An Answer to the Question of Artistic
and Musical Expression in the Church
By Edward Willing
March 17, 2007
There is a persistent teaching among scattered elements of the church against the tenets of not just music, but of any art being used in the context of the Church and its functions. Their premise is based upon a reaction to a disturbing trend in the Modern Church to elevate and abuse the importance of music in not only preaching and conveying the Word in an effective way, but even reaching out to the World and attracting non-believers – primarily the youth culture – through “fine art” and “rock music”, etc. My purpose in writing this paper is to study what the Word says, as comprehensively as possible, and not to merely state my personal opinion. I will attempt to include all of scripture, stay true to systematic theology (isolating every passage about a particular subject), and not use passages out of context, remaining above reproach in my conclusions about artistic expression in the function of the Church.
If there is truly a legitimate concern in using music and art in the worship of God, then we must consider it, meditate on scripture, ask and allow the Holy Spirit to answer us in our prayer and subsequently act upon it with decisiveness and finality. This paper was titled “An Answer to the Question of Artistic and Musical Expression in the Church” because of its conclusion, and (I pray) not upon presuming biases of upbringing or culture. If any subjectivity or humanistic interpretation is allowed a voice in this statement, let it be known, and may the Church soundly discredit its findings as man-inspired, not Holy Spirit-inspired. All scripture is God-breathed, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. So, in contrast I must not only account one day for my own beliefs and teachings  but also call to account any false teaching I see that could bring disunity to the body of Christ. I believe there is a teaching that would repress budding artists in the Church which are unaware of biblical decrees regarding their gifts.
The reason the Church faces many conflicts over the years is that dissension is innate; humans are naturally predisposed to conflict over sensitive issues that we believe in so personally. Men tend to idolize their preferences and practices. And furthermore, everyone worships, so we find a method that works for us and we think everyone should do it our way. I believe that every generation is responsible to examine their practices, traditions and doctrines against God’s Word. When we just stop all subjective conversation and simply study what the scripture has to say, it becomes so much clearer. So here I intend to avoid the form of conversation, and lean solely on His Word.
Paul warned us that there will be some that will arise “from among your own selves” that will speak to “draw away disciples after them”. The enemy of the World is sin and lawlessness, which leads to death; the enemy of the church is deception and disunity. But the ENERGY of the church is it’s unity. If the Church is divided, then our singular calling “to preach the Gospel” and to “make disciples of all nations” is compromised and completely laid useless, if the world does not see our unity and love for one another. So when a wind of doctrine comes and has the effect of dividing His Church, we must evaluate the doctrine with great discernment: does this doctrine unite and bring together Christ’s bride, or does it drive them apart?
Finally, as we approach the Word of God with respect and deference to his will, not our own, we must conclude that any doctrinal refutation must be done in a way to unify the body of Christ, not to divide it. We must not be afraid to dialog or learn from those we disagree with; it clarifies your belief and sharpens your thinking. No subject seems to divide the Church more than the varieties of gifts and ministries that each of us are called to. To one, our gifting has no place among the body, to another our ministry may become more important than the truth of the Word itself, to the diminishing of other gifts entirely. Both positions must be approached in love and gratitude and ultimately brought to the only true judge of all, the Spirit of God, and to the life of Jesus Christ and His Word revealed. There are at least two major tensions in corporate worship, and both prioritize certain elements, while both contain truth. I have a mental picture of a volley ball net, with two poles being secured in opposing directions. The net cannot stand up without the assistance of both systems. I intend this dissertation to not be either of the opposing tensions, but the net between the two.
Ultimately, this contested issue and our conclusion must be decided upon its contribution to unity or disunity in the body of Christ, not merely upon the value or lack thereof pertaining to music and art in the Church. Throughout history there have been many instances of “battles” between groups within God’s Church, but there is only one “worship war”: between God and Satan. We want to land squarely on God’s side in this debate.
To understand where we are going we must establish our starting point – there is a virtuous element in the Christian Church that argues music, drama or dance has no place in reaching the World with the Gospel, and furthermore, argues that the modern Church over-emphasizes and abuses the natural place of artistic ministry, especially music in Church activities. Their arguments are logically appealing, and their construction seems theologically sound.
Teachers of this position assert that because Jesus never used music, and only used parables to open the eyes of those enabled by the Spirit that many in the Church are using means never ordained by Christ or the original Apostles. It is said these “modernizing” churches end up attempting to annex worldly methods and philosophies in their vain attempt to grow in number. The end result is believed to be a diluting of the Word of God, a compromising of the faith, and an embrace of the world we’ve been called to be set apart from. So it is in the spirit of gentleness and unity that we search the full body of Scripture in correcting improper interpretations of the Bible by our fellow brothers and sisters, and, I pray, reaffirm our faith and calling in ministry.
“Whatever, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 10:31
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”
– Colossians 3:23
It is incontrovertible that we cannot speak about “worship” at all in this age without also speaking about the music of worship. It has become a significant part of Christian worship to God, if not the most public and exercised element of the Church’s liturgy. It appears that the focus on music in the last century was fueled by a desire to breathe new life into the dry bones of most liturgical worship; to reassign personal relationship and emotional experience to the Christian’s worship. As I approach the Word of God, I search for any truth which might apply to God’s perspective of man-made art, man’s methods of communication, his relation to his culture and what abuses man has been guilty of with any object or practice throughout history. Some of these abuses were called to account in the Bible, and we will look at these often permissible but sometimes idolatrous actions as well as what permissions God has granted to His people.
