Gentiles who also worshipped with musical instruments. Yet when the church was established in about 33 A.D., those early Christians worshipped without such instruments.
    According to Dr. F.W Mattox, a scholar of early church history, musical instruments weren’t used until the fifth century, and organ music didn’t become part of Christian worship until the eighth century. Even today the majority of Christian groups worldwide still sing without instruments, or acappella (literally meaning of the chapel or in the way of the church.)
    So it seems logical, considering our goal of restoring a New Testament type Christian worship, that acappella singing would fit that model. Besides, the only musical instrument God ever created is the human voice; man created all the rest. Perhaps the purest form of musical worship on earth is found in human voices.

    So it sounds like this decision is more historical than theological. On the other hand, I do agree wholeheartedly with your basic premise that we should not say “The Bible doesn’t say ‘yes’ so the answer must be ‘no’ “.

    P.S. The rest of the “Top Ten Questions” also make for an interesting read (and I admit knew little about this group, either).

    Posted by Tim Folkerts | March 19, 2014, 7:28 AM
  2. J.W. you can also look into the “Stone-Campbell” movement. They back up the no-musical instruments from Eph.5:19. “…sing and make music from your heart to the Lord…”

    Posted by Lisa Guinther | March 19, 2014, 8:48 AM
    • Lisa, thanks for the response! I think that even if one takes that verse as an ordinance, it is clearly not as exclusive as one would need to justify the notion that instruments are not allowed in church. Thanks for sharing this historical background.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 21, 2014, 6:40 PM
  3. My wife was raised in a Church of Christ that didn’t have instrumental accompaniment to singing. She says that some Churches of Christ have accompaniment, but it’s usually just piano or something.

    As Tim said, it seems like the main thrust of motivation is more cultural and historical than theological. They really want to avoid the excesses that so often come from instrumental accompaniment. For example, it is indeed the case that some churches go out of their way to give most of the attention and volume to stage performers during worship. My wife and I attended her old church once, and the lack of instruments really was rather beautiful and refreshing, and I felt truly part of a body of worship in a way I hadn’t felt in a while.

    As with anything over which folks can feel pride, there will be advocates who go “too far” in proclaiming how something they value doing “ought” to be done. Needless to say, I don’t agree that a wholly-Biblical case can be made for the prohibition. Furthermore, instrumental accompaniment can certainly be “done right” — I grew up with a worship leader who married styles, emphases, and a variety of instruments deftfully into a beautiful experience that made it very easy to “fall into” distraction-free, corporate worship.

    But it’s not hard to see, when so many churches these days are amping over and drowning out the voices of the congregation, why going “iconoclastic” with group worship makes some sense.

    Posted by stanrock | March 19, 2014, 9:40 AM
  4. To me, worship through song is the ultimate coalescence of beauty and content offered as a sacrifice to God. The beauty that we offer comes from the sound of the human voice that God created. The skillful playing of instruments reflect the talents given to us by God. The design of the instruments, orchestrations, arrangements and compositions of the musical pieces are all products of the minds that God fashioned for His glory. The purposefully organized sound that we hear is not possible without a world designed for sound in a universe described by physical laws that follow mathematical realities that find their foundation in the very Source of our creation and the Object of our worship. The content of the songs reflect man’s attempt to communicate his recognition of the masterful beauty and unending love of God for us. It doesn’t matter if we worship God with music or a capella. If we use what is beautiful to worship God in spirit and in truth, we are the type of worshipers the Father seeks.

    Posted by Luke Nix | March 19, 2014, 3:27 PM
  5. For the churches of Christ, this is theological more than historical. Scripturally, the early churches never used musical instruments. Not until the 14th c., then the Roman church added the instrument. All the reformation churches rejected the instruments including Puritans. Today, the Greek Orthodox, many among the Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists do not use the instrument. Yet, this is not why we do not use the instrument.

    Simply, the churches of Christ do not use musical instruments, because we do not worship as David brought Israel’s worship into Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, David instituted specific musical instruments for worship commanded by God for which only the Levites were to use in the Temple. Before this, Israel did not use musical instruments in worship for 500 years from Moses receiving the Law on Mount Sinai. Jesus said that worship has changed and no longer of Jerusalem (John 4:21-24). Christian worship consists of spiritual offerings from spiritual priests in God’s spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5, cf. Heb. 13:15-16). The Levitical priesthood along with the worship from the Law of Moses with David’s additions have ceased (Heb. 7-10). Because of God’s specificity of music, the churches of Christ seek to only worship in music as God has specified. The New Testament only teaches singing for the Church, God’s Temple (1 Cor. 14:15, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, cf. Rev. 14:1-3).

    Because the New Testament only teaches singing, we are convinced that Christ’s commands are perfect and need no addition. For example, when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we find that the bread and fruit of the vine are ideal and we refuse to add anything to it like lamb’s meat. We would say the same thing about not adding to church government, baptism, preaching, prayer, and anything to the Bible. Therefore, like the fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper, we cannot change “the fruit of the lips” that is praise (Heb. 13:15-16, cf. Matt. 26:29). Lastly, we read that musical instruments are “soulless” in 1 Corinthians 14:7, and we read that singing, preaching, and praying must only consist of meaningful words (1 Cor. 14:9-19).

    Please, see the link to my site for more specific articles about why the churches of Christ do not use musical instruments and whether David’s instruments have a place in Christian worship. Thank you.

    Posted by Scott Shifferd Jr. | April 14, 2014, 11:45 AM
  6. I’ve been with a Church of Christ in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) for some years now. We do use instruments for worship. Several brothers and sisters come from the US from churches without instrument use. However, it’s not a topic that stirs any sort of discussions or disagreements. Neither using instruments nor not using instruments is a law or a dogma, but I agree it’s a distinctive belief in the COC.

    What drew me to the COC is the lack of boundaries (racial, language etc.) like in the NT (one church family of Jews and gentiles). Here in Phnom Penh, Cambodians and foreigners hugging each other. In Israel, Israelis and Arabs hugging each other. In the Ukraine, Russians and Ukrainians hugging each other. In the US, black and white hugging each other. In Germany, refugees and Germans hugging each other. That happens in other churches as well, but unfortunately that’s more the exception than the rule, but would have been a far better example for a “distinctive belief” in Dr Castelein’s article.

    Posted by Jan Krohn | October 28, 2015, 12:01 AM

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