By Michael E. Brooks
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16 NKJV).
Four of us were invited to eat dinner with friends who operate a children’s home near our Bible College in Bangladesh. We arrived just in time to hear about fifty young people singing in their nightly devotional.
The beauty of their voices singing a chorus they obviously knew well was simply overwhelming. As we listened, I whispered to the others with me, “Why would anyone feel the need for instruments in singing?”
I know my lifelong conditioning towards a cappella music in worship to God influences my opinion. I fully realize that the childrens’ voices were amplified and made more beautiful by the acoustics of the room in which the devotional was held.
Yet neither of those considerations lessens my conviction. No organ, piano, drum, guitar or symphony orchestra could have made that chorus any more beautiful. Not to me. And, if the Bible means what it says, not to God.
“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15).
Yes, that includes our prayers, and all other vocal glorifications and adorations which we utter to our Heavenly Father, including our songs of praise and thanksgiving. Are inanimate sounds ever described as sacrifices to God in the New Testament? Not once.
Rather there is Paul’s unequivocal statement, “I will sing with the Spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15).
The purpose of the music which we offer to God in worship is to glorify him in praise, and to teach and encourage other humans who hear us (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
Sadly the arguments which are heard in favor of other forms of music are rarely if ever based on the premise that they are more Biblical, or that they are superior in their ability to honor and glorify God.
Most often the argument is based on human aesthetics and desires. The addition of instrumental accompaniment is designed to “help the church sing better,” or to “enable me to use my God-given talent in his service.”
People advocate instrumental music because “I get more out of the service that way.” With all respect to our need for edification, worship is not about us; it is about honoring the maker of heaven and earth.
In many of today’s church worship settings, instruments no longer give accompaniment to hymns and spiritual songs, they are the musical offering. Professional organists, ensembles of strings and percussion, even whole bands or orchestras are featured in religious concert.
The choir or a soloist may join in some pieces; there may even be some offerings of congregational singing. But there is no pretense that the instruments are present only as an aid to that singing.
Increasingly when I attend funerals or other functions where such music is used, I find it almost impossible to hear the vocal contributions, whether by a single voice, a choir or the congregation.
Almost invariably the volume of the instrument(s) is much louder and drowns out any intelligible words of the singing.
Though I may be impressed with the performance, I find it impossible to be taught or encouraged by the song. Even the argument that instruments may aid in “edification” is greatly weakened by such an experience.
In contrast, a few nights ago I was moved almost to tears by a small roomful of orphans who were raising their voices to God, “making melody in their hearts.” Is that not what God has asked us all to do?