Since music is overwhelmingly the most prevalent, divisive of all artistic expressions in the Church, I will focus much of my exegesis on it, with priority over the others, such as visual art. Music, instrumentation, style and depth of content tend to present more opportunities for contention than any other art. However, regarding either visual art or musical expression, I believe artistry can be an instrument and object of action, by focusing our passions on the glorification and revelation of God. The unfortunate result is that some raise the process itself to a form of idolatry, being more important that the God it wishes to direct us to, and this is sinful. Some observers or church congregants allow their flesh to focus on the art rather than the context of the art’s expression, making the art meaningless and empty.
The Bible contains 7 significant Hebrew interpretations of “praise” or “worship” to God:
Halal – “To be clear, to shine, to boast, show, to rave or dance, celebrate, to be clamorously foolish.”
Yadah – A verb with a root meaning, “the extended hand, to throw out the hand, therefore to worship with extended hand.”
Todah – Comes from the same root word as Yadah, but more specifically, as a “thankfulness to God” for things received or not yet received, a “sacrifice of praise”.
Shabach – “To shout, triumph, command attention to…”
Barak – Means “to be still, kneel, to bless God as an act of adoration or devotion”
Zamar – “To pluck the strings of an instrument, to sing, to praise”; a musical word which is largely involved with joyful expressions of music with musical instruments.
Tehillah – The singing of song, or to laud; perceived to involve music, especially singing.
Music, praise or the instruments used in them are found in the Bible over 980 times and therefore must be important enough to God that we consider its use in our own lives and the function of the Church. After all, hell is mentioned only 74 times in one form or another, yet we seem to know so much more about what the Bible says concerning hell than we do about music. In Psalm 100:2 is says to “come before Him with singing”, and in the following verses the Psalmist goes on to describe four different kinds of praise to God, including giving thanks (Todah), kneeling in reverence (Barak), singing (Tehillah) and raising of hands (Yadah).
More verses contend that music is a significant part of God’s relationship with his people:
“Praise the Lord with the harp, make music to Him on the ten stringed lyre. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully and shout for joy.” – Psalm 33:2-3
“Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob! Begin music, strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre. Sound the Ram’s Horn at the new moon.” – Psalm 81:1-3
“And of Zion it shall be said… then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes will sing, ‘all my springs of joy are in You.’” – Psalm 87:5-7
We must consider music and worship’s importance to the believer and not take it lightly. The world’s psychiatrists and sociologists have established that music is very powerful both on individuals and the culture. It initially communicates an idea, but then in affects our view of that idea; God, of course knows this, and created it to be so. And since it controls our mind and stirs our spirit, then we must consider that God intends something for it in relation to our souls. If music is important to God then it must by necessity be considered important to us, His Church. And finally, when it comes to music and the musicians who play it in the church environment, it is not ultimately the music that should matter the most, but the heart of artist that delivers it. It is not about the outward expression of instrumental communication that should be important, but rather having a passion to be living lives of integrity and godly character.
Reasonable questions that have been asked, that I will answer either directly or otherwise in this paper:
1.)Is it Biblical to use instruments or any form of art in the New Testament Church?
2.)What are the qualifications for musicians and artists in the Bible?
3.)What is the purpose of music and artistic expression, and what are recognized abuses?
4.)Can music be used in ministry in the church today?
5.)Should music or any form of art be allowed in evangelizing?
Music in the Beginning
Music in the beginning was ordained by God and it was pleasing to Him. Many scholars in the Church believe that music pre-existed in Heaven, before the creation of man, embodied in one of the three Archangels (that we know of), Lucifer. Most scholars believe that the prophecy about the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 was a motif, or “type” about Lucifer in Heaven, and many passages in this chapter make a good case for this; see, the King “dwelt in the mountain of God and was the covering cherub” and was found in “Eden, the Garden of God”. These are indications of an individual being not of this world, but supernatural. If we accept that this passage in Ezekiel is talking about Lucifer, then we know that worship, praise and, by effect, “the stage” was a place Lucifer was familiar with. Some translations of these verses conclude that Lucifer’s body was even comprised of instruments (pipes and tabrets), that his very being emanated music among the heavens. This master of deception had an early advantage in the perversion of music, and Isaiah says that upon lifting himself up to God in his own eyes, and becoming wicked in his heart, he was cast down to earth. He is the “god of this world”, makes a perversion of all things good and he deceives men unto practicing wickedness, presumably in the realm of music as well as everything else created.
It appears that God placed Lucifer in his position to lead the angelic realm in the worship of God. Music was given or created to minister to God the Father and bring glory to Him and His works. The use of song and instrument is by its nature a very intimate, emotional and soulful activity, and it seems very appropriate that God would create music as a way for man to express his very soul. Music is a medium for stirring one spiritually. And how we stir our spirit should be considered heavily before we simply accept it as a useful tool for pleasure or expression, for it is, in fact a very potent spiritual conduit, whether between man and God or between mankind.
Being an artist was one of the first occupations listed in the early days of the Old Testament, included with agriculture and industry. We see throughout the history of mankind how music has been used to express God’s providence, man’s greatest exploits and his deepest regrets. There is an ancient Arab legend from the cradle of civilization that says the first song ever was the lament of Abel. If true, what a unfortunate, albeit significant beginning! Man’s first destruction of another human life being lamented before God through song.
There are many other instances of music being used throughout the Old and New Testaments, some by Lucifer and others by the Children of Israel or the Priests in the Temple, so let us dive into a few and consider them.
Old Testament Precedent
“Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.”
Often when I approach the scriptural basis of anything found in the Old Testament, the most common refutation is that we are no longer under the “Old Covenant”, but under the new, and the Old Testament ways of sacrifice and priesthood has been done away with. Under those auspices, music and artistic expression might be included as well.
