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Worship In Song

by Robert Garrett

RobertGarrettThose of you who are regular listeners to Words of Life know that worship in song is a regular feature of this program. And I hope if you are a first time listener, that you will appreciate the good singing as well as the message.

Have you ever heard the expression:  She sings like an angel?  Now in popular, every day speech, it is thought to be a compliment to tell someone that she sings like an angle. However, contrary to popular belief, angels do not sing. Although some of our English translations of the Bible sometimes attribute singing to angels, that is not correct insofar as the actual Greek is concerned.  It is an interesting fact that in the original Greek New Testament angels speak, they shout, but never is singing attributed to them. Anyone who has access to an interlinear Greek/English New Testament can easily confirm that. It is people that sing.  And in the New Testament singing is the privilege of the redeemed. We, the redeemed, who have been washed in the blood of Christ, begotten again unto a living hope, we truly have something to sing about and we lift up our hearts with our voices in worship.

Another thing that listeners to this program have noticed is that all of our singing is with human voices only. You do not hear the sound of mechanical instruments, no pianos, no organs, no drums, no guitars, no man made musical instruments of any kind.  Many of our regular listeners know why this is so. But there may be some who do not know or understand why we sing only with the voices God gave us. It is not with our personal lives we do not have or do not know how to play instruments.  Many of us are very accomplished instrumentalists. Why, then, do we not use these things in our worship?

Well, first and most importantly of all, we want to be New Testament Christians who follow the teaching of the New Testament without the man made traditions and additions and compromises that are so popular today. Now we do not condemn and we do not stand in judgment of those Christians who use man made musical instruments in their worship services.   But neither can we agree that the Lord has ordained their use.  I fear that many do not realize or understand the importance of the fact that the Church built by our Lord Jesus Christ did not use musical instruments from its very beginning, from the days of the apostles and for centuries afterwards.

Do you realize that there is such a thing as false worship?  Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day in Matthew 15 and verse 79 that their worship was in vain.   It is not that they were worshipping false gods. They were worshipping the true and the living God, but the Scripture says: These people honor me, that is God, with their lips. But their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain.  Their teachings are but the rules taught by men.   They were worshipping the true and living God, but God was not accepting their worship. And in Jeremiah’s day God rebuked Israel because their worship leaders were misleading the people with false worship. You can find that in Jeremiah 5:31.  And there God lamented: And my people love to have it so.

Is our worship to please ourselves or is it to please God?

Some folks would point to verses of Scripture such as Psalms 33:2 which says: Praise the Lord with the harp.   Make music to him on this ten stringed lyre. Yes, that was part of the worship under the old covenant, as also were animal sacrifices whose blood must be spilled at the altar.   We are not under that old covenant. We are under the new covenant.   We are under the New Testament in the blood of Christ as many Scriptures testify, namely: Luke 22:20, Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 10:24. And we are not to transfer the trappings of old covenant worship to the new.  Jesus emphasized that when he used the illustration of the folly of putting new wine into old wineskins in Matthew 9:16.

Jesus also spoke of this change in John four and verse 23, 24 when he said: The time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.  For they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is Spirit and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and in truth.   Those words—a time is coming—speak of a transition time from the old way of worship to the new.

Also in Matthew 17 verses one to eight on the mount of transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus Peter wanted to build three tabernacles, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus, thus making them equal.  But God corrected him saying: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.


Moses was the law giver of the old covenant. His form of worship with man made instruments has been replaced by the new with its worship in spirit and truth.  And Hebrews 1:1-2 makes the emphatic and instructive statement that in the days of old God spoke to the Fathers through the prophets. That makes up the entire part of the Bible that we call the Old Testament.   But today God has spoken to us, that is, to you and me, through his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. The record of his speaking to us is that portion of the Bible we call the New Testament.   And it is important to know that the New Testament does not ordain the use of musical instruments in our worship.

Some good folks object and the say that the New Testament is silent on the issue, that it neither commands nor forbids their use. And, therefore, we are free to use them. But that is an admission that people use man made musical instruments for one reason only and that is because they want to, not because it might please God, but because it pleases them. I personally cannot help but think that God might be shaking his head in dismay as he did in Jeremiah’s day and he is saying, regretfully: My people love to have it so.

Now on the face of this, it might seem that the statement that the New Testament is silent on the issue is true.  But it is a deafening silence, a silence that speaks volumes.   I would like for us to examine this so-called silence.

Now the New Testament did not come from the minds of men. It was inspired by the Holy Spirit and is our complete guide in all things concerning salvation, concerning the makeup and function of the Church, concerning how we are to worship, how we are to live the Christian life and concerning the future. There are a number of verses that mention singing or instruct us on worship and in every one of them there is absolutely no mention of man made instruments. Had God wanted us to use them, it would have been easy for God to mention them.

