Singing in Worship – Jess Whitlock

Jess Whitlock

Singing is authorized as an act of worship to God. “When they had sung a hymn, they went out unto the mount of Olives” (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26). “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God…” (Acts 16:25). “…I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” (1 Cor. 14:15). “Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:19). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.” (Col. 3:16). “In the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise” (Heb. 2:12b). “Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (Jam. 5:13). In light of the Scripture how can anyone doubt that it is right to sing songs of praise to God? The teaching is always and only to sing!

We cannot find a command, example, necessary inference or precept in the New Testament to bring in any kind of mechanical instruments of music in worship to God the Father. No man living can find where the Gospel of Christ authorizes the addition to worship in song, the organ, piano, guitar, et al. When man adds to the singing, mechanical instruments of music, we are going beyond what God has authorized. “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God; he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). When we add instrumental music to our worship, we transgress the Word of God. We have added that which God has never authorized. We no longer abide in the doctrine of Christ.

What About the Greek Word Psallo?

The words “making melody” in Ephesians 5:19 are from the Greek word psallo. This one Greek word has been in the forefront of all discussions about the addition of mechanical instruments of music into the worship of God in song. The overwhelming majority of the denominational world is in favor of adding the mechanical instruments of music to the worship to God in song. The word psallo does mean to “pluck, to twitch, to pull the strings”: but in every instance where the word psallo is found, look at the scholarship:

to twitch; to touch, strike the strings of chords of an instrument…to play on a stringed instrument; to sing to music; in the New Testament to sing praises, Rom. 15:9; 1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Jam. 5:13 (Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 441).

to pluck off, pull out…the hair, to cause to vibrate by touching, to touch or strike the cord, to twang the strings of a musical instrument so that they gently vibrate…to play on a stringed instrument, to play the harp; in the New Testament to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song (Thayer’s Lexicon, p. 675).

to play on a harp, but in the New Testament, as in James 5:13, to sing a hymn” (Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, Moulton & Milligan, p. 697).

It is noteworthy that in defense of instrumental music in worship, these scholars are quoted in the first part of these definitions, until the scholars mention “in the New Testament.” Then, out come the spiritual blinders! None are so blind, as those who will not see!

Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic theologian wrote: “Our church does not use musical instruments as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.” (Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 2, p. 483).

Brother M.C. Kurfees stated:

by actual count, 146 secular and 77 ecclesiastical authors…a grand total of 594 authors covering a period of 1,200 years…not a single example of psallo…implying the use of an instrument, but it always and everywhere meant “to chant, sing religious hymns (Instrumental Music in the Worship, p. 47).

Conybeare & Howson wrote:

Make melody with the music of your hearts to the Lord…let your songs be, not the drinking of heathen feasts, but psalms and hymns; and their accompaniment, not the music of the lyre, but the melody of the heart (Life & Epistles of Saint Paul, pp. 714-715).

There is an instrument actually mentioned in Ephesians 5:19. “…singing and making melody in your hearts to God.” The specified instrument is the heart of man! We are not under the authority of the Old Testament, but consider this: “Sing praises unto Jehovah with the harp; with the harp and the voice of melody.” (Psa. 98:5). The Septuagint translation from the Hebrew into the Greek uses the word psallo. If the instrument of music is inherent in the word psallo, then why does the Psalmist mention the harp twice in that verse?

In the Greek church the organ never came into use. But after the 8th century, it became more and more common in the Latin church; not, however, without opposition from the side of the monks.” (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 1,702).

Alexander Campbell observed: “I presume to all spiritually-minded Christians, such aid (mechanical instruments of music—JLW) would be as a cowbell in a concert.”

J.W. McGarvey commented: “We cannot adopt the practice (instruments of music—JLW) without abandoning the only ground upon which a restoration of New Testament Christianity can be accomplished.”