But I propose that it is legitimate to consider many of the functions of the Old Testament Temple as acceptable in the Church today. Jesus said “I did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill it.” And complimentary to the Old Law, I believe the foundation of the Law of Grace is this: That we pursue the sanctified and consecrated life of the Old Testament because we want to, not because we have to. Christ did the work for us on the cross, and our only reasonable response is to glorify Him through lives His Spirit empowers us to live. Life in the Old Testament temple was all directed toward glorifying God and focusing our attention upon God. So let us look upon the practices under the Old Covenant with respect and piety, not with slanderous disengagement regarding it’s usefulness in a modern world.
Jesus was raised in a Judaistic culture and engaged himself with it, though he was the fulfillment of it. Moreover, Jesus spent much time in the temple and the local synagogues, learning and teaching. He embraced and loved the institutional Church in a way we often look beyond. So as we look through the Bible, while most of the references to music and instruments come from the Old Testament, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to us today. There are many good Bible-believing, respectable church leaders that believe the absence of instruments in the function of the New Testament Church must mean their use in God-ordained worship is void and unnecessary. However, I believe the scriptures would lead us to believe differently and conclude that many of God’s ordinances in the Old Testament were meant to focus our attention on God and His wonderful creation as well as His wisdom; doing away with these elements of worship robs us of another layer in understanding God. The Church, being established under the New Covenant does not mean that we must do away with every element of worship found in the Old Testament. Surely, we still regard the wisdom of the Proverbs, or find beauty in the Prophets’ letters, or valuable knowledge in knowing the books of the Law. So how can we selectively choose which elements of the Old Testament we adhere to and not grieve God himself?
The goal of today’s Church should be edification and facilitating a relationship between the Divine and His creation. The Church cannot create this relationship, let alone substitute for it, as the Levitical order did, but it is responsible, more or less for equipping the saints for their effective ministry to the world. I would like to make clear that I do not believe we are to still offer sacrifices for sins. Where Christ fulfilled the Law, we are free to serve Him as we are led. This would most certainly invite the observance of many Old Testament principles like the Ten Commandments, abstaining from strong drink, marriage traditions and so forth. The Church is often guilty of selectively applying certain principles or traditions in the Old Testament while excluding the wisdom found in the others. We are certainly not required go follow them, but conversely we are not forbidden from most of them either as the “spiritual Children of Israel.”
The Tabernacle of Moses versus the Tabernacle of David
In the Tabernacle established by Moses, we see a very strict, distinct order of worship, as laid out in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In the Old Testament, we find two systems of worship that were employed by the children of Israel, and while they are similar in their aim and their spirit, they are very different in their approach to God.
In the Tabernacle of Moses there was protocol in worship:
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise His name.” – Psalm 100:4
And a pattern for worship:
“They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’.” – Hebrews 8:5
And distinct places for principles in worship:
- Gates Place of thanksgiving (Todah)
– The “starting block” of worship
- Brazen Altar Place of repentance, confession
- Brazen Laver Place of proclamation, healing, cleansing, consecration
- Table of Showbread Place of celebration, communion
- Golden Candlestick Place of the prophetic gifts and the Song of the Lord
- Altar of Incense Place of intercession, warfare
- Ark of Covenant Place of adoration, exaltation
But as we enter the reign of King David, the “man after God’s own heart,” we see a radical change in the way Israel was welcomed into the presence of God. Once the Ark of the Covenant was restored to the City of David the King established Mt. Zion as the functioning place of the new Tabernacle for Israel. David did not eliminate the “Old Law” or disobey the command of the Lord in how to handle sacrificial offerings given to Moses centuries earlier. In fact, Moses’ Tabernacle continued to operate in all its grandeur on Mt. Gibeon. However, David was inspired by the Spirit to build a place for the people to come before God and worship Him in a personal relationship never known before.
Some comparisons and contrasts between the Tabernacles of Moses and David:
Moses’ Tabernacle David’s Tabernacle
Mt. Gibeon Mt. Zion
Outer Court and Furniture No Outer Court or Furniture
Holy Place and Furniture No Holy Place or Furniture
Empty Holiest of All Transference of Holiest of All to Here
A Veil – No Access No Veil – Access Available
Daily Animal Sacrifices Daily Spiritual Sacrifices
No Ark of God The Ark of the Lord Rested Here
A Company of Priests Transference of the Company of Priests to Here
Old Mosaic Ministry and Order New Davidic Ministry and Order (distinct from Moses’)
A Few Singers and Instruments A Great Company and Order of Singers and Musicians (upward of 5,000 or more)
“Type” of the Old Covenant “Type” of the New Covenant
“In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name, says the LORD, who will do these things.”
– Amos 9:11-12 Delivered in 787 B.C. (re-quoted in Acts 15:16-17)
God’s choice of how to interact with his Spiritual Children is clear:
“For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell for I have desired it… I will satisfy her needy with bread. Her priests also I will clothe with salvation…”
– Psalm 132:13-16
“Behold, days are coming… when I will effect a New Covenant… not like the Covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand… I will put my laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be my people.”
– Hebrews 8:8-10
David and the commanders of the army together appointed singers and instrumentalists to minister prophetically before the Ark of God. 
