Walking into the auditorium you notice the lack of a real stage and see no elaborate lighting rig or sound system. Perhaps you look around for a piano or organ wall, suspecting the congregation to be more traditional, but find none. You take a seat as the man stands up to extend the welcome and make some announcements. The greeter concludes his introduction and leads the congregation in prayer. Afterward, a man walks up front and center with a book and invites the assembly to sing together in a given song.
A visitor burdened with expectations created through prior experiences, television, movies, or other ways may feel that the music service felt flat, thin, empty compared to what they imagined it ought. Is there a reason for this for purposeful simplicity? The answer to that question is “yes.”
The distinct lack of a band to accompany the singing characterizes an attitude toward worshipping God. Jesus spoke about worship saying, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Worshipping in spirit means worshipping God with the correct attitude in contrast to simply going through the motions, but worshipping in truth means worshipping God correctly as directed by truth. Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (17:17).
God created human beings with a tremendous capacity for imagination and creativity, but when they come together to worship it is not the time for that kind of demonstration. Worship is first and foremost about God and not men. God expressly communicated His desires for worship. Particularly in the offering of music in worship God has plainly asked for singing; nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.
Twice in the New Testament the church is instructed to sing. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus saying, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). In a similar passage, Paul wrote to the church in Colossae saying:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him (Col. 3:16-17).
In both passages the instruction is to sing. While in Ephesians there is an instrument to be played, that instrument is the heart which nicely corresponds to Jesus’ instruction to worship in “spirit.” It is easy to imagine that God would be pleased with something you imagine and say you are doing it for Him and thus in His name but doing something without His authority is contrary to His name. Consider the case of Nadab and Abihu in the Old Testament. These men were the sons of the High Priest Aaron. God gave explicit instructions on how to conduct the worship and, in particular, the fire in the altar of incense. Nadab and Abihu chose not to follow the instructions given. God had not itemized every other source of fire and said, “Thou Shall Not”; He simply specified what He wanted. When Nadab and Abihu committed their sin, the Lord destroyed them with fire and they died. While this seems rash and tragic, their efforts are a memorial to all future generations on how God feels on similar transgressions. What was their sin? The Bible says, “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not” (Lev. 10:1). God considers offering something other than what He requests a corruption of worship.
When worship comes from the heart, singing is an expression of inner joy and the heart is the only instrument necessary for meaningful worship (Jas. 5:13). A worship assembly whose music is built around sensuality easily hides a lack of real spirituality from the worshipper. It is easy to mistake the emotional response to highly skilled and talented musicians for your own personal spirituality, but simply following God’s Word is the remedy.
For further study please consider Hebrews 7:14.