Author: Harlan Sorrell
Did you know that instrumental music was not introduced into so-called Christian worship until quite late in the Roman Catholic apostasy, and even then the Catholic Church accepted it reluctantly? The Greek Orthodox Church never accepted mechanical instruments into their worship at all, and it is evident that the Protestant reformers removed them from worship. The word “a cappella” is an Italian word, coming from two Latin words, “a” meaning “according to,” and “cappella” meaning “chapel.” Webster defines “a cappella” thus: “In the style of church or chapel music; especially in the old style, without accompaniment.” It is a fact of history that this was the style of church music from apostolic times. The proof can be found in the writings of the early church fathers.
There are very few people of the present generation who realize that the general use of mechanical instruments, even in the worship services of so-called “evangelical churches,” is something that has evolved, for the most part, over the past 150 years. Prior to this, the use of instrumental music in worship was almost unknown to Protestantism, and could only be found among the most liberal and “worldly” classes of Protestant congregations. Charles Spurgeon, a renowned Baptist minister of the 19th century has been quoted as saying, “Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her to learn; but in these days when Jesus gives us spiritual food, one can make melody without strings and pipes. We do not need them. They would hinder rather than help our praise. Sing unto Him. This is the sweetest and best music. There is no instrument like the human voice. What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes! We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.” It is said that Spurgeon preached to 20,000 people every Sunday for 20 years in the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle and never were mechanical instruments of music used in his services. When asked why, he quoted 1 Cor. 14:15: “I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” He then declared, “I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery.”
It is a fact that mechanical instruments serve as “crutches” for singing. I have found it interesting in visiting the worship services of different kinds and brands of “churches” to note that, where mechanical instruments are used the most, the singing is generally the poorest and the shallowest. But among those groups where mechanical instruments in worship have been omitted, the quality of the singing usually seems better, being enhanced by vocal harmony. Even children learn to sing in harmony and make beautiful music with their voices at a young age when they are able to hear all the harmonizing parts sung. And naturally so: would children ever learn to walk properly if we taught them from childhood that in order to walk they must use crutches? No, they learn to balance themselves and walk better without using crutches. It works the same with singing. A better ear is developed for the balance of harmony without the crutch of an instrument. The old-time Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, spoke correctly and accurately when he said mechanical instruments “hinder rather than help our praise.” The sweetest music that has ever been heard on earth is the voices of saints blending in rich, harmonious tones as they sing in the Spirit. Such music has a heavenly ring that charms and thrills the pure in heart as well as draws the attention of sinners. It actually sounds angelic! [Note: to experience a taste of this, I highly recommend attending the national camp meeting of the Church of God, held annually at Monark Springs, (Neosho), Missouri, starting each year on the third Friday in July.]
With the exception of some that may have lacked understanding of this issue from their beginning, it appears that most Protestant movements adopted mechanical instruments into their worship services after they lost the fundamental vision of their earliest leaders and degenerated from their original spiritual environment. The degeneration has progressed to the point that today, it seems, most so-called worship services consist of little more than “entertainment” and fleshly appeal, leaving the present generation of people with no clue to what the music of real spiritual worship is like. This is especially unfortunate for the youth of our time. The loss of fundamental, wholesome church music that has taken place over the past 100 years, and especially the past 50 years has stifled the influence of genuine Christianity in the earth. A few conservative minority groups, however, still hold the original Christian tradition of a cappella music in worship. On occasions when today’s youth do get the rare opportunity to hear it they are usually amazed, and often say, “I’ve never heard singing like this!” I remember a woman who, after attending the Monark Springs camp meeting (mentioned above) for her first time, stated that the singing sounded to her like angels. There is indeed something very unique and special about the harmonious blending of human voices singing praises to God out of the depths of pure hearts that no other kind or style of music can come close to imitating. It carries a heavenly aura.
The Dispensational Difference
All who study the scriptures and church history in depth know why the apostolic church never used mechanical instruments and why the Anabaptists as well as reformers like Martin Luther, John Wesley, and many others, including D. S. Warner, rejected their use in spiritual worship. They used musical instruments to aid the composing of written music for their songs, or for personal or social enjoyment, but they rejected their use in “worship” because they understood the principles taught in John 4:23-24 and Acts 17:24-25, etc. To them, worship was the outpouring of the “inner man,” whether in prayer, preaching, or song. Mechanical instruments in spiritual worship were considered out of place. As history states concerning the primitive Christians, they “were of too spiritual a fiber to substitute lifeless instruments for, or use them to accompany, the human voice.” There is no sweeter music on earth than the perfect blending of human voices in four-part harmony. Unfortunately, the majority of the populace of today’s world has never had the opportunity to hear this kind of superb, heavenly music. It touches and inspires the soul like no other.
