Jurong Outreach

"whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ."

A Conversation on Instrumental Music

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The following conversation between three friends (A, B and C) was overheard one day somewhere on the sunny island of Singapore…

A: Hey man, we had an awesome worship yesterday. The band was great as usual.

  1. So you believe in the use of instrumental music(IM) in worship?

A: Of course. Everyone does.

B: I tried looking in the New Testament (NT) where it expressly says we can use IM in worship. I couldn’t find it. Maybe you can show me?

A: Does it matter? What’s important is we are into it, man. The music is awesome!

B: So you’re saying you can’t find it either?

A: The use of IM is an aid. It helps to build up ambience and feelings in worship.

B: Do I understand correctly then that there is no express command to use IM in worship?

A: It does not say we cannot use it. Like I said, it’s an aid.

B: How about this? The use of Ecstasy and other hallucinogen is an aid. It helps to build up ambience and feelings in worship.

A: No, that’s wrong. You cannot understand it this way.

B: Is there another way? I thought the point is using aids to build up ambience and feelings?

A: Look at it like this. We use song books and song leaders. They are not expressly commanded in the NT but we can use them. Same thing for IM.

B: So it should be the same for hallucinogen, isn’t it? Let me see if I understand you:

  1. IM is not expressly commanded or forbidden.
  2. IM helps in building up feelings for worship.
  3. Therefore, it is OK to use IM.

B: I can simply replace IM in the argument and still retain the same logic, can’t I?

A: I don’t think you get it. Using hallucinogen is substance abuse. It is wrong.

B: Where does it expressly say hallucinogen or other forms of drugs cannot be used in worship?

A: You cannot look at it like that.

B: Why not? IM is neither expressly commanded nor forbidden, but you say we can use it. Hallucinogen is neither expressly commanded nor forbidden, but you say we can’t use it. Laying aside the legality of hallucinogen, I still fail to see the consistency in your logic. Let me try something else. How about using Coke in place of grape juice in the Lord’s Supper? Or durian in place of the unleavened bread?

A: We are talking about music in worship.

B: We are talking about what God approves in worship.

A: We are not getting anywhere. You’re impossible to talk to.

B: Educate me, then. What makes you decide that you can use certain aid such as IM in worship but not others, like hallucinogen? What are the rules you apply?

A: Common sense!

B: So common sense says you can use IM, even though it is not expressly commanded nor forbidden, because it helps?

A: Yes!

B: But hallucinogen doesn’t apply, even though it is also not expressly commanded nor forbidden, because it is illegal?

A: Yes. Now you get it. You are not hopeless after all.

B: Thank you. But suppose we use something else instead? Say, breakdancing? How about HIIT? Maybe we can try playing ‘fetch’ with my dog. Going by your rationale, I can do all that as long as they help build up my feelings?

A: You are trying to cause trouble, aren’t you?

B: No, on the contrary I’m trying to apply your logic. Besides common sense (which doesn’t sound very ‘common’) what other rules do you apply?

A: The Bible doesn’t say we can’t use it! And there are so many people who can testify that music is great for ambience and lifting up feelings. Don’t tell me you don’t agree with that?

B: If you mean music uplifting emotions, yes. But we have seen how it is uncommon sense to simply say the Bible doesn’t say we can’t. There’s a lot the Bible doesn’t say, like hallucinogen. Surely there must be more to it than that?

A: For example?

B: For example, God told Noah to build an ark (Gen 6:14). God didn’t mention using or not using tools. But Noah must have used tools, don’t you agree?

A: Of course.

B: Why?

A: Why? It is common sense!

B: Right. Using tools was an aid to carry out the command, wasn’t it? Do you agree that it’s because it doesn’t interfere with the command to build an ark?

A: Fair enough. But using IM does not interfere with singing.

B: Let’s come back to Noah again. God expresslytold Noah to build an ark of gopher wood, right? Do you think that Noah would be obedient if he had used other wood?

A: It’s not the same case.

B: Let’s think about it further. God told Noah to use gopher wood. That excludes other wood, doesn’t it?That’s what the logical Law of Inference indicates. Don’t you think using other material would have interfered with the command to build an ark of gopher wood? Noah might still have built an ark, but if it wasn’t gopher wood, it wouldn’t be what God had wanted, would it?

A (fidgeting): It’s still not the same.

B: Let’s see. God tells us to sing (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). That’s vocal music. God had expressly identified the music he wants. The same Law of Inference excludes the other type of music, which is instrumental. By the way, doesn’t 2Co 5:7 say “For we walk by faith, not by sight”?

A: What’s your point?

B: Indulge me. And Heb 11:6 says “But without faith it is impossible to please him”? And Rom 10:17 says “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”? So we are supposed to live by faith, for without faith we can’t please God. And the source of faith is the word of God.

A: Yes. But I still don’t see your point. We are talking about music in worship.

B: We are talking about what God approves in worship. Now let’s see what the word of God says, shall we? After all, it is the source of faith, and we need faith to…

A: Yes, I know. Just get on with it.

  1. Nice. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19). Let’s consider this. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Can the human voice do this?

A: Duh, it’s common sense!

B: Yes, it’s common sense. Now, how aboutinstruments? Can instruments speak, literally?