The 47 scholars that translated the KJV; the 101 scholars that translated the ASV (1901); and the 130 scholars that translated the NKJV; were all in full agreement that the Greek word adontes is best rendered into English, by the word sing. If, as some claim, the mechanical instrument is inherent in the Greek word psallo, then the instrument of Ephesians 5:19 is a command to each member. In order to be consistent, if someone says that instrument is a piano, then in a church with 100 members, you must have 100 pianos! I strongly suspect they will not be consistent! The apostle Paul in poignant style announces that we are to sing unto the Lord and to psallo with the heart. The simplicity is seen in that the heart of man is the instrument.

Religious Notables Have Said About Mechanical Instruments in Worship:

John Calvin, the founder of the Presbyterian Church: “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the Law.” (Calvin’s Commentary, 33rd Psalm).

Adam Clarke, was a Methodist theologian and scholar: “Music as a science I esteem and admire, but instrumental music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity.” (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 684).

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church: “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither seen nor heard.” (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 684).

Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran Church: “The organ in the worship is the ensign of Baal.” (McClintock & Strong Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, p. 762).

Charles Spurgeon, was the greatest of Baptist preachers:

I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery…one can make melody without strings and pipes…we do not need them. Sing unto Him…this is the sweetest and best music (Instrumental Music in the Worship, M.C. Kurfees, p. 196).

Spurgeon preached to 10,000 every Sunday in London for over 20 years. He never allowed instrumental music with the singing, whenever he did the preaching during the worship hour.

On a personal note, I had the privilege of hearing the late brother Guy N. Woods in several Gospel meetings, which included his “Question and Answer” session to Bible questions. In Oklahoma he received this question: “Brother Woods, what is the difference between the piano and a song leader who uses a pitch pipe?” Brother Woods quoted a few Scriptures and then said: “The difference between the piano and the pitch pipe is that the pitch pipe has enough common sense to know when to shut up!”

Singing, Humming, and “Ahh-ing”?

I spent many hours with the late brother J.T. Marlin, my friend, mentor, and brother in the Lord. He once received a phone call from a sister who had visited a congregation on vacation. She explained to J.T. that when the Lord’s Supper was being observed, the song leader had the congregation to hum the tune to the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” She asked J.T. if he thought that was acceptable. J.T. replied: “Why of course it is…” and quoted Ephesians 5:19, but after the word “songs” and before “and making melody,” J.T. purposefully added the word “humming.” The sister responded that Ephesians 5:19 did not have the word “humming.” J.T. said, “Sister, I knew that you knew Paul did not say that! So then, why are you calling me?”

Once a brother in Christ called me after he had visited another congregation. He told me they sang a few songs where the brethren were instructed to “ooh” and “ahh” during certain songs (it was printed that way in the songbook). I took a lesson from J.T. and had him look at the Scripture. “Teaching and admonishing one another…” (Col. 3:16). “Speaking to yourselves…” (Eph. 5:19). Humming does not and cannot teach nor admonish. Ooh-ing and Ahh-ing does not and cannot speak. Speaking involves the use of words.

The Bible is plain that we are to teach and admonish one another in song. Paul wrote: “…I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” (1 Cor. 14:15b). Intelligible words make it possible for men to sing with understanding. Humming does not and cannot do so! Oohing and Ahhing does not get the job done either.

Sing, Sang, Sung and Prayer?

The late brother J.T. Marlin once said to me. “Any doctrine that is not as old as the pages of the New Testament, is by comparison, a new doctrine.” (The Gospel Journal, ed. Dub McClish, Nov. 2004, p. 16). A preacher stated: “We have no authority to sing to Jesus.” An elder said to me: “If you sing to Jesus in first person, you are praying to Jesus.” A wise and respected Gospel preacher told me that he ran into this new doctrine as early as 1989. My first encounter with this “new teaching” and “new thing” (Acts 17:19, 21), was in south Texas. Dozens of congregations have experienced sharp contention and even division over whether or not we can sing a song of praise to Jesus.

