Editor’s note: It is hard to imagine a question more unrelated to Christian evidences, but this is about the third time I have gotten a question on this topic, so apparently some users of this web site care about this question. Therefore, I am posting it.
My question that I am struggling with and seeking help for is on the subject of instrumental music. My church says its sinful. Is it? I’m seeking for the Bibles answer in the NT and I know that the apostles never taught it. Would 2 John 1:7-10 apply to instrumental music?
Here is the bottom line. The New Testament does not mention instrumental music, nor does it give us a doctrinal statement on what kind of music we can have in our worship. For the vast majority of Christian groups, instrumental music is a non-issue. However, there is a small subset of Christian groups for whom restoring the exact biblical pattern of the New Testament Church is a major goal. These groups are sometimes called primitivist churches. I am guessing that you are in one of those groups. I have been exposed to those who claim that instrumental music in worship is not allowed because of my background in the churches of Christ. Here is the argument that some present to “prove” that instruments are not allowed in Christian worship:
1. There is no example of instrumental music being used in Christian worship in the New Testament. (this is true)
2. The evidence is very strong that all the music in the church in the first few centuries was a-capella, in other words, was without instrumental music. In fact, the very phrase a-capella means as done in the church, because right up until the late middle ages Christian worship was without instruments. (also true)
3. It is a striking fact that the primitive church did not use instruments, given that the Jews always had and the pagan religions also did. We can therefore conclude that it was not an accident, and that most likely the apostles themselves supported worship without musical instruments. (also true)
4. The words used to describe musical parts of worship in the New Testament, such as Ephesians 5:19, imply that such music is to be with voices only. (this claim is questionable)
Here is my response to such arguments. Yes, it is almost certainly true that the New Testament Church did not use instruments in their worship and yes, it was almost certainly not by mere accident. In fact, it is likely that the apostles suggested this to the church. However, unless one can show a scripture which condemns the practice or unless one can show a scripture which gives very good reason why such a practice is sinful, then this is a weak argument. There are lots of things which the early church did not do, but this, in general, is not proof that such things are sinful per se. We do not know the reason why the church did not use instruments. We do not have early church father writings to prove they saw this practice as sinful. There may be a good reason why they did not do this, but that reason may have applied to the situation in the first and second century. Perhaps the apostles wanted the Church to make a clean break with their religious past. Here is the bottom line, as far as I am concerned. If the use of instruments were sinful and outlawed for the church, we can assume that God would have somehow put such a command into the New Testament. He did not do so. Therefore if individual churches choose not to use instruments because of the example of the early church, I say “fine.” But to teach that it is sinful without a scripture to support that view is simply wrong.
To use 2 Jn 7-10 to prove that instrumental worship is wrong is to grossly misuse this scripture. Let us suppose, just for a moment that the use of musical instruments in worship was against the will of God (although I do not accept that premise, personally). If that were true, is such a relatively minor question the kind of teaching that 2 John 7 envisions? To claim that accepting musical instruments in the worship is equivalent to “denying Jesus Christ” (2 John 7) is ludicrous. This would be to grossly exaggerate the importance of a doctrine which is, at best, a questionable one. If our salvation depended on whether or not we use instruments in worship, which seems on the face of it to be unreasonable, then surely God would have actually mentioned somewhere in the New Testament that this is sinful! If you have heard someone use 2 John 7-10 applied to the use of musical instruments, then you can be assured that the one doing this is extremely unbalanced in his/her teaching. We can divide biblical truth into essential doctrines, such as those envisioned in God’s condemnation in 2 John (to include the doctrine of who Jesus is, the doctrine of salvation by faith, etc.), important but unessential doctrines (the role of elders, the timing of the Lord’s Supper, etc.) and unimportant doctrines (age of the earth, when Jesus will come back, use of instruments in worship). Clearly the exact format of our worship is not in the first category and it seems unlikely to belong in the second category. Feel free to discount anyone who applies 2 John 7 to the use of instruments in worship.
Those who have the conviction that God does not want us to use instruments in our worship should feel free to associate with the like-minded, but they should not condemn those who disagree and to divide Christians over this issue is a sin.