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I understand that some Protestant churches prohibit the use of musical instruments in their worship services. What is the specific biblical basis for this practice, or, if there is no specific biblical basis, what is the principle behind this practice?

Is it an issue of mixing musical instruments with vocal music? Can they have one or the other, but not both? Which churches follow this teaching?

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The main argument used against instruments is based on the principle of "being silent where the Bible is silent". This question is thus related: If we're not instructed to do something, can we? –  Eric Jan 30 '12 at 16:20

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

I'm familiar with a couple different schools of thought on this. Doubtless there are others as well.

The first comes from Greek Orthodox tradition. I can't really speak to it directly, but a quick google search turned up a result indicating that it might have more to do with history and wanting to separate themselves from pagan worship. But there's likely a lot more to it.

The other is from the churches of Christ. This side I can speak to at length. To understand this, you need to know something of their history. The churches of Christ descend from the Restoration movement of the mid-1800s. This was a movement that strove to throw off all of the excess structure that had arisen over the years since the 1st century and restore 1st century-style worship. The primary means of achieving this goal was through a very careful and strict interpretation of scripture. "Innovations" from known historical patterns of the first century should only be permitted when there is a clear case for them, shown either through direct command, example, or necessary inference.

The reason for the return to 1st century worship was a reaction to all divisions, and a desire to fulfill the Lord's prayer "that they may all be one." It was a drive for unity, and one part of this was to push away anything that a true seeker might possibly see as contrary to scripture, and hold up only those things that meet an exceptionally strict criteria for doctrinal purity (the other two parts are congregational independance/freedom and an strong emphasis on individual study). Don't knock the process too hard, as it met with some success... this is one of the few major groups to begin it's history as the result of a merger of a few smaller groups, rather than as a split from a larger group, and was the only group in existence at the time to make it through the Civil War without dividing over the issue (sadly, I can't find a reference for this any more).

There are four pieces that combine to contribute the general (not universal, but nearly so) use of a cappella music among church of Christ congregations.

The first is a very strict interpretation on the silence of scripture. I don't want to go into this at length, but you can read my answer to this question on faith healing to get a vague idea on how it works. The upshot is that we are lacking explicit New Testament instructions or examples on the use of instruments (while singing or otherwise) in congregational worship — scripture is silent here, but we do have explicit instructions to sing. Because we have an explicit instruction about how to use music in worship, the silence in this case is prohibitive rather than permissive. This by itself is weak, but remember that it's only part of the reasoning.

The second reason is participatory. The command to sing praises is interpreted to mean that music in worship should include everyone as a participant... that if the music portion of your service consists mainly of just a few performers or even a choir, while the majority of the congregation is only listening (even if this is the effect rather than the intent), you're doing it wrong. The entire congregation should take part in producing the music. Instruments are seen as counter-productive to this effort, as history shows they have a tendency to take over and dominate the performance to the exclusion, rather than inclusion, of audience participation.

A third reason is practical. Successful use of a cappella music in worship is something that takes a commitment. If you decide to just try out a cappella music one week in service, or just do one a cappella song in each service, you're likely to fail miserably if few of the participants have done this before. Therefore, as a practical matter the choice to use a cappella music came down to an "all or nothing" approach, where those that use a cappella music in worship tend to do so exclusively. If you see a commandment to sing as a congregation as something to take seriously, a commitment to an a cappella worship service is something to look at.

The final reason is historical. Remember that this group comes out of a movement whose goals were to restore 1st century worship styles. We do know from historical documents that the earliest Christians, without exception, did not use instruments in their worship. At all. In fact, it's already the third century before we find examples of any instrumental accompaniment. Again, sorry, no reference handy. The information in this answer comes from a study I did long ago. It's possible there were forces other than doctrine driving this: for example, funds, fear of persecution if louder instruments gave away a secret service, or simply modeling congregational worship after Jewish synagogue worship (which also did not use instruments). But the fact of the matter is that the historical record indicates a cappella is the way to go.