Example number one, in 1 Corinthians 14:15 the apostle says:  I will sing with my spirit and I will also sing with my mind.  There is no mention there or allowance for an instrument.

Example number two, instruction to the Church in Ephesus, Ephesians five from verses 18 through 20. He says: Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now there are some who make the word psalms to mean to play an instrument. They say it comes from the word psallo which means, sometimes, to pluck a stringed instrument. It is true that in some contexts it can mean that. But in some contexts it can mean simply to pluck a hair from your beard. In these verses it means only to sing and our next passage will make that clear.

Example number three, the instructions to the Church in Colosse, chapter 3:16-17.   Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ giving thanks to God the Father through him. So there we are specifically instructed to sing psalms, not to play psalms. Furthermore, in both examples, we are limited, that is right, limited by the instruction to do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. That does not mean to simply tack the name of Jesus on to what we do. No, it means to do something by his authority, by what he has instructed. And no one has ever been able to show that our Lord Jesus has instructed or given us authority to use instruments.

Then examples four, five, six and seven here are a number of verses where the writer quotes from several psalms about singing and praising God. Now it is significant to your speaker that the source psalms do not at all mention praising God with instruments. Yet there are many psalms that he might have quoted and from those that speak of praising God with instruments. But the apostle did not quote from them. Why did the Holy Spirit so guide the apostle to quote only from those psalms about singing and praising God where instruments are excluded?  Here are the quotations.

Example number four is in Hebrews 2:12. He says: I will declare your name to my brothers in the presence of the congregation. I will sing your praises.  The source here could be Psalms 22 or Psalms 40 or Psalms 111.

Then example number five, six and seven, is Romans chapter 15 verse nine, 10 and 11. Verse nine says: So that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:  Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles. I will sing hymns to your name.   And verse 10. Again it says: Rejoice, oh Gentiles, with his people. And verse 11.  Again, praise the Lord all you Gentiles and sing praises to him all you peoples.  The source there would be Psalms 118 or Psalms 117.  And if you look up those source psalms you will be able to see that they contain absolutely no mention of praising God with instruments.  Yet there are many psalms that he might have quoted from that do speak of praising God with instruments.  So, again, we ask the question.  Why did the Holy Spirit so guide the apostle to quote only from those psalms where the instrument is excluded?
Then, the last example, number eight, we find in James chapter five verse 13 where we are instructed: Is any one of you in trouble?  He should pray. Is anyone happy?  Let him sing songs of praise.  Notice that it does not say: Is any one happy? Let him play psalms and praise.  Again, there is absolutely not the smallest hint of man made instruments.  Man made instruments are completely unnecessary to worshiping God in spirit and in truth.   This speaker believes they may well be an actual hindrance.

As we said earlier, it is a fact of history that the early church in the days of the apostles and for hundreds of years afterwards did not use instruments of human invention when they sang praises to God. They used only the voices, the blood bought voices they were given by their creator. They desired to worship God in spirit and truth.

After about 600 years there was the gradual introduction of instruments as the Church drifted further and further from apostolic teaching and practice.  It is worthy of note that most of the reformers in the time of the Reformation and onwards opposed the use of instruments. John Calvin, Charles Wesley, the early Presbyterians, the early Baptists all opposed their use.  Charles H. Spurgeon did not allow them in his tabernacle of his ministry.

But let us return to the fact that the early Church did not use instruments. They were well acquainted with instruments.  Yet the early Church never used such instruments in their worship.   Why?   Why would that be so? The chief reason, I believe, must be because the apostles were so guided by the Holy Spirit and they, therefore, taught the early Church to worship in song without man made instruments.

There are two things that demonstrate this.   The first is the promise of the coming Holy Spirit in John chapter 14 verse 26 where Jesus said: The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things. And John 16 from verses 12 to 15, he said: I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear, but when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.

