In a former article about worship entitled “Someday I’ll Be Sunday Morning,” a reference to an old song that spoke of Saturday night as the pinnacle of a person’s week. The point was that, for a Christian, why wouldn’t Sunday morning be our high point?
The article addressed the appropriate actions and attitudes in worship, identifying the Scripture as our authority for such matters. In this follow-up article we will look at some typical reactions and disagreements to the biblical assertions made.
One statement made in the first article regarding worship was “every man-made invention is either explicitly forbidden, implicitly forbidden, or missing entirely from the Word (i.e., God is silent on it).” There are a few responses people will give that demonstrate a misunderstanding of the very nature of worship.
For example, some will reference Romans 12:1 with a questionable translation of the last word: “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This verse has often been improperly used to teach the false idea that all of life is worship. Those who hold to this belief don’t mean it figuratively; they mean that every single moment of your life is worship, no exceptions. Common sense teaches us the absurdity of this view. Just think about the mundane, menial actions and routines of life and ask yourself if God is worshipped by these things! Most logically thinking people can recognize a clear difference between singing songs of praise to God in a worship assembly and doing laundry or brushing one’s teeth.
It is very clear throughout Scripture that worship had a beginning and an ending. For example, in Gen. 22:5 Abraham said he and Isaac “will go yonder and worship, and come again to you…” After the death of his son in 2 Sam. 12:20, David “arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house…” (see also Acts 8:27; 24:11). In these examples the men were not first worshipping, then went to worship, then stopped worshipping. Not all of life is worship.
So, let’s look at the Greek word latreia translated “worship” in Romans 12:1 by some versions. Strong’s defines this as “ministration of God, that is, worship: (divine) service”; Thayer: “any service or ministration: the service of God.” Also, if we look at the verb form of this word, latreuō, the definition is “to minister (to God), that is, render religious homage: -serve, do the service, worship (-per).”
Notice the distinction between service and worship. There is a difference. In Genesis 22, Abraham said he and Isaac were about to worship, meaning they were not worshipping at that moment. But leading up to that moment, when Abraham was in the process of obediently taking Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice, this could certainly have been considered service to God, since God commanded it. It was service, but not worship. Jesus even expressed this distinction to Satan in Matt. 4:10 when He said, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” He used latreuō for “serve”, and for worship He used proskuneo.
The Greek word proskuneo is used more often (approximately 60 times, compared to 26 uses of latreia and latreuō). According to Strong’s and Thayer’s, proskuneo means “kissing the hand toward, in token of reverence; kneeling, prostrating oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): – worship.” Proskuneo is the word that’s used in reference to Christian worship in 1 Cor. 14:25, while latreia or latreuō usually refer to the priestly service done under the Mosaic system or other old covenant references (e.g., Luke 2:37; Acts 26:7; Rom. 9:4; Heb. 8:5; 9:9; 13:10), or general references to serving God (cf. Acts 27:23; Rom. 1:9). It is never used in reference to a Christian worship assembly. Proskuneo is the word Jesus used in John 4:20-24 when He taught “they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” This is probably the reason the KJV, ASV, and NKJV chose to properly translate latreia as “service” in Romans 12:1 instead of “worship.” So, once again, we see that the claim “all of life is worship” is false (and ludicrous).
The next issue that needs to be addressed is implication. Implication in Scripture exists when an explicit Bible statement guarantees the truth of a non-explicit Bible statement. For example, “God loves John Smith”—a true statement—is found nowhere in Scripture. So, how do we know that it’s true? The explicit statement in John 3:16 (“God so loved the world”) implies the truth that “God loves John Smith” because it is impossible for it to be false while John 3:16 is true. This is so because of the logical connection between “John Smith” and “the world” (i.e., John Smith is part of the world).
This truth may seem pretty obvious, but logic always seems to be discarded when it comes to religion. There are always going to be those who are unaware of (or simply ignore) the Bible’s use of implication. They’ll claim that the Bible is silent on church buildings, artificial lights, song books, microphones, using an airplane to do evangelism, etc., and yet we use these things, clearly showing that we believe, at least by our practice, that these things are authorized (i.e., that silence is not prohibitive).
These folks do not understand (or acknowledge) the Bible’s implication. For example, when one is commanded to go into all the world (Mark 16:15), this implies a means by which to get there. Therefore, taking an airplane, car, boat, etc. are all implicitly authorized in this command (i.e., the Bible is not silent on these modes of transportation). When we are commanded to assemble for worship, this implies a location. Any location not explicitly or implicitly forbidden by Scripture would be implicitly authorized by the command to assemble for worship, based on the logical requirement of a location at which to assemble (i.e., the Bible is not silent on church buildings). Additionally, sometimes assemblies happen during later hours when there is no sunlight. Implication then shows we have authority for lighting, whether candles or light bulbs (cf. Acts 20:8). And, microphones simply allow a larger audience in a larger building to hear the speaker, something that is clearly a necessity in order to fulfill our duties in worship (i.e., the Bible is not silent on microphones).
Things like microphones, song books, and pitch pipes are merely expedients to help accomplish the command to sing. Unlike mechanical instruments of music, they are not the music being offered to God.
Consider my statement regarding 2 Tim. 3:16-17.
2 Tim. 3:16-17 makes it abundantly clear that the Bible’s silence on an action forbids that action: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” The Bible will thoroughly equip the Christian on how to worship. So, if there is an action we can perform in worship on which the Bible is silent, that action is, by definition, unauthorized; the Scripture doesn’t “furnish us unto it” and it cannot be considered a good work.