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I have one observation about the synagogue worship: David's Psalms (Ps 150 is a good example) speak of instrumentation being used in praise; is it true that instruments were not allowed in synagogue worship - or is David's tabernacle unique in allowing them? I'm curious. –  David C. Jun 28 '13 at 20:00
    
tabernacle != synagogue –  Joel Coehoorn Jun 28 '13 at 21:17
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Does “silence of scripture” also covers having electric lights in churches? –  Ian Ringrose Aug 12 '13 at 16:37
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@IanRingrose It would not. Sometimes silence can be restrictive, and sometimes it can be permissive. The link in this answer includes an example that demonstrates each. For scripture, it is important that you have a good hermeneutic that instructs you how to handle silence, or you can use silence to twist scripture to permit or forbid almost anything. And again: this is the weakest of the reasons for using a cappella music during a worship service. –  Joel Coehoorn Aug 12 '13 at 16:51
    
The Wikipedia article on Christianity in First Century says they used "sacred music". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_the_1st_century –  pterandon Aug 15 '13 at 11:35

This website gives a general idea about what some of the Churches of Christ teach about music in worship.

As a result of the distinctive plea of the church - a return to New Testament Faith and practice - acappella singing is the only music used in the worship. This singing, unaccompanied by mechanical instruments of music, conforms to the music used in the apostolic church and for several centuries thereafter (Ephesians 5:19). It is felt that there is no authority for engaging in acts of worship not found in the New Testament. This principle eliminates the use of instrumental music, along with the use of candles, incense, and other similar elements.

I have been to a Church of Christ myself (my wife and I also got married at a Church of Christ). I asked the Pastor there about this. He said something like:

"We don't use musical instruments because the New Testament does not mention musical instruments. We are silent where the NT is silent and hence we don't use musical instruments."

Other than that, I don't see any other reason, Biblically, why some churches don't have musical instruments for worship.

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It would be difficult for any web site to speak for the churches of Christ, since individual congregations do not acknowledge any central leadership outside of Christ and scripture. There are no formal conventions, synods, or even ordained clergy. At best, the site would speak for a single congregation. –  Joel Coehoorn Jan 25 '12 at 21:49
    
This is on the website: "We are undenominational and have no central headquarters or president. The head of the church is none other than Jesus Christ himself (Ephesians 1:22-23)." They probably just put the website together to give a general idea of what they believe. I will try to edit my post to avoid confusion. –  Nicolás Carlo Jan 25 '12 at 23:42
    
@JoelCoehoorn Edited. Let me know if I am still off. –  Nicolás Carlo Jan 25 '12 at 23:45

I have just had someone from a church of Christ claim instruments are not mentioned in the new testament but they are someone missed trumpets and stringed instruments in Revelation.

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Welcome to C.SE. This answer is very, very short, but is on target! When you get the chance, I'd encourage you to check out our tour and how we are different than other sites –  Affable Geek Aug 12 '13 at 11:35

The accepted answer is an excellent response, however, the only biblical basis for prohibition of instruments is the "silence of the scriptures" argument. The argument states that if the Bible is absolutely silent on a given action, then that action is prohibited. Note that for many who use the argument, any concept of "permissive silence" is not silence at all, rather such actions are considered a necessary inference under an explicitly approved generic action.

For example, the Bible does not speak explicitly about traveling via car or airplane to "preach the gospel to every creature." It merely says "go." So "go" would be the explicit, generic action under which "drive car" or "fly airplane" could be implied/necessarily inferred. This is not the same as "silence" with this particular line of argumentation. The Bible does speak on these matters, just not explicitly.

Now, back to the topic of instrumental music. If the Bible, or rather, New Testament, says absolutely nothing about instrumental music, then it is prohibited (per the argument). So then the biblical basis of whether or not instrumental music is prohibited hinges on whether or not the New Testament says absolutely nothing about it.

So is there absolute silence on the topic? I don't think so. For one, I could argue that singing is a generic action under which optional instrumental accompaniment is implied, and therefore permissible.

