A subscriber from the Churches of Christ writes: “I have been hearing much lately in tapes and lectureships about our ‘tradition’ of acappella music. Do you see singing without accompaniment as a tradition, or as a biblical principle for public worship assemblies?”
* * *
In the Southern United States, the Churches of Christ historically sing without instrumental accompaniment in public worship. (Outside the South, “Churches of Christ” is sometimes synonymous with “Independent Christian Churches” who do use instruments.) Other believers have also sung acappella through the years — including early catholics, early protestants, and certain Presbyterians, Mennonites, Brethren and Eastern Orthodox today. Christians who think that instrumental music displeases God ought not to use it, for they cannot do so in good faith. It would be sinful for them to violate their own consciences (Rom. 14:23).
For many of us, however, unaccompanied singing is a tradition, not a matter of scriptural requirement. The earliest Jewish believers in Jesus continued to worship in the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1), where instruments were used. The New Testament endorses the singing of Psalms (Eph. 5:19), which call for instruments of all sorts and kinds (Psalm 92:1-4; 150:3-5). The very word translated “Psalm” originally meant a song sung with a stringed instrument. It later included an unaccompanied song, but it kept its original meaning as well. Revelation, though symbolic, pictures harps in heavenly worship (Rev. 14:2-3).
Through the centuries, those opposing instrumental music have argued that it is not “spiritual,” or have rejected instruments because someone else used them — whether the pagans or Jews, or Roman Catholics or “the denominations.” Some early church Fathers also rejected singing in harmony. Many early protestants sang in harmony but rejected “uninspired hymns” — singing only biblical Psalms.
The New Testament neither requires instrumental music in worship nor forbids it. What one makes of that silence has nothing to do with respect for biblical authority. It has everything to do with the human assumptions which one brings to the interpretation of Scripture.