But some have supposed that because the Jews used musical instruments in their worship and, because it is even commanded in various places in the Psalms of David, that the early Christians, therefore, must have used them too. But in this they lack insight. All scripture must be interpreted and applied according to its dispensational context. In Psalm 144:1, David says, “Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.” It is true that God blessed David in all his wars and fighting, and helped him to kill and destroy his enemies. But that is foreign to the Gospel dispensation. God now requires us to cease from wars and fighting and to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us and despitefully use us, and to “resist not evil.” (Matt. 5:38-45). God allowed David to also have multiple wives, and blessed him and the offspring he brought forth by those wives. But God condemns such a practice in the present dispensation and will never bless any man who should follow David’s example. Therefore all scripture must be interpreted and applied according to its dispensational context. This holds true relative to Psalm 150:3-8, and other Psalms that command the use of musical instruments or dancing in worship to God. No Old Testament text can annul any New Testament doctrine or principle. The New Testament is the “better testament,” and is the one God requires us to live by today.
Yes, David, in his dispensation was “a man after God’s own heart.” But he who would be a man after God’s own heart in this dispensation must rise to a much higher plane than David ever knew or had the privilege of knowing. We must now be raised up to sit with Christ in heavenly places in the Spirit. This is the plane where all true and acceptable worship now takes place. This kind of worship can neither be ceremonially nor mechanically produced, but only takes place by the interaction of the human spirit with the divine Spirit. We sing, pray, and prophesy (preach) in the Spirit, having New Testament authority to include all this in our worship. But we find no New Testament injunction for “playing” in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit only anoints the music that flows from the inner human spirit and soul. God has no interest or delight in that music we may produce by skillful hands. It is the vibrations and incense of the melodies of our hearts that He desires to hear and smell.
“The Lord once dwelt in temples made with hands,
And had one people, Israel’s chosen bands;
And at Jerusalem, in formal ways,
Was worshiped by the just of olden days.”
But better things than these God had in store,
When ordinances of old should be no more [Heb. 9:10],
And He should dwell within man’s inward parts,
And worship be the incense of our hearts.
There are those who feel that to remove the use of musical instruments from their worship services would negate the quality of their worship services. But that is not the case at all, if the services are led and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The quality of a worship service is actually enhanced when the mechanical element is removed from it and the service becomes the outflow of a spiritual communion flow between the spirits of the worshipers and the Spirit of God. It is then that we get to hear the sound that God is interested in hearing – the melody and harmony that pours forth from hearts tuned to His Spirit and vibrating with chords of divine life and glory. God didn’t remove the formality and ceremonialism of the Old Testament to leave us with something inferior. He gave us something MUCH BETTER! A cappella music in divine worship should never be viewed as an imposition, but rather as a priceless legacy from the purest days of primitive Christianity.
Consider the following quotations:
“There can be no doubt that originally that music of the divine service was everywhere entirely of a vocal nature.” – Emil Numan, The History of Music.
“We have no real knowledge of the exact character of the music which formed a part of the religious devotion of the first Christian congregation. It was, however, purely vocal.” – Dr. Frederic Louis Ritter.
“Only singing, however, and no playing of instruments was permitted in the early church.” – Hugo Leichtentritt.
“The music they used, reproduced the spirit of their religion – an inward quietude. All the music employed in their early services was vocal.” – F. L. Humphrey’s Evolution of Church Music.
“It (instrumental music) was only permitted to the Jews, as sacrifice was, for the heaviness and grossness of their souls. God condescended to their weakness, because they were lately drawn off from idols; but now, instead of organs, we may use our own bodies to praise him withal. Instruments appertain not to Christians.” – John Chrysostom (345 – 407 A.D), Church Father, Eastern/Greek. (Homily on Psalm 149 & Comments on Psalm 150.
“Music in churches is as ancient as the apostles, but instrumental music not so.” – Joseph Bingham, Works Vol. III, page 137.
