A Church That Doesn't Use Music

When someone finds out I preach for a church of Christ, invariably the response is, “Oh, yeah. That’s the church that doesn’t have music.” That response used to puzzle me, because we do in fact have music. Some of my friends don’t know this, but I actually went to college for five years as a music major. Music is and always has been a major part of my religion.

But I now understand what “doesn’t have music” means. It means we have no piano, guitar or other such instruments. And that is true, at least at our church gatherings in Springville. Still, to say that we have “no music” because we sing a cappella bothers me. In college my instrument was the voice. And personally, I don’t think there is a more beautiful instrument than the voice. Also, you might be interested to know that “a cappella” is Latin for “In the manner of the church,” and that, historically, church music was predominantly “a cappella.”

But we don’t sing a cappella because it was historically done this way or because we believe it’s the most beautiful way (and since most of us are not trained musicians, it doesn’t always sound beautiful). We do it because we believe God wants us to do it this way. Let me show you our perspective.

The very first churches in the Bible were founded on a pattern, which the apostles taught to each of them. We know this because the apostle Paul says over and over again that he teaches the same thing in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17, 7:17, 11:1-2, 11:16, 14:33-34, 16:1). All of the churches had to follow the same rules about when to worship (Sundays), how to take the Lord’s supper, how to live a moral life, how to worship God musically, etc.

We look through the scriptures and try to see what the pattern was for music. Over time, God provided revelations about how He wanted it done, beginning way back in the Old Testament.

At first, God required Moses to have just two trumpets played in the worship. They had to be a very specific kind of trumpet, played by certain people at a certain time. Read Numbers 10:1-8 and see God's rules.

Later, God added to their music worship. Now if Israel had made changes before this addition and without God’s instruction, there would have been serious consequences, as seen in the punishment against Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2).

Under the new music rules, God commanded King David to build some new instruments (see 2 Chronicles 29:25-27). Once again only certain people (the Levites) were to play those instruments at certain times. It didn’t matter who was most talented. If you were not a Levite, you could not play.

Over the years, God’s people would drift away from Him and from His commandments. When this happened, great leaders would rise up and lead spiritual reforms in Israel. Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29), Jehoidah (2 Chronicles 23), Josiah (2 Chronicles 35), Ezra (Ezra 3) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 12) all rose up to lead the people back to God. But notice that, as part of their return to God, they would fix the music worship to make it comply with God’s original commands. It didn’t matter how outdated the music had become. You would think that after 500 years the music system would need to be updated. God didn’t think so. These reformers didn’t think so. They believed in returning to the pattern of worship originally installed by God.

Now we fast-forward to the days of Jesus and the churches. How did they perform the music worship? They didn’t do it like in the Old Testament days. They couldn’t. They didn’t have the specific instruments that God required to use. They didn’t all have Levites to play them.

To figure out the pattern of music worship taught by the apostles to all the churches, we look for passages in the Bible that talk about their music. That leads us to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, both instructions for them to sing. It also leads us to discover that God never gave regulations for instruments - no harps, trumpets, lyres or anything else. Just singing.

Therefore we conclude that God wants us to sing. And since He didn’t ask for instruments, we conclude that He doesn’t want them. Finally, since we know that the apostles taught a pattern of worship to the first churches, we conclude that a capella singing was part of that pattern. I hope I explained that well enough so that you can understand why we do it that way. And if I have misunderstood God’s will, I hope you will talk to me. At the very least I hope you will be able to see it from our perspective.

And please consider one more interesting fact. Research the beliefs of the early church fathers and the great reformation leaders of the 16th century. Notice that almost all of them believed that God wants to be worshiped with a capella music. Justin Martyr; Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius. John Wycliffe, John Hus, Huldriech Zwingly, John Calvin, John Knox, Matthew Henry, the Puritans and the Baptists all opposed instruments back then.

If you’re looking for the church that doesn’t have music, you’d better look elsewhere.