Recently, a congregation in the city where I preach decided to start using instruments in their worship assembly. Apparently, even the community realizes that among churches of Christ, this is a big deal because the local news and newspaper have done stories on it. Obviously, I love my brothers and sisters in congregations that make this decision, but the question I have is, “Why must you use instruments to worship?” You see, the burden of proof is not on me to prove why I don’t believe in using instruments in worship; the burden of proof is on them to prove why they feel it is necessary to use instruments.
Here’s why I don’t think any congregation’s arguments for using instruments hold water.
1. Is it because you want to “reach people in deeper ways”?
According to the news report, this particular congregation says they added instruments to reach people in deeper ways. My opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is that instrumental music reaches people in different ways, but not deeper ways.
The sound of instrumental music has the ability to affect our emotions in profound ways, regardless of the context. If you are attending a concert – whether it be a rock concert, a classical orchestra, or any other kind of performance – your emotions are affected by the music. Even without lyrics being sung, an orchestra can bring some people to tears by the way the music is played. And even without lyrics, rock music can get your heart pumping and send adrenaline coursing through your veins. This is not a spiritual experience, but a physical and emotional experience.
When this same phenomenon is used in worship, it gives people the impression that their hearts are being stirred by the Spirit, but it is more like their emotions are being manipulated by the strings of the guitar and piano.
Furthermore, don’t you find it at least a little condescending to say that instrumental music is able to reach people in deeper ways than congregational a cappella singing can? If instrumental music is deeper, wouldn’t that imply that a cappella singing is somehow more shallow? For two thousand years, great numbers of Christians have sung songs, hymns, and spiritual songs to the Lord without the accompaniment of mechanical instruments. They made music with the instrument of their heart. They taught and admonished one another with the words of these songs.
It is the words of the songs which reach the heart of other spiritual men or women and it is the words of the songs that reach the heart of God. Instruments may reach people in a different ways, but not deeper ways.
2. Is it because you want to reach more people?
Nearly every time a decision to add instruments is made, the leadership says that it was done to reach more people. “We want to reach the unchurched of our community,” they say, “and we can’t reach them unless we offer them an instrumental worship service.” This may sound noble, but I believe it is an entirely misguided motivation.
This attitude shows a misunderstanding about the nature of worship. Worship happens when a redeemed and sanctified people come before the throne of a holy God and reverently bow before Him. When the goal of worship shifts to attracting and entertaining the “unchurched,” it can no longer – in any sense – be called worship.
I want to reach the lost. More than anything in the world, I want to reach the lost. In fact, I’ve dedicated my life to teaching people the gospel. However, worship belongs to God. It does not belong to the world. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what the world would like to hear in worship; it matters what God wants to hear.
Teach the gospel to the lost (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Baptize them into Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Galatians 3:27). Fill them up with the word of Christ, so that His word dwells in them richly (Colossians 3:16). Stand beside them and lift up fervent praises to the God who has redeemed you both. Teach them to appreciate – and enjoy – the spiritual nature of worship. Teach them that worship is not about the sensual and carnal pleasures of the flesh, but about things of a spiritual nature.
3. Is it because you want to allow people to showcase their talents?
To me, the most disturbing part of this news story was the very last line, “The people that perform the music are all from the church and now they are able to showcase their talents to the rest of their church community.” I have been saying for years that when worship becomes about showcasing our talents, it ceases to be worship.
In our culture, we want the spotlight on us, we take selfies all the time, and we brag about every little accomplishment on social media. It’s no wonder that people are begging to showcase their talents “to the rest of their church community.” But worship is not a talent show. It is supposed to be a time of profound humility, where we all come before God on our knees to showcase our brokenness and praise Him for healing us. It’s not supposed to be a time where we say, “Look at what I can do,” but, “Look at what He has done.”
And why is it that only the musicians can use this argument for why they should be able to perform in worship? Shouldn’t the trash man and the barber get the same opportunity to showcase their talents? Surely not, because worship isn’t a talent show.
Congregational singing accomplishes this goal. When we all sing together – without choir, praise team, or band – we are all on level ground. But when we turn worship into an entertaining performance, we have missed the entire concept of what worship is supposed to be about.
Does this mean people aren’t supposed to use their talents for God? Of course not! We can still use our talents for God’s glory by using them in everyday ways. In the first century, the slave was told to use his position and his labor for God’s glory (Ephesians 6:1-8). The Christian trash collector uses his talents to glorify God. The Christian barber uses his talents to glorify God. The Christian doctors, lawyers, and sales clerks use their talents to glorify God. They do this by doing their common and everyday jobs in extraordinary ways.
You do not have to bring your talents into the worship assembly to use your talents for God. As Paul wrote, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
As I’ve said many times before, the reason I don’t believe in using mechanical instruments in worship is very simple: God specifically told us to make music with our hearts and our lips (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). That’s it. His specificity means other ways of making music are simply not an option. And we don’t need anything else. The tools He has given us are more than sufficient to do what He wants us to do in worship.
Instruments continue to divide Christians. They continue to turn worship into a talent show. They continue to distract from the words that are being sung. The bottom line is this: Why do you need an instrument to worship God? You don’t. You don’t need one at all.
I love you and God loves you,