…IN FORM AND METHODS
It is obvious that music played a significant role in the Old Testament community, and the temple even “employed” singers and players of instruments to live and function with the Levites in service to the people. Solomon wrote thousands of proverbs, psalms, poems and at least a thousand songs.  Bezalel was a very gifted visual artist in metals and exterior design. Saul received ministry from a group of musicians in 1 Samuel 10, that brought peace to his unsettled spirit. It is the first case we see of music being used in physical or spiritual/mental health treatment. Of course, we all know about David, who was a gifted musician and songwriter. Our first “worship leader” was found in Kenaniah, a vocalist among the Levitical Priests.[31
…IN MUSICAL ORGANIZATION AND OCCUPATION
It appears that the ministry of music was as important as any other ministry in the house of God, as they were even a part of the staff that was in charge of the functions of the temple. God can be worshipped without the assistance of musical instruments or the “distraction” of performance. But the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, so if the goal of our artistic expression is directing attention to God’s imaginative, creative glory, then we are walking in God’s pleasure. I believe John Piper stated it most succinctly in his book “Desiring God”: “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him”. And music and art are vehicles for harnessing and focusing that pleasure upon God.
If we are filled with the Spirit we are commanded to speak to ourselves in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord. In the Old Testament, the players and singers were part of the sanctified tribe of Levi. And the traditional function of ordaining these priests before God was to anoint them and consecrate them. In Exodus 28:41, Moses was told by God to “take Aaron, your brother, and his sons with him; and you shall anoint them and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.”
Author Lamar Boschman, in his book “The Rebirth of Music” describes the function of these Levites as follows:
“David appointed these priests to look after the service of song or song service. It must have been a very important part of the service in the house of the Lord, because these singers didn’t work at any other job. They were on full time staff to minister music in the house of the Lord. They were paid from the tithes of the people and given a place to stay on the church property.”
David established a school of sorts which trained singers and musicians for service in the house of the Lord. They totaled 288 in number, and were said to be all highly skilled in their training. Among them, David set up the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun under which they would learn to not only sing, but how to play and prophesy with lyres (stringed instruments that were strummed, not plucked), harps (multi-stringed instruments that were plucked) and cymbals, (percussive rhythm instruments meant to cadence a lyrical line or to produce a climax). Again, all these ministers of music were “under the direction of the King”, so were under God-ordained authority.
Among the many instruments listed in the Bible we find: Harps, Lyres, Tambourines, Cymbals, Flutes, Trumpets, Viols, Dulcimer, Bells, Organs and Pipes.
It is important to note that musicians were to be “consecrated”, “sanctified”. Many of the abuses cited by detractors of music in the Church are those of churches reaching out to the community by giving non-believers a place on worship teams, or allowing non-believers to contribute in some way to the functions of the church music ministry. It does appear that their concerns are valid, and we must agree that in the Bible God does not give a place of influence or functional public worship to anyone other than those “set apart” to operate in the official function of the church, including music. They must be “anointed” and devoted in service. We see that the oil used in the Old Testament is a type or symbol for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. So the logical end to this point is that when singers and musicians are called and anointed by God (in the Holy Spirit) and the presence of that Spirit is evident in them it comes forth in their use of their instruments. On the dedication day of Solomon’s Temple, the singers and musicians played and the glory of God filled the room like a cloud so much that the priests couldn’t stand.
It is interesting to note further that God dwells or is enthroned on the praises of His people:
“Yet, You are holy, O You who are enthroned on the praises of Your people.”
…IN PROPHETIC MINISTRY
Music is useful in not only instruction, but also in prophecy. There is an instance of King Jehoshaphat, King of Judah calling upon Elisha, the prophet of the Lord to prophesy over them and give them the word of the Lord before they went into battle. Elisha requested that they bring before him a minstrel (a player of a stringed instrument) to play before he would prophesy. It was then, when the musician played his instrument that the Bible says “the hand of the Lord came upon Him” and he delivered the Word of God to the people. Another frequent use of music in the Bible is in the form of laments. The book of Psalms is nearly two thirds composed of laments; not just praises to God, but crying out in the midst of trials. When we cry out in our struggles through music, the very expression of our emotions becomes a release of those emotions; there is a virtual healing that takes place in the process of crying out to God in our pain and distress, and the prophetic nature of singing taps our soul into the awareness of God’s presence and we are often changed by it. Many of the lamenting Psalms conclude with a visible, obvious change in the spirit and countenance of the Psalmist to that of worship and spiritual peace.
Music and poetry was used in prophetic ways throughout scripture, and was often employed in foretelling some of the most important prophecies in all Scripture. Most of them are from the book of Psalms; here are just a few examples:
“I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten You.’” – Psalm 2:7
Matthew 3:17 and Hebrews 5:5, where God declares Jesus as His Son.
“The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” – Psalm 110:4
Hebrews 5:5 where the same verse is quoted as having been fulfilled.
“You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives.” – Psalm 68:18
Ephesians 4:8 quotes the Psalm as having been fulfilled in Christ’s ascension.
“I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” – Psalm 22:17-18
Matt 27 and John 19 speak of the fulfillment of these prophecies during Jesus’ crucifixion and death.
…IN DRAMATIC ARTS
There is precedent for “acting out” certain stories in ancient Jewish times, including Ezekiel’s foretelling of the siege of Jerusalem. He even drew out the city skyline and used it as a backdrop.
It is important to note that aside from a few minor examples of drama being used physically or harnessed vocally for the purpose of conveying a story, a prophecy or a principle, dramatic arts were nearly non-existent in poorer cultures before the 15th and 16th centuries A.D.
However, the creative arts of visual imagery and sculpting were major elements in the building of the tabernacle. It is eye-opening when you study the building of this masterpiece to God and realize that the project involved every form of representational art known to man. There were metalworkers, gemstone cutters, wood carvers, decorative garments, and of course those that functioned within the tabernacle, the musicians and singers. And all of these utilizations of skillful art were detailed expressions meant to evoke passion, awe, reverence and other human emotions that simple words or plain construction could not.
