Where's the Piano? (Part 3)
In the past two feature lessons, we have shown that virtually all Protestant denominations, at one time in the past, did not use mechanical instruments in their worship to God--they simply used their voices to praise Him in song without any instrumental accompaniment. However, essentially all religious groups have incorporated the use of mechanical instruments in their worship today, except the church of Christ. Last week we explained why the musical portion of worship in churches of Christ is still strictly a capella. The reason centers upon the fact that the New Testament instructs humans to sing, and it never authorizes one to use mechanical instruments in worship today. Furthermore, our aim as children of God is to please Him (not ourselves) in all things, and, while one can certainly know that singing pleases Him (since the New Testament commands it), it is impossible to know whether the use of instrumental accompaniment pleases the Lord since the New Testament is silent on the matter. Thus, for one to use a mechanical instrument in worship today is presumptuous. The church of Christ believes it is dangerous to go beyond the authority the Lord has revealed on any matter (cf. Col. 3:17). We prefer to take the approach that cannot be wrong--that is why we sing praises to the Lord without accompaniment. This is a practice that is unquestionably safe and is certainly pleasing to God. We challenge everyone who currently uses mechanical instruments in worship to give up this presumptuous practice and simply be guided by what God's word prescribes--singing!

We suspect that there are many who disagree with this conclusion we have drawn. Thus, in today's lesson we will focus our attention on some objections that are commonly offered to this view.

Perhaps the most common objection offered is this: "I do not see what the big deal is. God's people worshiped Him with instruments in the Old Testament, right? So what is wrong with using them now?" This is a good question and deserves some attention. It is true that the Israelites did use instruments in worship, but there is a big difference that perhaps you have not considered before. The Old Testament clearly authorized the use of these instruments. In fact, the Israelites were commanded to use them! II Chronicles 29:25 reads - "And he [King Hezekiah] stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets." Now friends, if one could find a command or even an example in the New Testament that authorized instruments of music to be used, then certainly we would use them. However, the fact of the matter is that the New Testament, time after time, only authorizes singing.

There are some in the religious world today who erroneously state that using mechanical instruments is a matter of opinion, and they point to the Old Testament in an effort to support their argument. However, as I have just pointed out, God's people in the Old Testament--the Israelites--were commanded to use instruments! It was never a matter of opinion then, and it is not a matter of opinion today!

"But Stephen, if it was authorized in the Old Testament, what is wrong with practicing it today?" Well, let's examine that line of reasoning. The Israelites were required to offer animal sacrifices (cf. Leviticus). Should we do such today since the Old Testament authorized it? The Israelite males were required to go to Jerusalem three times a year (Deut. 16:16). Should we do such today since the Old Testament authorized it? Under the Old Law, if your brother died without a male heir to his name, you were expected to marry his widow (i.e., your sister-in-law) and raise up an heir on his behalf. Should we do such today since the Old Testament authorized it? Under the Old Testament, if one worked on the Sabbath, even at a small task like gathering sticks, he would be executed via stoning (e.g., Num. 15:32-36). Should we, since the Old Testament authorized such, put to death anyone today who works on Saturday? We could go on and on with these examples, but I hope you see the point. The Old Testament was given for the Hebrew people and its purpose was to help prepare them for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God never intended for that dispensation to last forever. He knew He would replace it with a better covenant (cf. Heb. 8:6ff). Consider Galatians 3:24,25 on this point - "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after the faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor." Reflect upon what Paul said: The Law of Moses was a tutor, but after "the faith" came (i.e., the New Covenant), "we are no longer under a tutor" (i.e., we are no longer under the Old Law!). The Old Testament is no longer binding upon anyone today. It was nailed to the cross and replaced (cf. Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:15; Heb. 7:12; 8:13). It is still valuable for our learning (cf. Rom. 15:4), but we should not study it to ascertain what God has authorized for us today. There are numerous practices that were authorized (and even commanded) under the Old Testament, but that does not automatically mean that such is authorized for us today.