Some might claim that, if this is true, it would make life impossible to live. But again, this is only true if one ignores the Bible’s implication (as discussed above) or if one assumes that the truth of 2 Tim. 3:16-17 means that authority is needed for basic actions that are required in order to live. For example, Jesus ate a meal that was prepared for Him. Where was the authority for the cook to make the meal and for Jesus to eat it? (Yes, I’ve heard such responses!) Certainly we should recognize that Divine authority is given to humans to eat and drink as part of life, otherwise we would die. God doesn’t need to command us to do things that are required in order to live life!
2 Tim. 3:16-17 clearly states that the Bible will thoroughly furnish us “unto all good works.” Why do those who disagree with this never correct our misunderstanding of this obvious statement? If it doesn’t mean what it says, then what does it mean? Friends, I have studied this passage with hundreds of people over the years because of the foundational truth it presents. Most have understood and accepted it; many haven’t. Those who reject it usually do so because of its inherent restrictions and their desire to do their own will more than God’s. But none have ever been able to answer the above question about it. If it does not mean that God’s word will thoroughly furnish/equip us for every good work, what does it mean?
Of all the good works God requires of His people, how many does Scripture address? “All good works!” That’s 100 percent. Is there an action God requires of us on which He was silent? And if so, how would one go about proving this? And if so, how could we perform that action? If an action is to be considered a “good work”, it will be addressed for us in Scripture; we will be “thoroughly furnished” for it. On the topic of the Lord’s church using mechanical instruments of music in worship, which verse thoroughly furnishes us unto it? Which verse speaks of any congregation ever using them? Where are they ever even mentioned? Nowhere.
The Instrument to be Played in Worship
Some will disagree with this, using the old argument from the word psalmos (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). They reference definitions from Strong’s, Vine’s, or Thayer’s, such as “a sacred song, sung to musical accompaniment; a sacred ode accompanied with the voice, harp, or other instrument.” They then conclude that mechanical instruments of music are actually authorized in worship (they’ll also accuse members of the Lord’s church of hating such instruments). This is a false and very surface-level conclusion.
First of all, I know of nobody in the churches of Christ who hates instruments of music. We don’t hate pizza and Coke either, but this doesn’t mean we’re going to go against God’s word and use them in the Lord’s Supper! This is just a childish and unchristian attack. Folks that come to these conclusions always miss the fact that worship isn’t about what we want, it’s about what God wants and what He has commanded.
Second, these definitions do not say that a psalmos definitely includes mechanical instruments of music. It’s a song “sung to musical accompaniment.” So, what type of musical accompaniment? This may come as a shock to some folks, but “music” includes singing—i.e., “musical accompaniment” isn’t limited to mechanical instruments. Another definition was more specific: “voice, harp, or other instrument.” Note the “other instrument” because momentarily we’ll let the apostle Paul identify what this other instrument is. Thayer’s says: “a striking, twanging: 1a) of…a musical instrument, 1b) of a pious song, a psalm.” So, these definitions do indeed leave this word open to being a song sung with the accompaniment of a mechanical instrument of music. But we note that they also identify it as a song sung without a mechanical instrument. In other words, it could be sung with the accompaniment of voice (i.e., multiple voices) or “other instruments”.
The verb form of psalmos (psallo) is also in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16: “singing and making melody in your heart….” “Making melody,” which is translated from psallo, means “to pluck” and can be used of plucking the strings of an instrument, plucking the hairs of one’s beard, plucking a plumb line, etc. The question that should be asked is, what is to be plucked?
Paul answers this in the next three words. He said “speaking to yourselves in psalms…singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (also in Col. 3:16). In other words, Paul said to sing psalms (instrument-songs) by 1) singing (with the voice) and 2) plucking/twanging the heart! The voice is the literal instrument with which to sing; the heart is the figurative instrument to be plucked (i.e., we must pay attention to the words we sing; they should be biblically accurate and we should mean what we sing). Not in these or any other New Testament passages is another instrument ever identified. This is strange considering that 2 Tim. 3:16-17 says that the Scripture will thoroughly furnish us unto all good works, one of which is music in worship. Yet it leaves us high and dry on this topic of mechanical instruments. If we incorrectly assume that they are included in psalmos and psallo, then why is there no passage referencing any church ever using them? No passage tells us what instruments to play, how many instruments are to be played, or how many members are to play?
Also, are we all to play, or only some of us? Consider that these passages (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) teach that all members are to sing, “one to another” (reciprocal action), teaching and admonishing one another (something done by the words of a song, not in any way accomplished by a mechanical instrument). If this command includes mechanical instruments of music (as is claimed), and if it includes all members (as it does), then it would logically mean that all members should play a mechanical instrument as well. This is the logical conclusion of this false understanding of the words psalmos and psallo; yet we know of no religious group that practices this.
In the Old Testament God never initially commanded mechanical musical instruments to be used; David would introduce them later. God then authorized these to be used in worship. Christ nailed this old covenant (“handwriting of ordinances”) to His cross (Col. 2:14). Now we worship God according to New Testament instructions. We must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), meaning according to His Word (John 17:17). God used language in the Old Testament to command the use of mechanical instruments in worship, language that is undeniably clear (Psa. 33:2). No such language exists in the New Testament for Christian worship. No command, no example. If God had desired Christians to worship him in such a way, He could have and would have made this known to us. It is therefore abundantly clear that He did not desire these instruments. Why offer Him what He did not ask for? Why add to His word, something He clearly does not like (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Gal. 1:8; Rev. 22:18)? He does desire to hear His children sing with their voices and their hearts. And this is what we do.