…IN WARFARE AND PROTECTION
We find that music is often associated with war in the Bible, and as latter day Christians we are also at war with a spiritual world, and the pictures painted and prophecies given in the Old Testament still stand true for us today as we wait for Christ’s return. Let’s look at 2 Chronicles 20 and see how God ordained the use of worship in warfare. Earlier we observed the application to prophecy, now let us se what happened after the prophecy was given.
“Then in the midst of the assembly the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel [5th generation] of the sons of Asaph; and he said, “Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s… You need not fight in this battle; stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem ‘ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you… When he [the King] had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’…When they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against [the enemy].” – 2 Chronicles 20:14-22
When Jehoshaphat faced the Ammonites in battle, he called for God’s prophets to minister to him, that he might know the will of the Lord. Then in the encouragement of that Word from God, they worshipped. The next day, the King placed in the front of the army a band of singers and worshippers. The king was essentially making a statement: the praises of God, our true defender go before the might of men. It is He who will win this battle. It was in response to this act of faith that the Lord set up ambushes in the enemy’s camp before the battle even begun
In another instance we are well aware of, when Israel marched against the walls of Jericho, they were commanded to do so in a processional order, followed by the loud, victorious blast of trumpets. What a climax to be caught up in! The moment building and building, and then in one musical blast, you celebrate the victory of the Lord! Surely they must have been dancing too as the Lord showed his power on their behalf that day.
God delivered the enemy into the hands of Israel after they responded in praise and worship time and time again. In Psalms 149:6 it says “Let the high praise of God be in their mouth and a two-edged sword in their hand.” And I believe this is a call to the Church even today that when we go into battle we have the power of the Word (sword) in hand with the praises of God in our mouths; we shouldn’t have one without the other.
Paul says “for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds [like Jericho!].” – 2 Corinthians 10:4
Music in spiritual warfare is just as powerful today as it was in the physical warfare of Israel thousands of years ago. It is exciting to know that as we lift up the praise of God, enthrone the Almighty upon the praises of his people, and declare spiritual victory in the presence of the congregation
So we may conclude that the Old Testament is overflowing with commands and precedents in musical ministry which apply to the modern Church as well.
New Testament Precedent
We should consider that music in the New Testament Church was listed in three categories:
Psalms – Scripture set to music
Hymns – Harmonious anthems of corporate worship
Spiritual Songs – Songs received, sung and revealed by the Holy Spirit
(In the book of Revelation, another form of supernatural music is inferred in the original language; a new sound – that of moving winds or rushing waters.)
In view of these categories, we can all agree that singing is an acceptable form of worship in the Church, taking a strictly New Testament view alone, but what about instruments and other forms of expression? There is a noticeable absence of instruments in the early Church, at least in the scriptures, so it would be easy to conclude that the absence of it sanctions the prohibition of it in the Church. However, as one who accepts the entire body of scripture as equally valid in the plan of God for His Church, I must accept the notion that God intends his people to worship in song, dance, shouts, cymbals and all sorts of instruments, just as He did in the Old Testament tabernacle.
We must also consider the cultural context when we wrangle with why the New Testament does not mention certain activities. The Bible does not contain any references to youth groups, Sunday Schools, Bible Colleges, or Pastor’s conferences. However, while all these activities are extra-biblical, they are not necessarily “unbiblical”. Also, the New Testament church was under heavy persecution consistently until the time of Constantine in the 4th century A.D. Until this point, the Church had been scattered, mobile and in small groups simply because of the cultural environment. This would have possibly contributed a great deal to the absence of instrumentation and “music schools” among the Church. But today many brothers and sisters in the Church have taken what the New Testament authors don’t say and have filled in the blanks with absolute truth. Where my stance departs from those that do is that I am not declaring absolute truth where the Bible does not speak. The extent of what I can do is look at the facts of history, the Word of God and the revelation of the Holy Spirit to stake my belief. It is, after all ”faith”, right?
It is easy for the modern Christian to look upon the historical account of the New Testament church through the lens of our own cultural understanding. The result is confusion and mistaken conclusions. I want to embrace “Humble Orthodoxy”. I understand that I am a mere man, and my hope is to be firm in my faith while knowing my knowledge is limited to that which the Spirit reveals to me. Love for the Church is my underlying principle, not being right.
In America today, we live in a society full of music and artistic expression. As a result of our wealth and prosperity anyone may purchase an instrument that historically may have been prohibitively expensive. The Church of the New Testament tended to be mobile, cross-cultural and simple. The only reasonably affordable instrumentation of the time would have been flutes or small stringed instruments. Because of the small nature of these new local churches, it is possible to conclude that there simply were not enough trained musicians to play together in a fashion manageable in a small congregation worship setting. Singing without instrumentation was presumably easier, though again, we are not explicitly told by scripture that it was a cappella.
Music has been known by men who have long studied it in the modern age to have many other applications outside of the Church’s use, such as memory retention, stress treatment and neurological conditioning, even physical healing. These are all applications that indicate that something beyond the mere physical manifestation of music exists. And that its source and creator is not mere man, but a designer beyond the physical limitations of the world. Something metaphysical or spiritual is inherent in music. When we look at the world’s fallen artistic expression, do we not see an overwhelmingly obvious longing for God?