“The Christian community held the same view, as we know from the apostolic and post-apostolic literature: instrumental music was thought unfit for religious services; the Christian sources are quite outspoken in their condemnation of instrumental performances. Originally, only song was considered worthy of direct approach to Divinity.” – The New Oxford History of Music (The Music of Post Biblical Judaism, Vol. I, Page 135).
“The general introduction of instrumental music can certainly not be assigned to an earlier date than the fifth century – the first organ is believed to have been used in Church service in the thirteenth century. The early reformers, when they came out of Rome, removed them as monuments of idolatry.” – McClintock and Strong’s Encyclopedia.
“Pope Vitalian is related to have first introduced organs into some of the churches of western Europe about 670 A.D.” – The American Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, page 688.
“In the Greek (Catholic) Church the organ never came into use. But after the eighth century it became more and more common in the Latin Church, not, however, without opposition from the side of the monks. … The Roman Catholic Church began adopting musical instruments during the Middle Ages, but the Greek church in the East continued to reject them; and even as late as the sixteenth century there was enough protest within the Roman church that the Council of Trent (1545) came very close to abolishing their use. Catholic churches finally began using instrumental music (usually an organ) during the Middle Ages, but it was largely opposed as unscriptural and was slow to gain acceptance. Not until the 1200’s could it be found in widespread use” – Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, Vol 2, page 1702.
“The organ in the worship is the insignia of Baal. The Roman Catholics borrowed it from the Jews.” – Martin Luther (1483 – 1536 A.D.) [McClintock & Strong’s Encyclopedia, Vol. I, page 762].
“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.” – Presbyterian founder.
“I am an old minister and I here declare that I never knew them (musical instruments) to be productive of any good in the worship of God, and I have reason to believe they are productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire, but instrumental music in the house of God I abominate and abhor.” – Adam Clarke.
“… Those who know the church of God best, and what constitutes its genuine spiritual state, know that these things (mechanical instruments of music) have been introduced as a substitute for the life and power of religion; and that where they prevail most, there is least of the power of Christianity. Away with such portentous baubles from the worship of that infinite Spirit who requires His followers to worship Him in spirit and truth, for to no such worship are these instruments friendly.” – Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. II, pp. 690-691.
“I have no objection to instruments being in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.” – John Wesley, 1729.
“But one may ask, ‘Is there anything really wrong with one washing his hands before he eats his food?’ Morally, no; religiously yes. An activity can be morally right and yet be religiously wrong. Consider the following: (1) It is morally right to eat ham and eggs, but it is wrong to do so as a religious rite, as an act of worship. (2) It is morally right to apply water to an infant’s body for the purpose of bathing it, but it is wrong to do so as a religious rite. (3) It is morally right to play an instrument of music for recreation and entertainment, but it is wrong to do so in the worship of God.” – Author & date anonymous.
Question: “Is it right to have an organ or other instrumental music in church services? Answer: ““No. Jesus never introduced instrumental music into the worship of Christians. And the burden of the evening light is to bring the worship of God in every particular back to the standard Jesus lifted up. Appeals are often made by those who would justify the use of instruments in public to the various texts throughout the Old Testament, which speaks of the Jews worshipping God on various kinds of musical instruments. But let it be remembered, that although the Jews worshipped God upon instruments, such worship was no part of the original Levitical worship, and was not commanded by Moses. Hence it appears that instrumental music in the Old as well as the New Testament does not properly belong to the public worship of God. We believe that musical instruments are alright in their place, but their place is outside of the public worship of the saints.” — William G. Schell [songwriter, author, and co-laborer with D. S. Warner], The Gospel Trumpet, January 30, 1896, page 2, Questions.