We have no Scriptural right to pray to Jesus, only To God our heavenly Father. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are parallel passages. The contexts include prayer. “Giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” (Eph. 5:20). “whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col. 3:17). We sing to “one another” (Col. 3:16), but we “give thanks…to God even the Father” (Eph. 5:20). “And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13)

That means that singing and prayer are not the same act of worship, but two separate acts of worship. We can sing error as well as teach error. I admit that we have songs in our hymnals that directly say they are a prayer to Jesus, obviously such songs should not be sung (i.e., Tell it To Jesus Alone, Just a Little Talk with Jesus; etc.). Prayer is to specifically directed to the Father (Matt. 6:9). We are prohibited from taking our petitions to Jesus Christ (John 16:23). I am unable to find a single reference in the New Testament that states our singing songs of praise has been limited to the Father, or that we cannot sing a song of praise to Jesus.

Is it Acceptable to Praise Jesus?

…to the end that we should be unto the praise of His glory, we who had before hoped in Christ…unto the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:12, 14c).

In the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise (Heb. 2:12).

…that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9, KJV).

Is it Acceptable to Worship Jesus?

When Christ walked upon this earth, He received worship on numerous occasions (Matt. 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17; Mark 5:6, 22; Luke 24:52; John 5: 23; 9:38). Not one time did Christ refuse such worship.

And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe and tongue…Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing…and the elders fell down and worshipped (Rev. 5:9, 12, 14b).

Is it Acceptable to Glorify Jesus?

And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all (Luke 4:15).

…but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things unto Him…the hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified (John 12:16, 23).

Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him (John 13:31).

That the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:12).

We have just learned that it is acceptable and Scriptural to praise Jesus, to worship Jesus, and to glorify Jesus. Yet, some still contend that we cannot sing a song that offers praise to Jesus. What am I missing here? In my possession I have three lists of songs, on what I call Hit Lists. The lists are composed by elders, or preachers, or song leaders; sometimes a combination of these brethren. The song, “Amazing Grace” is found on one list, but not the other two. Sometimes a particular song is found on two of the lists. This reminds me of the creeds, manuals, dogmas of men in the denominational world. There is no consistent agreement. If a song is truly unscriptural to be sung, then why is it not found on all three Hit Lists? Could it be because of personal opinions held by one brother, but not another? Perhaps a refresher course in Romans chapter 11 is in order to help remedy this sad situation.

In southern Texas an elder of the church was asked about why a particular song had been marked in their songbook on the basis that it was not Scriptural. A fine Christian couple confronted him after services. They showed him that the song was a portion of the Scripture that had been set to music (many such songs are found in our songbooks). He looked at the passage and looked at the songbook. In a little while he slammed the Bible down, and angrily exclaimed, “We are not here to study the Bible, we are here to study the songbook!” Was this elder (?) saying that our hymnals are of more authority than the Bible?

Brother Tillit S. Teddlie was a fine Gospel preacher, taught many singing workshops, published 14 church hymnals, and wrote at least 130 hymns. Some have put his song: “Worthy Art Thou” on a Hit List! I find that to be incredulous! The song is rooted in the words of Revelation 5:12. It states that the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is worthy “to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” It is the singing of a “new song” (Rev. 5:9). Are we ready to say that Revelation 5:9-ff. should be omitted from the Bible on the basis of being unscriptural? The Hit Lists that eliminate the song: “Worthy Art Thou” in order to be consistent, need to take the proverbial penknife and eliminate Revelation 5:9-12, along with hundreds of other Scriptures from the Bible!

It is hard to realize that congregations are still dividing and disrupting the local church over this song business. Many seem to have confused songs of praise to Jesus Christ with a prayer to Jesus Christ. The two are not second cousins! As we have noted singing is one act of worship, and prayer is another act of worship. But they are not the same act of worship. How long must the brotherhood be divided over things that are “not” matters of faith, but matters of opinion or personal preference? Brethren, let us think on these things.

May we always seek to “sing with the spirit … and with the understanding also” (1 Cor. 14:15b). The Thessalonians were commended for “…examining the scriptures daily…” (Acts 17:11). Perhaps it is past time that we expend some effort examining the hymnals in our pew backs!

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Author: Editor

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