Another line of argumentation goes something like this:

  • The Old Testament explicitly permitted instrumental music (2 Chr. 29:25; Ps. 33:2)
  • The first Christians were Jews who used instrumental music
  • The Old Testament was "unbound" as a law (Col. 2:14-17)
  • "Unbound" Old Testament law is now optional (Col. 2:16; Rom. 14:1ff.)
  • There is no explicit prohibition against instrumental music in the New Testament
  • Therefore, instrumental music is optional
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Welcome to the site. This is a pretty good answer, especially for a first post. As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Sep 6 '13 at 3:40
    
The "silence" argument is very weak and cannot be accepted. Note that the Bible contains only so many sentences, hence it necessarily must be silent about infinitely many questions. Consider: is it allowes to have 4 chairs in the worhipping room? 5? 6? 7? ... and so forth. But, does anybody believe in ernest that GOD looks at formalities rather than in the heart of his believers? –  Ingo Dec 12 '13 at 19:52

In Amos, Yahuah makes railings/condemnations against the people for a number of behaviors or traditions, such as: "Ye that ....cause the seat of violence to come near; ...that lie upon beds of ivory ...eat lambs from out of the flock ...chant to the sound of the viol and ...invent to themselves instruments of music, like David; that drink wine in bowls... but they are not grieved for the afflicion of Joseph.

 THEREFORE THEY SHALL NOW GO CAPTIVE with the first that go captive
 and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.
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Welcome to the site! I think I see what you are aiming at, but it would be helpful if you could add some more explanatory text to make it really clear. You can consult our guidance on What makes a good supported answer? to learn more about what we are looking for. –  James T Dec 12 '13 at 3:49

In elder times, instrumental music was associated with enjoyments that were regarded as sinful by many, like dancing. Dancing events got even forbidden by the authorities, and so on. There was no music except for liturgic chanting in christian worship.

Up to this day, the islamic Taliban forbid music for the exact same reason, not only in worship, but generally. Because music enjoys your heart, it simply must be a sin.

Observe also, that islamic worshipping has no instrumental music.

It looks like some christian factions play the same backwardish role in Christianity that Taliban and Salafists play in Islam.

The argument that the New Testament does not say that we may play music is ridiculous and an example for the poor reasoning that is so common among fundamentalist groups. Does the New Testament mention that we may go by car to the church? By bus? By bicylce? Does it mention that there was heating powered by electricity or natural gas? Surely, you don't need that in Greece and in the Middle East, so this is perhaps a good reason why people in Alaska should be freezing during worships.

So, to answer the question: there is no biblical basis whatsoever for prohibiting instrumental music, which is why it has been adopted by the vast majority of christians.

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I haven't yet seen anyone mention that the original Greek word psallo in the context of Eph. 5:19 means singing and praising (making melody) with your heart to The Lord. The instrument used here is the heart. Just FYI. Understanding the original Greek meaning of psallo, as with any other translated word is vital in worshipping God correctly. If we add mechanical instruments to our worship assembly we are, as John taught in 2 Jn 9, going too far and not abiding in the teaching of Christ. In Eph 5:19 Paul is telling us of what Christ taught him by way of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately I believe it comes down to faith and obedience. On a side note, check out sometime what the "reformers" had to say about using mechanical instruments in the worship assembly. This was after 1500A.D.

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Welcome to the forum. This is really more of a comment than an answer--a good comment to be sure, but not really an answer. –  Narnian Mar 7 at 17:59
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Welcome to the site! This next is just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": the help page and How we are different than other sites?, and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Mar 8 at 1:14

Unfortunately, I see this author using incorrect history of the Lord's church. There "is" only one church that Christ stated He would build (Matt. 16:18) and His church which is "The Body of Christ" and is made up of faithful believers who subscribe to the single doctrine of the bible. This assembly began on the day of Pentecost and still exist today and ascribes to glorify God the only way He can be - through biblical truth. There never was mechanical instruments used in worship in the instructions and authority given by Christ. Therefore we as mere men do not have the authority to change what God has handed down through His inspired word. At our redeemed best, we could only hope to be found obedient and pleasing to God through Christ Jesus and His law that we must abide in, in unity. I'd like to add, why is it that we fight so hard to justify something into the worship, which is for God but be all about our OWN desires.

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Welcome to the site. Thank you for sharing, but the site strives to be academic, using sources and citations to support answers. The site is not a discussion forum. Once you reach 20 rep you can chat about whatever you want. Please see Guidelines for writing effective answers and What is a well-sourced, dispassionate answer? After that, please edit this post or delete it. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend the Grinch Oct 8 at 7:19
    
How do you know there were never mechanical instruments in worship? They were referenced in the Psalms, and the first Christians were Jewish. –  Narnian Oct 8 at 13:05
    
This answer would be a lot of better if it said who holds that "There never was mechanical instruments used in worship in the instructions and authority given by Christ." –  Affable Geek Oct 8 at 14:57

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