Post-Modernists will say that man means nothing; that we are simply an organization of molecules. But in the heart of artists, we know there is something else. Our minds cannot comprehend what our hearts inherently know, so we reach out through art to communicate. This often results in seemingly irrational expression, but I believe it is only because the heart is reaching beyond the limitations of the mind to something deeper. Those who don’t understand will say this is “relativism”, but artists know there is nothing relative about the statements they are making through their art. Even still, the Church has surrendered the realm of the fine arts to the world, and I believe it is because they are afraid of its scattered nature. This does not however negate its value and importance in the Church today. In fact, at the end of the Judgment, one of the punishments made against Babylon in the book of Revelation was that their lives would be void of the richness that artists bring to life. Being devoid of all art is a form of judgment; something with which the New Testament Church would not want to be associated.
I believe that music is inherently prophetic in the Church, and as such, its use in the Church can be very valid when used to edify, challenge or instruct the body of believers. To go even further, though we see that prophecy, while a tool of the New Testament Church, usually for the Church, it can also have an evangelistic effect. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 says:
“If an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’”
While I don’t believe that music was created by God with the distinct purpose of being used in evangelism, I believe its application is valid, because prophecy is used in such a way. Presenting ourselves as true believers connected directly with the supernatural heavenly realm can open the eyes of those who don’t believe. Therefore, acknowledging prophecy’s role in reaching the world for Christ, I must establish that music is a legitimate element of that ministry.
Very few things connect the soul to God quite the same as artistic expression, and the world is looking for something real. If worship is centered on Christ, our worship will naturally communicate the truth of Christ to unbelievers who hear it.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and trust in the Lord.” – Psalm 40:3
It is, in fact a command of God to sing of His many works before the entire world so that they will know what He has done, and know him.
“Make known among the nations what he has done and proclaim that His name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things; let this be known throughout the earth!” - Isaiah 12:4-5
Ultimately, attracting non-believers through our worship should not be our goal. However true, full-fledged worship of our creator naturally attracts people to those who are being real. Worshipping God in spirit and in truth is about as real as we can be, and the world will respond to that
Evangelism is a natural by-product of worship. True worship will result in the attraction of true conversions. Rather than asking, “How can we attract unbelievers to church?” we should start with the question, “How can we be real in everything we do?” Unbelievers aren’t stupid (neither are believers). They can tell the difference between orchestrated piety and the real thing.
I want to briefly state that it appears that while music cannot be unspiritual it can be amoral in nature. There is a difference. Music that has been written to a loved one (Song of Solomon) or to a group of people (Song of Moses) can have two very different applications that don’t necessarily infer a moral stance, but they certainly can and more often do; moreover songs embody a spiritual dynamic that effects the soul of those hearing it.
It is not my purpose in this paper, however to study the non-church related applications of music. I will adhere to interpreting its use within the Church. It is for this reason that music must be taken seriously and handled with great care when it comes to the Church’s use of it, especially in an age when it is so often abused.
The Question of the Five-Fold Ministry Model
Many have argued that it is clear in Ephesians 4:11 that the purpose of the Church is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry through five distinct categories of ministries:
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.”
It is easy to conclude by looking at this passage and the Church as a whole, that the functions of the Church have traditionally fallen quite squarely into these categories. And in terms regarding ordained, equipping offices of authority, I believe the Church does fit within this model. However, Paul did not write this letter to the Ephesian church to incite division, but rather to bring them together. It was apparent that some in the local Church were debating who was more important, Apostles, Prophets, Teachers? Who commanded respect and authority? Well, Paul said they all do, because they are of the same Lord. His aim was to unify them in their function, not to divide them in interpretation, as we in the 21st century Church have done. This verse has been used by some to limit the definition of a legitimate peripheral ministry in a New Testament church. Ministries and gifts outside these five do, in fact, exist and must together in unity.
Consider: how would music fit into any of these offices? Well, strictly speaking, it would not. But there are many ministries that God has ordained that find their place under the authority of these positions. Assuredly the arts would contain elements of teaching, instruction, the truth of the Gospel and even prophetic content, but it doesn’t appear to sit in any one of these categories. Those involved with worship and dramatic arts must be knowledgeable in the Word of God, but they don’t fulfill the role of a spiritual shepherd, as a Pastor or Apostle would.
But before we settle on these 5 offices as strict limits of all ministries, let us consider the full body of scripture and what it says about ministries in the Church. One such passage is found in 1 Corinthians 12:
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware… For there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of gifts, but the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Paul goes on to describe several other gifts that are not easily found in the traditional “five-fold ministry” model, but are truly legitimate places for God’s children in the Church. So to say that musicians and their music – and those called into such ministry – are not operating in God’s will for His church would be mistaken. We are called, and 1 Corinthians 12 says he does so “as He wills”, not as we interpret their importance. Even Paul said that while he wished that all men be as he was, he knew God called each man to his own gift, one different from another.
As stated earlier, it would be prudent to say that the five ministries found in Ephesians were those of authority; positions of moral and governing leadership over the Church. So while music is in fact just as important as any other ministry in the Church, scripture does not seem to afford it a specific authority over the entire congregation. Rather it is used in service to God and the people at the discretion of one of those appointed leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers). It does appear there is room for pastoral leadership within that subset, as we saw with Old Testament leaders like Heman, Asaph, Kenaniah, and others. Detractors to official Church music ministry cite many abuses as their reason for concern, but I implore them to cite scripture instead of men’s foolishness in judging one ministry from another.
The presence of so many ministries creates an incubator for a wide variety of opinions in our Church communities. It is common for the sinful nature in man to bring about accusations and division of opinion regarding others in the Church that we have failed to understand. Because we often cannot relate to someone who has a gift we do not, it becomes easy for men to make conclusions about their thoughts and intent or judgments about their hearts. This is not what God intends for His people. We are to be of one mind, one doctrine, and one mouth in glorifying God. We must not get so entangled in debating methods and habits, and focus on the purity and integrity of our hearts. We all fall short of God’s standard and will do so in our ministries as well. But it appears to me the Bible places the emphasis of damage control on UNITY, not on wrangling methods of cultural differences, and coming to one conclusion at the entire expense of another.