We know that the Holy Spirit came with great power upon those very men on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two. The glorious gospel of Christ was preached on that day and 3000 people received the gospel and were baptized into Christ.   This was the beginning of the formation of the Church, this new body that Jesus had promised to build in Matthew 16:18.   These 3000 did not know that they were the beginning of the Church. They did not know they would be a separate body from the nation of Israel.   They must be taught. That is the very next thing that we read in verse 42. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship and the breaking of bread and prayer. Please pay careful attention to these words. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings. What did the apostles teach them?  They were guided by the Holy Spirit and you can be sure this included how to worship in spirit and in truth.  The indisputable fact that their singing was without any instrumental accompaniment must have been that they were so taught by the Holy Spirit.  I cannot believe that the Holy Spirit would teach us the very opposite today. Yet that seems to be what the practitioners of today’s so-called contemporary worship seem to imply, modern, fleshly, worldly and deafening rock and roll concerts of an unregenerate world have invaded many a sanctuary.  Can it be said this is the work of the Holy Spirit?  Or is it just that the flesh loves to have it so?
We deceive ourselves if we think that emotions stirred up by music are equal to emotions stirred up by the Holy Spirit.  We are to sing because we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Now one interesting and, to me, amusing argument in favor of instruments is the record in Revelation 5:8 of the harps that hare held by the 24 elders up in heaven. The argument goes something like this.  Jesus told us to pray that the will of God be done here on earth as it is done in heaven. There are harps in heaven.   Therefore, it is the will of God that there be harps here on earth and we should worship with them.
Well, there are several things wrong with that argument.   First of all, Jesus was speaking of the fact that the angels in heaven immediately obeyed God’s command without question.  But here on earth that is not so. People are rebellious and refuse to do the will of God. And we should be praying about that.  Secondly, God ordained marriage between a man and a woman here on the earth.  The marriage relationship here on the earth is the will of God.   But Jesus told us that there is no marriage in heaven and we will be like the angels.  So God’s will for us in heaven is very different on his will for us here on the earth. The third thing is that we have no commandment, on instruction to use instruments in worship, nor do we have any New Testament example, but just the very opposite.

We at the Words of Life make it our aim to be New Testament Christians only. We want to follow the apostolic pattern as revealed in the New Testament without the numerous innovations and human traditions that have gradually intruded and increased over the centuries.   The yeast is corrupting the loaf so that what is being done today bears almost no resemblance to the simple, apostolic pattern, not only in how we worship, but also in many nocturnal aspects. We do not want God to say of us: They worship me in vain.

Now as we come to the close of this lesson, I want to summarize by asking the questions: What is true worship?  We have seen that there is such a thing as false worship. People can be deceived into thinking their worship is acceptable to God.   Worship leaders of Israel genuinely thought that their worship was good. Jesus said it was not acceptable to God.  What is true worship?

For one thing, it must be according to knowledge, knowledge of the truth. In John 4:22 Jesus said to the Samaritan woman:  You Samaritans worship what you do not know, but we worship what we do know.  Knowledge of the truth, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and he has revealed the truth to us in his written Word, the Bible.  Here in the New Testament God speaks to us through his Son. He has not left us to our own devices to do whatever we like.

Paul instructed in 2 Timothy verses 14 to 15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of truth.

And, again, in 2 Timothy three verses 15 through 17 he points us to the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.   All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

And, of course, these Scriptures instruct us on how we are to worship.  1 Corinthians 4:6 gives us this warning. Do not go beyond what is written.

So I have a question.  If we are not to follow the examples set by the apostles and the early Church, then whose example and what example are we to follow? Do those who act as worship leaders today know the mind of Christ better than the apostles?   The apostles were led by the Holy Spirit and they taught their converts how to worship and they rejected the use of instruments in worship.

Our Lord Jesus Christ laid down the rule for us when he said in John 4:24: God is Spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth. Our worship must be in accordance with the revealed Word of God, not according to our own desires and personal preferences. So we make it our aim to exalt Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life. Singing in worship is, indeed, the privilege of the redeemed.   There is no more beautiful sound than the voices of the redeemed, voices raised up in praise to God, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. The music of this world can, indeed, stir the hearts and emotions of people, witness the sometimes mass hysteria at a rock and roll concert.  Yes, music can stir the emotions, but we should not confuse that with worship in spirit and truth. Singing that is true worship comes from the welling up of a heart purchased by the precious blood of Christ, a heart filled with the Holy Spirit.


                 Robert Garrett is a missionary to Zimbabwe, Africa.  He is the son of missionaries to Zimbabwe.

2 Responses to “Worship In Song”

  1. Phyllis Kitzmiller says:

    Thank you Robert for an excellent article! And for the question is our worship to please ourselves or is it to please God?

  2. david wilcox says:

    I was a member of a musical church of Christ many years ago.In fact from the very start of my rebirth.I can say that there are things that are not correct in the church’s and they are so ingrained in our minds.Such as musical instruments and amill teaching and can take many years of study and prayer to change a person.I do thank God daily that He found me and imparted truth.We all need to help others come to the knowledge of Truth.Please continue to pray for one another.David

Leave a Reply to Phyllis Kitzmiller

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4