Contemporary Instrumental music

William Woodson (Th.D) is an accomplished Bible scholar whose labors have blessed thousands for more than forty years. He has served as the head of the Bible department at one university, and the director of graduate studies in another. He has written scores of articles and authored or co-authored several books, including a volume on the theme of instrumental music in Christian worship. Though retired from the formal university environment, he still conducts seminars and writes prolifically. We are blessed to have him as a guest contributor for this month’s Feature. This article first appeared in The Spiritual Sword, January, 1993. Used by Permission.

As insightful and interesting as religious history is, it is important to note that Scripture alone – not religious history – gives the proper instruction for understanding and observing God’s will. Religious history, however, can yield valuable insights when one observes how a particular biblical topic or issue concerning church practice was handled in succeeding eras of development. With these observations in mind, the present article summarizes the history of instrumental music in worship over the centuries.

New Testament History

It is crucially important to observe that although instrumental music of various types was readily available in contemporary society, no passage shows that the churches mentioned in the New Testament ever used instrumental music in worship. Did they not understand the true meaning of the Old Testament, particularly Psalms? Did they not understand the meaning of various words, such as psallo, etc., so often discussed pro and con in contemporary debates? Did they not know the Jewish practices, both in the temple and in the synagogues? Did they not know the mind of God? Most certainly, on all these questions and much more. Yet, there is not even a hint of the use of instrumental music in the worship of these churches.

These facts of New Testament history stand as a stone barricade against any attempted justification of the use of instrumental music in worship today. If present appeals to the Old Testament, i.e., psallo, the temple or synagogue practice, etc., legitimately warrant such use, why did the apostles and brethren in the first century not so understand and incorporate instrumental music into the worship of these churches? Such facts are not lightly to be dismissed or forgotten.

Early Church History

The several general periods of religious history, from the close of the New Testament until the present, have been searched many times from many viewpoints. These searches yield one significant fact for the present topic, which is clear and unassailable: Instrumental music in worship within churches professing to serve Christ did not emerge until hundreds of years after the close of the New Testament.

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