Q&A: Comfort with Tradition?

Comfort with Tradition?


It is true that instruments are not totally abhorrent to God since he did command the use of them in the Old Testament economy. Sometimes they were used for pleasure and celebration. The question for us today is "Are they to be continued in worship?" I would like to challenge you to show me that the musical instruments "were not part of the Law." It appears that every instance where musical instruments were used in Old Testament worship, they had a precise prescription by God for their function (Law). In fact, only the Levites were to use the instruments in the Temple. They were not a "circumstance" of worship to aid in singing. Nor did men introduce the instruments they chose. God only commanded certain instruments to be used by certain people in the worship service. To say that musical instruments are "permitted" today in the new covenant because they were "commanded" in the old covenant does not follow. To use them today, the same command that existed in the old covenant needs to carry over into the new covenant. With your assumptions, I wonder if you are in favor of incense being used in the worship service. I see no place in the New Testament where it was forbidden. However, it was part of prescribed Levitical temple worship. Even the book of Revelation mentions incense. Isn't that enough biblical warrant to use incense in the worship of God today?

If you have never heard a sound argument against musical instruments in worship, here are a few to read at your leisure: Musical Instruments in Worship and Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God.

If you say, "As far as I know, no redemptive-historical change has taken place which would cause God to perceive music any differently today," then the church should be using the exact instruments in the exact way God prescribed. God does not like when we add or take away from his exact specifications. God did not simply "allow" musical instruments into his worship as a general principal. He commanded their use in a specific way. We are still required to worship God only by the way that he has prescribed, not merely from the good intentions of our hearts. However, this is impossible now as the book of Hebrews shows us.

I find the argument in favor of musical instruments that is based on their being a "circumstance" of worship to aid in our singing the only argument that can hold water. I just hope that our fondness for musical instruments is not simply a result of our comfort with our tradition.


I have read Brian Schwertley's article (unsound and unpersuasive, in my opinion, though I believe it is a fairly good presentation of the case), but not the others you linked. I will read them as soon as time allows.

As far as the challenge that I prove musical instruments were not part of the Law, I am afraid that is an impossible challenge. One cannot "prove" a universal negative. I cannot prove that the Law does not speak to the issue except by quoting the Law in full and pointing out the absence of stipulations relating to the matter. The opposite case, however, should be easy to prove: If the Law does include stipulations regarding musical instruments, please point them out to me. I have never found them myself, and have never found those presented in traditional arguments to be properly interpreted. We cannot bind believers' consciences except by Scripture -- the argument which seeks to prove that the Law does in fact instruct us regarding the use of instruments bears its own burden of proof. If your case cannot be demonstrated from Scripture, then it fails the sola Scriptura standard. Should this burden of proof be met, however, I am perfectly content to change my view.

Perhaps, however, we are differing somewhat in our definitions. By "Law," I do not mean "what the Bible commands by explicit statement, implication, example, etc." (that would by "law" with a lower-case "l"). Rather, I'm referring to the Mosaic Law, to the actual stipulations laid out by God. The sacrificial system and temple service were elements of the Mosaic Law, not of the broader implications, examples, etc., of Scripture. The regulations regarding proper temple service and sacrifice are contained in the Mosaic Law. Since the Mosaic Law contains no stipulations regarding musical instruments, and since the caselaw interpreting and applying the Law includes no mention of musical instruments, use or non-use of instruments is not part of the legally stipulated sacrificial system or temple service. Thus, use or non-use of instruments is not something that was done away with at the passing of that system and service.

Now, should God have commanded the use or non-use of instruments as part of the temple service or sacrifice, then that might go a long way toward proving that it was a subsequent addition to the Law. This would, in my mind, fall under your definition of "precise prescription." If God indicated that the use of instruments was specifically to be part of that system, and not just to accompany that system, then your case would be much easier to prove. But in fact, he did not. I know you have stated that he did, but you have given no examples or proof from Scripture that this is so. Every text I have seen presented for this case (as for example those in Schwertley's article) is a text on which I disagree with the hermeneutic and interpretation of those who share your opinion. Until we can solve these fundamental hermeneutical issues, I can't see how we will ever come to a meeting of the minds on this particular point of doctrine.

At any rate, to address some specifics, the fact that only Levites were permitted to use instruments in the temple is irrelevant -- the Levites were the only ones allowed to do anything in the temple. Moreover, the temple was not the only location of public worship in the life of Israel (it's an obvious point, but Israel existed for centuries without even having a temple or a tabernacle). And although the Levites were the only ones allowed to do anything in the temple, there were not the only ones allowed to do anything in public worship. Consider the following examples:

In Exodus 15:20-21, Miriam and other women used instruments in public worship. This was not an instruction the text tells us she received from the Lord, and yet she did it and the does not condemn it. This was not part of the temple worship. As you will no doubt note, she also was female, and only males were allowed to serve in the temple. This is an example of non-temple, non-sacrificial public worship which employs instruments.

In 2 Samuel 6:5 // 1 Chronicles 13:8, David engaged in public worship and employed instruments himself. This was not part of the temple worship, and David was not a Levite. Apparently, many other non-Levites also participated in the use of these instruments. Moreover, there is no command from God in this case that instruments be used.

In 1 Kings 10:12 Solomon made musical instruments for the singers. The singers themselves were not prescribed in the Law, nor were any instruments. The fact that these singers existed at all is an argument against the close association between the Law and music/song in the temple. In any case, there is no indication in this passage that Solomon made the instruments persuant to a command of God.

Musical instruments do not seem to have been employed in any association with the sacrificial system prior to David's time. If musical instruments had been part of the Law prior to that time, then Israel was remiss for not having used them in conjuction with sacrifices -- but Scripture makes no indication of such remission. Nowhere do we find any command from God that David or anyone else institute the use of instruments in the temple service or in conjuction with the sacrifices.

I'm afraid I don't have the time to address each instance specifically (those books have already been written by others, as I'm sure you are aware), but I think I have provided a couple examples that explicitly disprove your thesis. Certainly you will disagree, but I hope at least that this will help you understand my position (and the position of the majority of the Reformed theologians these days). Ours is not a hasty position, nor is it thoughtless. We understand the arguments, and we simply disagree on the evaluation of the relevant material. If you can provide examples such as I have requested above, I will be happy to consider them and to rethink my position on the matter.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.