Instrumental music in worship is so imbedded in the minds of people that they cannot imagine worshiping without it. Accordingly, telling people that we do not use instrumental music in worship provokes bizarre looks and ridicule.
Few have ever considered why they use mechanical instruments in worship. It is just the way it has always been done. No one has ever told them of the time when they were not used. In fact, most of the people who ridicule acappella singing worship in denominations who used to show disdain for the instrument.
Instrumental music in Christian worship did not exist for centuries after the church started. In fact, they were absent from most denominations until a late date and they entered amidst fierce opposition. It is not a secret, but a matter of history.
Dr. Frederic Louis Ritter in his “History of Music from the Christian Era to the Present Time” said that the music of the first Christian congregations was “purely vocal.” /1 Edward Dickinson, professor of Music at Oberlin College, said that the music of the early church was “exclusively vocal.” He continues, “Many of the (church) fathers, speaking of religious song, make no mention of instruments; others like Clement of Alexandria and St. Chrysostom, refer to them only to denounce them.” /2
Thomas Aquinas, writing in 137 AD said, “Our Church does not use mechanical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize” /3 Justin Martyr, who probably lived during the lifetime of the Apostle John, wrote “Simply singing is not agreeable to children (Jews), but singing with lifeless instruments and with dancing and clapping; on which account the use of this kind of instruments and of others agreeable to children is removed from the songs in the churches.”/4
McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia says that Pope Vitalian first introduced the organ in 660. /5 Lyman Coleman, noted Presbyterian scholar said, “the organ constituted no part of the furniture of the ancient churches.” /6 In fact, James Hastings said that once Pope Vitalian introduced it, it was opposed and removed. /7
The Baptist Historian, Benedict, wrote that the organ was not introduced among the Baptists until the beginning of the nineteenth century. /8 William B. Posey said that the “Baptists fought the introduction of instrumental music into the churches. Installation of the organ brought serious difficulties in the churches.” /9
John Calvin said of the instrument, “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of other shadows of the law.” /10 Martin Luther wrote, “The organ in the worship is the insignia of Baal.” /11 John Wesley said, “I have no objection to instruments of music in our worship, provided they are neither seen nor heard.” /12 The highly respected Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said, “We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.” /13
We see that the instrument, while ever-present today in most of the religious world, has a history of opposition in worship. This betrays the attitude that sees the refusal to use the instrument as exotic. In fact, there is a far greater record of opposition than acceptance.
Tradition and history do not ultimately prove something doctrinally right or wrong. We must see what the Bible says or does not say in determining how we should worship God. But, if you examine the fact that the New Testament nowhere mentions instrumental music in the worship of the church, this history becomes quite compelling. We must decide who we will listen to, the Bible and the apostles who were sent out to start churches guided by the Holy Spirit or Pope Vitalian.
1/ p. 28.
2/ M.C. Kurfees, Instrumental Music in the Worship, Indianapolis:Faith and Facts Press, n.d., 145.
3/ Thomas Aquinas, Bingham’s Antiquities, 3:137.
4/ Justin’s Questions and Answers to the Orthodox, Question 107, p. 462.
6/ Antiquities of the Christian Church, 192.
7/ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.
8/ Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 204-207.
9/ The Baptist Church in the Lower Mississippi Valley.
10/ Commentary on Psalms 33.
11/ McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, 6:762.
12/ Adam Clarke’s Commentary, 4:685.
13/ Commentary on Psalm 42, http://tinyurl.com/ct73w
Did the Early Church Use Instrumental Music in Worship?