  1. I know what you are trying to get at, but I disagree with your point.

B: Hold your disagreement for a second. “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” (Col 3:16). The human voice can teach and admonish and sing; the instruments can’t. Again, common sense. Now, what is your disagreement?

A:It doesn’t say we cannot use IM!

B: Does it have to, since God has told us he wants vocal music, which is able to speak, teach and admonish? Again, the Bible doesn’t tell us a lot of things. It doesn’t tell us we can’t gamble or husbands can’t beat their wives, etc.

A: IM merely helps to build up ambience! It doesn’t replace singing!

B: Of course it doesn’t. But it adds another type of music besides singing, doesn’t it?

A: It does no harm but lots of good.

B: Doesn’t the Bible say we are not to add or take away or edit the word of God? Check it out. I believe it’s in Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18-19.

C: What are you two going on about? Whoa, A, look at the humongous pout on your face…

B: We are discussing what God approves in worship. A here says we can use IM. I was trying to understand his logic in light of what the Bible says.

C: Isn’t it obvious? Of course we can use IM in worship. The Bible says so.

B: Really? I was just asking B to show me where in the NT it says so. Do tell!

C: Read the Old Testament (OT). Just Psalm 150 will suffice.

B: How does that tell us we can use it in the NT?

C: OT, NT, what’s the difference? It’s still the Bible.

B: So, going by that rationale, we can offer animal sacrifice in worship then?

C: Bro, you’re sick. What are you talking about?

B: Just trying to understand your rationale. If the OT is no different from the NT, and we can use IM because it’s mentioned in the OT, then logically we can offer animal sacrifices and burn incense, can’t we?

C: It doesn’t work like that, bro…

A: That’s what I have been trying to tell our hero here.

B: Paul said to the Galatians who wanted to do some of the stuff in the OT: “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Gal 5:3). Follow one article, obligated to follow them all. So, let’s come back to the rationale you just used. Logically, we should be able to offer animal sacrifices and burn incense, can’t we?

C: Well, we don’t have to offer animal sacrifice, but we can still use IM.

B: In spite of Gal 5:3?

C: Gal 5:3 is only talking about circumcision, not the whole Law of Moses.

B: Well, there’s Gal 5:4…

C: What? What does it say?

B: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4). You see, Paul was talking about the whole Law of Moses.

A: He was talking about Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 when you came along. He’s saying these verses only mean vocal music, not IM.

C: That’s easy. It DOES say IM. The phrase “making melody” means you can use IM.

B: Making melody where?

C: What you talking about, bro?

B: It says “making melody in your heart to the Lord”, doesn’t it? Not, “making melody on an instrument.”

C: Dude, my pastor said that phrase was from the Greek word, psallo. Psallo means we can use IM. Get it? You can’t argue with the Greek word. And you can’t argue with my pastor!

B: I don’t know if your pastor is a Greek expert, but Thayer is certainly acknowledged as one of the best Greek lexicons available. Let’s see(taking out his mobile device). Thayer says:

Thayer Definition:

1) to pluck off, pull out

2) to cause to vibrate by touching, to twang

2a) to touch or strike the chord, to twang the strings of a musical instrument so that they gently vibrate

2b) to play on a stringed instrument, to play, the harp, etc.

2c) to sing to the music of the harp

2d) in the NT to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song

B: Sure, he does give definitions for IM usage. But pay attention to what he says in 2d). “In the NT to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song.” Look, I appreciate you bringing out psallo, but we know how words change meanings over the years. What comes to mind when we hear the word ‘gay’?

A & C: Well, homosexual…

B: Yet less than a hundred years ago it meant happy and cheerful.

A & C: What’s your point?

B: The point is this. The word psallo also has evolved its meaning over centuries. As a lexicon, Thayer gives us all the meanings across the word’s etymology. But true to its scholarship, Thayer tells us the contemporary meaning when it is used in Eph 5:19. “In the NT to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song.” No IM expressed or implied. It’s not only Thayer. Other renowned lexicographers point out the same thing.

C: I still don’t like what you say about the OT. It is the word of God.

B: Of course it is, but the question is: are we still obligated to keep the OT? Or, does the OT still apply to us in the practice of Christianity? Remember what we have just heard in Galatians?

A & C: Of course it still applies! Don’t you keep the 10 Commandments?

B: I understand you conduct services on Sundays, right? Since you keep the 10 Commandments, why don’t you keep the Sabbath? It’s Saturday, you know.

C: Christ was resurrected on a Sunday, that’s why we worship on Sundays.

B: The Bible says, “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (Heb 9:16-17).

A: What’s your point?

B: Christ shed His blood to put into effect the New Testament; the old covenant is no longer in effect. The Bible also says, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col 2:14).

A & C: …

B: Look, guys, there is much we can discover in the Bible. Why don’t we find a nice place, get some coffee, and look further? Sounds good?

A: Fine. I’m cool with that.

C: You got me curious. OK, let’s do that.


P.S. A, B and C are currently on a regular, weekly study of the Bible together. Besides the topic of authorized music in worship, B is also helping his friends discover what the Bible says on a host of things.


P.P.S. On a Wednesday evening, after another session of searching the Scriptures, A decided to obey the gospel. C is struggling, meanwhile…




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