Another common objection is this: "It cannot be wrong to use musical instruments in worship since God hasn't specifically forbidden their use." Friends, that is a dangerous way to think, and it ignores the fact that God is the authority in religion, not man! It is true that God has not forbidden the use of instruments, but should He have to do so? Is it not enough for Him to simply tell us to "sing"?

Let me share an illustration with you to show you how ridiculous things would soon become if we were required to always specifically forbid everything we did not want. Let's say you go out to eat pizza for lunch. You feel like ordering a small pepperoni pizza and a Coke. When the waitress brings out your food, she brings a small pizza that has pepperonis, mushrooms, sausage, and onions on it, and, in addition to the Coke, she brings a side order of breadsticks. Now, what would you do in such a situation? Would you just smile and pretend that everything is okay? What if the waitress billed you for the breadsticks and extra toppings? I know what I would do in such a situation. I would kindly tell the waitress that I did not order the extra toppings or breadsticks. But what if she said to me: "Well, sir, you never told me not to put on the extra toppings or bring the breadsticks, so I figured you would not mind"? Do you think that response would satisfy me? Absolutely not!

Do you see the connection? When you go out to eat, you are the authority. The waiter or waitress should bring you what you order. You should not have to read the whole menu to your server and tell him everything you do not want! You should be able to simply place an order and expect to get what you requested--nothing more and nothing less. How is the New Testament any different? God is the authority. He has requested His children to praise Him with singing. Does He have to tell us not to use a piano or organ or saxophone? Of course not! It is sufficient for Him to simply command singing. To go beyond that which He has authorized is dangerous and a good way to get yourself in trouble in a hurry. In a restaurant, the authority principle is so easy to see. Why is it so difficult for some to see the same principle applied in the religious realm? A waiter or waitress who brings out food that was not ordered will make customers angry in a hurry; Christians who worship God in ways He has not authorized will certainly displease Him.

Before we move on to the next objection, let's consider Leviticus 10:1-3 as it pertains to this subject - "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censor and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. And Moses said to Aaron, 'This is what the LORD spoke, saying: "By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified."'" What wrong did these two priests commit that caused them to lose their lives? They used their censors in such a way that God had not commanded them. God had authorized a certain action and they decided to go beyond that authority and do things their own way. God never told them not to do what they did, but it was still wrong! This presumptuous sin cost them their lives! Friends, do not be like Nadab and Abihu. Do not assume that a particular practice is acceptable simply because the Lord has not explicitly forbidden it. Instead, only practice that which the New Testament authorizes--this is the only safe course of action. When we worship the Lord, we must regard Him as holy and seek to glorify Him. We will not accomplish this aim by engaging in unauthorized practices.

Another fairly common objection is stated something like this: "Using an instrument is nothing more than an aid to make our singing better; it is an expedient for us. It is really not much different than using a song book." In order to answer this objection we must first understand what the difference is between an aid and an addition.

An addition occurs when a specific action or command has been augmented or altered. An aid alters nothing; it merely facilitates the implementation or fulfillment of the action or command without changing anything. Let me offer some examples to help clarify the difference between those things that are aids and those things that are additions. A cane may aid one in taking a walk, but with or without this device, one is still just walking. However, if one walks for a while, and then rides a bicycle, he is no longer just walking. Something has been added to his mode of travel. Now he is walking and riding. A mother sends her son to the market to buy a loaf of bread. He brings the bread home in a bag. The bag is merely an aid. However, if he purchases a candy bar as well, then he has disregarded the instruction of his mother by making an addition. Jesus taught that the communion supper is to consist of bread and fruit of the vine. A table, plates, and cups facilitate or aid the implementation of those commands. They are expedients! But, to garnish the bread with peanut butter and to "punch up" the fruit of the vine with ginger ale is to be guilty of addition. Christians are obligated to preach the gospel everywhere to the extent of their ability. In order to accomplish this, it is acceptable to use aids (e.g., tracts, TV, internet, radio, etc.) as expedients. But, if one combines or adds something to the gospel (as the Judaizers did in the first century when they taught that circumcision was required for salvation), that is a sin!