God’s will appears clearly in His Word to be a richness of ministries coming forth from the unity of the Church. Instead, we have an ironic clash of opinions that do nothing less than damage the cause of the Gospel as some seek to over-emphasize the gifts of artistry, and other seek to snuff out anything other than the vague precepts they have found in the New Testament Church.
It is a fact, that at the end of the Judgment, one of the punishments made against Babylon in the book of Revelation was that their lives would be void of the richness that artists bring to life. Being devoid of all art is a form of judgment; it is something with which the New Testament Church would not want to be associated. This artistry is certainly a legitimate form of ministry. However, this is not the first time a battle has been waged over the role of artistry in worship expression.
To complete our understanding of the role of music in the Church, we should study the historical timeline of its use in the Church since Jesus ascended, and shed some light on how and why certain traditions started or passed away.
Church Musical Heritage
PATRISTIC PERIOD (Post-Apostolic Witness)
- Ignatius (A.D. 30-107)
Wrote a hymn just before he was martyred
- Pliny (A.D. 79)
Investigated for the Roman Empire the customs, beliefs and methods of the Christians; concluded that “they have a custom of meeting before dawn on an appointed day, and singing by turn, hymns to Christ”
- Pharisees (A.D. 70)
Forbade all instrumental music except the shofar (ram’s horn); could have had an determining effect on why instrumentation was absent in the Messianic period of the Temple and the early Church
Early Jewish historian, accounts how often the Christians in the coliseum arena, as they waited for the coming of the lions to destroy them, would sing so loudly and triumphantly, that their singing would be heard above the roars of the lions and the shouting of the blood-thirsty spectators.
- Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-200)
Composed many hymns but condemned the use of instruments in public worship
- Tertullian (A.D. 150-225)
Reports that Christian worship was sometimes marked by spontaneous outburst of praise on the part of individual worshippers. (Apology 39) Also records that believers sang a song of praise from Scripture or one’s own composition.
- 3rd Century
Great controversy arose over the use of Psalms and humanly composed hymns. Contention over whether inspiration was of the Spirit or human nature.
- Basil the Great (A.D. 337-397)
Preferred use of the psaltery over all other instruments in accompanying singing with psalms
- Ambrose (A.D. 337-397)
Encouraged congregational participation and favored humanly composed hymns
- John Chrysostom (A.D. 340-420)
Taught there was no need of instruments, or trained voices; true song was of the heart.
- St. Jerome (A.D. 340-420)
Confirmed instrumental music was an air to worship by exhorting believers to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs from the heart; warned against turning the House of God into a theater.
- Synod of Laodicea (A.D. 343-420)
Passed regulation that “psalms composed by private men must not be used in the Church”
- St. Augustine (A.D. 350-430)
Mixed emotions about music, but seems in his writings to favor singing accompanied by instruments
- Pope Gregory (A.D. 540-604)
Rejected congregational singing, believed the laity should not participate. Singing was a clerical function alone – Gregorian Chants were developed during this time, and so were the first known uses of musical notation
- The Council of Braga (A.D. 563)
Forbade all singing except the Psalms of David
(A.D. 600-1517) “The Dark Ages”
- Bernard of Clairvaux (12th Century)
Encouraged Christian singing. Wrote many hymns (“Jesus Thou Joy of Loving Hearts”, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”, Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee”)
- St. Francis of Assisi (A.D. 1182-1225)
Emphasized the importance of Christian singing. Composed many joyful songs (“O, Creatures of our God and King”)
- Catholic Church frowned on the development of music during a large portion of this period, except in monastic communities where it continued to evolve quietly.
- Songs to the Virgin Mary dominated the 11th and 12th centuries
(A.D. 1517-Present) “The turning again of our captivity.”
- Martin Luther (A.D. 1483-1546)
Regarded music as a gift and grace of God, not an invention of man.
Encouraged congregational involvement and the use of the organ
Famous hymn writer – often used German folk tunes and popular melodies (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”)
- John Huss
Circulated first congregational song book in 1504
- John Calvin (A.D. 1509-1564)
Encouraged congregational singing
Compiled the “Genevan Psalter”
- Isaac Watts (A.D. 1707)
Father of hymnology. Published the first hymnal to much criticism
Believed in personal inspiration by the Spirit
Famous hymn writer – (“O, God our Help in Ages Past”)
- Moravian Revival (18th Century)
Disciples of Jen Huss, known as “United Brethren”
First Christians in America known to freely allow the use of musical instruments in their services
- John and Charles Wesley (A.D. 1737-1784)
Very prolific hymn writers – wrote over 6,000 hymns (“O, for a Thousand Tongues”, “And Can it Be”, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”)
Used original and popular melodies
- Negro Spirituals (19th Century)
Developed in American South during the early 18th century slave communities and throughout the civil-war era
Perhaps the greatest single contributor to Contemporary Christian Music
- Salvation Army (A.D. 1879)
William Booth, founder, instituted that band music became part of army worship
Use of brass instruments, percussion, hand claps, tambourines, shouts of praise were used for the first time in literally thousands of years
- 19th Century Revivalists
Emphasis on a type of Christian song that would restore the use of music for teaching and admonishing
Fanny Crosby – famous hymn writer (“To God Be the Glory”, “Praise Him”, “Blessed Assurance”)
B.D. Ackley – famous hymn writer (“He Lives”)
- The Pentecostals (A.D. 1900-1950)
Lively, spontaneous, whole-hearted singing
Use of hymns, gospel songs and choruses
Utilized musical instruments of all kinds
- Revival in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada (A.D. 1948)
Brought back the first “spiritual songs” and spontaneous praise into congregational use.
