This is the version that was available online when I wrote my essay; this is the one to which I was reacting.

Mr. Haines has subsequently been working on a revision in response to my essay. - Bradley Lehman

A Cappella Singing

by Leland M. Haines

There is strong evidence that music in the early church consisted only of a cappella congregational singing. There are many reasons to believe this. We find as far as music is concerned, the New Testament emphasis is upon singing. Jesus and His disciples sang together, "And when they had sung a hymn . . ." (Matthew 26:30; cf. Mark 14:26). Paul wrote, "I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also" (I Corinthians 14:15), "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Ephesians 5:18-20), and "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16). The writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote, "I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee" (Hebrews 2:12), apparently referring to singing.

Singing is mentioned in the above passages without even a hint of musical instruments. And from church history we know they were not used. Musical instruments were a later development in the church and were brought in without biblical authority. The church for several hundred years rejected these man-made, mechanical means to make music. Musical instruments were used in the Old Testament (I Samuel 18:6; II Samuel 6:5; I Chronicles 13:8; 15:16, 18; 25:6; II Chronicles 5:12, 13; 20:28; 23:13; 29:25, 27; Nehemiah 12:27; Psalms 33:2; 68:25; 81:2; 92:1-3; 95:1; 104:33; 105:2; 149:1; Daniel 3:5; Amos 6:5), but we have no record of their use in the New Testament church. If instruments were to be used in the church, they surely would have been mentioned in the New Testament.

The law was fulfilled in Christ, therefore temple use of musical instruments was rejected by the church. They were rejected along with the burnt offerings, dancing, incenses, sacrifices, etc. This was based on the fact that "the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23, 24; cf. Philippians 3:3). Mechanical machines are not of the Spirit. The aesthetic and entertainment value of musical instruments is well known, but this is not desired in true worship. This goal is "singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart" (Ephesians 5:19). "In spirit" and "your heart" is a spiritual work. In commenting on being cheerful, James wrote, "Let him sing praise" (James 5:13). The aesthetic and entertainment "spirit of the world" (I Corinthians 2:12) must be rejected. This was one of the reasons the early church sang a cappella. It should be noted that the synagogues too rejected musical instruments ("singing was unaccompanied" ).

Many church members want to use aids in worship to create a spirit of awe in the listener, and herein lies the danger of musical instruments. They can subvert the worshiper. Man-made experiences can replace God's Spirit and create a false impression in the hearer.

There are other practical reasons for a cappella singing. This form of worship established by the apostles improves singing. The congregation must learn to sing because the melody is not carried by a piano or an organ. Furthermore, musical instruments can be are expensive to buy and maintain. There are more important uses of money in the church than spending it on musical instruments.


from The Biblical Concept of the Church, © copyright 1996 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI.

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