Dear listeners, when the church commences the musical portion of its worship, the saints must sing since God commands it. Christians may use songbooks, a projection screen, or even a tuning fork (to determine the appropriate starting pitch), but even when all of these things are used, the group is still only singing. Thus, these things are nothing more than aids or expedients to help fulfill the God-given obligation to sing. However, if the church sings to the accompaniment of an organ, then those participating have added something to what the Lord prescribed. In such cases, there are now two types of music being used--vocal and instrumental. The very nature of the original command has been supplemented (or added to) when mechanical instruments are used.

Another objection that is sometimes heard is: "We live under the New Testament and God is only concerned with our hearts." My answer to this is simple: Yes, we are under the authority of the New Testament today, but where does the Bible teach that God is only concerned with our hearts? Certainly He is concerned with our heart (i.e., our attitude or sincerity), but He expects obedience also. John 4:24 - "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." To worship God "in spirit" is to worship Him sincerely with a proper heart. To worship Him "in truth" is to worship Him according to the instruction of His word (which is truth, John 17:17). If God only cared about our hearts today, He would not care whether we worship Him in truth or not. But, God does care about such according to John 4:24.

Additionally, consider Matthew 7:21 - "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." How much plainer can the Lord be? If only the heart mattered before God, then it would be enough to simply call out to the Lord. But, Jesus Himself says that only those who do the Father's will shall enter that blessed home of eternal rest. Having a proper heart is essential to faithful Christian living, but living obediently before God to the best of one's ability is also vitally important.

One other objection that is sometimes offered is this: The Greek word psallo authorizes the use of musical instruments in worship. This is simply not true. J.W. McGarvey, a distinguished and highly respected Bible scholar once wrote that whoever claimed that psallo justified the use of instrumental music in the worship of the church was "one of those smatterers in Greek who can believe anything he wishes to believe." There are many factors to consider in answering this objection. Let me summarize some of them briefly: (1) The Greek Orthodox Church has consistently rejected the use of instruments in worship. "So what?", you might ask. Well, certainly they know the Greek language and what the word psallo meant when it was used in the New Testament. They know it meant "sing"! (2) It is impossible to find a respected translation that translates psallo as "play" or "pluck" in the New Testament. What you will find is the word consistently being translated as "sing"! This is significant since the respected translations of our age were translated by the world's best translators--surely they know what the word meant in the first century. (3) If psallo did mean that a mechanical instrument be used, then such would demand that everyone would have to play an instrument in order to obey God (since psallo is used as a command)! No one can psallo for you. If psallo meant to "pluck" or "play," then the use of instruments would not be an optional matter. God would certainly not make such a requirement. However, He would and has commanded us to sing praises, which is something everyone can do. Everyone can give God glory through singing, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing the sound may be. For further reading on this subject, we commend the following linked article to your attention: https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/829-psallo-and-the-instrumental-music-controversy.

There are other objections that we could consider, but these are some of the most common. I hope you can see why these objections are not valid.

Before we conclude this series of lessons, I'd like to address one more aspect of this subject that I've been asked before. Will Christians who worship God with mechanical instruments of music end up in hell if they are otherwise faithful? Friends, I simply cannot answer that question because I just do not know! God is the judge, not me; only He knows exactly what His grace will and will not cover. It's my job to preach the whole truth lovingly and challenge people to do what is clearly right and safe. But, I must be careful not to go beyond the Scriptures that I am trying to follow. Do I think that using a mechanical instrument in worship is presumptuous? Yes. Do I think that using a mechanical instrument in worship is without authority and therefore sinful? Yes. Do I think that doing such could endanger one's soul? Absolutely, especially after one has considered the truths that have been presented in this series. If, after contemplating these things, one decides to just ignore it all and do whatever he wants in worship, he is manifesting an improper attitude--and such could very well cost him his soul! But, ultimately, I do not know where such folks will eternally reside. God is, and always will be, the Judge! I am content to simply show them the risks they are taking and urge them to change.

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.