“Having been a fond lover of instrumental music, I have always protested against the idea of abandoning our organ in the Missions. Many dear brethren have admonished me on the same, but I have resisted by quoting the Psalmist’s expressions on music, and felt it was not only right but [also] scriptural. But while in England, I came across this letter, written by a godly man of his time, which I send to the Trumpet. After reading it I have become thoroughly convinced that we must worship God with our voices, and not with instruments; and I feel that the following will be a benefit to the rest of God’s little ones. I thank God for the truth and light, and I shall never use an instrument in our worship again. This letter is copied from a book entitled ‘Controversy of Zion,’ by Dr. T. Christe:
“ ‘Things insignificant in themselves often involve great principles. Your correspondent at the little Independent chapel at Parton thinks that matters there never looked so cheerful as at present, and amongst the sources of his joy he tells us, that on Sabbath last the notes of a flutina-concertina gave him great assistance in making a joyful noise unto the Lord. This is a melancholy admission, that the notes of a dead musical instrument, composed of wood and air, and elicited by the fingers of another, are needful to help his infirmities and teach his soul to worship the living God. But he goes further, and assuming that his concertina-flutina is of divine warranty, raises the whole question of instrumental music in Christian worship, as though it had never before been discussed, and wonders that any should be so insensate to melody, and so ignorant of scripture as to differ from him. He says, ‘It seems strange to us that David should say, Praise the Lord with harp; sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument with ten strings; sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise: and that there should be those who object to the instrumental music in a place of worship.’
“ ‘Is the writer aware that this was precisely the position taken by Archbishop Land and the Star Chamber against the Puritans, Independents, etc., in the days of the first Charles, and in that fearful struggle for freedom of speech and of person which we now enjoy? Is he aware that a lawyer, a physician, and a minister – Burton, Prynne, and Bostwick – were seized and tried by that Romanizing prelate and that wicked tribunal for, amongst other things, their exposal of the unscriptural character of church music? …
“ ‘I now condense a few thoughts on the scriptural view of the subject, and at once meet your correspondent’s question by asking another – Would it seem strange to him if his new pastor slew bullocks and rams, sheep and oxen, turtle doves and pigeons, next Sabbath in the little chapel at Parton and then proceeded to sprinkle with blood, the book and the people, and the concertina-flutina, as well as to burn incense from his pulpit of wood? Yet this would be just as reasonably founded on the scripture he quotes as can the use of instruments of music in Christian worship.’” – Submitted by G. Tufts, Jr., Published in The Gospel Trumpet, November 25, 1897, page 2, under the heading, Church Music, (Abbreviated Quote).
Question: “Have we a right to worship with drums and horns? – W. H. C. Answer: “No; it is not right to use drums or horns, or any other musical instrument in religious worship. The Jewish people used to blow horns sometimes in worship, but that is done away with the law of Moses. The use of musical instruments was never instituted by Christ, and never practiced by any of his apostles; hence forms no part of Christian worship. It belongs to the worship of formalists, and is never used except where worship is drifting into formalism. It is the Spirit of God that puts the sweetness in our singing, and truly spiritual people want nothing but the Spirit of God to help them make a joyful sound in singing the praises of God.” – William G. Schell, The Gospel Trumpet, September 15, 1898, page 5, Questions Answered.
Question: “Is it right to worship God with organ and choir? Did Jesus teach any such thing in the New Testament? Answer: No. Jesus never taught anything in favor of musical instruments and choir in divine worship. The entire New Testament is silent on this subject. Not one word indicates any mechanical worship in the church of God. The church is God’s organ; each individual member is a key; the Holy Spirit is the operator. When he touches a key it gives its individual and distinct sound, which blends in beautiful harmony and praise and true heart worship to God, expressed in inspired living words. Worshiping by machinery is certainly foreign to the church of God.” – J. W. Byers, The Gospel Trumpet, September 29, 1904, Questions Answered, pages 4 & 5.
“Ministers who are full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom and miracle-working faith and power, will not need such things [as superfluous articles of dress], neither pianos, nor stringed instruments to get an audience and to convert souls. Worldliness in dress, theater-going, fashions, and pride, have robbed or helped to rob many a spiritual church of its glory and power, and then followed the substitution of musical instruments for the thanksgiving and praises and psalms of the lips unto God.” — J. E. Forrest, contributing editor for The Gospel Trumpet, December 19, 1912, page 5, article The Christian’s Dress.
“He (D. S. Warner) taught plainly and forcibly against the use of musical instruments in the worship of God. None of the congregations [of the Church of God] used them in his day.” – C. E. Orr, in Not a New Movement.
- S. Warner’s teaching on this subject, as well as all other doctrines, was no novelty, but was simply in keeping with the mainstream of fundamental, orthodox Christianity. Other quotations from early Gospel Trumpet publications could be given, but these sufficiently reveal the original stance of the Church of God on this subject.