- Charismatic Renewal (A.D. 1950-1995)
Experiential worship utilizing popular musical styles
New levels of worship and praise
Proliferation of worship music as a medium
Spiritual songs proliferated
Singing of Scripture Choruses (not just Psalms)
“Singing in the Spirit” Prophecy through song
Ultimately, as we look forward to our blessed hope of a Christ returning, we anticipate being accepted into Heaven to dwell with God for eternity. When we study the scriptures to see how the end of time on earth and Heaven is described, you cannot help but notice the presence of music and singing to the accompaniment of instruments.
Other significant scriptural accounts of music or worship:
Matt 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52
1 Chronicles 9:33
1 Chronicles 6:31-32
Instruments listed in the Bible – Excerpted from “Rebirth of Music”, Lamar Boschman:
1 Corinthians 13:1
2 Samuel 6:5
1 Chronicles 15:28
2 Chronicles 15:14
2 Samuel 6:5
1 Chronicles 13:8
1 Chronicles 15:16,19,28
1 Chronicles 16:5,42
1 Chronicles 25:1,6
2 Chronicles 5:12-13
2 Chronicles 29:25
1 Corinthians 13:1
1 Samuel 10:5
1 Samuel 16:16,23
2 Samuel 6:5
1 Kings 10:12
1 Chronicles 13:8
1 Chronicles 15:16,21,28
1 Chronicles 16:5
1 Chronicles 25:1,3,6
2 Chronicles 5:12,15
2 Chronicles 9:11
2 Chronicles 20:28
2 Chronicles 29:25
1 Corinthians 14:7
Organ (also Pipe)
1 Samuel 10:5
1 Kings 1:40
1 Corinthians 14:7
1 Samuel 10:5
2 Samuel 6:5
1 Kings 10:12
1 Chronicles 13:8
1 Chronicles 15:16,20,28
1 Chronicles 16:5
1 Chronicles 26:1,6
2 Chronicles 5:12
2 Chronicles 9:11
2 Chronicles 20:28
2 Chronicles 29:25
Sheminith (a deep lyre likened to the bass)
1 Chronicles 15:21
Psalms 6 (sung upon)
Psalm 12 (sung upon)
1 Samuel 10:5
1 Samuel 18:6
2 Samuel 6:5
1 Chronicles 13:8
1 Samuel 13:3
2 Samuel 2:28
2 Samuel 6:15
2 Samuel 15:10
2 Samuel 18:16
2 Samuel 20:1,22
1 Kings 1:34,39,41
2 Kings 9:13
2 Kings 11:14
2 Kings 12:13
1 Chronicles 13:8
1 Chronicles 15:24,28
1 Chronicles 16:6,42
2 Chronicles 5:12-13
2 Chronicles 7:6
2 Chronicles 13:12,14
2 Chronicles 15:14
2 Chronicles 20:28
2 Chronicles 23:13
2 Chronicles 29:26-28
1 Corinthians 14:8
1 Corinthians 15:52
1 Thessalonians 4:16
Viols (Violin, Viola, other “6 string” or like instruments)
Other musical terms relevant to organized playing:
Alamoth (Soprano-like female voices)
1 Chronicles 15:20
Psalms 46 (Sung by)
Psalms 8 (sung in)
Psalms 81 (sung in)
Psalms 84 (sung in)
Leannoth (to sing loudly to gain attention)
Psalms 88 (sung in)
Jonathelem-Rech-okim (folk song, popular tune)
Psalms 58 (sung to)
 2 Tim 3:16-17  Rom 14:13  1 Tim 5:21; 2 Tim 2:14-19  Acts 20:28-30  Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15  Jhn 13:35  2 Cor 6:17; 1 Pet 2:9; John 15:18-19  Galatians 6:1  Col 3:5; 1 Cor 6:19  Ezekiel 14:3; John 4:9  Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Art is Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic”  2 Cor 10:5  Ezekiel 28:14  Ezekiel 28:13  Isaiah 14:12-13  1 Cor 4:4  Genesis 4:21  Matt 5:17  Luke 2:46; 6:6  Exodus 25, 27; Lev 1-6, 8-10, 16, 24; Deut 12  1 Samuel 13:14  1 Chronicles 15  1 Chronicles 15:39-42  1 Chronicles 15:4-6, 37-38  Psalm 40:6-8; Psalm 69:31; Psalm 107:21; Psalm 141:2; Prov 21:3; Isaiah 1:16-17;
Micah 6:4-6; Jer 7:1-26 1 Chronicles 25:1-7  1 Chron 6:31-32; 9:33  1 Kings 4:32  Exodus 35:30-33  1 Samuel 16:18  1 Chronicles 15:22  Psalm 24:1  Eph 5:18-19  “The Rebirth of Music” pg. 27– Lamar Boschman  1 Chronicles 25:1-7  1 Chronicles 25:6  See the bibliography for additional references to instruments  1 Chron 15:14-22  2 Chron 5:12-14  Psalm 22:3  2 Kings 3:15  Ezekiel 4  “Art and the Bible”, Francis Schaeffer, pg. 12.  Psalm 22:3  Revelation 1:15  Revelation 18:22 Sally Morgenthaler, “Worship Evangelism”  Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16  1 Corinthians 7:7; 7:17; 1 Peter 4:10  Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:27  Revelation 18:22  Psalm 137:1-4